What's the best SSD you can buy?
Solid-state drives (SSD) are like hard drives, but as the name suggests they have no moving parts. So not only are they more rugged than hard drives, they're much, much faster.
This isn't about go-faster bragging rights though. Yes, you can copy enormous files to an SSD in record time, but it's the massive boost that the drive will give you your computer's responsiveness that will shock you most: applications launch almost instantly, web pages load faster, and Windows simply feels a lot faster.
Aren't SSDs really expensive?
It's taken years, but we are now at the stage where an SSD is a truly affordable component for everyone. And if your budget will stretch to only £50, you can still get Crucial's MX500 (reviewed below) is only £40 from Amazon. In the US, a 500GB WD Blue 3D Nand costs $64 which is a great deal.
Sure, you get much more storage if you buy a traditional hard drive for the same money, but if you have a PC you can always install Windows and your most-used programs on an SSD and keep your music, video and photo libraries on a huge hard disk where performance isn’t as important.
What to look for in an SSD
For those seeking the very best performance, there's still a case for finding the fastest rather than just choosing the cheapest SSD.
This is where you have a choice. There are two different types of SSDs: SATA and PCIe.
SATA is the type you’re probably most familiar with as it has been around for years and is used in PCs and laptops for hard drives and DVD drives. Most SATA SSDs are 2.5in wide as they’re designed to fit in laptops. But they’re also compatible with all recent PCs.
For laptop users specifically, you'll want to also know the exact height of the SSD to ensure it will fit: some are 9.5mm thick rather than 7mm.
The other type is a PCIe SSD. It gets confusing because there are other acronyms and terminology too: NVMe and M.2. Put simply, PCIe (PCI Express) supersedes SATA because it is a much faster interface.
Most commonly you'll see PCIe drives referred to as NVMe. This stands for Non-Volative Memory Express) but what's most important to note is the form factor - the size of the drive - because that's which determines if the thing will actually fit in your PC or laptop.
This is where M.2 comes in. It’s a relatively new type of slot you’ll find on recent motherboards and in some laptops. Most M.2 SSDs are the 2280 type, which simply means 22mm wide and 80mm long. You can check your motherboard manual or contact your laptop manufacturer to find out if such a drive will be compatible.
Note: Just because an SSD has an M.2 interface does not mean it is an NVMe drive. You can buy SATA SSDs with M.2 connectors which will still be limited to SATA speeds, so watch out for this when buying. As we said, it can get a bit confusing.
If your PC's motherboard doesn't have an M.2 slot, don't worry. you can buy a PCIe adapter card for around £15/$15. Some M.2 SSDs are sold with the adapter, such as Kingston's KC1000.
Getting back to performance, this has effectively plateaued among SATA SSDs. It's not that flash memory has reached its limit, it's that they're hitting the limit of what the SATA interface is capable of.
The fastest SATA SSDs can read at around 550MB/s, but the fastest PCIe NVMe drives can read at over 3000MB/s.
What about MLC, TLC and SLC?
There are various memory technologies used on SSDs, from multi-level cell (MLC), to the cheaper triple-level cell flash (TLC) architectures. You might even come across the rare and most expensive single-level cell (SLC) drive. The differences between the cell technologies boil down to the amount of bits (data) that a single cell (within the SSD) can handle.
TLC handles three, MLC two, and SLC one. The greater the number of bits per cell, the increased likelihood of failure, inconsistencies and - most importantly - performance. However, as this is a general sweeping statement, manufacturers have found ways around the limitations of SSD technology.
When buying an SSD, look out for long warranties and high write limits (expressed as a TBW value) if you prize data integrity, although with the help of proper backup routines, data loss isn’t really an issue today.
- Reviewed on: 12 November 2018
We're blown away by the MP510 which is a drive that offers everything you could want.
It combines performance, endurance, capacity and price. PCI bus connected NVMe cards used to be expensive and lower capacity.
Not any more.
Read our Corsair Force Series MP510 review.
- Reviewed on: 9 July 2019
Compared to its predecessor, the KC2000 is impressive and also brings it much closer when it comes to competing with the likes of Samsung and Corsair.
Anyone moving from SATA will see a huge performance boost so choosing a PCI NVMe drive largely comes down to speed and cost. Here, Kingston provides a nice balance where the KC2000 is almost at fast as rivals but generally cheaper making is a great choice.
It can't quite beat the Corsair MP510, though, with its 3,000B/s write speed, more IOPs (Input/output operations per second) and an even greater TBW (Total Bytes Written) - all for just a few pounds or dollars more if saving money isn't top of your list.
Read our Kingston KC2000 review.
- Reviewed on: 17 January 2018
Unless you’re going to be using this drive for editing 4K video every day or need a 4TB device, the MX500 provides an almost perfect combination of performance and price.
If you can afford the bigger capacities, you get a bonus not only in cost-per-GB, but they also have a much longer lifespan.
Read our Crucial MX500 review.
- Reviewed on: 22 January 2019
The 970 Evo Plus is an unusual addition to Samsung's SSD range, but a welcome one.
It's an even better version of the 970 Evo at around the same price so it's really a no-brainer on that front. If it's NVMe performance you want this Plus model is astounding.
However, the Corsair MP510 and Kingston KC1000 are cheaper making them better value if you don't need the fastest performance.
Read our Samsung 970 EVO Plus review.
- Reviewed on: 5 April 2019
It can't quite compete with the Corsair MP510 on value, but this is a top-performing M.2 SSD that comes in capacities up to 2TB.
Read our WD Black SN750 review.
- Reviewed on: 9 March 2018
The WD Blue 3D NAND might best represent the last hoorah of the SATA SSD before NVMe
technology kicks that interface into the long grass. It’s a big improvement over its predecessor and gives Corsair and Samsung’s mid-range products a run for their money.
Excellent overall performance coupled with competitive pricing makes for a winning combination, or it does for that still want, or need SATA.
Read our WD Blue 3D NAND review.
- Reviewed on: 20 November 2019
A SATA SSD is never goint to beat an NVMe option but if you're limited to the form factor for whatever reason the the Kingston KC600 makes for a great choice.
It's comparable to the excellent Samsung 860 EVO but is available at a lower price and is just as fast. Kingston also provides one of the best upgrade kits we've seen if you need it.
Read our Kingston KC600 review.
- Reviewed on: 20 November 2018
The 970 Evo has been superseded by the 970 Plus, but this is still a great choice if you can find it cheaper than the Plus at the same capacity, which is often the case.
It's an excellent performer, and it's really down to price whether you buy this or any of the other recommended NVMe drives here.
Read our Samsung 970 Evo review.
- Reviewed on: 23 January 2018
If you’ve got an NVMe PCI M.2 port on your system you’ll probably want Samsung’s 960 Evo in that form factor, but for everyone else the SATA model the new Evo is an excellent option.
It’s not substantially quicker than the model it replaces, but the extended lifespan is certainly worth the modest investment.
Read our Samsung 860 Evo review.
10. Kingston UV500
- Reviewed on: 11 January 2019
It might not be the fastest or cheapest drive around but the UV500 will be a solid enough choice for anyone looking for a SSD to last a long time. It's also got good hardware encryption.
There's a range of capacities and form factors on offer so the drive will make for a trusty workhorse.
Read our Kingston UV500 review.