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 solid-state drives for compatible PCs, and you’ll even find SSDs that sit on a PCIe adapter and slot into your motherboard like a graphics card or sound card. Picking the perfect SSD isn’t as simple as it used to be, though excellent new drives like the SK Hynix Platinum P41 are certainly trying to achieve no-brainer upgrade status.
That’s the purpose of this guide. We’ve tested numerous drives to find the best SSDs for any use case, and offer our top picks below. In addition to that we give you useful information on what to look for in an SSD so you can be a more knowledgable shopper. 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, such as the Samsung T7 Shield—our newly crowned pick for the best high-performance portable SSD.
Updated 03/14/2023: To include the Adata Legend 850 as our new pick for best budget PCIe 4.0 SSD runner-up. Read our summary below for more info.
Samsung 870 EVO – Best SATA SSD
- Excellent performance, especially with small file operations
- Unlike the QVO, long writes don’t slow down
- A little expensive
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.
Crucial BX500 – Best budget SATA SSD
- Good everyday performance
- Low price per gigabyte
- Slows drastically when secondary cache runs out
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 $80, a whopping $30 less than the equivalent EVO, while a 480GB version costs just $45. 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.”
Crucial P3 – Best PCIe 3.0 SSD
- Excellent everyday PCIe 3 performance
- Fantastically low price per GB
- Very low TBW rating
- Non-cached QLC writes are extremely slow
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.
WD Black SN850X – Best PCIe 4.0 SSD
- Excellent performance
- Decently affordable given its speed
- Available up to 4TB
- Optional heatsink for 1/2TB models
- Pricey per gigabyte
- Somewhat parsimonious TBW ratings
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.
Crucial P3 Plus – Best budget PCIe 4.0 SSD
- Super affordable
- Good PCIe 4 performance
- Excellent PCIe 3 performance
- Second-tier performance overall
- Extremely low TBW ratings
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 Crucial P3 Plus. Its pricing can’t be beat, at just $100 for a 1TB model, and it delivers solid overall performance. The P3 Plus isn’t a barn burner among the PCIe 4.0 crowd, sure, but it has decent real-world transfer rates and it is still NVMe so it might be slower, but it’s not slow. If you are looking for a ton of NVMe storage for not a lot of money, then the Crucial P3 Plus is your best bet.
Adata Legend 850 – Best budget PCIe 4.0 SSD runner-up
- Great real-world performance
- Very affordable
- Attractive designer-styled heat spreader available.
- 512GB capacity is a relatively slow writer
If you don’t need a 1TB drive like the Crucial P3 Plus above, or you’re just looking to get PCIe 4.0 as cheaply as possible, then the 512GB Adata Legend 850 can’t be beat. For a mere $50 at the time of writing, you can snag the solid Legend 850. The drive scored very well in synthetic benchmark numbers for read scores and during our real-world test of a 48GB reading and writing test, it scored better than most of its peers. Admittedly, the 512GB capacity might not be enough as the main drive for a top-of-the-line gaming or content-creation PC, but for the average bargain PC or laptop it presents a great foundation or even a faster upgrade.
Adata Elite SE880 SSD – Most portable SSD
- Very fast, over-20Gbps USB connection
- Extremely small form factor
- 5-year warranty
- Slows considerably during long contiguous writes
- Somewhat low TBW rating
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.
4TB Samsung T7 Shield – Best external SSD
- Fast 1GBps sustained transfers
- Excellent real world performance
- Vast 4TB capacity
- Svelte and handsome
- Not cheap
- Small 4K performance glitch under CrystalDiskMark 8 writing 4K files
Samsung’s upgraded 4TB capacity T7 Shield maintains all of the speed and durability of the previous 1TB and 2TB versions, but now with double the capacity. The Shield models make excellent performance drives for out in the field because they focus on physical protection, with IP65 ratings against particulate matter and water spray.
While the 4TB model is a bit pricey, it is more than capable of handling the largest end-user data sets. But if you don’t need so much storage, you can opt for either the 1TB or 2TB versions which retail for more budget-friendly prices. Regardless of the size, all T7 Shields boast USB 3.2 10Gbps implementation allowing for blistering 10Gbps transfer speeds, which gives it the edge over many other external drives, and the superior durability means it should last you well into the future.
Corsair MP600 Pro XT – Best PCIe 4.0 SSD w/ water-cooling option
- Fantastic performance
- Hefty heat sink (removable)
- Liquid-cooling option
- Affordable for PCIe 4
- Much pricier than PCIe 3 drives
“Considering the Corsair MP600 Pro XT’s tantalizing combination of price, performance, and features an Editor’s Choice award was no-brainer,” we said in our review. “Highly recommended.” This “absolute barn-burner” of an SSD hangs with and sometimes bests the fastest drives we’ve ever tested, for a considerably lower price than its fellow hot-rod rivals. It comes with a five-year warranty that guarantees hundreds of written terabytes before failure. And if you want to get fancy, there’s even a version designed to plug into the liquid-cooling setup of exotic PCs, for a minimal markup.
We can’t find much to complain about. You’ll need a modern PC (from the last two or three years) with PCIe 4.0 support to unlock those face-melting speeds, however, and this sort of cutting-edge performance doesn’t come cheap. The 1TB version of the Corsair MP600 Pro XT will set you back $200, while 2TB and 4TB offerings go for $300 and $800, respectively.
As far as alternatives go, the Kingston KC3000 and Seagate FireCuda 530 both deliver face-melting performance on par with Corsair’s drive. That said, Seagate’s drive costs quite a bit more, while the KC3000 is only officially available through Kingston’s website. The MP600 Pro XT’s wider availability helps it earn our top recommendation.
Sabrent Rocket 2230 SSD – Best SSD for Steam Deck
- Short (30mm long), 2230 form factor
- Very good everyday performance
- Attractive label and packaging
- A tad pricey for the capacity
- Somewhat low TBW rating
In the past, if you had a smaller-sized device such as a handheld gaming console or laptop where the longer 2280 NVMe SSDs wouldn’t fit, you were typically out of luck if you wanted to upgrade your storage. Thankfully, Sabrent has changed that with its Rocket 2230 SSD. It’s only 30mm long allowing you to use it in small devices such as the red-hot Steam Deck. This HMB drive has great everyday performance and a decent capacity-to-cost—however, if your device is able to handle the longer 2280 drives, you can probably 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.
Seagate Beskar Ingot NVMe SSD (FireCuda 530) – Most collectible SSD
- Exceptional performance
- Long warranty with a high TBW rating
- Beefy Star Wars-themed heatsink
- Pricier than a plain FireCuda 530
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.
NVMe SSD setup: What you need to know
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.
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Intel Core i5-12600K
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.