Your buying guide for the best SSDs in 2018
Solid-state drives (SSD) is standard-issue for storing data in tablets and smartphones, where it's relied upon for its tiny size and power-sipping nature. Those same virtues can be handy in laptops too, but it’s the speed of an SSD compared to a traditional hard drive which is the biggest reason to upgrade.
This speed factor is about so much more than go-faster bragging rights though. Old-school desktop PC users may still battle over who has the fastest processor or graphics card, but SSD performance is more about the overall user experience – applications launch almost instantly, web pages load faster, and files copy in a fraction of the time.
How much should I spend on an SSD?
It's taken years, but we are now at the state where the SSD is a truly affordable component for any computer user. And if your wallet won't even stretch to £100, you can still get a 250GB SSD. Around £140 will get you a 500GB drive.
Sure, a traditional hard drive is still a lot cheaper, but you can install Windows and your most-used programs on an SSD and keep your music, video and photo libraries on a huge hard disk where performance isn’t as important.
What to look for in an SSD
For those seeking the very best performance, there's still a case for finding the fastest rather than just choosing the cheapest SSD.
This is where you have a choice. There are now two different types of SSDs: SATA and PCIe. SATA is the type you’re probably most familiar with as it has been around for years and is used in PCs and laptops for hard drives and DVD drives. Most SATA SSDs are 2.5in wide as they’re designed to fit in laptops. But they’re also compatible with all recent PCs.
For laptop users specifically, you'll want to also know the exact height of the SSD to ensure it will fit: some are 9.5mm thick rather than 7mm.
The new type is a PCIe SSD. It gets confusing because there are other acronyms and terminology too: NVMe and M.2. Put simply, PCIe (PCI Express) supersedes SATA because it is a much faster interface.
NVMe (Non-Volative Memory Express) is the protocol which supersedes AHCI: it complements the PCIe interface. Although that’s important to note, it’s the form factor which determines if you connect one of these drives to your PC or laptop.
This is where M.2 comes in. It’s a relatively new type of slot you’ll find on recent motherboards and in some laptops. Most M.2 SSDs are the 2280 type, which simply means 22mm wide and 80mm long. You can check your motherboard manual or contact your laptop manufacturer to find out if such a drive will be compatible.
Note: Just because an SSD has an M.2 interface does not mean it is an NVMe drive. You can buy SATA SSDs with M.2 connectors which will still be limited to SATA speeds, so watch out for this when buying.
If your PC's motherboard lacks an M.2 slot, you can buy a PCIe adaptor card for around £10. Some M.2 SSDs are sold with or without the adapter, such as Kingston's KC1000.
Getting back to performance, this has effectively plateaued among SATA SSDs. It's not that flash memory has reached its limit, far from it, but the Serial ATA interface which is now the bottleneck.
The fastest SATA SSDs can read at around 550MB/s, but the fastest PCIe NVMe drives can read at over 3000MB/s.
The SSDs here cover the highest-performing models today, as well as some cheaper options that juggle the value factor rather than best-in-class performance figures.
What about MLC, TLC and SLC?
There are various memory technologies used on SSDs, from multi-level cell (MLC), to the cheaper triple-level cell flash (TLC) architectures. You might even come across the rare and most expensive single-level cell (SLC) drive. The differences between the cell technologies boil down to the amount of bits (data) that a single cell (within the SSD) can handle.
TLC handles three, MLC two, and SLC one. The greater the number of bits per cell, the increased likelihood of failure, inconsistencies and - most importantly - performance. However, as this is a general sweeping statement, manufacturers have found ways around the limitations of SSD technology.
When buying an SSD, look out for long warranties and high write limits (expressed as a TBW value) if you prize data integrity, although with the help of proper backup routines, data loss isn’t really an issue today.
Different SSDs demand more or less power in active use or when idle, and there are different power ratings again for when a laptop is in a sleep or hibernation mode. This is certainly the least important factor when choosing an SSD, though.
