Best SSD for gaming in 2021
(Image credit: Future)
The best SSD for gaming is a key component for a responsive and speedy gaming PC. Seriously, shifting from a HDD to an SSD is like no other upgrade for your gaming PC. Suddenly everything is right there at your fingertips—no hanging around while data chugs around your rig like rusty steam train. So, if you’re not planning to invest in one soon, you seriously need to rethink your priorities.
At one point, having a small SSD as a boot drive was a luxury. Now, at the advent of 4K and next-gen gaming, if you want to play your games at the highest speeds possible, investing in a quality SSD is your best bet. It should help you to defend against the incoming storage onslaught.
With prices significantly dropping, too, you can readily consider an SSD drive for even secondary or backup storage.
Considering the huge install sizes of modern games, only rising, having the best SSD for gaming is an increasingly crucial part of any modern gaming PC builds. The HDD vs. SSD storage war isn’t necessarily over, but we couldn’t recommend an old spinning platter as the main drive in your gaming PC.
Our pick of the best SSDs includes both 1TB and 500GB drives because smaller SSDs, though cheaper, lose performance. And, with games such as Red Dead Redemption 2, Destiny 2, and Modern Warfare taking up well over 150GB each, you need a lot of storage space these days to avoid a whole lot of inventory management.
Best SSD for gaming
1. Addlink S70
The best SSD for gaming
Capacity: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB | Controller: Phison PS5012-E12 | Memory: Toshiba 3D TLC | Interface : M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 3,400 MB/s (512GB version) | Seq. write: 2,000 MB/s (512GB version)
Top-end PCIe 3.0 performance
Add link came out of nowhere to drive down the prices of every competing NVMe-based SSD and seems to have been the catalyst for bringing nigh-on price parity across the PCIe and SATA SSD ecosystem. Addlink who? So yeah, it may not be a recognized name in storage. However, given that the S70 is still using a completely recognizable Phison E12 controller and Toshiba’s 3D TLC memory, there’s not much that can go wrong.
With the sticker off, the Addlink drive is almost identical to the pricier Seagate Firecuda. It performs practically the same as the WD Black SN750, which subsequently had to drop its price to compete. At the 512GB level, the Addlink S70 is arguably the best SSD to build your system around, and the 1TB version has even better writes… and we’ve seen that as low as $120 before too.
We’ve no concerns around reliability either, despite the relatively unknown name, having used both the 512GB and 1TB variants regularly as part of our test rigs without fault. When SATA drives are costing the same, and Samsung SSDs cost more but don’t deliver much extra performance, then the Addlink S70 is our pick of the bunch.
2. WD Black SN750 1TB
The best 1TB SSD around
Capacity : 1TB | Controller: Western Digital | Memory: SanDisk/Toshiba 3D TLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 3,470 MB/s | Seq. write: 3,000 MB/s
Serious SSD performance
Western Digital’s entry into the SSD arena was a long while coming, especially at the speedier end of the market, but the WD Black SN750 was arguably worth the wait. It nails solid-state performance on par with the best consumer Samsung EVO SSDs and severely undercuts them on price.
The combination of an in-house memory controller and Toshiba memory (also essentially in-house after the acquisition of the SanDisk/Toshiba memory division) means what we’ve got here is a drive that can match Samsung in its build methodology too. And that all means WD can be very aggressive on how much it charges people for the privilege of having a speedy PCIe SSD in their gaming PC.
There is a more expensive version on offer with a heatsink attached to it. Still, so long as you don’t bury your drive in an M.2 slot beneath your GPU, you should be golden, and the SN750 will maintain peak performance without burning out and without any extra SSD cooling.
3. Samsung 970 EVO Plus 500GB
The PCIe 3.0 performance option
Capacity: 500GB | Controller: Samsung Phoenix | Memory: Samsung 3-bit MLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 3,500 MB/s | Seq. write: 3,200 MB/s
Samsung SSD technology
Outstanding real-world performance
The Samsung 970 EVO Plus offers a slight bump in write performance over the 970 EVO, all for the same price. There was a time when you could pick up the non-Plus version for slightly less, but those drives seem to have disappeared now. If you can find a straight 970 EVO for less, then go for it.
Both drives still use the same Samsung Phoenix controller, which means they can outperform the competition in real-world usage. If you want peak PCIe 3.0 performance, then the Samsung drives are hard to beat, but you have to pay for that little speed hike. Compared with the 512GB Addlink, the Samsung is a little quicker in real-world testing but costs another $20.
That’s not a huge issue at this half-terabyte level, but when the 1TB version comes in at dangerously close to $200, it does make the higher capacity 970 EVO drives a bit more of a difficult recommendation. The 500GB 970 EVO is still a great drive, smartly specced, well-made, and with a more competitive price.
The best PCIe 4.0 SSD right now
Capacity: 1TB | Controller: WD_Black G2 | Memory: BiCS4 96-layer TLC | Interface: PCIe Gen4 x4 | Seq. read: 7,000 MB/s | Seq write: 5,300 MB/s
Blistering PCIe 4.0 throughput
Excellent real-world performance
Solid 5 year warranty
The Western Digital Black SN850 makes a fashionably late entrance to the PCIe 4.0 party. It’s capable of hitting 7,000MB/s reads and 5,300MB/s writes in sequential transfers, which is well beyond the other drives’ capabilities. That’s because it uses the latest PCIe 4.0 interface, which has double the theoretical bandwidth limit of the other PCIe 3.0 drives.
