If you’re a PC gamer, you can already consider yourself lucky. You’ve got some great advantages over console gamers: better graphics, cheaper games, and more input choices, just to name a few, but over the last couple years, a technology has come onto the market that has completely revolutionized PC gaming, and made it easier, faster, and more fun than ever before.
This innovation is the Solid State Drive, or SSD. Though they’ve been sold since the late ‘00s (at exorbitant prices), these solid state drives have finally come down in price so that they’re affordable for just about everyone, and they’re especially popular with PC gamers. Why?
Compared to old-style hard disks, which use physical, moving parts and platters, SSDs are purely digital, with no moving parts at all, and they are much faster than traditional hard drives.
And if you’re a gamer, you know that speed is the name of the game when it comes to game performance – whether you’re loading into an Overwatch match and need to grab a specific hero before anyone else on your team, or you’re relaxing in a single player game like The Witcher 3 and don’t want long load times, or choppy gameplay.
Having an SSD is becoming more and more beneficial to PC gamers, and for some games, it’s almost mandatory if you’re looking for peak performance, or trying to juice your graphics up to maximum on a 4k gaming rig.
So we’re here to teach you about SSDs. What are they? What should gamers look for when making a purchase? Is it worth going expensive, or are bargain offerings okay?
Read on to have these questions (and more) answered, educate yourself about what’s available, and get some sensible product recommendations. By the time you finish this article, you’ll be an expert, and know exactly what you need, where to get it, and how much it should cost.
The Kingston HyperX barely edges out the below Samsung 850 Pro as the fastest SATA SSD on our list today. It reaches a massive 560MB/s read and 550MB/s write time, as well as an IOPS that peaks at 100K/89K read/write. Inside is a 8-channel, quad-core Phison S10 controller, which allows for incredible performance even when when the drive is near maximum capacity, and uses MLC NAND flash memory.
This is what you want to see when you’re looking for a high-end SSD for gaming. Far from being something that has been just ‘re-branded’ for gamers, the Kingston HyperX SSD was built from the ground up for speed. If price is no object and speed is your goal, then this is the SSD for you.
Furthermore, it’s also low-profile, coming in at only 7mm in height, which makes it great for those rigs that are built in smaller cases, or if space is at a premium due to large graphics cards that overhang your motherboard.
The Samsung 850 Pro comes very close to the Kingston HyperX when it comes to speeds, but its read/write speeds fall just a bit short of the Kingston at 550MB/s and 520MB/s making it slightly slower.
This is mostly due to the fact that the Kingston is a newer model – for years the Samsung 850 Pro was, simply, the fastest consumer SSD available.
It’s also quite a bit more expensive per GB than the HyperX – so you may be wondering why, exactly, we’d still recommend it.
Well, it’s simple – Samsung makes the best SSDs on the market. Their products are consistently rated among the highest possible overall quality on the market, and this specific product is built for power efficiency, reliability, and has a 10-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Because of this, we would recommend this product if you’re worried about overall reliability and plan on using a single SSD for a very long time. If you don’t plan on using the same PC or SSD for a long time, its price may be overkill, but the quality and reliability of Samsung drives is unparalleled, making this a great choice for gaming SSDs and non-gaming SSDs alike.
There are significant differences between top-tier SSDs and more mid-ranged SSDs, but as mentioned above, they’re quite insignificant when compared to HDDs. Each and every solid state drives is easily 10x faster than a comparable hard drive, so if you’re looking to upgrade yourself from an HDD but not interested in a top-tier (and top-dollar) product like the Kingston or the Samsung 850 Pro, this SSD by Crucial is an incredible value.
And while it’s value-priced, this product certainly can perform. This SSD has read/write speeds of 530/510MB/s respectively, and IOPS speeds of 92K/83K read/write, meaning it’s only about 10% slower than a top performer like the Kingston or the Samsung, while coming in at a much lower price.
Crucial also packs a useful feature in this bargain-budget SSD – power protection. Sudden power losses can be catastrophic for SSDs, which require a constant power current to operate correctly – and sudden power loss can lead to data loss.
The power protection in the Crucial SSD doesn’t provide protection for unwritten data – there is no tool that can do so – but it does help protect important files and system directories in the event of sudden power loss, making it a great choice if you live somewhere with an inconsistent power grid, or if you don’t have an uninterruptable power supply (UPS).
Given its great performance for your dollar, safety features, and overall quality and reliability, this is certainly the best dollar-for-dollar gaming SSD you can purchase if you’re on a budget.
