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 the price is no object, face-meltingly fast read and write speeds.
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 “gum stick” SSDs that fit in M.2 connections on modern motherboards, SSDs that sit on a PCIe adapter and slot into your motherboards 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.
The Samsung 860 EVO isn’t the fastest SSD you can buy—that honor goes to advanced drives that transfer data over PCI-E rather than the traditional SATA interface—but it’s the fastest triple-layer cell (TLC) SATA drive we’ve tested, albeit by a small margin. More importantly, it’s solved the slow write performance plaguing many other SSDs that use TLC NAND chips. We copied a whopping 80GB of data in one test and the EVO stayed strong the entire time, rather than bogging down after exceeding its cache.
Costs crept slightly upwards with the new generation of hardware, but the Samsung 860 EVO still offers a compelling blend of price, performance, and capacity that few SSDs can match, backed by a long five-year warranty and Samsung’s superb Magician SSD software for easy-peasy drive installation and maintenance. And as a 2.5-inch SATA-based drive, the Samsung 860 EVO should have no problems slipping into most desktops or laptops, unlike exotic M.2 and PCIe SSDs. (The drive is also available in the M.2 form factor, however.)
The 500GB Samsung 860 EVO ($170 on Amazon) is probably the best option for most people, but it’s also available in 250GB, 1TB, 2TB, and 4TBmodels. Prices for SSDs start to get staggering once you hit 1TB or more of capacity, though. Most people would be better off buying the 500GB version and pairing it (if need be) with a high-capacity traditional hard drive like the Western Digital Blue lineup ($50 for 1TB on Amazon).
But other SSDs are challenging the Samsung 860 EVO. The Sandisk Ultra 3D ($150 for 500GB on Amazon) and Intel SSD 545s ($180 for 500GB on Newegg) are two other good options. The Sandisk Ultra 3D’s three-year warranty lags behind the five-year warranty of the Samsung and Newegg drives, though. The WD Blue 3D NAND SATA SSD ($155 on Amazon) is essentially the same SSD as the Sandisk Ultra 3D, but sold with a different label and in another form factor (M.2).
Samsung also offers the Samsung 860 Pro, but the Samsung 860 EVO is nearly as fast. The only reason to opt for the Pro model is if you you’re concerned about longevity or write far more data daily than the average user, as it offers a best-in-class endurance rating. You pay for the peace of mind, though. A 256GB model costs $140 on Newegg, while a 512GB model sells for $250. You’ll also find 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB Samsung 860 Pro drives available—the latter for a staggering $1,900. (Plus $1.99 shipping.)
Author: Brad Chacos
Senior Editor, PCWorld