Almost every SSD you can buy today is great, but some are still better than others. If you need to buy a SATA SSD today, we still suggest the 500 GB Samsung 850 EVO—even two years after it initially launched. The 850 EVO is not the fastest SATA SSD you can get, but it comes close. More important, it has one of the best combinations of price, performance, and capacity of any drive you can buy. And it’s available in 2.5-inch, mSATA, and M.2 SATA form factors, so it’ll work with almost every computer.
Unlike most storage brands, Samsung makes its own SSD controllers, firmware, and memory (both DRAM and NAND), which means it gets first dibs on the good stuff and is able to design the entire SSD to work together from the start. As a result, the company has a reputation for making very reliable drives. Should anything go wrong, it carries a five-year warranty. And it includes Samsung’s great Magician software for easy drive installation, maintenance, and even faster transfers (though only on Windows). It also supports full-disk self-encryption, which is necessary for some corporate use.
If the Samsung is sold out or too expensive, or you want to save money on a higher-capacity drive, get the Crucial MX300. This new drive comes close to the 850 EVO’s speed and reliability, and it’s among the most energy-efficient SSDs available. It’s also a great choice for larger capacities—the 750 GB version is just a bit more expensive than the 500 GB 850 EVO, but the 1 TB drive is $50 cheaper than the equivalent Samsung, and you still get perks like full-disk encryption and bundled software. It has a shorter warranty than the Samsung, and it’s a bit slower in some tasks, but for most people, it’s a great alternative.
If you have a legitimate need for the fastest M.2 SSD, you should buy the Samsung 960 Pro. This M.2 PCIe drive reads as much as seven times faster than the fastest SATA drives and can write four times faster. It’s expensive—more than double the cost of the 850 EVO—and you’ll need a desktop or M.2 PCIe-equipped laptop to use it, but video and photo editors, server admins, CAD designers, and others with workstation-style demands will benefit from its speed. This isn’t a drive designed for gamers or casual users, however. If that sounds like you, wait for the upcoming 960 EVO, or consider one of our other picks.
Ben Keough has written about tech for more than a decade, most recently as editor in chief of news and features at Reviewed.com, and has built dozens of PCs for himself, friends, and family. Nathan Edwards tested dozens of SSDs for Maximum PC between 2008 and 2012, watching as they progressed from extremely expensive, error-plagued, and not much better than mechanical hard drives to only moderately expensive, reliable, and much better than mechanical drives.
Since 2013, when we began recommending SSDs for the Wirecutter, we’ve been in contact with storage experts, learning all there is to know about SSD technology and gathering insights from the professionals who benchmark these drives for a living. There’s nothing we could learn by running our own benchmarks that we can’t get from the experts’ numbers—been there, done that—so we usually don’t test drives ourselves. Instead, we weigh experts’ benchmarks with our knowledge of what most people actually need in an SSD to recommend the best drives for each type of user.
In updating this guide, we examined every 6 Gbps SATA SSD that has come out since our last major update in April 2015, plus the emerging crop of M.2 drives, both SATA and NVMe/PCIe. We read reviews from the sites that we know do great SSD testing—primarily AnandTech but also CNET, Tom’s Hardware, The SSD Review, StorageReview.com, The Tech Report, and a few others—and pored over benchmarks. We checked out scores of user reviews, looking for any glaring flaws or endemic issues with specific drives. And we spoke to pro reviewers to get their take on the best drives available right now.
In total, we considered more than 30 SSDs across both categories to arrive at our final recommendations, logging more than 15 hours of research in the process.
You should get an SSD like the 500 GB Samsung 850 EVO if you have a computer that is one to three years old and has a traditional hard drive or a cramped, outdated SSD. But this rule applies only if you plan on keeping your computer for at least another year or if you know you can bring your SSD to your next computer. There’s no sense in upgrading a machine that you’re about to replace.
Frankly, if your computer already has an SSD, the only real reason to get a different SSD is if you run out of room on the first one. You’ll never notice a speed difference between two different SSDs unless you’re writing huge files every single day—doing stuff like editing 4K video files or designing in AutoCAD or other 3D modeling software—and you care about a few seconds’ worth of improvement. Regardless of which SSD you buy, you’re not likely to notice any lag.
If you have a desktop PC with room for multiple drives, and you need more than 500 GB of storage, use an SSD for the OS and programs, and add a traditional hard drive or two for media storage. Though SSD prices are dropping steadily, they haven’t yet reached the point where they make sense for bulk storage.
