Why you should trust us
Andrew Cunningham spent more than six years testing and reviewing PCs and other gadgets for AnandTech and Ars Technica, and has been building and upgrading PCs for more than 15 years.
Nathan Edwards, the senior editor on this guide, tested dozens of SSDs for Maximum PC between 2008 and 2012, watching as they progressed from error-plagued, extremely expensive, and not much better than mechanical hard drives to reliable, only moderately expensive, and much better than mechanical drives.
Since 2013, when we began recommending SSDs, we've been in contact with storage experts, learning all there is to know about SSD technology and gathering insights from the professionals who benchmark these drives for a living. There's nothing we could learn by running our own benchmarks that we can't get from the experts' numbers—been there, done that—so we usually don't test these drives ourselves. Instead, we consider experts' benchmarks in the context of our knowledge of what most people actually need in an SSD, and we recommend the best drives for each type of person.
Who this is for
Buying an SSD is a great way to upgrade almost any one- to five-year-old computer that has a traditional hard drive, and these drives should be the default choice for anyone building or buying a new computer. SSDs are much faster than hard drives at everything from booting to loading games to opening and switching between apps, and today's SSDs are larger, faster, and much cheaper than the SSDs of yesteryear. In general, you should spend the money only if you plan on keeping your computer for at least another year, or if you know you can move your new SSD to your next computer: There's no sense in upgrading a machine that you're about to replace.
If your computer already has an SSD, the only real reason to get a different SSD is if you're running out of room on the first one. If your drive is consistently more than 75 or 80 percent full, upgrading to a larger SSD is worth considering, since full SSDs are slower and wear out faster than drives with plenty of free space. Most people wouldn't notice a speed difference between two different SSDs unless they're writing huge files every single day—editing 4K video files, working with huge spreadsheets and databases, or designing in AutoCAD or other 3D-modeling software—and care about a few seconds' worth of improvement. Regardless of which SSD you buy, you're not likely to notice any lag when you're firing up most apps or launching games.
If you have a desktop PC with room for multiple drives and you need more than 500 GB of storage, consider using our SSD pick for the operating system and programs and adding a traditional hard drive or two for media storage. Though SSDs are much less expensive than they once were, they're still less economical than traditional hard drives for huge multi-terabyte music and video libraries.
Upgrading to an SSD can make a huge difference if you're coming from a mechanical hard drive, and to maximize that advantage you should also upgrade your RAM if your computer has 4 GB or less. For most people, 8 GB of RAM is plenty and should provide a noticeable speed boost in day-to-day use; Crucial has a handy page to help you find what memory your computer needs.
Mac owners should think twice about an SSD upgrade. Though you can upgrade some older (mostly pre-2013) MacBooks with standard SATA drives, you can't do the same with the newest MacBooks and MacBook Pros. Laptops from 2013, 2014, or 2015 often support such upgrades, but only with specialized, expensive drives from just a couple of manufacturers. (For all the messy details, skip down to the Mac section.) As such, we've aimed this guide mostly at non-Mac owners.
What you need to know about SSDs
If you have a computer with a mechanical hard drive, that drive is likely the slowest part of your system. The rest of the computer has to wait around for information to be read from or written to the drive. Everything you do that requires accessing data on your hard drive—like booting up or shutting down, saving and loading files, launching an app or starting up a game, or rendering a video—will be much faster on an SSD.
Unlike traditional hard drives, SSDs don't have any moving parts, which means they're much less prone to mechanical failure. In fact, they're better than standard hard drives in almost every respect. They use much less power, put out much less heat, and don't vibrate. SATA SSDs are three or four times faster than standard hard drives in sequential reads and writes; PCI Express SSDs are as much as seven times faster than SATA models.
SSDs are still more expensive than mechanical drives for the same amount of storage, and the biggest hard drives can still hold more data than the most capacious SSDs. But the price gap is narrowing: A decent SSD cost $3 per gigabyte in 2010, and $1 per gigabyte in 2012. As of late 2018, you can get a great SSD for less than 20¢ per gigabyte. A good mechanical hard drive, meanwhile, costs less than 5¢ per gigabyte. And people are keeping more data in cloud storage and less on their computers—you may not need as much storage space as you did a few years ago.
Before you buy, it's important to figure out what kind of SSD fits your computer. At the moment, you can find two different interfaces for data transfer (SATA and PCIe), two different transfer protocols (AHCI and NVMe), and four common physical connectors and form factors (2.5-inch SATA, mSATA, M.2 SATA, and M.2 PCIe). Yep, it can get confusing.