Intel is well known as one of the top SSD manufacturers in the world and for good reason. Their products are not cheap, often costing much more than competitors, but they deliver absolutely top-tier performance.
This SSD, specifically, has read/write times that are on par with the fastest offerings on our list, as well as a proprietary Intel controller that is overclocked and factory optimized for incredible response times and snappy reactions. But that’s just the beginning.
The real claim to fame of this SSD is its extreme durability. It has been tested to deliver 70gb of writes every day for 5 years. If you’re doing the math, that means it can handle 1.2 Petabytes of writing without failing. In a recent experiment by TechReport, many different SSDs were tested for their durability, and none of them managed to crack 1.1Pb. This Intel does so easily, and its stupendous durability and top-tier performance earn it a spot on our list.
It’s not cheap, but it will never let you down, and its performance is easily on par with our highest quality choices, such as the Kingston HyperX and the Samsung.
This gaming SSD by PNY offers top-tier performance, along with a design that sips power, featuring PNY’s proprietary low-wattage functionality that allows top performance with 30% less power than industry-leading SSDs. This also means that it generates less heat, and this allows for cooler PC temperatures, which allows your other components to perform more effectively.
It’s no slouch when you look at the numbers, either – the 2016 model boasts 565MB/s read speeds and 540MB/s write speeds, and an IOPS metric of 95K read/write. It’s still a bit slower than the Kingston HyperX, but given that it has less power impact, it’s certainly a good choice if you’re running an SLI or CrossFire graphics setup, or are worried about your PSU being able to handle a more power-hungry SSD.
These SSDs are also shock-tested for reliability and durability and come with a 4-year top-grade warranty, so you can be sure your investment is safe and secure.
The Samsung 850 EVO is the little brother of the Samsung 850 PRO and features very similar features, but at a lower price. For years, this SSD has been considered one of the single best value solid state drives on the market, and its reputation is well-earned.
It was one of the first Samsung drives to be crafted with Samsung’s proprietary V-NAND Technology, and though it’s been eclipsed by the 850 PRO, it still offers an incredible 540MB/s read and 520MB/s write speed, as well as an IOPS performance of 98K/90K read/write. This SSD is on our list because it’s perhaps the single most popular gaming SSD of all time – it has a perfect blend of price, performance, and reliability, as well as the history and quality of Samsung products, and an industry-leading 5-year warranty.
It’s not the cheapest SSD on this list, and it’s not the fastest, but it offers guaranteed quality and longevity that some other models from newer SSD manufacturers might lack.
This offering from SanDisk can be thought of as sort of the Frontier Airlines of SSDs. It’s not too fancy, it’s not overly stylish, and it’s not top-of-the-line, but it’ll get you there, and it’ll get you there fast.
550 MB/s write speeds and 500MB/s read speeds along with 98K/80K read/write IOPS are on par with some of the more expensive drives on this list, and this solid state drive delivers reliable, consistent performance, which is no surprise – SanDisk was one of the very first companies to develop the technology that has made modern solid state drives possible, and their experience and reliability shine through in this SSD.
It also features several top-of-the-line design features that are surprising given its price range, including a proprietary nCache 2.0 technology that helps cache files faster on a high-speed buffer array before transferring them to long-term storage, and a highly vibration and impact-resistant design that’s great whether you’re lugging your PC around to LAN events, or looking to stick an SSD in your day-to-day laptop.
Overall, the SanDisk Ultra II is a great choice if you’re looking to grab the most storage possible for your dollar, and while it may not be flashy, it’s well-made, reliable, and fast. What more could you want?
Finding the Best SSD for Gaming: A Buyer’s Guide
What is a SSD?
A Solid State Drive (SSD) is a hard drive built out of non-volatile NAND flash memory. This is in contrast to volatile NAND flash memory – this is what RAM, DRAM, and VRAM are built out of.
Volatile memory is very fast and efficient but cannot hold information when it is unpowered.
Non-volatile memory is what flash drives, SSDs, and memory cards are built out of – this memory is very similar, but it’s built for permanent data storage, and it will not lose data once it’s unpowered, making it more similar to standard hard disks.
These drives are quickly beginning to replace standard Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) in professional and recreational settings where speed is of utmost importance. This is because their read and write times, (the time it takes to retrieve a given piece of data, or create it) for even low-end SSDs, 10x faster – 300 Mb/s compared to only 30 Mb/s – and top models can easily eclipse that with 550-600 Mb/s read and write times.
