In our series of Solid State Drive guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended SSDs. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.
A solid state drive is often the most important component for making a PC feel fast and responsive; any PC still using a mechanical hard drive as its primary storage is long overdue for an upgrade. The SSD market is broader than ever, with a wide range prices, performance and form factors.
During the holiday season, the best sales tend to temporarily disrupt the usual market positioning of some drives; it’s not unusual to see a mainstream or high-end drive end up going for the same or lower price than that same brand’s entry-level drive. The prices in this guide reflect the general state of the market without those big discounts, so the best buying strategy is probably to wait for a deal that’s clearly better than the ones we have listed here. Pricing in the SSD market is still generally trending downward, so after the holiday season is over the market should be returning to everyday prices that are still as good as what are listed here.
|November 2020 SSD Recommendations|
|Entry-level NVMe||Kingston A2000 250GB||$35.99 (14¢/GB)|
|Mainstream NVMe||WD Black SN750 500GB||$62.99 (13¢/GB)|
|Mainstream 2.5″ SATA||Samsung 860 EVO 1TB||$99.99 (10¢/GB)|
|M.2 SATA||WD Blue 3D M.2 2TB||$208.53 (10¢/GB)|
|Extreme Capacity||ADATA XPG SX8100 4TB||$399.99 (10¢/GB)|
Above are some recommendations of good deals in each market segment. Some of these aren’t the cheapest option in their segment and instead are quality products worth paying a little extra for.
The next table is a rough summary of what constitutes a good deal on a current model in today’s market. Sales that don’t beat these prices are only worth a second glance if the drive is nicer than average for its product segment.
|November 2020 SSD Recommendations: Price to Beat, ¢/GB|
|Market Segment||256GB||512GB||1TB||2TB||4 TB|
|Budget 2.5″ SATA||12 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||9 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB|
|Mainstream 2.5″ SATA||16 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||12 ¢/GB|
|Entry-level NVMe||16 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||9 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||17 ¢/GB|
|Mainstream NVMe||18 ¢/GB||12 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||18 ¢/GB|
|Premium NVMe||34 ¢/GB||22 ¢/GB||18 ¢/GB||18 ¢/GB||25 ¢/GB|
|M.2 SATA||16 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB|
As always, the prices and recommendations here are a mere snapshot of the market at the time of writing, based on major North American online retailers. The best deals in each market segment can change on a day to day basis, and availability of specific models and capacities can be unpredictable.
For the first time, we are splitting the NVMe SSD market into three segments. The second wave of PCIe Gen4 SSDs has started to hit the market, bringing more competition and even higher performance than the Phison E16 controller offers. However, this burgeoning premium NVMe market segment is still relatively immature: prices on the new drives are still at MSRP, supply is inconsistent, and several models have been announced but are not yet shipping to consumers.
Entry-level NVMe: Inland Platinum (QLC)
The entry-level NVMe SSD market segment consists of drives that make significant technological compromises to cut costs. This is where we classify all the DRAMless NVMe SSDs and those using QLC NAND. For the most part these drives all offer better real-world performance than mainstream SATA SSDs, and with little or no price premium. Most of these drives use 4-channel controllers, but a few have 8-channel controllers which help them reach sequential transfer speeds closer to what we expect from mainstream NVMe drives.
This is the most technologically diverse segment of the consumer SSD market, since there are so many viable ways to cut costs while still offering much higher performance than SATA drives are capable of providing.
TLC, DRAMless, 8ch
|$39.99 (16¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)||$219.99 (11¢/GB)|
|$37.99 (15¢/GB)||$54.99 (11¢/GB)||$94.99 (9¢/GB)||$199.99 (10¢/GB)|
|$49.99 (20¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$104.95 (10¢/GB)||$224.99 (11¢/GB)|
|$35.99 (16¢/GB)||$64.48 (13¢/GB)||$114.87 (11¢/GB)|
|$36.99 (15¢/GB)||$57.99 (12¢/GB)||$86.99 (9¢/GB)|
|WD Blue SN550
|$44.99 (18¢/GB)||$53.99 (11¢/GB)||$94.99 (9¢/GB)|
|$99.99 (10¢/GB)||$189.99 (9¢/GB)|
|$99.99 (10¢/GB)||$192.99 (10¢/GB)|
|$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$83.99 (8¢/GB)||$224.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket Q
|$64.98 (13¢/GB)||$119.98 (12¢/GB)||$249.99 (12¢/GB)|
Mainstream NVMe: Mushkin Pilot-E
SSD performance that more or less saturates a PCIe 3 x4 interface is now pretty standard. This market segment has the most lively competition and a wide range of options. These drives all use TLC NAND and most use 8-channel controllers, so they’re all plenty fast for almost any consumer use case. Many drives that were top of the line one or two years ago are still available at greatly reduced prices.