Here's a quick breakdown of the terminology:
SATA refers to both a physical connection type and the information-transfer protocol that it carries. You can find the physical connector on 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch hard drives, as well as many SSDs. If you have a desktop or a larger laptop, it can probably take a 2.5-inch SATA drive (you'll want to get a 2.5-inch–to–3.5-inch SSD mounting bracket if your desktop can fit only 3.5-inch drives). Drives using the SATA protocol also come with physically smaller mSATA and M.2 connectors. The current SATA III standard can transfer data at a rate of around 600 MB/s, which most modern drives max out. Unless your machine has an M.2 PCIe or full-size PCIe slot, you can't get an SSD that's any faster.
PCI Express (PCIe) is a faster interface that's capable of data-transfer rates of up to 985 MB/s per "lane." Most PCIe SSDs use a two- or four-lane interface, which gives you between 1,970 MB/s of bandwidth for two lanes and 3,940 MB/s for four lanes; that's 3.3 and 6.5 times faster than SATA, respectively. PCIe drives for newer desktop motherboards and almost all ultrabooks are M.2 cards, though you can get full-size PCIe adapters for M.2 drives that will fit in most recent desktops. M.2 PCIe SSDs tend to use more power than their SATA counterparts, which can slightly increase heat and reduce battery life in notebooks.
M.2 is a type of physical connector for both SATA and PCIe SSDs; it's present in most ultrabooks and high-end desktops. M.2 drives come in a variety of sizes; M.2 2280 (22 mm wide by 80 mm long) is the most common, but shorter M.2 2242 (22 mm wide by 42 mm long) drives are easy to find, too. M.2 PCIe drives can also come in three different "keyings," which determine how many PCIe lanes the drive uses. When you're buying an M.2 drive, it's important to make sure you're getting the right interface type, size, and keying for your machine, but the process is not as scary as it might sound: Almost all current M.2 drives are 2280, most SATA SSDs use B+M keying, and PCIe drives usually use M keying.
NVMe is an interface protocol for PCIe drives, taking the place of the earlier AHCI protocol used with SATA SSDs and hard drives. Designed from the ground up to work with SSDs and other flash memory, it allows for much faster read and write speeds. Most PCIe SSDs now use NVMe.
mSATA drives were present in many ultrabooks before M.2 became common. Most new laptops use M.2, but many ultrabooks with mSATA ports are still around, and replacement mSATA SSDs are still available (though they are becoming rare). mSATA drives generally perform just like their 2.5-inch and M.2 SATA counterparts.
If you have a laptop, check the manufacturer's website or use Crucial's upgrade-advisor tools to figure out what drive type your computer uses, and whether you can replace the drive. Be aware that some laptops—recent MacBook Air and Pro models, for example—use proprietary designs that may make it difficult or impossible to perform a DIY upgrade.
How many gigabytes do you need?
Right now, most people should get a 500 GB SSD, unless you know you need more. Don't get an SSD with less than 250 GB of storage if at all possible: SSDs with 128 GB or less capacity don't leave enough room for an operating system plus most people's stuff, and both 128 GB and 250 GB drives are slower and significantly less cost-effective than larger drives. While 1 TB drives were prohibitively expensive for many years, recent price decreases have made them almost as cheap as 500 GB drives were just a couple of years ago. That's still more storage than most people need in the era of cheap, pervasive cloud storage, but the price per-gigabyte and the performance for a 1 TB drive are both slightly better for most 500 GB drives; they're not a bad choice if you want to give yourself some room to grow. 2 TB and 4 TB SSDs exist, but their price per-gigabyte is still higher than for 500 GB or 1 TB drives, and few people actually need a drive that large.
If you're buying a new computer from a company like Dell, HP, or Lenovo, you can sometimes save money by ordering a computer with a smaller SSD or a mechanical hard drive and replacing that with a larger SSD yourself. Be careful, though: Some laptop manufacturers make it very difficult to upgrade the drive, either soldering it to the motherboard or requiring complicated warranty-voiding disassembly to gain access to the SSD. Make sure your new laptop is easily upgradable before going this route.
Drives with larger capacities also tend to be faster. That's because much of an SSD's speed advantage comes from parallelization. Writing for AnandTech back in 2014, Kristian Vättö explained, "A single NAND die isn't very fast but when you put a dozen or more of them in parallel, the performance adds up." If your drive has fewer modules than your controller can write to at once (that is, if it has a lower capacity), it won't be as fast as it could be. Although 500 GB SSDs aren't bad, with today's SSDs, you'll get the best speeds from 1 TB or 2 TB drives.
