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Best SSD for gaming in 2021

Best SSD for gaming
Give your gaming PC a speed boost with the best SSD for gaming. (Image credit: Future)

The best SSD for gaming is all about speeding up the time it takes to get you into your games. Unlike a GPU, a new SSD will not increase your game performance in the traditional sense. What it does do is make your PC faster and more responsive. 

. If you go for a larger drive, too, it will give you enough speedy space to cope with the incessant demands of gaming's biggest storage hogs. We're looking at you, CoD: Modern Warfare and Red Dead Redemption 2.

Your next upgrade

(Image credit: Future)

Best CPU for gaming: the top chips from Intel and AMD
Best graphics card: your perfect pixel-pusher awaits

The performance difference between an SSD and HDD is nearly night and day, and the same can be true between SATA drives and the best NVMe SSDs too. Suddenly everything is right there at your fingertips—no frustrating waits as your data chugs around your rig like an old steamboat. At some point, you get tired of your games taking forever to load into. 

In the early days, it was recommended that you use a small SSD as a boot drive and use a large HDD to keep all your games. SSDs have become more and more affordable at different sizes; if you want to play your games at the highest speeds possible, investing in a quality SSD is your best bet. It should help you to defend against the incoming storage space onslaught.

Our pick of the best SSDs includes both 1TB and 500GB drives because smaller SSDs, though cheaper, lose performance. And, with games taking up well over 150GB each, you need a lot of storage space these days to avoid a whole lot of inventory management.

Best SSD for gaming

Addlink S70

(Image credit: Addlink)

The best SSD for gaming

Capacity: 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Controller: Phison PS5012-E12
Memory: Toshiba 3D TLC
Interface : M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4
Seq. read: 3,400 MB/s (512GB version)
Seq. write: 2,000 MB/s (512GB version)
Reasons to buy
+Great value+Top-end PCIe 3.0 performance+Excellent endurance
Reasons to avoid
-Below average low queue depth performance

Add link came out of nowhere to drive down the prices of every competing NVMe-based SSD and seems to have been the catalyst for bringing nigh-on price parity across the PCIe and SATA SSD ecosystem. Addlink who? So yeah, it may not be a recognized name in storage. However, given that the S70 is still using a completely recognizable Phison E12 controller and Toshiba's 3D TLC memory, there's not much that can go wrong.

With the sticker off, the Addlink drive is almost identical to the pricier Seagate Firecuda. It performs practically the same as the WD Black SN750, which subsequently had to drop its price to compete. At the 512GB level, the Addlink S70 is arguably the best SSD to build your system around, and the 1TB version has even better writes... and we've seen that as low as $120 before too.

We've no concerns around reliability either, despite the relatively unknown name, having used both the 512GB and 1TB variants regularly as part of our test rigs without fault. When SATA drives are costing the same, and Samsung SSDs cost more but don't deliver much extra performance, then the Addlink S70 is our pick of the bunch.

WD Black SN750 1TB

(Image credit: WD)

2. WD Black SN750 1TB

The best 1TB SSD around

Capacity : 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
Controller: Western Digital
Memory: SanDisk/Toshiba 3D TLC
Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4
Seq. read: 3,470 MB/s
Seq. write: 3,000 MB/s
Reasons to buy
+Competitive pricing+Serious SSD performance+In-house technology
Reasons to avoid
-High idle power consumption

Western Digital's entry into the SSD arena was a long while coming, especially at the speedier end of the market, but the WD Black SN750 was worth the wait. It nails solid-state performance on par with the best consumer Samsung EVO SSDs and undercuts them on price too.

The combination of an in-house memory controller and Toshiba memory (also essentially in-house after the acquisition of the SanDisk/Toshiba memory division) means what we've got here is a drive that can match Samsung in its build methodology too. And that all means WD can be very aggressive on how much it charges people for the privilege of having a speedy PCIe SSD in their gaming PC.

There is a more expensive version on offer with a heatsink attached to it. Still, so long as you don't bury your drive in an M.2 slot beneath your GPU, you should be golden, and the SN750 will maintain peak performance without burning out.

