Switching to a solid-state drive is the best upgrade you can make for your PC. These wondrous devices obliterate long boot times, speed up how fast your programs and games load, and generally makes your computer feel fast. But not all solid-state drives are created equal. The best SSDs offer solid performance at affordable prices—or, if price is no object, face-meltingly fast read and write speeds.
SSD cheat sheet
Our quick-hit recommendations:
Many SSDs come in a 2.5-inch form factor and communicate with PCs via the same SATA ports used by traditional hard drives. But out on the bleeding-edge of NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) drives, you’ll find tiny “gumstick” SSDs that fit in M.2 connections on modern motherboards, SSDs that sit on a PCIe adapter and slot into your motherboard like a graphics card or sound card, futuristic 3D Xpoint drives, and more. Picking the perfect SSD isn’t as simple as it used to be.
That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve tested numerous drives to find the best SSDs for any use case. Let’s take a look at PCWorld’s top picks, and then dive into what to look for in an SSD. Quick note: This roundup only covers internal solid-state drives. Check out PCWorld’s guide to the best external drives if you’re looking for a portable storage solution.
Updated January 19 to add a report to our news section detailing Intel killing Optane desktop SSDs, and remove Optane drives from the article.
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Best SSD for most people
Samsung’s mainstream EVO series of SSDs has sat atop our recommended list ever since 2014, and the current Samsung 860 EVO is still a great option for people who want a rock-solid blend of speed, price, compatibility, and the reliability of Samsung’s 5-year warranty and superb Magician management software. But for the first time in recent memory, the king has been knocked off its thrown, and by a newcomer that isn’t really new whatsoever.
Most people would be better off buying the SK Hynix Gold S31. Not only is it among the fastest SATA SSDs we’ve ever tested, but the price is right too. At $44 for a 250GB drive, $57 for a 500GB drive, or $105 for 1TB, the Gold S31 costs much less than Samsung’s line, which charges $75 for a 500GB model. “When all was said and done in those real-world 48GB copies, the Gold S31 proved the fastest drive we’ve ever tested for sustained read and write operations,” our review proclaimed. Enough said.
Well, maybe not. Let’s talk a bit about the brand itself, since SK Hynix isn’t exactly a household name. Despite that, it’s one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers on the planet. The company has been developing NAND and controller technology since the get-go, and while it’s been the SSD manufacturer for numerous large computer vendors, it generally hasn’t taken a place for itself on the shelves. Now it has, and the results are sterling.
If you need larger capacities, though, still look to the Samsung 860 EVO, which is available in 1TB, 2TB, and 4TB models as well, albeit at steeper premiums. The Samsung 870 QVO is another strong contender, with capacities ranging from 1TB all the way to a whopping 8TB, but we’ll discuss that in the next section.
Best budget SSD
The best budget SSD is also the best SSD for most people, as the SK Hynix Gold S31 discussed previously delivers fantastic performance at extremely affordable prices. If you aren’t interested in that drive for whatever reason, though, you have more options.
Now that traditional multi-level cell (MLC) and triple-level cell (TLC) solid-state drives are plummeting in price, manufacturers have rolled out new-look quad-level cell (QLC) drives that push SSD prices even lower. The new technology lets drive makers stuff SSDs with hard drive-like levels of capacity while simultaneously coming close to the juicy SSD speeds we all love so much—most of the time. The first round of QLC drives, including the still-superb Samsung 860 QVO, saw its write speeds plunge to hard drive-like levels when you transfer dozens of gigabytes of data in one go.
The Addlink S22 QLC SSD doesn’t suffer from the same fate. While traditional TLC SSDs (like the ones mentioned in our “best SSDs for most people” section) still maintain a speed edge versus QLC drives, the Addlink S22 is no slouch, and it’s dirt-cheap for an SSD, at just $59 for 512GB or $99 for 1TB. Ludicrous—though it’s worth noting that SK Hynix’s Gold S31 now goes for about the same low rate.
If you don’t plan on moving around massive amounts of data at once and need more space, the Samsung 870 QVO—Samsung’s second-generation QLC offering—is a great option. It’s actually a wee bit faster than Addlink’s SSD. But it’s also more expensive, at $110 for 1TB, $205 for 2TB, $450 for 4TB, or $900 for 8TB (oof) on Amazon. Lower capacities aren’t offered. The older Samsung 860 QVO remains a good option too, but the newer 870 QVO bests it in every way.
