Want to boost your PC’s raw performance without replacing your processor? An SSD is the best place to start. We round up the best SSDs including SATA, M.2 and PCIe SSDs for ultimate performance.
An SSD (solid-state drive) is the simplest and most cost-effective upgrade you can make to a laptop or desktop. It won’t just change how quickly your PC boots up, but it’ll also speed up opening applications, searching for files and generally make the system feel more snappy. It has to be seen to be believed.
In the very simplest terms, 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. They’re more expensive that hard disks, but the performance benefit they offer is absolutely worth it.
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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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 use – 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.
SATA: Corsair Neutron XTi
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- Available in 240, 480, 960 and 1920GB options
- Five-year warranty, 320TB endurance rating (480GB model)
- Review price: £180 (480GB model)
This is the first SSD we’ve seen from Corsair for quite some time, and it’s taking aim at the mainstream market. That’s expected, because SATA drives such as this now sit between traditional hard disks and M.2 SSDs when it comes to speed and price.
The Neutron XTi sits at the top of Corsair’s new stack of SSDs, and this 480GB model costs £180 – a middling price that undercuts Samsung’s 850 Pro, which is starting to show its age.
The new drive is made of 15nm MLC NAND, and it’s based around a Phison controller that has four cores. That specification is entirely conventional, and it pushes the limits of performance on a SATA drive – sequential read and write speeds generally rub up against the 600MB/sec peak bandwidth of a SATA 3 connection.
To try to get around this issue and provide better performance in areas that aren’t saturated, Corsair has doubled the RAM allocation that the Neutron’s controller usually supports – so there’s 512MB of DDR3 installed on this SSD’s PCB.
The drive’s red exterior helps the Neutron stand out in a market filled with dark metallic products, but don’t expect many extras – there’s a 7mm-to-9.5mm blanker, but that’s it. There’s a five-year warranty, which is solid, and a decent 320TB endurance rating.
The Corsair’s sequential read and write speeds of 560MB/sec and 542MB/sec are good – not far away from the SATA connector’s limit – and those figures are slightly better than the Samsung 850 Pro.
Corsair added that extra memory to improve the Neutron’s performance away from sequential file tests, and it traded blows with the Samsung in these tests. In AS SSD’s 4K-64 random file test, the Corsair managed a read speed 369MB/sec and 358MB/sec, while the Samsung ran at 384MB/sec and 320MB/sec. Corsair’s drive was faster in most of the Atto benchmarks, but the Samsung SSD was quicker in the smallest file test, and its drive access speeds were always faster too.
Corsair’s drive then scored 7297 in the Iometer benchmark – about 600 points short of the Samsung.
The 320TB endurance rating and five-year warranties are both very generous, and while it’s half the warranty time of Samsung, it actually beats the equivalent 512GB drive’s 300TB endurance rating.
The Corsair is competitive in some tests and not far behind in others – and we reckon that’s a good result for a mainstream drive that’s around £40 cheaper than the Samsung. It’s our new go-to SATA SSD.
SATA: Crucial MX300
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- Available in 275, 525GB, 1 and 2TB options
- Three-year warranty, 160TB endurance (525GB model)
- Review price: £119 (525GB)
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.
SATA: WD Blue SSD
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- Three-year warranty, 400TB endurance rating (1TB)
- 250, 500GB and 1TB models available
- Review price: £251 (1TB)
Western Digital is more commonly known for its hard disks, but the firm purchased SSD manufacturer SanDisk in 2016 – and this is its first consumer solid-state release.
It’s no surprise that Western Digital is making moves into the SSD market, with hard disks losing prominence and market share, and this Blue drive makes a splash with a huge 1TB capacity.
Under the hood, this drive is extremely conventional. The Marvell 88SS1074 controller has been used inside dozens of drives over the years because of its four cores and NAND versatility. The 15nm TLC memory is also familiar – the 3-bit design means it’s possible to build drives with higher capacities at cheaper prices, although this memory doesn’t last as long – and can be a little slower than MLC, which has less pressure when it comes to capacity.
It doesn’t push the envelope on the outside, with a black exterior and a large, smart Western Digital sticker.
It’s protected by a three-year warranty – this is a little lower than many mainstream drives, although more conventional for cheaper SSDs. Conversely, the Western Digital is protected by a 400TB endurance rating. That looks good, but looking at the equivalent 500GB drive that falls to 200TB, which is below the likes of Corsair.
The Western Digital has a large capacity, and it delivered consistent performance. Its CrystalDiskMark sequential reads and writes of 539MB/sec and 522MB/sec are fine for a SATA drive, and it ran through the 4K benchmark at 522MB/sec and 508MB/sec – so small files clearly don’t diminish this drive’s pace.
