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Samsung currently dominatesand its M.2 960 Evo is the best overall SSD you can get when balancing performance and price. If you’re on the market for something cheaper and don’t mind dropping down to the SATA standard then the Samsung 860 Evo is the best-value SSD around.
How We Test SSDs
Benchmark applications AS SSD and CrystalDiskMark run each drive through a variety of tests. Their sequential read and write routines test the raw file-copying pace of each drive, while a variety of random read and write tests demonstrate how responsive the drive is to the more random use a drive is put through during day-to-day tasks – the ‘snappy’ feel of an SSD is all about its random read access performance.
ATTO’s benchmark also tests the read and write pace of each drive, but it uses an even larger variety of file sizes, which adds further detail to the picture of how each SSD will perform.
Related: Best SSD deals
M.2: Samsung 960 Evo
- Solid performance throughout
- Good small-file write speeds
- Far more affordable than 960 Pro
- Shorter warranty period than high-end Pro
While the 960 Pro stole all the headlines, the Samsung 960 Evo is the sensible buyer’s choice. You get brilliant performance for a lot less cash, making the Evo a more attractive mass-market choice.
Some of the new tech used on the 960 Pro remains, including a new five-core “Polaris” controller, 3D V-NAND and ample on-board memory.
Using cheaper TLC memory (as opposed to MLC) It’s not as fast as its more expensive brother, but it also makes use of Samsung TurboWrite technology that gives it a big performance boost in short bursts of activity using a small amount of faster SLC cache.
In the AS SSD benchmark, it topped out at a read speed of 2,034MB/s and a 1,847MB/s write speed. This puts it in the same league as the Toshiba OCZ RD400.
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It trades blows with the 960 Pro in some benchmarks, which you can read more about in our full review. Elsewhere, it beats many of its rivals and is priced attractively as well.
It doesn’t have the same generous warranty as its more expensive sibling, so if you’re going to be pushing this drive with big loads daily, you might be better off going for a more expensive drive with better cover. For most regular gaming PCs, though, this is a fantastic-value choice.
Samsung 860 Evo
- Huge choice of capacity
- Well priced
- Good all-round performance
- Excellent endurance
- Not that much faster than previous drive
The Evo 860 is the noble successor to the Evo 850, which was our favourite SATA SSD for some time. It offers a number of key upgrades, chief among which is boosting its maximum storage to a whopping 4TB.
The 860 Evo ekes out every last possible drop of performance from the ageing SATA 6Gbits/sec interface to offer buyers a well-priced and ultra-reliable SSD that’s notably faster than its successor.
However, if you have the cash to splash – and a machine with the newer, more modern NVMe interface – the 960 Evo easily outperforms the 860 Evo and is therefore a better choice for high-end rigs.
- Very affordable
- Low power
- Comes with performance compromises
Crucial has developed a keen reputation for its affordable SSDs, and the MX300 is the third generation in one of its flagship ranges.
The new drive sees Micron – Crucial’s parent company – debuting its 3D Flash chips, which means its technology now matches those of Samsung and SK Hynix. The 3D chips deploy transistors across four planes, which means chips can be far denser and, therefore, cheaper. The MX200 used silicon dies that could hold 256GB of data, but the same dies in the MX300 hold 384GB.
Cost isn’t the only advantage. The Floating Gate transistors used here reduce electrical disruption and wastage from neighbouring cells, which cuts power consumption and can contribute to increasing the lifespan of the drive.
We’ve reviewed the 525GB version of the MX300. That’s sizeable, but tech fans will know that it’s a break from the usual 500GB and 512GB products. That’s because the new dies are 48GB in size, so Crucial builds the MX300 with eleven dies and a little overprovisioning.
The MX300 includes TRIM support, AES 256-bit encryption and SMART monitoring alongside data path and power loss protection, which is a decent roster of features at this price. Samsung’s drive offers additional customisable overprovisioning and cache memory, but those are niche features.
It’s 160TB endurance rating isn’t the most generous, but the three-year warranty is fine.
The MX300’s new 3D Flash means that prices can come down, but benchmarks suggest that performance hasn’t improved across the board – especially read performance.
The new drive’s sequential write speed of 482MB/s is a tad better than its predecessors, but the read result of 470MB/s is behind both the MX200 and the Samsung 850 Evo. That pattern continues: the MX300’s AS SSD 4K and 4K-64 write results were both quicker, but its read results were slower.
The same pattern emerged in CrystalDiskMark, with better write results and poorer read speeds. However, the MX300 was never a top performer: neither result got beyond 500MB/s, while the Samsung drive broke that barrier in sequential reads and writes.
The Atto benchmark revealed more of the MX300’s strengths and weaknesses. Its small-file read and write results of 378MB/s and 404MB/s were both better than the MX200, with the latter also faster than the Samsung. However, the new drive faltered by the time it was tasked with larger files: behind its predecessor when reading files, and behind the Samsung when reading and writing.
