How do SSDs affect gaming performance?

Samsung 840 Evo Ssd

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I hear a lot about SSDs, but how much of a performance difference do they really make for gaming? — Brian K.

It depends what you mean by 'performance.' If you're having framerate issues, a solid state drive isn't what you need. Your GPU is is the key component there, and upgrading to an SSD will not make a difference. The point of installing games on an SSD is the drastic reduction in load times, which occurs because the data transfer speed of SSDs (over 400 MB/s) is significantly higher than that of HDDs, which generally deliver under 170 MB/s.

SSDs can also reduce 'hitching' in open world games. As our friends at Maximum PC reported back in 2010, 'hitching' is what Intel's Adam Lake calls brief pauses in games when they can't pull assets from the hard drive fast enough to keep up with the player.

There are some general quality of life improvements to be had, too—install your OS on an SSD, for instance, and you'll get to your desktop a lot quicker when you boot. If all that sounds peachy, I recommend getting as big of an SSD as you can afford, installing Windows and your games on it, and keeping a bigger, secondary HDD for general storage. (Not long ago, I discussed a convenient way to move your Steam games from your storage drive to your SSD when you want to play them.)

You have a lot of options when choosing an SSD. Our latest issue contains a round-up of some of the best, but here's the short of it: We really like 512GB Crucial MX100. It's a budget SSD at around $214/£144, but it performs very well. In our testing, it achieved a read speed of 474 MB/s, and transferred 30GB in 191 seconds.

You'll get better performance with a PCIe SSD, but they're currently pretty pricey. The Plextor M6e Black Edition PCIe SSD, for instance, is $530 for 512GB. I'd recommend waiting on those. Intel’s new 750 series SSDs are fast as hell, for instance, but you'll need a BIOS that supports NVMe if you want to boot from one, and unless you use the PCIe expansion card version, things get complicated. You may want to wait for a motherboard upgrade in the future before you invest in one of these. But even if your SSD isn't the fastest thing on the planet, it's still a huge upgrade from a traditional HDD, so I wouldn't feel bad about going for a reasonably priced SATA drive.