- Reviewed on: 12 November 2018
We're blown away by the MP510 which is a drive that offers everything you could want.
It combines performance, endurance, capacity and price. PCI bus connected NVMe cards used to be expensive and lower capacity.
Not any more.
Read our Corsair Force Series MP510 review.
- Reviewed on: 9 March 2018
The WD Blue 3D NAND might best represent the last hoorah of the SATA SSD before NVMe
technology kicks that interface into the long grass. It’s a big improvement over its predecessor and gives Corsair and Samsung’s mid-range products a run for their money.
Excellent overall performance coupled with competitive pricing makes for a winning combination, or it does for that still want, or need SATA.
Read our WD Blue 3D NAND review.
- Reviewed on: 17 January 2018
Unless you’re going to be using this drive for editing 4K video every day or need a 4TB device, the MX500 provides an almost perfect combination of performance and price.
If you can afford the bigger capacities, you get a bonus not only in cost-per-GB, but they also have a much longer lifespan.
Read our Crucial MX500 review.
- Reviewed on: 23 January 2018
If you’ve got an NVMe PCI M.2 port on your system you’ll probably want Samsung’s 960 Evo in that form factor, but for everyone else the SATA model the new Evo is an excellent option.
It’s not substantially quicker than the model it replaces, but the extended lifespan is certainly worth the modest investment.
Read our Samsung 860 Evo review.
- Reviewed on: 9 March 2018
What Intel appears to have done with the 760p design is sacrifice some write performance while retaining most of the read speed potential, and delivered it at premium SATA SSD pricing.
That makes the 760p perfect for gamers who get a system that boots rapidly and launches games quickly. It’s less than ideal for those that need fast writes, like those video editing, though the 1TB and 2TB models might well work well for them too based on the existing scaling.
The 760p is undoubtedly a game-changing product for most people with a PC using SATA SSDs, and a different performance planet for those still using hard drives.
Read our Intel 760p PCIe SSD review.
- Reviewed on: 7 December 2018
While there's nothing overtly wrong with the 860 QVO, it's not quite the drive we hoped for.
Performance might be excellent thanks to its new 4-bit NAND memory modules, but the performance and price combination just can't beat the competition as it stands.
We're more interested in the large 2- and 4TB capacities which will arrive in 2019.
Read our Samsung 860 QVO review.
- Reviewed on: 14 March 2018
Kingston's KC1000 strikes almost the perfect balance between performance, price and endurance. For this price, the five-year warranty is reassuring and worth the slight trade-off in performance against competitors such as Samsung's 960 EVO, so long as you don't need encryption.
Putting performance in perspective, even the KC1000 is in a completely different league to a standard SATA-connected SSD and many, many times faster than a traditional mechanical hard drive. If you're upgrading from one of those or even an older SSD, you'll hardly believe the performance improvement it makes to your PC.
Read our Kingston KC1000 review.
- Reviewed on: 20 November 2018
Across the board the new 970 Evo is not only better than the 960 Evo, but it also out-performs the 960 PRO in some important tests. More IOPS, quicker writing and the same TBW at the largest capacity. With the possible exception of the 970 Pro; this is the NVMe SSD to buy... if you can afford it.
Read our Samsung 970 Evo review.
9. Toshiba Q300
- Reviewed on: 1 June 2016
The Toshiba Q300 480GB (2016) SSD is cheaper than most of its competitors and yet is able to provide a fantastic all-round performance. If you're looking to upgrade or build a budget system, then the Q300 is a solid choice.
Read our Toshiba Q300 review.
10. Samsung 960 Pro
- Reviewed on: 1 November 2016
The Samsung 960 Pro M.2 provides unbeatable sequential performance, but comes at a high cost. You'll need the right motherboard or PCIe adaptor and a large sum of money to buy the drive. Nevertheless, if you're looking for an internal drive with the best read/write speeds, the 960 Pro is our top recommendation.
Read our Samsung 960 Pro review.