Its Atto file tests hovered around the 500MB/sec mark when reading and writing, and its Iometer result of 6551 is perfectly respectable.
None of those results are record-breaking, even for SATA drives, but that consistency is important – it means that the Western Digital won’t balk at any tasks, whether it’s writing tiny files or loading large games.
The £251 price makes it more expensive than many SATA drives, but you do get that solid speed and 1TB of space – so it’s an excellent choice if you’re searching for a mix of SSD speed and HDD capacity.
M.2: Intel 600p
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- 128, 256, 512GB and 1.02TB models available
- Five-year warranty, 288TB endurance rating (512GB)
- Review price: £198 (512GB)
Intel has spent years trying to make inroads into the SSD market, and it first released NVMe drives on PCI cards. This time around, though, the 600p has been released as a pure M.2 drive.
This drive is a NVMe product with a difference – it isn’t designed to break speed records. Instead, it’s a mainstream product that’s built to easily outpace SATA drives, without breaking the bank.
Intel has worked with Micron to develop the 3D NAND used inside this SSD, and there are plenty of similarities between the 32-layer silicon here and the memory used to build the Crucial MX300.
The 600p can access the full NVMe allocation of four PCI Express lanes, and the drive is controlled by a Silicon Motion SM2260 unit with customised Intel firmware. It’s a dual-core ARM chip, and the firm has good form when it comes to drives that offer solid performance for reasonable prices.
It also has a five-year warranty, which matches the best drives on the market – many other affordable drives make do with two fewer years. That’s good, but the Intel’s 288TB endurance rating is more middling, and may concern those who run storage-intensive workloads. Still, not bad for the money.
The Intel drive’s CrystalDiskMark results are solid. Its best speeds come when reading files: its CrystalDiskMark sequential pace of 1318MB/sec is three times as quick as many SATA SSDs, and in the Atto test it peaked at 1164MB/sec – another fine result.
It’s a little slower when writing files. Its best speed here was in Atto, where it topped out at 568MB/sec. That’s only a little better than most SATA drives – so it’s an improvement, but only just.
Still, its small files speeds were better than many SATA drives, and its access times were good, too – often a little better than conventional SATA SSDs. Its overall Iometer score of 15,085 is about twice as good as the best traditional SSDs, too.
The Intel 600p isn’t the quickest NVMe drive we’ve tested, but it’s one of the cheapest, and it still delivers a solid speed boost over SSDs, especially when writing files. It’s a solid part for taking the step up without spending wads of cash.
M.2: PNY CS2030
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- Impressive sequential read and write speeds
- Available in 240GB or 480GB
- Tempting low price
- Three-year warranty, no data endurance rating stated
- Review price: £115 (240GB)
The CS2030 is PNY’s first consumer NVMe drive, and the gaming firm has taken an interesting approach with this product.
Instead of taking aim at Samsung and other top-tier rivals, this 240GB unit costs £115 – which means it’s cheaper than many NVMe drives and conventional SSDs offering the same capacity.
The tiny M.2 SSD is built around a Phison E7 controller, which is a quad-core chip with the usual features – AES 256-bit encryption and Smart technology, for example.
Under the hood, the PNY uses Toshiba’s 15nm MLC NAND. Those chips are reliable performers, but they’re a step behind many other NVMe drives that use 3D NAND with more layers – Samsung and Intel both now use such a system.
We’ve reviewed the 240GB version of this drive, but the only other capacity available is 480GB. That’s unusual; most other SSDs are available with a 1TB version, or maybe a 2TB variant. It isn’t a big deal if you’re going to pair the PNY with a hard disk or a larger SATA SSD, but it could be an issue if the PNY is the only SSD in a system filled with applications or games.
The PNY offers only a three-year warranty, which is two years short of the deals included with many consumer SSDs. What’s more, there’s no trace of an endurance rating in the paperwork. It is, however, rated for two million hours of use, which puts it at the very top of the stack compared to other SSDs with timed endurance ratings.
PNY’s drive made a solid start in sequential read and write tests. Its CrystalDiskMark speeds of 1481MB/sec and 1324MB/sec are fine – several times quicker than SATA drives, and very consistent. It was solid in Atto, too, quickly reaching those sorts of speeds even when handling smaller files.
The PNY delivered more middling results in AS SSD’s small file tests, which indicates that this SSD may sometimes struggle with more intricate tasks.
For the most part, though, there’s a lot to like about the PNY. It’s quicker than the Intel 600p in many tests, and delivers SATA-beating speed for similar prices.