How we picked
For the latest update to this guide, we spent around four hours researching eight new drives released since our previous update in August 2017. From there, we checked Amazon listings and owner reviews for all of the drives, weeding out some older models, drives lacking 500 GB (or higher) capacities, and models with particularly poor reviews. We then read reviews from the sites that we know do great SSD testing—primarily AnandTech, but also CNET, Tom's Hardware, The SSD Review, StorageReview.com, The Tech Report, and a few others—and pored over benchmarks.
For the 12 drives that made the cut, we then used trusted third-party reviews and manufacturer product pages to compare the drives based on these criteria:
- A good price: More-expensive SSDs are often better SSDs, but you don't want to overpay to get extra performance or other features you likely wouldn't notice or use.
- Good performance: Speed is the main reason to buy an SSD, after all! We checked reviews to make sure that the drives hit their advertised performance figures and that they would continue to feel speedy over time.
- A capacity at or near 500 GB, which currently represents a good mix of value, capacity, and speed: Although 1 TB drives usually offer better performance and cost a little less per gigabyte than 500 GB drives, they're still overkill for most people in the era of pervasive cloud storage.
- For SATA drives, both 2.5-inch and M.2 versions for maximum compatibility with different kinds of systems: We preferred those versions because the older mSATA is increasingly rare and thus wasn't a top priority.
- A decent warranty: Three-year warranties are the standard, but higher-end drives sometimes come with five- or even 10-year warranties, which help them stand out from the crowd.
- Durability: You can write to flash-memory cells only so many times before they wear out. While most people will never come anywhere near this limit during the normal lifetime of a drive, higher endurance is a plus.
We also considered a few things that not everyone will need, but that are nice to have if you can get them:
- Native support for drive-encryption acceleration wasn't a requirement for us, but all of our picks ended up including it. This feature is primarily important for businesses with specific data-privacy requirements, but it's a nice bonus for the privacy-minded. Drives with native encryption support can offload the work of encrypting and decrypting data from your CPU, saving power and boosting speed.
- Many SSDs include free data-migration software, which is a great bonus if you're upgrading a computer with a lot of files or settings you don't want to transfer manually.
Our pick: Crucial MX500
If we were upgrading a laptop or buying the primary drive for a desktop, we'd buy the Crucial 500 GB MX500. It's available in both 2.5-inch and M.2 SATA versions, and it's one of the cheapest and best big-name SSDs you can buy. It's fast enough and capacious enough for most people and it offers useful features like hardware encryption support and a five-year warranty. A handful of SATA drives are a little faster than the MX500, but you need to step up to a more expensive PCI Express drive like our upgrade pick to notice a difference.
You wouldn't notice a speed difference between the MX500 and much more expensive SATA drives in use. Drive benchmarks from reviewers at AnandTech and Tom's Hardware show that the MX500 is occasionally 10 to 20 percent slower in some individual tests than Samsung's 860 Evo drives, and it consumes a bit more power, but its overall performance is better than that of the rest of the competition and near the limits of the SATA interface. Compared with the previous-generation MX300, the MX500 improves performance when the drive is full or near-full, one of the MX300's major shortcomings.
In a review of the 1 TB version of the MX500, AnandTech's Billy Tallis writes: "It isn't at the top of every benchmark ... but it is clearly a top-tier choice." In a review of the 500 GB version, Tallis says that while it is slower than the 1 TB version, it still comes with no major shortcomings and is "easy to recommend."
Crucial offers the MX500 in a typical range of capacities: The 2.5-inch SATA drive is available in 250 GB, 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB versions, while the M.2 SATA drive comes in 250 GB, 500 GB, and 1 TB versions. Crucial doesn't make an mSATA version of the MX500, so if you're using an older ultrabook that needs such a drive, look at our runner-up pick instead.
The 500 GB MX500's limited warranty lasts for five years or 180 terabytes written (TBW), whichever comes first. That coverage is not quite as good as Samsung's five-year, 300 TBW warranty for the 500 GB version of the 860 Evo, but you would still need to completely fill up the MX500 once every 10 days to even come close to wearing that drive out in less than five years. Most people just don't use their computers that way (and the people who do would be better served by our upgrade pick's speed boost, anyway).