Upgrading to an SSD can make a huge difference for those coming from a HDD, and to maximize that advantage you should also upgrade your RAM if your computer has 4 GB or less. After all, why open up your case twice? We recommend upgrading to 8 GB of RAM, because it can provide a noticeable speed boost in day-to-day use; 16 GB is overkill for most people.
One group that should think twice about an SSD upgrade, however, is Mac owners. Though some older (mostly pre-2013) MacBooks can be upgraded, many newer Airs and Pros cannot. Still others can, but only with specialized, expensive drives from just a couple manufacturers. (For all the messy details, skip down to our Mac section.) As such, this guide is mostly aimed at non-Mac users.
If you have a computer with a mechanical hard drive, it’s likely the slowest part of your system. The rest of the computer has to wait around for information to be read from or written to the drive. Everything you do that requires accessing data on your hard drive—like booting up or shutting down, saving and loading files, starting up a game, or rendering a video—will be much faster on an SSD.
Unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs don’t have any moving parts, which means they’re much less prone to mechanical failure. In fact, they’re better than standard hard drives in almost every respect. They use much less power, put out much less heat, and don’t vibrate. SATA SSDs are three or four times faster in sequential reads and writes; PCI Express drives are as much as seven times faster than that.
Much more important, SSDs have especially fast random-access times—the amount of time a drive takes to access a random bit of stored data. A mechanical hard drive has to physically move a magnetic head to a specific point on a rotating disk to read the data, which takes around 17 milliseconds on the fastest drives. An SSD, which doesn’t have to move anything but electrons, can do that in less than 0.1 ms. That improved speed adds up.
SSDs are so fast that they’ve outgrown the aging SATA interface, and the industry is moving to PCI Express. PCIe SSDs are already available in both desktop and laptop form factors, but you’ll pay a lot more for the added speed.
The only areas in which mechanical drives still exceed SSDs are price and capacity. SSDs are still more expensive than mechanical drives. And the biggest hard drives can still hold more data than the most capacious SSDs, though the basic design of SSDs all but ensures that they’ll eventually overtake their mechanical competition.
The price gap is narrowing at the same time that people are keeping more data in cloud storage and less on their computers. A decent SSD cost $3 per gigabyte in 2010 and $1 per gigabyte in 2012. In 2016, you can get a great SSD for about 23¢ per gigabyte. A top-tier mechanical hard drive, meanwhile, checks in at as little as 4¢ per gigabyte.
Which SSD you have matters, but not as much as having any SSD versus a standard mechanical hard drive. You could get any of a dozen SSDs and never notice a speed difference, but you’ll definitely notice the difference between an SSD and a mechanical drive.
Before you buy, it’s important to figure out what kind of SSD fits your computer. At the moment, there are two different interfaces for data transfer (SATA and PCIe), two different transfer protocols (AHCI and NVMe), four different physical connectors (SATA, mSATA, M.2, and PCIe) and four different form factors (2.5-inch SATA, mSATA, M.2, and full-size PCIe). M.2 drives even come in different lengths and connector variants. Yep, it can get confusing.
Here’s a quick breakdown of the terminology:
SATA refers to both a physical connection type and the information-transfer protocol that it carries. The physical connector is used by 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch hard drives, as well as most SSDS. If you have a desktop or a larger laptop, it can probably take a 2.5-inch SATA drive. Drives using the SATA protocol also come in the much smaller mSATA and M.2 form factors, which have a different physical connector. The current SATA III standard has a speed cap of around 600 MB/s,1 which most modern drives max out. Unless your machine has an M.2 PCIe or full-size PCIe slot, you can’t get a SSD that’s any faster.
PCIe is a faster interface that’s capable of transfer rates of up to 985 MB/s per “lane.” Most PCIe SSDs use a four-lane (4x) interface, which adds up to a theoretical speed cap of 3,940 MB/s, or about 6.5 times faster than SATA. PCIe drives come in M.2 and full-size PCIe form-factors. Full-size PCIe SSDs should work in most recent desktops; some newer desktop motherboards and almost all ultrabooks use M.2.
M.2 is a type of physical connector used for both SATA and PCIe SSDs. M.2 drives are much smaller than 2.5-inch SATA drives and are used in most ultrabooks and high-end desktop PCs. M.2 drives come in a variety of sizes, but M.2 2280 (22 mm wide by 80 mm long) is the most common. M.2 PCIe drives can also come in three different “keyings,” which determine how many PCIe lanes the drive uses. When buying an M.2 drive, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the right interface type, size, and keying for your machine, but it’s not as scary as it might sound. Almost all current M.2 drives are 2280, and most SATA SSDs use “B+M” keying, and PCIe drives usually use “M” keying.
