Games are getting bigger. And that means that storage is becoming a key element for tomorrow's virtual worlds. Red Dead Redemption II has an absolutely stunning world to explore, but it rolls in at 116GB. DCS World meanwhile can max out at over 250GB, gulp, and there are plenty of other examples of games that suck up your storage like it's going out of fashion—check out PC gaming's biggest storage hogs for more. Don't worry though, PC storage is more than keeping up with this demand, and along with SSDs getting bigger, they've gotten a lot faster and cheaper this year too.
Things actually kicked off towards the end of last year, when the Samsung 980 Pro was let loose on the world. This was a new breed of PCIe 4.0 drives that scoffed in the general direction of the first-gen SSDs and managed peak read speeds of 7,000MB/s and writes at up to 5,000MB/s. It was much, much quicker than anything else out there.
It didn't hold that winning mantle for long though, and just before 2021 got going we saw the WD_Black SN850 launched, which instantly leapfrogged the performance gains of the Samsung drive and become our favourite gaming SSD pretty much instantly. As 2021 got started properly, we've seen plenty of speedy drives released that have kept the market competitive.
Importantly, this has helped drive prices down, and that means you can pick up a speedy next-gen drive in bigger capacities than you could previously. To the point where we see 1TB NVMe SSDs as the defacto entry-level size for any mainstream system and 2TB drives are no longer the reserve of the insanely well-heeled. 512GB SSDs aren't a bad option for budget systems still, but you will find yourself running out of space very quickly.
Now you've got some background of how we got here, we can highlight the most exciting SSDs to be released over the last twelve months.
The best SSD of 2021: the nominees
Seagate FireCuda 530 2TB
Seagate has been a mainstay in the storage space for years but hasn't really done much to draw attention to itself in the SSD space until the FireCuda 530 dropped. And drop it did. This is a phenomenally impressive PCIe 4.0 SSD that posts some of the strong synthetic numbers around, with transfer speeds of up to 7,300MB/s and it isn't bad when it comes to real-world performance either. It's on the pricier side of the market though.
Adata Gammix S70 2TB
PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSDs run hot, so some form of cooling is a good idea, and Adata is clearly not messing around when it comes to the S70 and has slapped a chunky heatsink on it to help keep things running cool. With read speeds of up to 7,400MB/s and writes of 6,400MB/s, this is certainly a speedy offering. It's generally available for less than the heatsink packing competition too.
Samsung 980 1TB
Just to confuse absolutely everyone, Samsung released the 980 (non-Pro) this year. Unlike its namesake, this is a PCIe 3.0 SSD, but a clever one that is focused on value for money, and so forgoes a DRAM cache in favour of just keeping everything maxed out. It ushered in a swathe of other DRAM-less drives that are all keenly priced. Even budget builds can be kitted out with 1TB NVMe SSDs thanks to this stick of gum.
The winner of the PC Gamer Hardware Award for the best SSD will be announced on New Year's Eve. It's all to play for, and any one of these three is completely deserving of the crown.