The MX300 fought back in IOMeter. Its total I/O result of 7006 is decent, and its 268MB/s speed average is also good. However, its average response time was worse, suggesting that this drive can be sluggish to spring into action.
Crucial’s latest drive delivers mixed performance when compared to the MX200 and Samsung’s 850 EVo – but it’s important to remember that the MX300 is never slow. Its price is attractive, its endurance rating is better than both rivals, and it’s a little larger than those too. It won’t break speed records, but this is a reliable, affordable SSD.
Samsung 850 Pro
- Stonking benchmark results, by SATA standards
- Generous warranty
- Great endurance rating
- No extras included
- Getting on in years
Samsung’s old flagship SATA SSD reaps the rewards of the firm controlling every stage of its production. Even though it’s nearly three years old, it’s performance is still more than good enough for most gamers.
In our sequential benchmarks, it, put in sequential read and write scores of 520MB/s and 498MB/s respectively, which is a bit slower than the Corsair Neutron.
In the all-round ATTO test the 850 Pro led in most benchmarks, and its Iometer long-term test result of 7,826 still puts it at the top of the SATA SSD pile.
The 850 Pro’s ten-year warranty is also longer than the deals offered with rival SATA drives, and its 7mm body is smart and slick. It also benefits from a fantastic endurance rating of 300TB on this 512GB model – thanks, in part, to Samsung’s revised 3D V-NAND system, which deploys transistors in an arrangement that reduces wear.
It’s getting on a bit, but it’s still very much worth a look because, as the limits of SATA are reached by other manufacturers, Samsung’s been there or thereabouts the whole time.
M.2 Samsung 960 Pro
- Huge speed gains over older SSDs
- Smart, small design
- Long warranty
- High price
- Slightly slower with smaller files
The Samsung 960 Pro is one of the best M.2 SSDs around, putting in benchmark results that were by far and away the best we’ve seen. But it’s not surprising when you consider Samsung’s one or two-year lead in flash memory technology.
But you pay for that speed: the cheapest 512GB model cost £300 at the time of review in late 2016, topping out at £1100 for the 2TB model.
The 960 Pro is an improvement on its predecessor 950 Pro for several reasons. It manages to stack loads more transistors on top of each other, meaning greater capacity is possible in half the space.
The on-board “Polaris” controller has improved as well, and now features five cores instead of three, for even better performance.
You can read about the technicalities in more detail in our full review.
In the AS SSD benchmark, it scored 2,823 MB/s read speeds and 2,346MB/s write speeds; that write speed is nearly 1GB/sec ahead of the next-best PCIe model we’d tested at that time. We also tested in CrystalDiskMark, with read and write speeds clocking in at 3,454MB/s and 2,157MB/s.
Small file speeds are slightly slower, with 4K reads and writes coming in at 36.5MB/s and 159MB/s. It’s beaten by both Intel and Zotac here.
It’s not the fastest at small files (but still very fast) and obliterates the competition in big file transfers. Even better, there’s a massive 5-year warranty or 400TB, 800TB and 1,200TB data warranty (for 512GB, 1TB and 2TB respectively), whichever comes first.
It’s stupendously expensive and ultimately a very niche piece of kit. But those who want ultimate performance should seriously consider the 960 Pro.
Corsair Neutron NX500
- Excellent performance
- Cheaper than similar cards
- Only one model
- Slightly specialist
The NX500 is a curious beast. It’s an NVMe drive that arrives on a PCI card for high-end systems that demand the best speeds around.
It certainly looks the part. Its black, half-height card is dominated by a chunky heatsink that mimics the design found on the Corsair One gaming PC, and its sides are covered with smart metal slats that act as heatsinks. The PCI bracket at the end of the card has triangular heat vents, and the rear of the drive is covered with plain metal.
It’s the largest PCI-E SSD we’ve seen, and it’s the best-looking – ideal if you have a window on your case and really want to show off your PC’s internals.
The NX500 uses a PCI-Express x4 connector, so you’ll need one of these slots – or a longer x8 or x16 slot – to use the Corsair in your computer. On the inside, it uses a familiar Phison E7 controller that’s been tweaked with custom firmware to provide more space for overprovisioning, which should improve reliability and write speeds.
Corsair produces an 800GB version of the NX500, but that’s it.
The Corsair’s memory is 15nm Toshiba MLC, which is an improvement over the Intel – that drive had 20nm chips. There’s 1GB or 2GB of memory depending on which capacity of drive you buy – more than most SSDs. Its five-year warranty matches Intel.