But what if you’ve got a newer motherboard that supports the faster, newfangled NVMe M.2 drives? Keep reading!
The Gold P31 is the first NVMe SSD to feature 128-bit TLC NAND, and it pushes SK Hynix’s drive beyond other options, which use 96 NAND layers. The model we tested absolutely aced our CrystalDiskMark 6 and AS SSD synthetic benchmarks, nearly hitting the blistering 3.5GBps read and write speeds claimed in the press release. It also held its own against SSDs that cost much more in our real-world 48GB and 450GB file transfer tests. “The SK Hynix Gold P31 performs like a top-tier drive, but it’s priced just slightly higher than bargain drives,” we stated, and well, that says it all. You can get a 500GB model for $75 or a 1TB model for $135 on Amazon.
The Crucial P5 is another great, affordable NVMe SSD that performs on par with much costlier options, and would likely be our top pick if the SK Hynix Gold P31 didn’t exist. The Gold P31 is both slightly faster and slightly cheaper, however, so go for that first. Crucial’s drive is a killer alternative though.
You can find compelling options for slightly less money if you’re on a budget, though. The Western Digital Blue SN550 NVMe SSD isn’t the flashiest NVMe drive, nor is it quite as fast as the alternatives mentioned above. But it costs far, far less. Despite its entry-level price—$45 for 250GB, $65 for 500GB, or $130 for 1TB—the WD Blue SN550 runs circles around other bargain NVMe drives and falls within spitting distance of the performance of those higher-priced enthusiast options. It’s from a known, established brand with a good track record for reliability, too, and comes with a longer-than-average five year warranty.
If you want just a wee bit more performance, the Addlink S70 NVMe SSD is another stellar option, earning our Editors’ Choice award. We slightly prefer its performance to the WD drive’s, but Addlink’s SSDs now cost more than its rival’s after receiving price increases, and the WD Blue SN550’s performance is more than enough for everyday computer users. Addlink isn’t as well-known as WD, but also offers a 5-year warranty on its drive.
The PNY XLR8 CS 3030 is another good option, offering fast performance at a good price. It gets bogged down during especially long writes, however, though it should be excellent for everyday use.
If you don’t mind spending up for faster, Samsung 970 Pro-level performance, the Kingston KC2500 also runs with the big dogs, but at a more affordable price. “While it didn’t reach the top step of the podium in any one test, the KC2500 was always within easy hailing distance of the leader,” we said in our review. “It’s available at about the same price as the competition and should be at the top of your short list when you’re shopping for a high-performance NVMe SSD.”
And now, you can finally get blistering NVMe speeds without sacrificing capacity thanks to a new breed of supersized SSDs, though you’ll pay up for the privilege. The OWC Aura 12 delivers average NVMe performance (read: faster than most) paired with a big 4TB of performance for $929. The superb Sabrent Rocket Q amps everything up with top-notch performance and a crazy 8TB capacity, but it’ll set you back a cool $1,500. The bleeding-edge isn’t cheap.
Best PCIe 4.0 SSD
Most NVMe SSDs use the standard PCIe 3.0 interface, but even faster PCIe 4.0 drives exist now—at least on systems that support the bleeding-edge technology. Currently, only AMD’s Ryzen 3000 processors support PCIe 4.0, and even then only when they’re inserted in a X570 or B550 motherboard. If you meet that criteria, though, PCIe 4.0 SSDs leave even the fastest PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSDs in the dust.
Corsair, Gigabyte, and Sabrent rolled out the first PCIe 4.0 SSDs available, with all offering similar performance from 1TB models at around $200. Our favorite PCIe 4.0 drive costs slightly more, though.
We’ve only recently added a PCIe 4.0 test bench to our setup, but the champion thus far is the Samsung 980 Pro. The drive exceeded Samsung’s claimed 7GBps read and 5GBps write speeds in our testing. To drive home just how ludicrous that is, the SK Hynix Gold P31—our favorite standard NVMe drive—wowed us with write speeds half as fast. Samsung’s drive also blazed through our real-world file transfer tests, though it can occasionally slow down a bit if you throw a massive amount of data at it, as we discovered in our 450GB transfer test. Most people will never stress their SSD this hard, though.
All that performance comes at a premium, though. You’ll pay $90 for 250GB, $150 for 500GB, or $230 for 1TB of capacity.