Its performance ultimately defines any SSD; the WD SN850 really stands out from the crowd. The synthetic benchmarks, spearheaded by ATTO and AS SSD, show that this is very much a second-generation PCIe 4.0 drive, with peak sequential read speeds knocking on 6,750MB/s and 5,920MB/s, respectively. Writes are lower than the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus, but still healthy, at either side of 5GB/s. The 4K write performance in AS SSD manages to flip this over, and the WD SN850 managing to outpace the Sabrent drive, hence why it replaced it on this list.
Out of the new PCIe 4.0 drives on the market, the SN850 is hands down the most impressive out of the gate with its impressive real-world performance though it does run a little hot.
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5. Crucial MX500 1TB
A great secondary storage drive
Capacity: 1TB | Controller: Silicon Motion SM2258 | Memory: Micron TLC | Interface: SATA 6Gbps | Seq. read: 560 MB/s | Seq. write: 510 MB/s
One of the fastest SATA drives
Competitive price per GB
It seems strange that the Crucial MX500 is the only SATA drive left on our list of the best SSDs for gaming, but when the price delta between PCIe and SATA is so small, it’s difficult to make an argument for the far slower technology. But, as there is a hard limit on the number of M.2 slots on your motherboard, there is still a place for SATA SSDs as secondary storage.
And the Crucial MX500 is one of the best. With SATA’s maximum theoretical bandwidth limit of 600MB/s, it’s nearly as quick as you’ll get, and Crucial’s drives have long been among the best-value options available too. This is the most affordable 1TB SATA drive you can pick up and make a great second home for your Steam and Epic libraries.
It will happily function as a boot drive on systems with no M.2 sockets, or at least no bootable M.2 sockets anyway. You will still be missing out on the zippy response of your operating system running on the SSD-specific NVMe protocol, but if that’s not an option, this will see you right.
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6. Crucial P1 1TB NVMe
QLC performance, low price, and high capacity
Capacity: 1TB | Controller: Silicon Motion SM2263 | Memory : Micron 3D QLC | Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4 | Seq. read: 2,000 MB/s | Seq. write: 1,700 MB/s
Faster than SATA
Solid power efficiency
The Crucial P1 is the cheapest 1TB NVMe SSD you can squeeze into your PC, but that low cost comes at… a cost. Crucial has managed to get the price so low because it’s using quad-level cell (QLC) memory, arguably the worst NAND available to SSDs. It allows for greater density at a lower price, but the trade-off is the overall performance and endurance. You’d still have to fill and refill the drive many, many times over to get close to hitting the lower endurance limits of the P1, but it doesn’t inspire as much confidence as a TLC or MLC drive does.
The speed, however, is the sticking point. As the drive gets full, you will find it can drop dangerously close to the performance of a standard SATA-based SSD. Before that level, however, the Crucial P1 can comfortably outpace the older technology even if it can’t match the speeds of either WD, Addlink, or Samsung’s NVMe drives.
If you have a spare M.2 socket on your motherboard and already have your boot drive running at genuine NVMe speeds, then the capacity and the generally higher-than-SATA speeds make the P1 a tremendous second drive.
Best SSD for gaming FAQ
Q: What’s the difference between SATA and NVMe PCIe-based SSDs?
As the prices of NVMe SSDs fall every day, we don’t see much difference in cost between the best NVMe SSDs and their SATA-based equivalents. When the cheapest 2.5-inch 1TB SATA SSD is only $24 less than an equivalent capacity NVMe PCIe drive (and four times slower), why bother with older SATA technology when you can move into the future for so cheap?
Many of the best SSDs for gaming still use the PCIe 3.0 interface, but we’re starting to see more PCIe 4.0 drives sliding into the market. Corsair was an early pacesetter here, and the newly launched 500GB Samsung 980 Pro SSD did well in testing, but the value proposition isn’t the greatest, unfortunately.
Where SATA’s theoretical performance limit is 600MB/s, and PCIe 3.0’s is 4,000MB/s, the newer PCIe 4.0 SSDs can double that figure to a maximum of 8,000MB/s. The current top speed of available Gen4 drives is around 7,000MB/s, which is double that of the previous generation, top out at 3,500MB/s, in the real world.
Q: How do we test SSDs?
A: SSDs make your whole system faster and more pleasant to use. But they matter for gaming, too. A fast-loading SSD can cut dozens of seconds off the load times of big games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV. An SSD won’t affect framerates like your GPU or CPU, but it will make installing, booting, dying, and reloading in games a faster, smoother process.
When shopping for a good SSD for gaming, one of the most important factors is the price per gigabyte. How much will you have to spend to keep a robust library of Steam games installed, ready to be played at a moment’s notice? With many new games surpassing the 50GB and even 150GB mark, this becomes even more critical.
To find the best gaming SSDs, we researched the SSD market, picked out the strongest contenders, and put them through their paces with various benchmarking tools. We also researched what makes a great SSD great, beyond the numbers—technical stuff like types of flash memory and controllers.
PCIe 4.0 SSDs are supported by 2nd and 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen CPUs and X570 and B550 motherboards. Sure, they’re mighty for bandwidth, but when it’s crunch-time in-game, there’s not a vast amount more it can deliver than a PCIe 3.0 drive, at least not until Microsoft delivers DirectStorage, which will be dropping later this year.
Dave has been obsessed with gaming since the days of Zaxxon on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. Thankfully it’s a lot easier to build a gaming rig now there are no motherboard jumper switches, though he has been breaking technology ever since… at least he gets paid for it now.