In our series of Solid State Drive guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended SSDs. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
Best SSDs: Holiday 2018
The unsung hero of PC performance, these days it’s often storage that makes the difference between a fast, responsive PC and something that feels like less. A processor can only work as quickly as it can be fed data, and this is where a good solid state drive can help even a slow system become faster. Whether it’s an upgrade for an older system still packing a hard drive, or building out a new system from scratch, picking the right SSD is one of the more important decisions to make in configuring and customizing a computer. To help with this, we’ve assembled our SSD guide, outlining the best choices in SSDs of every form factor and price range.
Sizing up the SSD market here as we go into the holiday shopping season, what we find is that NAND flash memory prices have continued to drop in recent months. And this is a trend will persist into 2019. So as this year winds down we should see plenty of SSD sales, setting some new records for affordability along the way.
|November 2018 SSD Recommendations|
|Mainstream 2.5″ SATA||SanDisk Ultra 3D 500GB||$79.99 (16¢/GB)|
|Entry-level NVMe||MyDigitalSSD SBX 256GB||$54.99 (21¢/GB)|
|High-end NVMe||HP EX920 1TB||$199.99 (20¢/GB)|
|M.2 SATA||WD Blue 3D M.2 1TB||$139.99 (14¢/GB)|
Our selection of recommended drives has not changed much since this summer, though the prices are very different. Drives using 64-layer 3D NAND are the only ones worth considering; older generation products haven’t been keeping pace with the price drops, and it looks like 96-layer 3D NAND won’t be appearing on the retail market until 2019. In almost every product segment, the best drives to buy are using TLC NAND. The few products using MLC NAND don’t offer enough extra performance or write endurance to justify their price premium, and the two retail drives with QLC NAND are barely cheaper than their TLC-based competition.
Above are some recommendations of good deals in each market segment. Several of these aren’t the cheapest option in their segment and instead are quality products worth paying a little extra for.
The next table is a rough summary of what constitutes a good deal on a current model in today’s market. Sales that don’t beat these prices are only worth a second glance if the drive is nicer than average for its product segment.
|November 2018 SSD Recommendations: Price to Beat, ¢/GB|
|Budget 2.5″ SATA||22 ¢/GB||16 ¢/GB||13 ¢/GB||13 ¢/GB|
|Mainstream 2.5″ SATA||21 ¢/GB||16 ¢/GB||15 ¢/GB||16 ¢/GB|
|Entry-level NVMe||39 ¢/GB||21 ¢/GB||19 ¢/GB||19 ¢/GB||17 ¢/GB|
|High-end NVMe||26 ¢/GB||22 ¢/GB||20 ¢/GB||27 ¢/GB|
|M.2 SATA||21 ¢/GB||17 ¢/GB||14 ¢/GB||16 ¢/GB|
As always, the prices shown are merely a snapshot at the time of writing. We make no attempt to predict when or where the best discounts will be. Instead, this guide should be treated as a baseline against which deals can be compared. All of the drives recommended here are models we have tested in at least one capacity or form factor, but in many cases we have not tested every capacity and form factor. For drives not mentioned in this guide, our SSD Bench database can provide performance information and comparisons.
Mainstream 2.5″ SATA: Crucial MX500, WD Blue 3D/SanDisk Ultra 3D
Entry-level SATA SSDs with DRAMless controllers are the cheapest drives on the market, with 120GB models now under $30. However, for general-purpose consumer usage we recommend getting a mainstream SATA SSD with a DRAM cache and drive capacity of at least 240GB. The combination of better performance, higher write endurance and longer warranty is usually worth the $10-20 upgrade. The entry-level drives from the most reputable large brands (eg. Toshiba TR200, Crucial BX500) tend to be slightly more expensive and thus come too close to the pricing of the mainstream drives.
These days, the best options for a mainstream SATA drive are all at least 240GB. This is large enough for the operating system and all your everyday applications and data, but not necessarily enough for a large library of games, movies or photos. Drives in the 240–256GB range tend to be significantly slower than larger models, and the per-GB pricing is significantly higher than for 480GB and larger drives.