A lot of models in this segment that have been on the market for a long time have unfortunately seen silent changes to their components. Updating from 64L to 96L TLC is usually nothing to complain about, but some of the controller changes really should have been introduced with new models. Switching from 256Gbit to 512Gbit TLC dies can also lower performance, especially for the lower-capacity drives. Many of the cheaper drives based around the Phison E12 controller have switched to the more compact E12S variant and reduced the amount of DRAM, which hurts performance a bit on the heaviest workloads. Some drives based on the Silicon Motion SM2262(EN) controllers have also seen tweaks that may hurt performance a bit. A few brands have even taken the more drastic step of switching between SMI and Phison controllers without renaming the product—we’ve seen kind of behavior before in cheaper market segments, but it’s a new low for this market segment.
Ultimately, none of these unannounced hardware changes make any of these drives no longer suitable for inclusion in this category. The performance changes are minor and seldom noticeable in real-world usage. What we’re seeing is really a result of the competition for the performance crown moving into the PCIe 4.0 space. SSD makers are much less focused on performance for their PCIe 3.0 products now and are making very reasonable compromises to deliver more affordable products. The only problem here is the lack of transparency.
|ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro||$44.99 (18¢/GB)||$62.99 (12¢/GB)||$129.99 (13¢/GB)||$249.99 (12¢/GB)|
|HP EX920||$73.99 (14¢/GB)||$124.99 (12¢/GB)|
|Inland Premium||$42.99 (17¢/GB)||$63.99 (12¢/GB)||$117.99 (12¢/GB)||$227.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Mushkin Pilot-E||$43.99 (18¢/GB)||$67.99 (14¢/GB)||$114.99 (11¢/GB)||$219.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket||$44.99 (18¢/GB)||$69.98 (14¢/GB)||$129.98 (13¢/GB)||$249.98 (12¢/GB)|
|Samsung 970 EVO Plus||$69.79 (28¢/GB)||$79.98 (16¢/GB)||$149.99 (15¢/GB)||$249.99 (12¢/GB)|
|SK hynix Gold P31||$74.99 (15¢/GB)||$134.99 (13¢/GB)|
|WD Black SN750||$54.99 (22¢/GB)||$62.99 (13¢/GB)||$134.99 (13¢/GB)||$274.99 (14¢/GB)|
This market segment is probably where we’ll see the most impressive holiday sales, especially for 1TB and 2TB models. When we checked prices, the Mushkin Pilot-E was one of the cheapest, at $115 for 1TB and $220 for 2TB. But we expect to see sale prices close to $100 per TB for some of these drives. There are also some good deals on some of the more premium products in this market segment, such as the 500GB WD Black SN750.
Premium NVMe: Wait
For the moment, PCIe 4.0 support is a feature that adds a lot to the price tag but very little to real-world performance. Drives based on the older Phison E16 controller are a clear step up in price over anything in our Mainstream NVMe segment, and the newer crop of PCIe 4 drives are yet another big jump up in price. Those newer drives are also still in the process of rolling out: the WD Black SN850 and Samsung 980 PRO have launched and in some cases already sold out, and the 2TB 980 PRO hasn’t officially launched yet. Drives using the new Phison E18 controller are just starting to hit the (virtual) shelves, pending some last firmware tweaks from Phison. The initial crop of E18 drives will be using 96L TLC, but a second wave using Micron’s recently-announced 176L TLC won’t be far behind and will bring improved performance and pricing. With plenty of other drives on the way, this segment is still just for early-adopter enthusiasts. Anyone merely looking for “future-proof” storage that can outpace the PS5’s SSD should wait for more options to arrive and for prices to settle down a bit.