Not only that, but given the lack of moving parts and lower power draw, SSDs are more reliable than HDDS. They’re not perfect, and will eventually fail just like every other PC component, but mean-time-to-failure is often twice that of a comparable HDD.
Should I Get an SSD or HDD for Gaming?
SSDs have consistent high speeds, better reliability, and lower power consumption.
Consistently high speeds are achieved by the architecture used to create these drives. HDDs use physical read/write heads and platters to store information. On SSDs, the storage is achieved with solid state flash memory, and a controller, a small processor built into the device, takes the place of a read/write head.
Because this controller is completely digital and there are no moving parts, this means that SSDs never slow down. This is in contrast to HDDs, which take time to spin up, search for data, and retrieve it.
This design also increases reliability – with no moving parts, there are fewer points of failure, and since SSDs don’t require power to move physical objects around inside them, they are much more energy efficient than HDDs – drawing 2-3 watts of power compared to a hard drive’s 7-10 watts.
Why are SSDs More Expensive Than Hard Drives?
Well, it’s mostly because SSDs are a new technology – at least compared to hard drives, which have been in existence for over 6 decades. SSDs have required more technological innovation, the supply chain isn’t as well established, and since they’re newer and better in every way, they carry a price premium.
But the price difference between SSDs and HDDs has fallen massively in the last few years – while in 2008 an 80gb SSD would have cost you around $600, today a larger, faster 120gb SSD won’t even be 1/10th of that price.
The price per Gb of data storage has been consistently falling, and it’s now about $0.20 per GB of data. This is still quite high compared to HDDs – a 4tb HDD will cost you $0.03 per GB, but it’s much cheaper than it used to be.
Given the fact that prices continue to fall, and the technology continues to improve, this is the perfect time to invest in an SSD.
Are SSDs Really Worth the Price? Shouldn’t I Just Buy a Typical, Cheap Hard Drive and be Done with it?
Absolutely not. If you’re building or using a gaming computer today, you are absolutely gimping it by not using an SSD.
While expensive processors and graphics cards are all well and good, an SSD is one of the single cheapest and most beneficial upgrades you can make. You will notice much shorter load times, more consistent framerates, and overall increased performance not only in gaming, but when installing games, moving files, and when booting up your computer.
It’s a massive upgrade, and dollar for dollar it’s one of the best things you can do for your PC, whether you’re building a new one, or breathing new life into an older rig.
What Size SSD do I Need?
If money’s no object, you should buy the largest size you can afford, because you never think you need more space, until you run out. Buying a larger SSD is a good idea because you’ll always have room to work with, and it’s usually cheaper per GB – up to a point.
A 1TB SSD is a great place to start – these offer plenty of storage while still being relatively inexpensive. Past the 1TB mark, SSDs begin to spike in price fairly dramatically, so that’s a good upper limit unless you really need massive amounts of storage.
Now, if you’re on a budget, don’t despair. Smaller SSDs are still inexpensive, and can be used to augment traditional HDDs – a 250gb SSD, for example, would allow you to install Windows and have over 200gb remaining for your favorite games, and you’d have plenty of room to move them around if you need more space for a new install.
Even if you install some games on another HDD, you’ll still notice increased performance, given the fact that your computer’s OS is running off of the blazing fast SSD, not the slower HDD.
However, 250gb can get restrictive – if you’re truly on a budget, it’s a perfectly fine way to go, but we generally advise at least a 500gb model.
Can I Use Both an SSD and a Hard Drive?
Yes! In fact, we recommend this very highly. Since hard drive space is so cheap compared to SSDs, it’s a great idea to augment your setup with a standard hard drive, on which you can store movies, music, or even games that don’t have multiplayer, or which have quick loading times regardless.
SSD space is precious, and if there’s anything you don’t mind offloading to a slower HDD, it’s a great idea to do so.
What Differences do Gamers and Standard Users have when Looking for SSDs?
Now, there are a lot of “gaming branded” hard drives out there. Some of these are great! They boast incredibly high read/write speeds, IOPS scores, and high reliability – we have a couple of these on our product recommendation list below, and they’re wonderful drives.
However, don’t get taken in by manufacturers who simply brand their standard hard drives, slap on a fancy paint job or color scheme, then hock them as “gaming” hard drives, all while pushing the price up.