NVMe is a new interface protocol for PCIe drives, taking the place of the earlier AHCI protocol used with SATA SSDs and hard drives. Designed from the ground up to work with SSDs and other flash memory, it allows for much faster read and write speeds. Most PCIe SSDs now use NVMe, though some early examples used AHCI.
mSATA drives were used in many ultrabooks before M.2 became common. Most new laptops use M.2, but many ultrabooks with mSATA ports are still in use, and replacement mSATA SSDs are still available. mSATA drives generally perform just like their 2.5-inch and M.2 SATA counterparts.
If you have a laptop, check your manufacturer’s website or use Crucial’s upgrade advisor tools to figure out what drive type your computer uses, and whether you can replace the drive. Be aware that some laptops—recent MacBooks, to be precise—use proprietary form factors that may make it difficult or impossible to perform a DIY upgrade.
Because SATA SSDs are all bumping up against the limit of their interface, if you need a SATA drive, capacity is almost more important than which model you get. The usual advice is to choose the highest-capacity drive you can afford, or about twice as much drive as you have data to put in it.
Right now, most people should get a 500 GB SSD.2 Smaller drives are slower and often more expensive per gigabyte. One-terabyte drives are more or less even with 500 GB drives in per-gigabyte pricing, but their near-$250 price tags are pushing the limit of what most shoppers can afford. (That said, if you can afford it, go for it.) Drives of 2 TB and above often cost more per gigabyte than 500 GB and 1 TB drives.
If you’re buying a new computer from a company like Dell, HP, or Lenovo, you can almost always save money by ordering a computer with a smaller SSD or a mechanical HDD and replacing it with a 500 GB SSD. This is because manufacturers charge hundreds of dollars for each upgrade in size—the cost of upgrading on your own is usually much lower. Consider the popular Dell XPS 13: It’ll cost you $150 to upgrade from a 128 GB SSD to a 256 GB drive at Dell.com. For the same price, you can get a 500 GB SSD and perform the upgrade yourself.
Be careful, though: Some laptop manufacturers make it very difficult to upgrade your drive, requiring complicated disassembly to gain access to the SSD, or soldering their drives to the motherboard.
Drives with larger capacities come with another neat bonus: They tend to be faster. That’s because much of an SSD’s speed advantage comes from parallelization. Writing for AnandTech back in 2014, Kristian Vättö explained,3 “A single NAND die isn’t very fast but when you put a dozen or more of them in parallel, the performance adds up.” If your drive has fewer modules than your controller can write to at once (that is, if it has a lower capacity), it won’t be as fast as it could be.
With today’s SSDs, you’ll get the best speeds from 1 TB or 2 TB drives, but 500 GB SSDs aren’t far behind. Lower-capacity drives often have much slower write speeds, roughly scaling with the number of NAND modules on board. The 850 EVO and MX300 mostly escape this problem thanks to their TurboWrite and Dynamic Write Acceleration features, but higher-capacity versions are still faster in heavy workloads.
If you’re buying a PCIe SSD, we still recommend getting a 500 GB model unless you need more space. PCIe SSDs are more expensive than their SATA counterparts, regardless of size. A 500 GB M.2 PCIe drive will cost at least $100 more than a 500 GB SATA drive. But if you’re a video editor or someone else who needs incredibly fast storage, that extra money is justified by the performance boost over SATA. PCIe SSDs 1 TB and larger are expensive enough that they shouldn’t be considered by anyone who doesn’t have a pressing need for a lot of incredibly fast storage.
Don’t get an SSD with less than 250 GB of storage if at all possible, because 128 GB (and lower-capacity) SSDs are not cost-effective and don’t have enough room for most people’s stuff.
If we were upgrading a laptop or buying the primary drive for a desktop, we’d get the 500 GB Samsung 850 EVO (also available in M.2 and mSATA form factors). The 850 EVO is fast, cheap, and consistent, and it comes from a company that makes its own SSD controllers, firmware, and NAND. That means it gets first dibs on the good stuff, and is able to design the entire SSD to work together from the start. Samsung has made some of the best SSDs for the past five hardware generations, and this one is no exception. The 850 EVO isn’t the cheapest great SSD, but it is the best cheap SSD, even two years after launch. It offers a great combination of price, performance, and capacity, plus ample write endurance, hardware encryption support,4 and an exceptionally long five-year warranty.
