Best SSD for gaming 2021: our top SATA and NVMe drives

Installing an SSD in your PC is one of the most important upgrades you can make. Not only do SSDs make Windows feel faster and more responsive, but they also dramatically speed up game loading times as well. To help you buy the best SSD for gaming, I’ve put together this handy guide. I’ve tested dozens of SSDs over the years, and I’ve picked out my top recommendations below. Regardless of whether you just need some space for that all-important game download or you’re about to build a new PC from scratch, here are the best SSDs for gaming you can buy today.

It’s never been more important to have one of today’s best SSDs for gaming sitting inside your PC. SSDs are much faster at opening, saving and transferring files around on your PC than traditional hard disk drives (or HDDs), which means faster loading times for games and less time spent waiting around.

There are two types of gaming SSD you might want to consider: SATA drives and NVMe SSDs. SATA drives are small, 2.5in drives that plug into a SATA port on your PC’s motherboard. They also need to be connected to your PC’s power supply, too. NVMe drives, on the other hand, are even smaller and use an M.2 port on your motherboard. These draw power directly from your motherboard, so they don’t need to be connected to your PSU. Most modern ATX motherboards have at least two M.2 ports these days, but some higher end boards can support up to three. Smaller micro-ATX boards, however, may only have one.

SATA drives are much faster than HDDs, but NVMe drives are faster still. They tend to be more expensive as a result, but there are still plenty of good cheap NVMe drives out there that don’t break the bank – and you’ll find at least one on our best SSD for gaming list below. However, it’s also worth bearing in mind that NVMe drives are increasingly falling into two sub-categories: those that support the PCIe 3.0 standard, and ones that support the newer PCIe 4.0 standard. PCIe 4.0 is twice as fast as PCIe 3.0, and many of the upcoming storage technologies due to hit PC in 2021, such as Microsoft’s DirectStorage tech, will utilise this extra speed to help cut down game loading times even further. PCIe 4.0 SSDs are still very expensive, though, and are currently only supported by AMD’s B550 and X570 motherboards, as Intel don’t support them yet. As such, I wouldn’t make them a priority in your SSD upgrade plan just yet, although they will become increasingly more important as the months draw on.

You’ll find more information about everything you need know about buying an SSD at the bottom of this page, including what the differences are between SATA and NVMe SSDs, what kind of size SSD you should go for, as well as how to install your SSD inside your PC. Remember, you can also keep track of all the best prices for today’s top SSDs by checking out our regularly updated SSD deals page.

Best gaming SSD 2020

WD Blue SN550

The best value NVMe SSD for gaming

A photo of the WD Blue SN550 SSD

SATA SSDs like the Samsung 860 Evo are great, but if you’ve got a motherboard with an M.2 slot then you should absolutely go for the WD Blue SN550 as your primary SSD drive.

It’s the successor to the excellent WD Blue SN500, and now comes in a larger 1TB size as well, making it a great option no matter what kind of size you’re looking for. Simply put, the WD Blue SN550 is fantastic value for money. It’s got great random read and write speeds – better than almost every other budget NVMe SSD out there – and doesn’t cost that much more than the best budget SATA SSDs, either. Its random write times are particularly nippy, beating Samsung’s more expensive 970 Evo Plus and coming second only to WD’s flagship Black SN750.

The 970 Evo Plus and Black SN750 have mildly better random read speeds, but they’re also a lot more expensive than the WD Blue SN550, often costing another £20 / $20 across all the different size capacities. As a result, I think most people would be perfectly happy saving themselves a bit of cash and opting for the SN550 instead. It’s also brilliant at handling larger workloads, making this a brilliant all-round SSD for your gaming PC. If you’ve got a motherboard that supports it, this SSD should definitely be at the top of your list.

Samsung 980 Pro

The best PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD for gaming

A photo of the Samsung 980 Pro NVMe SSD connected to a motherboard.

PCIe 4.0 SSDs are still very new and rather expensive, but if you’re looking for the best of the bunch, the Samsung 980 Pro is currently the one to beat. If you thought the speed jump from SATA to PCIe 3.0 NVMes was big, the 980 Pro offers a similar boost over PCIe 3.0 NVMe drives, offering substantially faster read and write speeds across the board.

Admittedly, the PCIe 4.0 drive you’ll actually probably want to buy is the inevitable Samsung 980 Evo. We don’t know when this will be coming out just yet, but it would be unusual for Samsung to ditch their cheaper Evo line here, as they normally release both models in fairly quick succession.

Equally, I wouldn’t advise rushing into buying a PCIe 4.0 SSD unless you’ve got a recent AMD-based PC and are absolutely desperate for the latest and greatest. Intel will be adding PCIe 4.0 support to their 11th Gen Rocket Lake CPUs in early 2021, by which point prices may well have started to come down a bit. The Samsung 980 Pro is definitely the fastest PCIe 4.0 SSD out there right now, but I’d hold off on buying one until they’re more affordable.