Corsair’s drive impresses in most benchmarks. Its CrystalDiskMark sequential read and write speeds of 2839MB/s and 1553MB/s are easily ahead of the Intel drive, with the former figure more than 1,200MB/s quicker. The Corsair was slower than Intel with 512KB files, but it took back a huge lead in the 4KB small file tests.
The in-depth Atto disk benchmark further illustrate the Corsair’s solid speeds. It was quicker in every read test, and its peak pace of 3048MB/s was around 500MB/s better than Intel. The Corsair’s small file write speeds were initially slower, but the NX500 quickly overtook Intel’s drive and finished the test with a lead of 1147MB/s. Our final test, IOMeter, saw the Corsair score 17,064 points – nearly three times as many as Intel’s drive managed.
Corsair’s drive is faster than Intel’s similar SSDs in most tests, and it barely costs any more. It’s also got the same length of warranty and better physical design. PCI-E SSDs like this are niche products and only a few people will truly need this speed, but if you tick that box then the NX500 is an excellent bit of kit.
PCI-E: Intel 750 Series
- Vast storage capacity
- Consistent speeds
- Not as fast as some competitors
Intel’s 750 Series is one of the most expensive drives in this group, but there’s good reason for its huge £762 price. This SSD doesn’t just pack high-end gear inside – it also has a mighty 1.2TB capacity. There are smaller versions available; the 400GB model starts at £415.
The vast 1.2TB capacity translates to 1.09TB of usable space.
The drive impresses beyond its huge size, too. Intel has used 20nm MLC NAND to form the 750 Series, and Intel has used 32 chips of varying sizes. They equate to 1.37TB of space, which means 18.8% of the drive is given to redundancy areas – a boon for protecting the drive.
The 750 Series SSD comes with an endurance rating of 1.2 million hours. That’s reasonable, but it’s unable to match the Zotac’s rating of two million hours.
The two drives are closer in benchmarks. The Intel’s AS SSD sequential read speed of 2,364MB/sec is less than 100MB/sec behind the Zotac, and the Intel’s write pace of 1,342MB/sec is a little quicker than its main rival. There was barely a gap between the SSDs in the 4K-64 queue depth tests, and those results were mirrored in CrystalDiskMark – the Intel was a little slower when reading but often a tad faster in write tests.
Intel’s drive accelerated to a top ATTO read speed of 2,495MB/sec, which is stunning. The Intel’s Iometer result of 6,934MB/sec is excellent, but a tad slower than the Zotac.
Overall, then, the Intel 750 Series is ridiculously fast, and its huge capacity makes it a genuine hard disk replacement. It’s expensive, but it justifies the cost with huge size and well-balanced performance.
Those are our top picks of the best SSDs. If you want to know more about what to look out for when buying an SSD then read on.
What is an SSD?
An SSD (solid-state drive) is the simplest and most cost-effective upgrade you can make to a laptop or desktop. Not only will it speed up your PC’s boot-up times, but opening applications and searching for files will be quicker too; in general, it will make your system feel far more snappy.
In the very simplest terms then, an SSD performs exactly the same function as your regular hard disk (or hard drive, if you prefer) but much, much faster. It replaces the mechanical aspects of your hard disk with non-moving transistors. Although more expensive than a hard disk, the performance benefit an SSD offers is absolutely worth the money.
Related: How to install an SSD in your laptop
SSD jargon explained
NAND Flash: Negative AND Logic gates. They’re similar to the chips used in RAM, but they can store data even when there’s no power flowing through them. They form the basis of all SSDs.
Controllers:SSDs, like other storage devices, are little computers in themselves. Controllers look after the algorithms that sort through data. The faster the controller, the better the performance.
SATA: Serial ATA. This is the most common, and cheapest type of SSD. It connects through your motherboard’s SATA ports and while it’s several times faster than a regular hard disk, it’s the slowest form of SSD, topping out at about 500-600MB/s. The current version of SATA is SATA III.
NVMe: Non-volatile Memory Express. This type of SSD connects over PCIe (PCI Express), with drives topping out at over 3000MB/s. You’ll either find it connecting directly to your motherboard’s PCIe slots or over M.2 (below), also using PCIe lanes.
M.2: This is a specific physical SSD format. Confusingly it can use both the SATA or PCIe lanes on your motherboard, but either way it fits into a smaller M.2 slot. M.2 SATA drives are most commonly found on ultra-thin laptops to save space (M.2 is very small) and cost (sometimes only using SATA-speed storage). If you’re buying an M.2 SSD for your desktop, make sure it’s an NVMe drive.
Warranties: SSDs used to have a reputation of being unreliable and having a short lifespan, technologies such as TRIM have made this much less of a worry. However, all SSDs come with a data warranty and a timed warranty, and your coverage expires whichever comes first. The SSD can track how much data it’s written, so if you send it off for repair and that’s been exceeded you probably won’t get a free repair. More expensive SSDs have more generous warranties.
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