Switching to a solid-state drive is the best upgrade you can make for your PC. These wondrous devices obliterate long boot times, speed up how fast your programs and games load, and generally makes your computer feel fast. But not all solid-state drives are created equal. The best SSDs offer solid performance at affordable prices—or, if price is no object, face-meltingly fast read and write speeds.
SSD cheat sheet
Our quick-hit recommendations:
Many SSDs come in a 2.5-inch form factor and communicate with PCs via the same SATA ports used by traditional hard drives. But out on the bleeding-edge of NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) drives, you’ll find tiny “gumstick” SSDs that fit in M.2 connections on modern motherboards, SSDs that sit on a PCIe adapter and slot into your motherboard like a graphics card or sound card, futuristic 3D Xpoint drives, and more. Picking the perfect SSD isn’t as simple as it used to be.
That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve tested numerous drives to find the best SSDs for any use case. Let’s take a look at PCWorld’s top picks, and then dive into what to look for in an SSD. Quick note: This roundup only covers internal solid-state drives. Check out PCWorld’s guide to the best external drives if you’re looking for a portable storage solution.
Updated January 2, 2020 to add our WD Blue SN550 NVMe SSD as an alternate in the best budget SSD section.
Latest SSD news
After introducing quad-level cell (QLC) NAND to the masses in the 660p SSD, Intel pushed out a second-generation version of the technology in the Intel 665p. The newer model swaps out Intel’s 64-layer 3D QLC NAND for a 96-layer version to improve performance by 13.6 percent and increase write endurance by a whopping 50 percent, Anandtech reports.
QLC drives deliver good performance and capacity for surprisingly low prices compared to traditional MLC and TLC drives, dominating our budget SSD category.
Best SSD for most people
Samsung’s mainstream EVO series of SSDs has sat atop our recommended list ever since 2014, and the current Samsung 860 EVO is still a great option for people who want a rock-solid blend of speed, price, compatibility, and the reliability of Samsung’s 5-year warranty and superb Magician management software. But for the first time in recent memory, the king has been knocked off its thrown, and by a newcomer that isn’t really new whatsoever.
Most people would be better off buying the SK Hynix Gold S31. Not only is it among the fastest SATA SSDs we’ve ever tested, but the price is right too. At $40 for a 250GB drive, $60 for a 500GB drive, and $106 for a massive 1TB drive, the Gold S31 costs much less than Samsung’s line, which charges $140 for a 1TB model. “When all was said and done in those real-world 48GB copies, the Gold S31 proved the fastest drive we’ve ever tested for sustained read and write operations,” our review proclaimed. Enough said.
Well, maybe not. Let’s talk a bit about the brand itself, since SK Hynix (nee Hyundai) isn’t exactly a household name. Despite that, it’s one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers on the planet. The company has been developing NAND and controller technology since the get-go, and while it’s been the SSD manufacturer for numerous large computer vendors, it generally hasn’t taken a place for itself on the shelves. Now it has, and the results are sterling.
It’s a great time to buy a standard 2.5-inch SATA drive though (the sort of drive that should fit into the vast majority of laptops and desktops). The Kingston KC600 is roughly as fast as SK Hynix’s speedy drive and includes self-encrypting technology with support for TCG Opal, AES 256-bit, and eDrive. It’s a bit pricier as a result, with the 512GB version at $68 on Amazon and the 1TB model at $140 via Kingston’s own website, but if you need the enhanced encryption, or if prices drop closer to the Gold S31’s levels, don’t hesitate to snap it up.
Best budget SSD
Now that traditional multi-level cell (MLC) and triple-level cell (TLC) solid-state drives are plummeting in price, manufacturers have rolled out new-look quad-level cell (QLC) drives that push SSD prices even lower. The new technology lets drive makers stuff SSDs with hard drive-like levels of capacity while simultaneously coming close to the juicy SSD speeds we all love so much—most of the time. The first round of QLC drives, including the still-superb Samsung 860 QVO, saw its write speeds plunge to hard drive-like levels when you transfer dozens of gigabytes of data in one go.