Samsung 860 Evo

The best SATA SSD for gaming

A photo of the Samsung 860 Evo SSD

When it comes to buying an SSD for gaming, a lot people still opt for a 2.5in SATA drive rather than a super fast NVMe SSD, if only because the latter tend to be quite expensive and you need a motherboard that supports them. For SATA SSD hunters, then, the Samsung 860 Evo is hands down the best SSD for gaming you can buy today. Its random read speeds are faster than any other SATA SSD that’s crossed my testing bench, and its warranty and endurance rating are also top of their respective classes.

The only other SSD I’ve tested with a faster random write speed is Samsung’s 860 Qvo. However, the Qvo’s smallest size is 1TB, so it can be quite expensive to have as your main drive. That said, the 860 Qvo is a lot cheaper than the 860 Evo once you start pushing into the 1TB and 2TB categories, so it arguably makes more sense if you’re looking for a 1TB+ SSD and have enough cash.

For those looking to keep SSD costs down to under £100 / $100, though, the 500GB Samsung 860 Evo is definitely the way to go. Crucial’s MX500 is another good budget option for SATA buyers (listed below), but the 860 Evo is much faster overall, particularly when it comes to random write speeds. The 860 Evo also comes with a much higher endurance rating, too: 300 terabytes written (TBW) for the 500GB model as opposed to just 180TBW on the 500GB MX500. It’s fast, durable and I’ve yet to see another SATA SSD beat it when it comes to overall value.

SATA SSD vs NVMe: what’s the difference?

2.5in SATA SSDs: The easiest drop-in replacement for a standard hard disk is a 2.5in SATA model. These are the same size and shape as a standard 2.5in hard disk, and plug into a normal SATA port on your motherboard. Most modern PC cases have mounting points for 2.5in hard disks, often on the back of the motherboard tray. If yours doesn’t, you can use a cheap adaptor (really just a 3.5in-wide metal plate with screw holes) to fit the SSD in a normal 3.5in hard disk bay.

Close-up of a 2.5in SATA SSD

To avoid crippling the SSD’s performance, make sure you plug the SSD into a SATA 3 port on your motherboard, rather than use SATA 2. SATA 3 SSDs will work in SATA 2 ports, but you’ll likely lose around half the SSD’s performance. That said, SATA 3 is an interface that’s been around since 2009, and one that isn’t quick enough to cope with the fastest modern SSDs. For most users, a SATA 3 SSD will be fine, and still several times faster than a mechanical hard disk, but if you’ve got a motherboard with an M.2 slot that supports NVMe SSDs, you should definitely consider opting for an NVMe SSD instead.

NVMe SSDs: If you’re in the market for a super-fast SSD that won’t be encumbered by its interface, you need to move beyond SATA to NVMe (also called PCI Express, PCIe NVMe, or just NVMe). Most NVMe SSDs are mounted directly to the motherboard in an M.2 slot. If your motherboard doesn’t have such a slot, there’s only one way to unleash the speed: a PCIe add-in card (AIC). These add-in cards will fit in a spare PCIe x4 or x16 slot and are monstrously quick, as well as monstrously expensive.

If you have a newer motherboard with an M.2 slot, an NVMe SSD is a neater way to add super-fast PCIe storage. Most NVMe SSDs are just 22mm wide and 80mm long (so about a third shorter than a stick of RAM) and screw straight into the motherboard – no more having to route SATA and power cables around your case.

Close-up of an M.2 slot on a motherboard

NVMe SSDs require an M.2 slot (above) on your motherboard.

However, the M.2 standard is a little complicated, chiefly due to its versatility. For starters, there are several sizes of M.2 card, such as 2280 and 22110: the first two digits denote the card’s width in mm, and the remaining numbers are the card’s length. Fortunately, the majority of consumer NVMe SSDs are the 2280 size. What’s more, as well as PCIe storage, the M.2 slot can also support SATA SSDs. These don’t have the performance advantage of NVMe drives, but score for neatness, and are about the same price as 2.5in SSDs. Check what standards your motherboard supports, as PCIe SSDs will not work in SATA-only slots and vice versa.

The good news is that many motherboards support both NVMe and SATA M.2 SSDs, giving you the versatility to choose between fast-but-expensive NVMe and slower (but still fast) and cheaper SATA. Bear in mind that the claimed speeds are for sequential transfers, rather than random reads and writes, so should be considered a best-case scenario. It’s also worth looking at a drive’s IOPS, or input/output operations per second, rating. This isn’t always listed in an SSD’s specifications, but it can make a big difference to an SSD’s real-world performance. A drive with a high IOPS rating can perform many more data reads and writes per second than a lower-rated model, which can make a huge difference in the complex data transfer tasks required by a modern operating system.

What size SSD should I buy?

The minimum SSD size I’d recommend these days is 250GB, as this will give you enough room for your Windows installation (around 20GB), a couple of big games, plus all your music, photos and any other programmes you might need. However, if you have a particularly large photo and music collection, or just like having lots of games installed at the same time, then I’d recommend bumping it up to the 500GB mark.

If you like having most of your games installed at the same time, though, consider finding the cash for a 1TB SSD, or two 500GB SSDs. If you need installing more than one SSD, then have a read of our How to install an SSD / HDD guide.

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