|Corsair MP600||$109.99 (22¢/GB)||$214.82 (21¢/GB)||$359.99 (18¢/GB)|
|Silicon Power US70||$174.99 (17¢/GB)||$319.99 (16¢/GB)|
|Intel Optane 900P/905P||$620.03 (129¢/GB)||$1299.99 (135¢/GB)||$2165.75 (144¢/GB)|
|Samsung 970 PRO||$169.99 (33¢/GB)||$343.20 (34¢/GB)|
|Samsung 980 PRO||$84.99 (34¢/GB)||$149.99 (30¢/GB)||$229.99 (23¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus||$199.99 (20¢/GB)||$399.99 (20¢/GB)|
|WD Black SN850||$149.99 (30¢/GB)||$229.99 (23¢/GB)||$449.99 (22¢/GB)|
|WD Black AN1500||$299.99 (30¢/GB)||$549.99 (27¢/GB)|
There are also a few oddball products in this segment, with limited appeal. The new WD Black AN1500 is a PCIe 3 x8 SSD that can bring Gen4 performance to older systems with PCIe Gen3 lanes to spare. But since it’s internally a RAID-0 of two Gen3 drives, it is even more expensive than one Gen4 drive. The Samsung 970 PRO is still available and is the end of the road for MLC NAND, but there are TLC drives at the same price points offering twice the capacity with similar performance and total write endurance, so the 970 PRO doesn’t make much sense. Lastly, Intel’s Optane SSDs offer the lowest latency and highest endurance available, but prices have actually gone up this year and availability is getting less consistent.
The SATA SSD market is unsurprisingly pretty stagnant. It’s becoming increasingly common for manufacturers to silently update the NAND in SATA SSDs without changing the product name, which is why products like the Crucial MX500 are still around with no successor on the horizon. While in the past we have strongly criticized this kind of silent swapping of components, a straightforward update from 64L to 96L flash doesn’t have much impact on performance of SSDs that are already constrained by the SATA interface. We continue to condemn any invisible product updates that swap TLC for QLC or switch to a DRAMless SSD architecture.
Options for high-capacity multi-TB consumer SSDs are increasing, with some product lines now going all the way up to 8TB. But at the opposite end, we’re seeing disappointing prices on 256GB models: for quite a while they’ve been more expensive on a per-GB basis than 512GB and 1TB models, but that gap is widening. As with 120GB models, these lower capacities are starting to be left behind as flash memory technology pushes for higher capacities. These drives are still fine options for users with modest capacity and performance requirements, but stepping up to a 500+GB model is now usually pretty cheap.
Mainstream 2.5″ SATA: Samsung 860 EVO
We consider mainstream SATA SSDs to be those that use TLC NAND and have DRAM buffers. These offer performance and reliability that’s a step above budget models with DRAMless controllers or QLC NAND (or both). We don’t bother making recommendations for those budget-oriented models, because the right answer is usually just whatever’s cheapest at the time, and with many of those products it’s impossible to keep track of what kind of components they’re using from one month to the next.
|240-256GB||480-512GB||1 TB||2 TB||4 TB|
|Samsung 860 EVO||$49.99 (20¢/GB)||$54.64 (11¢/GB)||$99.99 (10¢/GB)||$246.33 (12¢/GB)||$549.99 (14¢/GB)|
|WD Blue 3D NAND||$39.99 (16¢/GB)||$53.99 (11¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)||$229.99 (11¢/GB)||$529.99 (13¢/GB)|
|Crucial MX500||$34.49 (14¢/GB)||$55.59 (11¢/GB)||$114.99 (11¢/GB)||$219.99 (11¢/GB)|
|SK hynix Gold S31||$43.99 (18¢/GB)||$56.99 (11¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)|
The 2.5″ SATA and M.2 2280 NVMe form factors cover most of the consumer SSD market, but not quite all of it.
Readers in our forums noted earlier this year that supplies of the mSATA version of the Samsung 860 EVO had dried up. Samsung was the last major consumer SSD brand to release a new mSATA model, and it was a bit of a surprise that they even bothered with the 860 EVO mSATA. The notebook market has long since moved over to M.2 SATA and M.2 NVMe options, so the last product segment keeping the mSATA form factor alive was probably portable SSDs that enclosed a mSATA SSD with a USB to SATA bridge. Now that several USB to NVMe bridge chips are available, the portable SSD market has been pursuing higher performance and has largely switched from mSATA to M.2 SSDs.