Alternatively, the WD Black SN850 is a hair behind the Samsung 980 Pro’s performance, but “by a rather slim margin,” for roughly the same price. “If you’re looking for the ultimate in single SSD PCIe4 storage performance, you won’t go wrong with either,” we said in our review. “Your choice.” It also earned our Editors’ Choice award.
If you want an SSD with fast PCIe 4.0 speeds, but don’t want to spend up for Samsung’s best-in-class performance, consider the XPG Gammix S50 Lite.
“The XPG Gammix S50 Lite is the first PCIe 4 SSD we’ve tested that doesn’t carry a hefty next-gen surcharge,” we said in our review. “In the real world, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between a system running it, and one running the far more expensive Samsung 980 Pro. Very long transfers aside, it’s a very good deal.”
The leaked build, version 20279, can be run only under one of Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtual machines for right now. While a virtual machine allows the OS to be isolated, or sandboxed, away from the rest of the operating system, the tradeoff is speed. Windows 10X ran extremely slowly on a VM on a Surface Laptop 3, as you should expect from a beta build run on a virtual machine.
Remember, you probably won’t have an opportunity to download and install Windows 10X yourself. The OS is expected to be shipped preinstalled on low-cost PCs, most of which would presumably be designed for education or corporate environments.
Starting up Windows 10X
The theme of simplicity begins with the setup experience. There’s no Cortana to assist you. Windows 10X opens with a brief flourish of the Windows logo before getting right to it.
If you’re a fan of local accounts, don’t buy a system with Windows 10X—the OS asked for a Microsoft account, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. You do have the option of specifying whether Windows 10X will be used for home or business, however, seemingly implying that you’ll be able to buy a Windows 10X machine at retail.
Windows 10X actually goes to some pains to advise you of what data it collects, and allows you to select among a variety of privacy options available for Windows 10X, such as permitting targeted advertising. At least on our build, there seems to be none of the usual stalling while Windows checks for subsequent updates. Once you choose your privacy settings, Windows 10X ushers you into the main screen.
The main Windows 10X UI
If you’re unfamiliar with Windows 10X, the interface is admittedly somewhat of a shock.
The Start menu, for example, doesn’t pop out from the bottom left-hand corner, as it does on Windows. There’s no explosion of colorful Live Tiles, either. Start simply appears as a monochromatic icon on the taskbar on the bottom of the screen. When clicked, it slides up to reveal an “app drawer” that looks very similar to what you’d see on a Chromebook.
The apps that Windows 10X hides inside the drawer include the basics—Settings, Calculator, To Do, News, Weather, Photos, and so on. Apps that you might expect (OneDrive) don’t appear, while apps that you likely wouldn’t (Groove Music, which was disabled long ago) are included. Edge is the default (and apparently only) browser of choice, though my extensions and Favorites synchronized with my cloud account.
When I clicked an app like Weather, there was a prolonged delay while the app was downloaded and updated. We don’t know whether a final version of Windows 10X will require this sort of frequent update when it’s finally released.
Not surprisingly, Microsoft appears to limit the apps that you can download to just those from the Microsoft Store. I was able to download and install Candy Crush Soda Saga from the Store, but the 7Zip utility just seemed to disappear after I downloaded it and tried to install it.
If you can’t find an app, there’s a massive search box that appears at the top of the interface on the Start screen. Typing a search term reveals results from the web and the Store and even local documents, if applicable.
Apps can be snapped to one side of the screen, or run in a full-screen mode. For now, Windows 10X doesn’t appear to have the sophisticated four-corner Snap view that Windows 10 does. Microsoft has also retained Windows’ Task View, which allows you to hop among apps by clicking on a small version of the icon, or typing the familiar Alt+Tab command.
Likewise, Windows 10X preserves the Settings menu, though with a slightly limited subset of available options, specific to the virtual hardware and the operating system.
Windows 10X leaves the Action Center in the lower right-hand corner intact. It, too, offers a simplified array of options. It’s possible that more may become available once Windows 10X appears on shipping hardware.
To answer one last question: Windows 10 S offers an upgrade path to Windows 10 Home. Does Windows 10X? Not that I can see. Microsoft appears to have eliminated that escape hatch.
From what we’ve seen, the basic premise of Windows 10X appears to be this: It’s a simplified Windows for those who need it—or for those designated to need it through an IT administrator. We’ll know more about how Microsoft views Windows 10X once Microsoft makes it available in shipping hardware and to end users.
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