The 850 EVO uses Samsung’s 3D TLC NAND, so it has a much higher write-endurance rating than its predecessor, the 840 EVO. The 500 GB version is rated for 150 TB of writes, which is still competitive against most newer SATA drives. In real life, all SSDs should easily write many times that; wearing out an SSD before the drive itself becomes obsolete is almost impossible.
Because the TLC NAND that Samsung employs isn’t quite as fast by itself as other types of NAND, Samsung includes a feature called TurboWrite, which treats a small portion of the flash storage as faster SLC NAND and caches all incoming write operations there first before writing them to the drive. But this functionality is more important for the 120 GB and 250 GB models than for the 500 GB version. According to AnandTech, “At smaller capacities it clearly provides a tremendous performance boost, but at 500GB and 1TB there is enough NAND to provide the parallelism that is needed to max out the SATA 6Gbps interface.”
For Windows users only, the 850 EVO comes with Samsung’s great Magician software, which lets you tweak drive settings to boost performance or extend service life. The 850 EVO comes with five-year warranty, which is two more than the typical three-year affair. This is noteworthy, not because you’re likely to need it, but because the warranty is a measure of the manufacturer’s faith in its product. This all goes back to Samsung having full control over its supply chain.
The 850 EVO, like every Samsung solid-state drive since the 830, is wildly popular. AnandTech, CNET, The SSD Review, StorageReview.com, PCWorld, The Tech Report, and other outlets all really like it. The 500 GB 2.5-inch version remains the top-selling SSD on Amazon.com, and the 250 GB and 1 TB capacities are also in the top five. The various sizes of the 850 EVO have earned a collective rating of 4.8 stars (out of five) across more than 12,500 reviews as of this writing. mSATA and M.2 SATA versions of the 850 EVO are also available in 250 GB, 500 GB, and 1 TB sizes. M.2 versions usually cost a few bucks more than the 2.5-inch SATA or mSATA equivalents, though the performance isn’t any better.
If the Samsung 850 EVO is too expensive or you want a 1 TB drive, get the Crucial MX300. The 525 GB MX300 is typically about 25 percent cheaper than the 500 GB 850 EVO, and the 1 TB version is around 20 percent cheaper than the Samsung equivalent. The Samsung still has the slightest edge for its speed, warranty, and consistency, but the Crucial MX300 is a very, very close second place.
First, let’s talk about speed. When comparing drives of the same capacity, the MX300 is slightly slower than the 850 EVO in most benchmarks. In part, this is because Samsung uses better, more expensive components, like an 8-channel controller and more NAND modules for better parallelization. But the MX300 has Dynamic Write Acceleration, a caching solution similar to Samsung’s TurboWrite, which creates a large buffer that significantly boosts the drive’s write speeds. For most people, the speed differences will be indistinguishable.
Comparing the 1 TB MX300 to the 500 GB 850 EVO for Tom’s Hardware, Chris Ramseyer says, “The two SSDs deliver nearly identical performance outside of the low QD random read tests.” He goes on to add, “The MX300 525GB […] compares well to the 850 EVO 500GB, too. The Dynamic Write Acceleration helps both MX300 SSDs stay competitive even when, on paper, they shouldn’t.” Writing for AnandTech, Billy Tallis agrees that “under ordinary consumer and end-user/home workloads, the MX300 performs at its peak near the top of the TLC charts.” The SSD Review’s Sean Webster told us via email that at its current price, the MX300 is “impossible to beat.”
One notable advantage the MX300 can claim over its competition is efficiency. In AnandTech’s punishing Destroyer test, it consumed less power than any rival, including the already very efficient 850 EVO, delivering “remarkable efficiency for a TLC drive.” More important, it used far less power than competing budget drives, like the OCZ Trion 150—more than 50 percent less, in some cases.
The MX300 offers slightly better endurance than the 850 EVO—160 TB of writes for the 525 GB drive, compared with 150 TB for the 500 GB Samsung. It also provides many of the same features as the 850 EVO, including full-disk encryption and bundled software (including a key for the Acronis True Image cloning software). On the downside, the MX300’s three-year warranty is two years shorter than Samsung’s.
Like the 850 EVO, the Crucial MX300 is popular at Amazon, with the 525 GB and 275 GB variants both in the top five on the sales charts. The MX300 is available in sizes from 250 GB to 2 TB, and is less expensive at every size than the 850 EVO. However, Crucial doesn’t make a 4 TB variant to match the 850 EVO’s $1,500 flagship.
The MX300 is also available in 250 GB, 525 GB, and 1TB M.2 SATA variants, for about the same prices as the 2.5-inch versions.
