Switching to a solid-state drive is the best upgrade you can make for your PC. These wondrous devices speed up boot times, improve the responsiveness of your programs and games, and generally make your computer feel fast. But not all solid-state drives are the same. You can spend big to achieve read and write speeds that reach a whole other level, or you can find top-notch SSDs that offer solid performance without breaking the bank.
Many SSDs come in a 2.5-inch form factor and connect to your PC via the same SATA port used by a traditional hard drive. But tiny NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) “gumstick” SSDs that fit in an M.2 connection on a modern motherboard are becoming increasingly common, along with blazing-fast PCIe 4.0 (and now 5.0) solid-state drives for compatible PCs; you’ll even find SSDs that sit on a PCIe adapter and slot into your motherboard like a graphics card or sound card. No, picking the perfect SSD isn’t as simple as it used to be.
Why you should trust us: It’s in our name, PCWorld. Our reviewers have been testing PC hardware for decades. Our storage evaluations are thorough and rigorous, testing the limits of every product — from performance benchmarks to the practicalities of regular use. As consumers ourselves, we know what makes a product stand out. Only the best SSDs make this list. For more about our testing process, scroll to the bottom of this article
Updated 9/7/2023:To include the Crucial X9 as our new choice for best external SSD. Read more about this excellent and affordable external SSD in our summary below.
Samsung 870 EVO – Best SATA SSD
Excellent performance, especially with small file operations
Unlike the QVO, long writes don’t slow down
If you’re looking to add some storage via a traditional 2.5-inch SATA drive rather than a tiny M.2 “gumstick,” Samsung’s spectacular 870 EVO is your best bet. It’s the fastest SATA SSD we’ve tested, it’s available in up to 4TB of capacity, and it’s exceedingly affordable given its speed. Enough said, really—though Samsung’s killer Magician SSD management software and long warranty period also deserve a shout-out. The EVO series is a legend among SSDs for a reason.
That said, the SK Hynix Gold S31 is also worth considering. It’s just a hair behind the 870 EVO in benchmarks and costs $12 less in its 1TB version, at $98. The SK drive is only available in a 1TB flavor these days, however, while the 870 EVO ranges from a 250GB model for $60 all the way up to a massive 4TB goliath for $450. Samsung’s 1TB offering costs $110.
The Samsung 870 EVO offers an intoxicating blend of performance and affordable pricing, but if you want as much capacity as possible for as cheaply as possible, consider the Crucial BX500. You can get its 1TB model for $41.99, a whopping $50+ less than the equivalent EVO, while a 480GB version costs just $24.99. 240GB and 2TB versions are also available.
“We recommend this QLC drive in the larger capacities for those who want good everyday performance for a budget price,” we said in our review. “The smaller capacities will likely run into more slowdowns during heavy writes.”
Price When Reviewed:
From £49.19 | Model reviewed £89.99
Sure, PCIe 4.0 SSDs scream during big file transfers, but if you’re still using an older system with PCIe 3.0, upgrading to an NVMe SSD still provides substantial benefits to your PC’s speed and overall responsiveness. Better yet, you don’t need to break the bank to take advantage. The Crucial P3 is a very good daily performer, but it’s available for a bargain rate of just $44 for a 500GB model or $84 for a 1TB model. Though it doesn’t have top-tier PCIe 4 performance and the TBW rating is pretty low, the P3 does have excellent real-world write times and unless you really stress the drive you shouldn’t notice much of a difference anyhow.
All told, this drive is an outstanding choice for anyone looking to snag a solid everyday SSD at a great price.
Price When Reviewed:
£153.99 for 1TB I £300.99 for 2TB I £701.99 for 4TB
The WD Black SN850X is one of the fastest drives we have ever tested and ranks right up at the top next to the FireCuda 530 in terms of speed. The reason that the WD Black SN850X takes our top spot for PCIe 4.0 is that it offers the same great speed for a slightly lower price, meaning better value for your money.
Also, in terms of overall performance, the SN850X is not only fast, but it provides outstanding real world transfer rates and top-notch random write performance. This is one of the best SSDs on the market, and holds its own at the top despite stiff competition from a crowded field of competitors.
Slows to less than 300MBps when writing off secondary cache
Slightly low endurance rating
Price When Reviewed:
From £32.99 | Model tested £48.99
Cutting-edge PCIe 4.0 SSDs aren’t quite as cheap as SATA or PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives, but now that the technology is becoming more established, we’re starting to see several models available at compelling prices. The best of the affordable bunch? The WD Blue SN580 NVMe SSD—and by quite a large margin. At just $50 for a 1TB model, you won’t likely find any PCIe 4.0 drives with storage that cheap. In our testing, the SN580 turned out both stellar benchmark and real-world results. It did slow down considerably in the large 450GB transfer test, but seeing as how it’s unlikely anyone will write that much contiguous data it likely doesn’t matter. In the end, the SN580 is a wonderfully high-performing PCIe 4.0 SSD that well undercuts the cost of competitors. At this price point it simply can’t be beat.