The truth is, just about any SSD is appropriate for a gamer – at least compared to a traditional hard drive – but some are more appropriate than others. Even the most standard SSDs are light years ahead of traditional hard drives when it comes to read/write performance.
However, if you’re looking to push your limits, higher end SSDs are certainly worth the cost. These SSDs typically boast read/write speeds in excess of 500MB/s, and IOPS (Input Operations Per Second) generally exceeding 90,000-100K.
Simply put, if you truly desire pure speed, you want an SSD that hits the above metrics. If you’re not interested in that, don’t worry – there are plenty of more inexpensive options that are 95% as fast – just not on the bleeding edge.
What are the Differences Between Common SSDs?
In two words? Size and speed. Cheaper SSDs have slightly slower read and write speeds, as well as usually lower capacity storage options. Typically, bargain SSDs have a read/write time of about 200-300MB/s – still nearly ten times as fast as HDDs.
More expensive SSDs have higher quality controllers which allow for faster read/write and IOPS operations, but they come at a price premium. As mentioned above, these SSDs generally have read/write times in excess of 500MB/s, making them the very fastest options currently available on the market
Is There one SSD Manufacturer that’s Better than the Others?
That depends on what you want. Just about every top-rated SSD out there is of consistent quality nowadays, and industry leaders include Samsung, PNY, Kingston, Crucial, Intel, Seagate, and others.
However, beware of cheap SSDs. You get what you pay for, and if you buy a generic SSD online at a low price, you’re at risk of getting scammed or being given a shoddy product.
Remember, this storage drive is the heart and soul of your computer – all of your data lives there. Don’t risk your rig on a shoddy product. Go with a well-known manufacturer, and you won’t be disappointed.
What do I Need to Know About my PC Before Buying an SSD?
Nothing, if it was built in the last ~7 years. Almost all SSDs on the market today use the SATA III port – the same port used by HDDs, and this port supports all major brands of SSD that are currently manufactured.
Because it uses the same data and power ports, SSDs are as simple to install as hard drives and require very little troubleshooting.
The only real danger there could be is not having enough power for all of your hard drives, but this only really becomes a problem if you’re running a bunch of different hard drives in the same computer – as mentioned, SSDs are very power efficient, and if you’re simply replacing your hard drive, you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you plan on a lot of major rig upgrades, though, including SSDs and HDDs, you may want to use a power calculator to ensure your power supply can handle all the new installations.
Is Installing an SSD Hard? How do I do it?
No, it’s quite simple, especially if you’re building a new computer. In fact, here’s a YouTube video showing you exactly what to do, which you can follow even if you’ve never built a PC.
If you’re rebuilding an existing PC, it is much easier to wipe everything and start fresh – especially if you used to use a standard hard drive. Simply cloning everything over from a hard drive to an SSD can cause some system instability, and is not recommended.
Consider simply removing that hard drive altogether, and hooking it up as a secondary drive – once you’ve installed Windows, or your preferred OS onto your current system, you’ll still be able to access all of the files, and use it as a backup hard drive.
If price is no object, the Samsung 850 Pro offers great storage options, a 10-year warranty, and the best combination of value and speed that we’ve got on this list. In addition, Samsung has a sterling reputation when it comes to SSDs, and you know you’re getting quality.
However, if you’re on a budget, the Crucial MX300 is our pick for best overall value. The Samsung 850 EVO comes close, but with Crucial you get slightly more space per dollar, and while the speeds may be slightly less impressive than some higher-end offerings, the difference comes down to mere fractions of a second in real life.
And though the SanDisk Ultra II is typically a slightly better value, the Crucial MX300 offers time-tested, reliable design, and a longer-lasting warranty, making it our top choice if you’re for an incredible bargain on a powerful, reliable gaming SSD.
However, each and every SSD on this list is a great product, and they’ve all got their niches. Whether you’re interested in one of the more expensive, faster solid state drives on this list, or one of the slightly slower and less expensive (but still blazing quick) choices, an SSD is certainly one of the best choices you can make to improve your computing life.
Remember, any SSD is still tens of times faster than even the quickest physical HDDs, so regardless of your choice, you’ll see performance improvements.
Hopefully this article has helped clear up some of the myths and misconceptions about what gamers truly need from a gaming SSD, and we hope that you’ll take our advice and product recommendations into account while you make your decision.
Dane started off gaming at the tender age of 3 with the first Atari console. His favorite video game genres are turn-based RPGs (can I get a shout out for Tactics Ogre?) and fighting games. Read more...