If you make your living in a field like video editing or 3D modeling and need a drive that can move large files around very quickly, consider the Samsung 960 Pro. Benchmarks show that this M.2 PCIe SSD writes four times faster and reads up to seven times faster than the best SATA SSDs, like the 850 EVO and 850 Pro. It’s overkill for most people; the average user won’t ever notice the difference between this and our main picks, and shouldn’t spend the extra $150-plus. But if you do need the extra speed of a M.2 PCIe SSD, the Samsung 960 Pro is the fastest one you can get, with high write-endurance ratings and a solid five-year warranty.
The 960 Pro is also faster than rival M.2 PCIe drives, though the gap is smaller. According to AnandTech’s benchmarks of the 2 TB 960 Pro, the new drive reads just a little quicker than the earlier Samsung 950 Pro, but writes much faster, has lower latency, and offers equal power efficiency. Ars Technica’s tests of the 512 GB 960 Pro back up those findings. As for non-Samsung drives, nothing else even comes close. The Toshiba OCZ RD400 is the nearest M.2 PCIe competitor, and the 960 Pro demolishes it in every single benchmark at every single site (AnandTech, Tom’s Hardware, StorageReview.com, The SSD Review, The Tech Report, Computer Shopper). The only drives that occasionally eclipse the 960 Pro’s performance are enterprise-oriented SSDs, like the Intel 750 Series, but these drives aren’t designed for everyday workloads, and they’re available only in the full-size PCIe form factor.
Tom’s Hardware’s Ramseyer says that with the 960 Pro, Samsung “put on a clinic showing why it’s important to have control of DRAM, NAND, and controller technology.” He adds that though this is not a drive for gamers, “If you get paid for running professional applications with Adobe, Sony Vegas, or other heavy workloads, then the 960 Pro’s price becomes much less of an issue.”
The Samsung 960 Pro has a five-year warranty and is rated for 400 TB of writes for the 512 GB version. That figure jumps to 800 TB for the 1TB drive, or 1,600 TB for the 2 TB 960 Pro. Most users will never wear out an SSD, whatever its endurance rating, but for those who are likely to buy a cutting-edge drive like the 960 Pro, these should be very reassuring numbers.
But even the most glowing reviews of the 960 Pro are tempered by suggestions that the upcoming Samsung 960 EVO will provide a better value for many high-end users. In AnandTech’s punishing Destroyer test, the 1 TB 960 EVO outperformed every non-Samsung drive, and was only a touch slower than the 960 Pro. In his conclusion, Tallis notes that “the price and performance of the 960 EVO will make anything more expensive a very tough sell.” Indeed, at its MSRP of $250, the 500 GB version will cost $70 less than the 512 GB 960 Pro. And though that’s 60 percent more expensive than 500 GB 850 EVO, these benchmarks suggest that it will outperform its SATA cousin several times over.
However, because few reputable outlets have reviewed the 500 GB version of the 960 EVO so far, we’re not prepared to give it our outright recommendation. We’re doubly wary because benchmarks from Tom’s Hardware show that the 250 GB 960 EVO writes much slower than the 1 TB version. Likely culprits include reduced parallelism and smaller TurboWrite caches, and those issues could (but won’t necessarily) also affect the 500 GB 960 EVO. We’ll update when more reviews appear.
If you want to copy your existing hard drive over to your SSD before you install it, you’ll need cloning software and sometimes additional hardware. All of our recommended SSDs come with access to cloning software. Samsung’s SSDs all ship with the excellent (but Windows-only) Samsung Magician software. MX-class Crucial drives, including the new MX300, come with a license key for Acronis TrueImage HD software. Otherwise you can use the free MiniTool Partition Wizard. On Macs, if you can install a new drive at all, you can use Carbon Copy Cloner.
You’ll need a way to connect your new drive to your computer while you’re cloning the old one. Desktop users need only to hook up the SSD to spare power and data cables in their PC, but laptop users with 2.5-inch SATA drives need a SATA-to-USB adapter like this one. Some SSDs come with upgrade kits that include a SATA-to-USB adapter, but getting the drive-only version and buying a separate SATA-to-USB 3.0 enclosure is usually less expensive.
If you’re buying an M.2 SATA drive, you’ll want to get a M.2 SATA-to-USB 3.0 adapter or enclosure, like this one. For M.2 PCIe, the best option seems to be to clone your drive to a USB hard drive, then replace and clone back.
After you’ve swapped drives, you can put your old laptop drive in the USB enclosure and use it for backup, if you’d like.