Price When Reviewed:
From £175.19 | Model tested £359.99
PCIe 5.0 is finally here and for those who crave the latest and greatest, the upgrade will help satisfy your desire to be on the bleeding edge. If you do decide to upgrade, there is currently no better PCIe 5.0 SSD than the Crucial T700. It is, without a doubt, the fastest NVMe SSD for sustained throughput that we at PCWorld have ever tested. In our testing, the Crucial T700 absolutely obliterated the competition in both synthetic and real-world benchmarks. Just to give an idea of how fast we’re talking here, in a side-by-side comparison with the WD Black SN850X, our pick for best PCIe 4.0 SSD, the T700 almost doubled it in sequential read and write benchmarks and was over a minute faster in the 48GB transfer test and about 40 seconds faster in the 450GB transfer tests. Those are pretty insane numbers.
The drive itself is available in 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB capacities of storage. This kind of speed will cost you though, as the T700 is nearly twice as expensive as some very good PCIe 4.0 drives on this list. Still, the T700 is undoubtedly the king of the hill by a fair margin among any SSD currently, and if your system is equipped to handle it, you’re not likely to find a faster drive for quite some time.
No SSD we’ve seen can match Adata’s Elite SE880 for portability. Indeed, measuring in at only 2.55 inches long, 1.38 inches wide, and 0.48 inches thick, it reminds you more of a USB thumb drive than a standard SSD. It weighs a mere 1.1 ounces to boot, virtually disappearing when placed in your pocket.
The Elite SE880 is also very fast at everyday tasks. In real-world 48GB transfer tests, the drive displayed outstanding marks. However, it did lose significant ground in the longer contiguous write tests meaning photo and video pros with large files might want to look at other options. Considering the respectable transfer rates and the small form factor, the Elite SE880 is a great pick for those looking to take their SSD on the go.
With great everyday performance and an affordable price, the Crucial X9 Pro is our favorite external SSD. This svelte beauty will give you transfer rates of 10Gbps and comes in 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB capacities with reasonable prices for each. In our testing we found that the X9 Pro performed admirably against the other 10Gbps competition. It especially excelled in the real-world 48GB transfer test and the 450GB write time test where it smoked other similar 10Gbps drives we’ve tested.
Crucial also has an X10 Pro model on offer that gives you 20Gbps transfer speeds, but you’ll pay quite a bit more for that extra speed. Regardless, we think that the X9 Pro will serve the average user perfectly fine with excellent all-around performance and a cheaper price point. You can’t ask much more from a 10Gbps USD external SSD than what the Crucial X9 Pro gives you.
Sabrent Rocket Q4 NVMe SSD – Best SSD for Steam Deck
Half-sized 2230 (22mm wide, 30mm long) form factor fits a variety of devices
Amazingly fast at real-world tasks
Unmitigated five-year warranty
Writes slow to a crawl when secondary cache is depleted
Price When Reviewed:
From £49.99 | Model tested £339.35
In the past, you were out of luck if you wanted to upgrade your storage in a smaller-sized device such as a handheld gaming console where the longer 2280 NVMe SSDs wouldn’t fit. Thankfully, Sabrent has changed that with its line of Rocket half-sized 2230 small for- factor SSDs. Its latest Rocket Q4 is our favorite, with up to 2TB of capacity and shockingly good real-world performance. It’s only 30mm long, which means you can use it in small devices such as the red-hot Steam Deck. This HMB (Host Memory Buffer) drive has great everyday performance and a decent capacity-to-cost. In our testing it aced the 48GB and 450GB transfer tests—even beating out other top-notch full-sized PCIe 4.0 drives. The Rocket Q4 is a great SSD, but if your device is able to handle the longer 2280 drives, you’ll likely have more options to choose from and might be able to find better price-for-performance at that standard size. Regardless, the Sabrent Rocket expertly fits a niche that is only growing more common with devices such as the Steam Deck.
If you’re a die-hard Star Wars fan, then we have the perfect SSD for you. Seagate recently released a series of two Mandalorian-themed SSDs—the Beskar Ingot SATA SSD and the Beskar Ingot NVMe SSD. And while both SSDs are excellent options for any budding bounty hunter, we chose the Beskar Ingot NVMe SSD due to its exceptional performance and blazing-fast speeds.
If you think it’s just a middle-of-the-road NVMe with a hefty Beskar-themed heatsink, then much to learn you still have, young padawan. The FireCuda 530 is one of the fastest NVMe drives we’ve ever tested and very well could compete against the Millenium Falcon in the Kessel run.
All of that being said, this is a top-notch drive perfect for the Star Wars fan with a windowed case who wants to show off their latest Beskar metal bounty.
Be aware of what NVMe drives deliver before you buy in. Standard SATA SSDs already supercharge boot times and loading times for PCs, and for a whole lot cheaper. You’ll get the most use from NVMe drives, be it in a M.2 form factor like the Samsung 980 Pro or a PCIe drive, if you routinely transfer data, especially in large amounts. If you don’t do that, NVMe drives aren’t worth the price premium.