M.2 SATA: Crucial MX500 M.2
The M.2 SATA form factor is also on its way out, but isn’t as far gone as mSATA. PC notebook OEMs switched over entirely to M.2 NVMe SSDs over M.2 SATA SSDs for new machines. Even an entry-level DRAMless NVMe SSD allows OEMs to advertise that they’re using NVMe, and for the most part the performance will indeed be better than with a SATA-based SSD. With OEM SSD shipments falling, fewer SSD manufacturers will bother to keep their M.2 SATA product lines going for the sake of aftermarket upgrade sales and a diminishing slice of the portable SSD market.
The M.2 SATA versions of the Samsung 860 EVO haven’t come down in price like the 2.5″ versions, so the Crucial MX500 and WD Blue are battling it out, though the WD Blie remains the only real alternative for a 2TB M.2 SATA drive.
|Samsung 860 EVO M.2||$49.99 (20¢/GB)||$88.99 (18¢/GB)||$149.28 (15¢/GB)||$279.99 (14¢/GB)|
|Crucial MX500 M.2||$38.99 (16¢/GB)||$55.99 (11¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)|
|WD Blue 3D M.2||$44.99 (18¢/GB)||$53.99 (11¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)||$208.53 (10¢/GB)|
|ADATA SU800 M.2||$35.99 (14¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$102.99 (10¢/GB)|
Extreme Capacities: ADATA XPG SX8100
Options for consumer SSDs with capacities beyond 2TB are still few and far between, but this multi-TB market segment is no longer a mere curiosity. There are now at least three major brands offering 8TB QLC SSDs, and several more with 4TB options including some 4TB TLC NVMe SSDs. All of these high-capacity models carry a price-per-GB premium over the more mainstream capacities from the same product lines, and the best performance is usually found on the 1TB or 2TB models. So these models bring significant tradeoffs, and aren’t necessarily the best way to equip a system with an excess of solid-state storage. But for notebooks with only one M.2 slot or other scenarios where the highest per-drive capacities are required, these multi-TB drives offer new possibilities and much lower prices than high-capacity enterprise SSDs.
The hard drive market has generally cleared the way for compatibility with such massive drives. However, as far as we know none of these SSDs have switched to using 4kB sectors by default rather than 512-byte sectors. This means that cloning from a smaller SSD onto a 4TB or 8TB SSD and then expanding the filesystem is generally a straightforward process, but cloning from a 4k-native hard drive onto one of these SSDs may not be an option.
|ADATA XPG SX8100
|$229.99 (11¢/GB)||$399.99 (10¢/GB)|
|$277.88 (14¢/GB)||$649.99 (16¢/GB)|
|$254.99 (13¢/GB)||$662.00 (17¢/GB)||$1339.00 (17¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket Q
|$249.99 (12¢/GB)||$699.98 (17¢/GB)||$1399.99 (17¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket Q 4.0
QLC, PCIe Gen4
|$319.98 (16¢/GB)||$749.99 (19¢/GB)|
|$249.98 (12¢/GB)||$749.99 (18¢/GB)|
|WD Black AN1500
TLC, PCIe Gen3 x8
|$549.99 (27¢/GB)||$999.99 (25¢/GB)|
|Samsung 870 QVO
|$199.99 (10¢/GB)||$429.99 (11¢/GB)||$892.64 (11¢/GB)|
|Samsung 860 EVO
|$246.33 (12¢/GB)||$549.99 (14¢/GB)|
|WD Blue 3D
|$229.99 (11¢/GB)||$529.99 (13¢/GB)|
The high-capacity NVMe drives are all far more expensive than the similarly large SATA drives, even though the extra cost of a NVMe controller over a SATA controller is a mere drop in the bucket for these large drives. So for sheer capacity with low-end SSD performance, drives like the 8TB Samsung 870 QVO are much more affordable: cheaper by a third than the 8TB NVMe options. The NVMe drives do a much better job of delivering the performance that’s possible with a very large pile of flash memory, even when it’s QLC NAND (partly because multi-TB QLC SSDs can have massive SLC caches).
One standout in this multi-TB segment is the ADATA XPG SX8100. While it lacks an 8TB option, the 4TB model is much cheaper than any other 4TB NVMe drive even though the SX8100 uses TLC NAND. The fastest drive in this category is the WD Black AN1500, which is a RAID-0 of two PCIe 3 x4 TLC drives. We haven’t yet seen any 4TB PCIe 4.0 drives with TLC NAND, but when one arrives it will provide a much more practical and likely cheaper way to get a fast 4TB SSD.