We still suggest the 500 GB Samsung 850 EVO, though in this case you have more flexibility when it comes to drive type. Desktops can use almost any kind of modern SSD, from 2.5-inch SATA to full-size PCIe drives to M.2 (if you have a newish motherboard, or an adapter). That means you can shop around for the best deal without being limited to a specific connector or form factor.
Unlike laptops, desktops have room for multiple drives. That means you can use an SSD for your OS and programs, and supplement it with cheap, high-capacity mechanical hard drives for storage.
That said, you should still get at least 250 GB of SSD capacity (and preferably 500 GB) due to the aforementioned price and write-speed issues with smaller drives.
If your Retina MacBook Pro or MacBook Air was made in mid-2013 or later, you’re going to have a difficult time upgrading. The PCIe-based SSDs are replaceable, but they don’t use standard connectors, and only one company makes appropriate SSD upgrades. OWC (Other World Computing, aka MacSales) sells 240 GB, 480 GB, and 1 TB upgrades for the mid-2013 and later MacBook Air and the late-2013 and later Retina MacBook Pro. The company sells bare-drive versions or—for about $50 more—a kit with the screwdrivers you’ll need to get to your MacBook’s SSD as well as a USB 3.0 enclosure for your current SSD. Unfortunately, these upgrades are extremely expensive—priced at $300 for the 240 GB version (with the installation kit), $400 for the 480 GB version, and $650 for the 1 TB option—but right now they’re the only game in town.
Unless you bought a low-capacity model, we don’t see a reason to swap out your MacBook’s storage drive. The SSDs in the most recent MacBooks are blazing fast and based on the PCIe interface, so SATA bottlenecking is not a concern. Sequential read speeds top 700 MB/s, and write speeds reach over 630 MB/s. That’s faster than anything SATA-based, if not as fast as the fastest M.2 PCIe SSDs.
If you bought your MacBook Air before mid-2013 or your Pro before fall 2013, you should be able to upgrade the SSD, but you have to be careful. MacBooks don’t use standard SSD designs, and the Airs and Pros don’t even use the same types as each other.
You basically have two options for these computers: OWC and Transcend. Both make SSDs that work in MacBooks from mid-2013 and earlier, and the two offer similar speeds and capacity options. MacBook Pros from 2012 and before can usually use 2.5-inch SATA drives.
Apple doesn’t enable TRIM (an operating-system-level garbage-collection command) on third-party SSDs, though in OS X 10.10.4 and later you can force-enable TRIM via a command-line prompt. However, some Linux users have reported lost data and other bugs as a result of forcing TRIM on Samsung and other SSDs in Linux. Whether OS X would have the same bugs is unclear, so we recommend that you not force-enable TRIM on OS X until more information is available.
If your SSD’s controller has good onboard garbage-collection algorithms, you should be fine even without TRIM. OWC says that its drives, which are based on the ancient SandForce SF-2281 processor, don’t need TRIM. Crucial’s drives have active garbage collection, though you’ll have to trigger the function manually by booting to the Startup Manager and leaving it there every once in a while.
For laptops with mSATA drives
Fewer companies make mSATA drives than make 2.5-inch or M.2 SSDs, and because new computers use M.2, mSATA drives are becoming harder to find. If you’re stuck with a machine that has an mSATA interface, your best choice is still the Samsung 850 EVO mSATA or the Crucial MX200.
It’s getting harder and harder to pick a “best” SSD for most people because the price and performance differences are getting smaller and smaller. Most brands are engaged in a race to the bottom, developing cheaper and cheaper forms of TLC NAND in an effort to bring SSDs to the mainstream. For the most part, this benefits you, because the result is a glut of excellent SSDs.
SATA and M.2 SATA SSDs
In the course of our research, we found several great SATA drives in the narrow performance/price band between the Crucial MX300 and the Samsung 850 EVO. All of them are fast, reliable, and cost-effective. As we’ve mentioned before, all these drives are pushing against the limits of the SATA interface. Unless you can upgrade to a PCIe SSD, you’ll mostly find differences in endurance, consistency, and price—not speed.
The drives listed below are all good; you could buy any of them and not end up disappointed. But you’ll spend more money than you need to, or not save enough to justify their lower performance, unless you come across a particularly good sale. If you do decide to get one of these drives, be sure you’re getting the right type; many of the newer models come in both SATA and M.2 SATA form factors.
The 512 GB Sandisk X400 was our runner-up last time around, and it remains an excellent choice if you want to save a little over the Samsung 850 EVO. AnandTech says the Crucial MX300 “slightly outperforms the SanDisk X400 at a slightly lower price,” and it also has cloning software, which the X400 lacks. On the other hand, the X400 comes with a five-year warranty (the Crucial comes with three years). It also has encryption (though it lacks IEEE-1667 support, unlike our picks), and a hefty 160 TB write-endurance rating. The X400 is the best choice if the Crucial or Samsung drives are out of stock.