If you decide to buy an NVMe SSD, make sure your PC can handle it. This is a relatively new technology, so you’ll only be able to find M.2-connection motherboards from the past few years. Think AMD Ryzen and mainstream Intel chips from the 6th-generation era onward, for the most part. NVMe SSDs that were mounted on PCIe adapters were popular in the technology’s early years, before M.2 adoption spread, but they’re rarer now. Make sure you’re actually able to use an NVMe SSD before you buy one, and be aware that you’ll need four PCIe lanes available in order to use it to its full potential. You’ll need a newer Ryzen 3000- or 5000-series CPU, or an Intel 11th- or 12th-gen CPU, to run a PCIe 4.0 SSD to its full potential. PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs will work in a PCIe 3.0 computer, but at slower PCIe 3.0 speeds.
To get the most out of an NVMe drive, you want to run your operating system on it, so you must have a system that recognizes the drive and can boot from it. PCs purchased during the past year or two should have no problem booting from an NVMe drive, but support for that can be iffy in older motherboards. Do a Google search for your motherboard and see if it supports booting from NVMe. You may need to install a BIOS update for your board. If your hardware can’t boot from an NVMe SSD, your machine should still be able to use it as a secondary drive.
What to look for in an SSD
Capacity and price are important, of course, and a long warranty can alleviate fears of premature data death. Most SSD manufacturers offer a three-year warranty, and some nicer models are guaranteed for five years. But unlike the olden days of SSDs, modern drives won’t wear out with normal consumer usage, as Tech Report tested and proved years ago with a grueling endurance test.
The biggest thing to watch out for is the technology used to connect the SSD to your PC. We go into deeper details and buying advice in our guide on which type of SSD you should buy.
SATA: This refers to both the connection type and the transfer protocol, which is used to connect most 2.5-inch and 3.5-inch hard drives and SSDs to your PC. SATA III speeds can hit roughly 600MBps, and most—but not all—modern drives max it out. (More on that in the next section.)
PCIe: This interface taps into four of your computer’s PCIe lanes to blow away SATA speeds, to the tune of nearly 4GBps over PCIe gen 3. Those sort of face-melting speeds pair nicely with supercharged NVMe drives. Both the PCIe lanes in your motherboard and the M.2 slot in your motherboard can be wired to support the PCIe interface, and you can buy adapters that allow you to slot “gumstick” M.2 drives into a PCIe lane. PCIe 4.0 drives are significantly faster, but require an AMD Ryzen 3000-series or Intel Core 11th-gen (or newer) processor, along with a compatible PCIe 4.0 motherboard.
NVMe: Non-Volatile Memory Express technology takes advantage of PCIe’s bountiful bandwidth to create blisteringly fast SSDs that blow SATA-based drives out of the water. Check out PCWorld’s “Everything you need to know about NVMe” for a nitty-gritty deep-dive.
M.2: This is where things get tricky. Many people assume M.2 drives all use NVMe technology and PCIe speeds, but that’s not true. M.2 is just a form factor. Sure, most M.2 SSDs use NVMe, but some still stick to SATA. Do your homework. Many modern Ultrabooks rely on M.2 for storage.
U.2 and mSATA: You may also stumble across mSATA and U.2 SSDs, but both motherboard support and product availability are rare for those formats. Some older Ultrabooks included mSATA before M.2 became popular, and drives are still available if you need them.
Speed matters, of course, but as we said most modern SSDs saturate the SATA III interface. Not all of them, though.
SSDs vs. hard drives
Do you need an SSD? “Need” is a strong word, but we heartily recommend that everyone upgrade to an SSD. Solid-state drive speeds blow even the fastest mechanical hard drives out of the water. Simply swapping out the hard drive in your old laptop or desktop for an SSD can make it feel like a whole new system—and a blazing-fast one at that. Buying an SSD is easily the best upgrade you can make for a computer.
SSDs cost more per gigabyte than mechanical hard drives, though, and thus aren’t often available in ultra-high capacities. If you want speed and storage space, you can buy an SSD with limited space and use it as your boot drive, then set up a traditional hard drive as secondary storage in your PC. Place your programs on your boot drive, stash your media and other files on the hard drive, and you’re ready to have your cake and eat it too.
How we test SSDs
We test SSDs using a variety of synthetic benchmarks (such as CrystalDiskMark 6’s various tests) and real-world tests, including 48GB transfers that showcase how a drive performs in common tasks, and a grueling 450GB transfer test that pushes an SSD’s cache performance to the brink.
The PCIe 3 tests utilized Windows 10 64-bit running on a Core i7-5820K/Asus X99 Deluxe system with four 16GB Kingston 2666MHz DDR4 modules, a Zotac (Nvidia) GT 710 1GB x2 PCIe graphics card, and an Asmedia ASM2142 USB 3.1 card. It also contains a Gigabyte GC-Alpine Thunderbolt 3 card, and Softperfect Ramdisk 3.4.6 for the 48GB read and write tests.
The PCIe 4 testing was done on an MSI MEG X570 motherboard socketing an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X 8-core CPU, using the same Kingston DRAM, cards, and software. All testing is performed on an empty, or nearly empty drive. Performance will decrease as the drive fills up.