Samsung 970 EVO

(Image credit: Samsung)

3. Samsung 970 EVO Plus 500GB

The best SSD with PCIe 3.0 performance option

Capacity: 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB
Controller: Samsung Phoenix
Memory: Samsung 3-bit MLC
Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4
Seq. read: 3,500 MB/s
Seq. write: 3,200 MB/s
Reasons to buy
+Samsung SSD technology+Outstanding real-world performance
Reasons to avoid
-Could be better optimised for efficiency

The Samsung 970 EVO Plus offers a slight bump in write performance over the 970 EVO, all for the same price. There was a time when you could pick up the non-Plus version for slightly less, but those drives seem to have disappeared now. If you can find a straight 970 EVO for less, then go for it.

Both drives still use the same Samsung Phoenix controller, which means they can outperform the competition in real-world usage. If you want peak PCIe 3.0 performance, then the Samsung drives are hard to beat, but you have to pay for that little speed hike. Compared with the 512GB Addlink, the Samsung is a little quicker in real-world testing but costs another $20.

That's not a huge issue at this half-terabyte level, but when the 1TB version comes in at close to $170, it does make the higher capacity 970 EVO drives a bit more of a difficult recommendation. The 500GB 970 EVO is still a great drive, smartly specced, well-made, and with a more competitive price.

WD Black SN850 1TB

(Image credit: Western Digital)

4. WD Black SN850 1TB NVMe SSD

The best SSD with PCIe 4.0 SSD

Capacity: 1TB
Controller: WD_Black G2
Memory: BiCS4 96-layer TLC
Interface: PCIe Gen4 x4
Seq. read: 7,000 MB/s
Seq write: 5,300 MB/s
Reasons to buy
+Blistering PCIe 4.0 throughput+Excellent real-world performance+Solid 5 year warranty
Reasons to avoid
-Runs hot-No AES 256-bit encryption

The Western Digital Black SN850 makes a fashionably late entrance to the PCIe 4.0 party. It's capable of hitting 7,000MB/s reads and 5,300MB/s writes in sequential transfers, which is well beyond the other drives' capabilities. That's because it uses the latest PCIe 4.0 interface, which has double the theoretical bandwidth limit of the other PCIe 3.0 drives.

Performance ultimately defines any SSD; the WD SN850 really stands out from the crowd. The synthetic benchmarks, spearheaded by ATTO and AS SSD, show that this is very much a second-generation PCIe 4.0 drive, with peak sequential read speeds knocking on 6,750MB/s and 5,920MB/s, respectively. Writes are lower than the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus, but still healthy, at either side of 5GB/s. The 4K write performance in AS SSD manages to flip this over, and the WD SN850 outpaces the Sabrent drive, hence why it replaced it on this list. 

Out of the new PCIe 4.0 drives on the market, the SN850 is hands down the most impressive out of the gate with its impressive real-world performance though it does run a little hot. If you want the fastest next-gen drive, this is it.

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Crucial MX500 1TB

Crucial MX500 1TB (Image credit: Crucial)
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Crucial MX500 1TB

Crucial MX500 1TB (Image credit: Crucial)
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Crucial MX500 1TB

Crucial MX500 1TB (Image credit: Crucial)

5. Crucial MX500 1TB

The best SSD for secondary storage

Capacity: 1TB
Controller: Silicon Motion SM2258
Memory: Micron TLC
Interface: SATA 6Gbps
Seq. read: 560 MB/s
Seq. write: 510 MB/s
Reasons to buy
+One of the fastest SATA drives+Competitive price per GB
Reasons to avoid
-Low endurance rating for heavy data writes

It seems strange that the Crucial MX500 is the only SATA drive left on our list of the best SSDs for gaming, but when the price delta between PCIe and SATA is so small, it's difficult to make an argument for the far slower technology. But, as there is a hard limit on the number of M.2 slots on your motherboard, there is still a place for SATA SSDs as secondary storage.

And the Crucial MX500 is one of the best. With SATA's maximum theoretical bandwidth limit of 600MB/s, it's nearly as quick as you'll get, and Crucial's drives have long been among the best-value options available too. This is the most affordable 1TB SATA drive you can pick up and make a great second home for your Steam and Epic libraries.

It will happily function as a boot drive on systems with no M.2 sockets, or at least no bootable M.2 sockets anyway. You will still be missing out on the zippy response of your operating system running on the SSD-specific NVMe protocol, but if that's not an option, this will see you right. 