Among current-generation mainstream SATA drives with 64-layer TLC NAND and a full-size DRAM cache, the differences in performance and power consumption are slight. The best pick is usually whichever one is cheapest. Today, that’s the SanDisk Ultra 3D. Next week, it could be the Crucial MX500 again, or perhaps the Samsung 860 EVO. The aging 2TB Micron 1100 OEM drive is still available from some third-party sellers at very low prices, but the current retail drives that come with manufacturer’s warranties are closing in and may match the prices of the 1100 before supplies completely dry up.
The market for consumer NVMe SSDs has broadened enough to be split into entry-level and high-end segments. There are now several low-cost NVMe SSD controllers that feature only four NAND channels instead of eight, and most of these controllers also have just two PCIe lanes instead of the four used by high-end drives.
Almost all consumer NVMe SSDs use the M.2 2280 form factor, but a handful are PCIe add-in cards. The heatsinks on many of the add-in cards tend to increase the price while making no meaningful difference to real-world performance, so our recommendation for NVMe SSDs are all M.2 form factor SSDs.
High-end NVMe: ADATA XPG SX8200 and HP EX920
Drives with next-generation high-end NVMe controllers from Phison and Silicon Motion are starting to hit the market, but supplies are limited and prices are still rather high. The Phison E12 controller can most readily be found in the MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro, and some retailers also have some capacities of the Corsair MP510 in stock. The Silicon Motion SM2262EN controller will soon be available in the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro, replacing the current SX8200 that uses the plain SM2262 controller. All of these drives are products to watch, because they could easily become the best deal for a high-end NVMe drive in a month or two when they are more widely available. In the meantime, SM2262 drives like the ADATA SX8200, HP EX920 and Mushkin Pilot are much cheaper than other premium NVMe drives but aren’t noticeably slower.
Intel’s Optane SSDs are down to around $1/GB. On select synthetic benchmarks they can appear to justify this price premium over NAND-based SSDs, but hardly any consumer workloads benefit meaningfully from the performance advantages of Optane SSDs over high-end flash-based drives. There’s also the problem that Intel’s Optane products are somewhat of an awkward fit for consumer machines. The 800P and Optane Memory products are low-capacity PCIe 3 x2 M.2 drives, and while the 900P and 905P are power-hungry U.2 and add-in card drives. The M.2 version of the 905P should finally hit the market this week, but it’s still a 110mm long card that won’t fit in most laptops. We’ll have to wait until next year for Intel to introduce Optane SSDs that can be considered true high-end alternatives to mainstream NAND-based NVMe drives.
Entry-level NVMe: MyDigitalSSD SBX
The entry-level NVMe market segment has been shaken up by the arrival of the Intel 660p and Crucial P1, the first two consumer SSDs to use four bit per cell (QLC) NAND flash memory. These products necessarily have more of a high-capacity while most other entry-level NVMe product lines are geared toward low capacities. The QLC drives aren’t yet beating the TLC competition on price per GB, but they do bring a 2TB option to this market segment.
Despite high DRAM prices, the handful of DRAMless NVMe SSDs on the market (Toshiba RC100, HP EX900) have not been able to beat the prices of higher-performing entry-level NVMe drives that include a full-sized DRAM buffer. This means that drives with the Phison E8 controller are the most competitive products in this segment. The Kingston A1000 has at times been very cheap for some capacities, but at the moment the MyDigitalSSD SBX is in the lead across the board. However, the persistent problem remains that the cheapest high-end NVMe drives are only $10-20 more and they are significantly faster than any of these entry-level drives.
M.2 SATA: Crucial MX500 and WD Blue 3D
Consumers looking to remove cable clutter from their desktops should generally prefer M.2 NVMe drives over M.2 SATA drives now that there are several very affordable options offering a significant performance boost over SATA. Notebook users who have no choice of form factor can rejoice that M.2 SATA SSDs now usually carry little or no premium over their 2.5″ counterparts, which was not often the case when mSATA was the dominant small form factor for SSDs. These M.2 SATA SSDs will also generally still offer better battery life than M.2 NVMe SSDs, though a few NVMe SSDs are starting to match SATA drives for power efficiency.
The Samsung 860 EVO M.2 is only in the running at higher capacities. The WD Blue 3D and Crucial MX500 are reasonably priced across the entire range, with the MX500 currently beating the WD Blue at lower capacities.