The brand-new 500 GB WD Blue SSD is Western Digital’s first stab at a consumer SSD since acquiring SanDisk earlier this year, and it’s a decent effort. Unfortunately, it’s also essentially a more expensive, slower Sandisk X400 with a shorter warranty. It has a higher write-endurance rating than its twin, but for most users that won’t matter. Until the price drops, you should skip it.
The 512 GB Toshiba OCZ VX500 is a speedy, energy-efficient competitor to the Crucial MX300 and SanDisk X400, but its price is too high right now. Unlike the Crucial and SanDisk drives (and even the 850 EVO), it uses faster, longer-lasting MLC NAND. And like Samsung, Toshiba makes its own NAND and controllers, which allows it to design its drives from the ground up. AnandTech’s Tallis likes the VX500, writing that it’s “well-suited to use as a mainstream SATA SSD.” He also notes that it offers better efficiency than other MLC alternatives.
The 512 GB ADATA Ultimate SU800 is just the third drive to use 3D TLC NAND—and the first from a brand that doesn’t manufacture its own modules—but it’s slower and costs more than the Crucial MX300 it cribs its memory from. Mixed benchmark results, a short three-year warranty, and lack of stated write-endurance ratings are other reasons to stick with our picks.
The 480 GB Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 is another solid budget SSD. It’s consistently cheaper than the Crucial MX300 and offers decent speed and reasonable write endurance. Unlike more-expensive drives, it doesn’t offer encryption and has just a three-year warranty. Anandtech’s Tallis says mostly nice things about the drive, noting that when it comes to average data rates, the Trion 150 is “one of the best-performing budget drives.” Tony Thomas of The Tech Report agreed, saying that it’s “nipping at the heels” of higher-performance drives like the 850 EVO.
Like the Toshiba OCZ VX500, the 480 GB PNY CS2211 uses MLC NAND, which gives it solid speed for a budget drive. AnandTech’s Tallis suggests that it could be a good alternative to the Samsung 850 EVO, given a large enough price difference. We still prefer the 850 EVO, however, because Samsung makes every part of its drive and PNY merely rebadges. Samsung’s warranty is also a year longer, and PNY doesn’t provide a write-endurance rating, which is more than a little worrying.
The 500 GB Samsung 750 EVO is the company’s take on a budget drive, using planar TLC NAND instead of the 3D V-NAND of the 850 EVO. AnandTech’s benchmarks for the 250 GB version show that it’s fine for light use but not as good for medium and heavy workloads as the 850 EVO. This model has a shorter three-year warranty, and the 500 GB version has a write endurance of 100 TB rather than 150 TB. At its current asking price of around $135, it’s more expensive than our value pick without offering much better performance.
When it first became available, the 480 GB Zotac Premium Edition was an attractive alternative to the 850 EVO, despite its off-brand name. Using MLC NAND, it produces both high speed and unusually high write endurance (480 TB for the 480 GB version), along with solid energy efficiency. At launch, it undercut Samsung on price, and though prices have dropped on the 850 EVO and other rivals, they’ve held steady on the Zotac. Today it’s more expensive than the 850 EVO, and it has a shorter warranty, no software, and no encryption.
There are still relatively few M.2 PCIe drives available to mainstream buyers, and none approach the speed and quality of the Samsung 960 Pro. Still, all of them are faster than the fastest SATA drives, and most significantly so. As with the SATA drives listed above, you could buy any of these and be wowed by the speed—particularly if you’re coming from a conventional hard drive.
Before the 960 Pro arrived, the 512 GB Samsung 950 Pro was the best PCIe M.2 SSD. But the 960 Pro is better in every respect and costs just a bit more, so there’s little reason to get last year’s model.
The 512 GB Toshiba OCZ RD400 is almost as fast as the 950 Pro, and it has a five-year warranty and the quality that comes with Toshiba’s vertically integrated design. It’s cheaper than the 950 Pro, but lacks full-disk encryption, and its MLC NAND has a lower write-endurance rating than Samsung’s 3D V-NAND. Like the 950 Pro, it’s nowhere near as fast as the 960 Pro.
