Your buying guide for the best SSDs in 2017
Solid-state storage is standard-issue for storing data in tablets and smartphones, where it’s relied upon for its tiny size and rugged nature. Those same virtues can be handy in desktop PCs and especially laptops too, but it’s the speed of an SSD (solid-state drive) compared to a traditional hard drive which is the biggest reason to upgrade.
This speed factor is about so much more than go-faster bragging rights though. Old-school desktop PC users may still battle over who has the fastest processor or graphics card, but SSD performance is more about the overall user experience – applications launch almost instantly, web pages load faster, and files copy in a fraction of the time.
How much should I spend?
It’s taken six years or more, but we are now at the state where the SSD is a truly affordable component for any computer user. And if your wallet won’t even stretch to £100, you can still get a 250GB SSD. Around £140 will get you a 500GB drive.
Sure, a traditional hard drive is still a lot cheaper, but you can install Windows and your most-used programs on an SSD and keep your music, video and photo libraries on a huge hard disk.
Which SSD should I buy?
For those seeking the very best performance, there’s still a case for finding the fastest rather than just choosing the cheapest SSD.
Performance – in terms of the speed with which data can be read and written – has effectively plateaued among SATA SSDs. It’s not that flash memory has reached its limit, far from it, but the Serial ATA interface between the flash and your computer is now an increasingly narrowing bottleneck.
That’s why there’s a newer type of SSD that plugs into your PC’s native PCI Express bus. They’re known as nVME SSDs. You’ll need a motherboard with an M.2 PCIe slot, or a PCIe adaptor card for an older motherboard that lacks the slot.
The SSDs here cover the highest-performing models today, as well as some cheaper options that juggle the value factor rather than best-in-class performance figures.
What about MLC, TLC and SLC?
There are various technologies, from multi-level cell (MLC), to the cheaper triple-level cell flash (TLC) architectures. You might even come across the rare and more expensive single-level cell (SLC) drive. The differences between the cell technologies boil down to the amount of bits (data) that a single cell (within the SSD) can handle.
TLC handles three, MLC two, and SLC one. The greater the number of bits per cell, the increased likelihood of failure, inconsistencies and most importantly performance. However, as this is a general sweeping statement, manufacturers have found ways around the limitations of SSD technology, but it’s worth noting what is being used in your SSD, regardless of how it performs.
When buying an SSD, look out for long warranties and high write limits if you prize data integrity, although with the help of proper backup routines, data loss is less of an issue today. Different SSDs demand more or less power in active use or when idle, and there are different power ratings again for when a laptop is in a sleep or hibernation mode.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the capability to measure power consumption in-house, and each manufacturer has its own way to present its numbers in the best light so we can’t give a meaningful rundown of which has the best power economy. However, laptop users should take note of the rated power consumption of the SSDs in our group test, so that you know how much additional battery power you’ll be using with an SSD.
For laptop users specifically, you’ll want to also know the exact dimensions of an SSD, as it might not fit into your laptop. All SSDs have a 2.5in form factor, and often have 69.9×100.1x7mm dimensions – ensure it will fit in your laptop before purchasing it as some are 9.5mm thick rather than 7mm.
The Samsung 850 EVO 500GB is an extremely impressive SSD that provides class-leading technology and speeds to the market. Through our benchmark results, we found the drive to perform consistently well and above all its competitors. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to recommend the SSD for those looking to upgrade from an old hard drive or an old-generation SSD.
Read our Samsung 850 Evo review.
The Toshiba Q300 480GB (2016) SSD is cheaper than most of its competitors and yet is able to provide a fantastic all-round performance. If you’re looking to upgrade or build a budget system, then the Q300 is a solid choice.
Read our Toshiba Q300 480GB review.
The Samsung 960 Pro M.2 provides unbeatable sequential performance, but comes at a high cost. You’ll need the right motherboard or PCIe adaptor and a large sum of money to buy the drive. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for an internal drive with the best read/write speeds, the 960 Pro is our top recommendation.
Read our Samsung 960 Pro review.
The Samsung 960 Evo M.2 provides ridiculously fast sequential read/write speeds, but is a little slower than the 960 Pro. However, it still offers extreme performance over a regular SATA III SSD and is more affordable than its Pro counterpart – making the 960 Evo a fantastic SSD for the pro-consumer.
Read our Samsung 960 Evo review.
The Samsung 850 PRO arrived just too late for last year’s round-up of the best SSDs, but even a year down the line it still has little serious competition in the stakes for the world’s best SATA SSD. It may be left for dust by more modern PCIe drives such as Samsung’s own XP941, but if you have a SATA-based PC and want to fit it with the best storage, take the closest look at the 850 PRO.
Read our Samsung 850 PRO 1 TB review.
SanDisk’s top consumer SSD is backed by a confident 10-year guarantee, and its clear high performance a great value at around 36 pence per gigabyte make this one of the top SSDs you can find today, even a year after its launch.
Read our SanDisk Extreme PRO 480 GB review.
If you need a 240GB drive, or only have £80 to spend, you could do worse than the Integral P Series 4. However, Toshiba’s Q300 is roughly as fast and around £10 cheaper.
Read our Integral P Series 4 review.
The Kingston KC400 SSDNow 512GB is a fantastic SSD which delivers consistent high-speed performances across various benchmarks. The SSD is easy to recommend for those wanting to upgrade from their old hard drives or older generation SSDs, but it’s more expensive than the Samsung 850 Evo.
Read our Kingston KC400 SSDNow review.
The WD Blue SSD 1TB offers consistent speeds, but comes in at a a hefty £295 price tag. The drive is overshadowed by its competitors, but nevertheless provides PC builders with more SSD alternatives.
Read our WD Blue SSD 1TB review.