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Crucial P1 NVMe SSD

Crucial P1 1TB NVMe (Image credit: Crucial)
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Crucial P1 1TB NVMe

Crucial P1 1TB NVMe (Image credit: Crucial)
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Crucial P1 1TB NVMe

Crucial P1 1TB NVMe (Image credit: Crucial)
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Crucial P1 500GB and 1TB SSDs

Crucial P1 1TB NVMe (Image credit: Future)

6. Crucial P1 1TB NVMe

Best value SSD

Capacity: 1TB
Controller: Silicon Motion SM2263
Memory : Micron 3D QLC
Interface: M.2 PCIe 3.0 x4
Seq. read: 2,000 MB/s
Seq. write: 1,700 MB/s
Reasons to buy
+Faster than SATA+High capacity+Solid power efficiency
Reasons to avoid
-Low endurance rating-No heat spreader

The Crucial P1 is the cheapest 1TB NVMe SSD you can squeeze into your PC, but that low cost comes at… a cost. Crucial has managed to get the price so low because it's using quad-level cell (QLC) memory, arguably the worst NAND available to SSDs. It allows for greater density at a lower price, but the trade-off is the overall performance and endurance. You'd still have to fill and refill the drive many, many times over to get close to hitting the lower endurance limits of the P1, but it doesn't inspire as much confidence as a TLC or MLC drive does.

The speed, however, is the sticking point. As the drive gets full, you will find it can drop dangerously close to the performance of a standard SATA-based SSD. Before that level, however, the Crucial P1 can comfortably outpace the older technology even if it can't match the speeds of either WD, Addlink, or Samsung's NVMe drives.

If you have a spare M.2 socket on your motherboard and already have your boot drive running at genuine NVMe speeds, then the capacity and the generally higher-than-SATA speeds make the P1 a tremendous second drive.

Best SSD for gaming FAQ

Q: What's the difference between SATA and NVMe PCIe-based SSDs?

As the prices of NVMe SSDs fall every day, we don't see much difference in cost between the best NVMe SSDs and their SATA-based equivalents. When the cheapest 2.5-inch 1TB SATA SSD is only $24 less than an equivalent capacity NVMe PCIe drive (and four times slower), why bother with older SATA technology when you can move into the future for so cheap?

Many of the best SSDs for gaming still use the PCIe 3.0 interface, but we're starting to see more PCIe 4.0 drives sliding into the market. Corsair was an early pacesetter here, and the newly launched 500GB Samsung 980 Pro SSD did well in testing, but the value proposition isn't the greatest, unfortunately.

Where SATA's theoretical performance limit is 600MB/s, and PCIe 3.0's is 4,000MB/s, the newer PCIe 4.0 SSDs can double that figure to a maximum of 8,000MB/s. The current top speed of available Gen4 drives is around 7,000MB/s, which is double that of the previous generation, top out at 3,500MB/s, in the real world.

Q: How do we test SSDs?

A: SSDs make your whole system faster and more pleasant to use. But they matter for gaming, too. A fast-loading SSD can cut dozens of seconds off the load times of big games like Red Dead Redemption 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, or MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV. An SSD won't affect framerates like your GPU or CPU, but it will make installing, booting, dying, and reloading in games a faster, smoother process.

When shopping for a good SSD for gaming, one of the most important factors is the price per gigabyte. How much will you have to spend to keep a robust library of Steam games installed, ready to be played at a moment's notice? With many new games surpassing the 50GB and even 150GB mark, this becomes even more critical.

To find the best gaming SSDs, we researched the SSD market, picked out the strongest contenders, and put them through their paces with various benchmarking tools. We also researched what makes a great SSD great, beyond the numbers—technical stuff like types of flash memory and controllers.

PCIe 4.0 SSDs are supported by 2nd and 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen CPUs and X570 and B550 motherboards as well as by Intel's latest Rocket Lake platform. Sure, they're mighty for bandwidth, but when it's crunch-time in-game, there's not a vast amount more it can deliver than a PCIe 3.0 drive, at least not until Microsoft delivers DirectStorage, which will be exclusive to Windows 11

Dave James

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.