The 512 GB Plextor M8P is a speedy drive based on Toshiba’s 15 nm MLC NAND. It comes with a five-year warranty and can be bought with or without a heatsink. According to benchmarks from Guru3D.com it’s a little slower than the Samsung 950 Pro, but it’s roughly on par with the slightly more expensive Toshiba OCZ RD400. Still, there are reasons to stay away: no encryption and no stated write-endurance rating, which is always a troubling sign.
The 480 GB Patriot Hellfire uses 15 nm Toshiba MLC NAND and a Phison controller that combine to provide competitive speed, but a three-year warranty, a low write-endurance rating, and a total lack of bundled software make its relatively high price unpalatable. Ramseyer (of Tom’s Hardware) also notes that the Hellfire’s unusually high power use makes it unsuitable for laptop users.
The 480 GB Kingston HyperX Predator costs just as much as the 512 GB Toshiba OCZ RD400, but is much slower, has no stated write-endurance rating, and carries a mere three-year warranty. Skip it.
The 512 GB Intel 600p Series SSD has one big thing going for it: price. At around $180 as of this writing, it’s nearly half the price of most 512 GB M.2 PCIe drives. But that savings comes at the expense of speed. One of the earliest PCIe drives, it reads much faster than SATA SSDs, but can’t write any quicker. In other words, it was a stopgap product, quickly outclassed.
There are dozens more decent mainstream SATA SSDs, including the Mushkin Reactor, Intel SSD 540s, Transcend SSD220S, Transcend SSD370, Kingston HyperX Savage, Toshiba OCZ OCZ TL100, and ADATA Premier SP550. All are decent upgrades from a mechanical HDD, but they’re either too expensive, too slow, or too power-hungry to beat our main picks. However, prices change quickly in this category, and a drive that’s a good value in January might be overpriced come November. If you’re looking for a quick overview of the relative value of SSDs, we haven’t found one better than the chart that The Tech Report includes at the end of every SSD review.
For this update, we didn’t consider “pro” SATA drives like the SanDisk Extreme Pro and Samsung 850 Pro (our previous upgrade pick), because they’re now in the same price ballpark as mainstream M.2 PCI Express drives, which can be up to seven times faster. If you need extreme performance and are willing to pay for it, you either have a PC that can handle a PCIe SSD or will upgrade to one that does.
In general, whether you’re buying SATA or PCIe, we recommend buying SSDs from companies that make their own controllers or NAND. In a few cases, companies that don’t make their own components have changed components on a product without telling anyone, so what you expect might not be what you get. Plenty of other companies just take off-the-shelf NAND and controllers and slap a drive together, or merely rebadge someone else’s drive. You’ll probably get an okay drive regardless, but we think it’s better to buy from a company that makes some of the components in its drives; that way, you know that the company has some expertise and skin in the game.
We’ve encountered enough great SSDs from Samsung, Crucial, SanDisk, Toshiba OCZ, and Intel that meet these criteria that we don’t see a compelling reason to buy a drive from anyone else, unless you’re on an extremely tight budget.
That said, experts like Kristian Vättö believe that because the industry has become more mature, it’s now safe to go with a less well-known brand. Today’s budget drives routinely max out the SATA interface, and TLC memory is thoroughly mainstream. Even 3D NAND is now filtering down to brands that don’t make their own modules, as seen in the ADATA Ultimate SU800.
Vättö told us in August 2013, “I’m still more comfortable with buying an SSD from the companies that at least design the firmware on their own but it is still relatively safe to buy any SSD on the market (well, as long as it’s not from a no-name Chinese brand with no US office).”
Lightning-fast NVMe PCIe SSDs (in both M.2 and full PCIe form factors) will continue to proliferate and drop in price over the next year or two. The Samsung 960 Pro already septuples SATA continuous read speeds and quadruples write speeds, so we’re excited to see how far the new tech can be pushed.
We’re also interested to find out whether the 500 GB Samsung 960 EVO can match the performance of the 1 TB variant, which has received great early reviews from AnandTech, Tom’s Hardware, and The SSD Review. Several outlets that praised the 1 TB 960 EVO also panned the 250 GB drive’s performance, and because almost no one has reviewed the 500 GB, we’re waiting for more reviews to make a recommendation.
Further beyond the horizon, Intel is working on its new Optane 3D XPoint memory (a joint project with Micron), which promises higher-capacity individual modules (potentially leading to larger SSD capacities), super-low latency, and incredible write endurance (according to Intel, “1000x” what NAND can offer). The first Optane devices were supposed to arrive this year, but have been delayed until 2018 or later. There’s a lot of uncertainty over what exactly the Optane tech means for the broader SSD market, but we’ll keep you updated as more info emerges.
Originally published: November 22, 2016