PCI-E: Toshiba OCZ RD400
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- 128, 256, 512GB, 1TB models available
- Five-year warranty, 296TB endurance rating (512GB)
- Review price: £350 (512GB)
This is one of the first enthusiast OCZ SSDs to emerge since Toshiba swallowed up the firm back in 2013, and it’s a bit of a barnstormer. It’s a PCIe product, which means it uses the extra bandwidth provided by the NVMe interface to deliver better speeds than any SATA-based drive can manage.
It also means the RD400 faces competition from some of the world’s best SSDs.
The Toshiba follows the form factor laid out by the Zotac drive (below), which means it’s an M.2 SSD mounted onto an expansion board that slots into a PCIe X4 slot. Unsurprisingly, Toshiba has relied on its own hardware here, with its in-house 15nm MLC NAND being powered by a bespoke controller. OCZ’s involvement seems restricted to some firmware tweaks and a logo on the box.
The RD400 comes with a decent 296TB endurance rating and a reasonable five-year warranty. It’s got most important features, too, although it is missing any encryption.
Toshiba’s latest drive is undoubtedly faster than any SATA SSD, but it’s inconsistent when compared to some other PCIe products. Its sequential read speed of 1,974MB/s is incredible, but it’s a few hundred megabytes behind the competition – and its write pace of 1,226MB/s is closer, but still lags behind. There’s also a big difference between this drive and the competition in smaller files: its 846MB/s and 609MB/s AS SSD read and write speeds are about 500MB/s and 800MB/s slower than the competition.
The RD400 was behind both rivals in CrystalDiskMark’s sequential read test and smaller file benchmark, but was a little quicker with mid-sized files. It also skipped ahead of the competition in that app’s sequential write test.
The Toshiba’s Atto scores also demonstrate further performance inconsistencies. It’s the fastest drive here in small file tests, but in every other benchmark it falls between the slower Intel and faster Zotac SSDs.
Then, surprisingly, the Toshiba easily outpaced its rivals in the IOMeter test. Its average speed of 978MB/s was three times quicker than other drives, and its average response was also about three times quicker.
That’s a good finish for this drive, but it doesn’t do enough to hide the inconsistencies elsewhere. It was middling in Atto and behind its rivals in most of the other benchmarks.
Despite the mixed results, the Toshiba remains one of the fastest SSDs on the market. It’s not got enough speed or extras elsewhere to overhaul the Zotac or Intel drive, but it remains a good option if SATA doesn’t provide enough speed and if the competition is a little too expensive.
PCI-E: Zotac Sonix
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- Lighting-fast speeds
- Reasonable mid-range price
- Highest endurance rating
- Three-year warranty, no data endurance rating stated
- 480GB model only
- Review price: £380
Zotac’s drive is the best-looking product in this trio of PCIe SSDs, thanks to it metal exterior and smart cluster of cut-outs.
It’s just as impressive under the hood. The 15nm MLC NAND used to build this drive has a tighter manufacturing process than Intel’s 20nm memory, and it’s bolstered by a 512MB DDR3 cache. It’s all controlled by a multi-core chip from third-party firm Phison.
That tempting specification is reinforced by a two million hour endurance rating, although a data endurance rating isn’t stated.
It’s a great performer, too. Its AS SSD sequential read result of 2,412MB/sec inched ahead of the Intel, and its write speed of 1,298MB/sec came in second place by a tiny margin. It continued to lead the way in most of the small-file benchmarks, and then topped the table with a CrystalDiskMark read speed of 1,745MB/sec.
It fell behind the Intel again when writing, but its speed of 1,253MB/sec remains excellent – only 25MB/sec behind the Intel drive.
Zotac’s drive bolstered its performance in the ATTO test. Its top read speed of 3,056MB/sec is the fastest out of this group’s trio of PCIe drives, and its write speed of 2,276MB/sec is similarly dominant. The Zotac was consistent, too, quickly hitting those top-tier results and maintaining them across several different file sizes.
The final benchmark, Iometer, saw the Sonix SSD rampage through at 8,085MB/sec – another class-leading result.
Zotac’s drive doesn’t beat the Intel in every test, then, but it’s the winner across most of the benchmarks – and its affordable price makes it the best option if you’re after a lightning-quick SSD. Intel’s drive can’t quite keep up, but it remains a great option for larger capacities.
PCI-E: Intel 750 Series
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- Vast storage capacity
- Consistent speeds
- Unable to match Zotac’s pace
- Five-year warranty, data endurance rating not stated
- 400, 800GB and 1.2TB models available
- Review price: £763
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 – but Zotac’s drive was just a tad faster, topping out at 3,056MB/sec. And 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 only a little slower than the Zotac drive – but even when it does fall back, it’s never far behind. It’s still 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.