The Addlink S22 QLC SSD doesn’t suffer from the same fate. While traditional TLC SSDs (like the ones mentioned in our “best SSDs for most people” section) still maintain a speed edge versus QLC drives, the Addlink S22 is no slouch, and it’s dirt-cheap for an SSD, at just $47 for 512GB. Ludicrous. The 1TB model we reviewed is also sometimes available, but currently out of stock.
If you don’t plan on moving around massive amounts of data at once and need more space, the Samsung 860 QVO is still a great option. It’s actually a wee bit faster than Addlink’s SSD. But it’s also more expensive, at $109 for 1TB, $230 for 2TB, or $450 for 5TB on Amazon. Lower capacities aren’t offered.
But what if you’ve got a newer motherboard that supports the faster, newfangled NVMe M.2 drives? Keep reading, because our favorite budget NVMe drive is also our favorite NVMe drive, full stop—and once again, it’s from Addlink.
Best NVMe SSD
Addlink’s SSD isn’t the flashiest NVMe drive around, nor is it quite as fast as the alternatives mentioned above. But it costs far, far less. Despite its entry-level price—$40 for 256GB, $63 for 512GB, $125 for 1TB, or $260 for 2TB—the Addlink S70 runs circles around other bargain NVMe drives, and falls within spitting distance of the performance of those higher-priced enthusiast options. Heck, it even managed to best the Samsung 970 Pro in some synthetic tests, though the victory didn’t carry over fully into real-world results. Right now, this is the best NVMe SSD you can buy.
The one potential caveat? Addlink is a relative unknown in the SSD space, so its support and service aren’t known quantities to our testers. That said, the 5-year warranty for the S70 is longer than most, and its TBW (TeraBytes Written—the total amount of data that a company is willing to guarantee can be written to the drive) ratings are quite high as well.
If you prefer to buy storage from an established brand, consider the Western Digital Blue SN550 NVMe SSD as an alternative. We slightly prefer Addlink’s drive, but the WD Blue delivers a still-satisfying blend of good performance at a great price, at $125 for a 1TB model.
If performance is paramount and price is no object, Intel’s Optane SSD 905P is the best SSD you can buy, full stop. The drive doesn’t use traditional NAND technology like other SSDs; instead, it’s built around the futuristic 3D Xpoint technology developed by Micron and Intel. Hit that link if you want a tech deep-dive, but in practical terms, the Optane SSD 900P absolutely plows through our storage benchmarks and carries a ridiculous 8,750TBW (terabytes written) rating, compared to the roughly 200TBW offered by many NAND SSDs. If that holds true, this blazing-fast drive is basically immortal—and it looks damned good, too.
But you pay for the privilege of bleeding edge performance. Intel’s Optane SSD 905P costs $600 for a 480GB version and $1,130 for a 1.5TB model, with several additional options available in both the U.2 and PCI-E add-in-card form factors. That’s significantly more expensive than even NVMe SSDs—and like those, the benefits of Intel’s SSD will be most obvious to people who move large amounts of data around regularly. And the Optane SSD 900P actually uses the NVMe protocol to communicate with your PC, so you’ll need to meet some additional criteria to be able to boot from it—which we’ll cover next.
The step-down Intel Optane SSD 900P is like a miniature version of the 905P, still beating out traditional SSDs (albeit by a smaller margin) at lower capacities and prices—though at $300 for a 280GB version and $599 for a 480GB model, it’s still drastically more expensive than most NVMe drives.
The Intel SSD 800P ($129 for 58GB, $199 for 118GB on Newegg) isn’t anywhere near as compelling a purchase despite being far more affordable. It still offers best-in-class longevity and very fast random file access, but the 800P delivers mundane results in other performance areas, and it’s crippled by low capacities and sky-high prices. Grab one of our other top SSD picks instead.
Blazing-fast PCIe 4.0 SSDs are starting to become available now that AMD’s superb Ryzen 3000-series processors support the cutting-edge technology. You’ll also need a high-end AMD X570 motherboard. They promise much faster speeds than the traditional PCIe 4.0 SSDs mentioned here, though early evaluations show you’ll only see tangible benefits when moving massive files in the real world. Our PCIe 4.0 primer explains all.
Coming up next: Everything you need to know to buy the right SSD for you