The MX500 supports native encryption acceleration—something not found in most SSDs in its price range, including the WD Blue 3D NAND, the SanDisk Ultra 3D, and Crucial's own BX300—and comes with a (Windows-only) license for the Acronis True Image data-transfer software if you need help moving your stuff over from your old drive. The (also Windows-only) Crucial Storage Executive software comes in handy if you want to monitor your drive's health or install firmware updates. And Crucial includes a spacer (7.5 mm to 9 mm) with the 2.5-inch version of the MX500, so it can fit more snugly in older laptops designed to use thicker hard drives.
Runner up: Samsung 860 Evo
The Samsung 860 Evo is as good as or better than the Crucial MX500 in almost every metric: It's a little faster; it consumes less power; it has much higher endurance; it comes in 2.5-inch, mSATA, and M.2 versions; and it has the same five-year warranty and encryption support—it's your best option (and one of your only modern options) if you need an mSATA SSD. But all models and capacities are consistently more expensive than the MX500, and you won't notice the difference between the two drives in normal use. People who need something significantly faster should be looking at PCI Express SSDs like our upgrade pick; get the 860 Evo only if it's around the same price as the MX500 or if you need an mSATA drive.
The 860 Evo replaces the 850 Evo, which was our main SSD pick for three years. That drive was already butting up against the limits of the SATA interface, and the 860 Evo's performance is similar overall—that is to say, very good. According to AnandTech's Billy Tallis, "the improvements are measurable, if otherwise usually imperceptible." The 860 Evo is between 10 and 20 percent faster in some individual tests than the Crucial MX500, and its power consumption is slightly lower, but most people wouldn't notice the difference between them in everyday use.
You can find a version of the 860 Evo for more computers than the MX500, since Samsung sells an mSATA version as well as 2.5-inch SATA and M.2 SATA versions. The 2.5-inch drive comes in 250 GB, 500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB capacities; the M.2 and mSATA drives both include 250 GB, 500 GB, and 1 TB capacities, but the M.2 version stops at 2 TB and the mSATA version tops out at 1 TB.
Samsung's limited warranty covers the drive for five years or 300 terabytes written (TBW), whichever comes first. That's a step up from Crucial's five-year, 180 TBW warranty for the MX500. Most people will be just fine with Crucial's lower TBW rating, but if you're editing and saving huge video files or databases every single day and you can't step up to a faster PCI Express drive, the 860 Evo's higher endurance might be worth paying for.
Like the MX500, the 860 Evo supports drive-encryption acceleration, a useful security feature that cheaper SSDs often lack. Samsung also offers some Windows-only software tools: a data-migration app to help you copy stuff from old drives, and the Samsung Magician software to handle everything from drive checkups to performance tweaks to firmware updates.
Upgrade pick: Samsung 970 Evo Plus
Owners of newer laptops or desktop motherboards who truly need more speed should buy the Samsung 970 Evo Plus. This model combines performance that's significantly faster than SATA with the great reputation of Samsung's SSD controllers and flash memory, as well as the hardware encryption support that many other M.2 PCIe drives lack. The drive also includes a five-year 300 TBW warranty, up from three years and 200 TBW for the previous-generation 960 Evo (our former upgrade pick).
The 970 Evo Plus manages to run somewhere between two and four times faster than any SATA SSD in most tasks, and its performance is usually as good or better than every PCIe SSD but the more expensive Samsung 970 Pro or Intel's pricey, low-capacity Optane drives. It's more expensive than our top pick, the Crucial MX500: As of this writing, you'll pay about $60 more for a 500 GB 970 Evo Plus and around $120 more for a 1 TB version. But it's around the same price as (or even a bit cheaper than) other good PCIe SSDs. Most people wouldn't notice the difference between an M.2 PCIe drive and a SATA drive for most tasks—the difference between any two decent SSDs isn't as noticeable as the gap between an SSD and a hard disk—but if you have a newer high-end system and you edit video or photos, the 970 Evo could be worth the extra cost if you want to cut down load times.
Reviewers like the 970 Evo Plus's mix of price and performance. In a review, Billy Tallis of AnandTech says that "the 970 Evo Plus can now be regarded as Samsung's flagship consumer SSD, and it deserves that title." Sean Webster of Tom's Hardware says that the 970 Evo Plus "consistently proved that it has some of the strongest write performance on the market and can handle tough workloads, " and praises Samsung's reliability and support.
Also Great: Western Digital WD Blue SN500
Western Digital's WD Blue SN500, not to be confused with the older SATA-based WD Blue 3D NAND, is a budget M.2 PCI Express SSD that's faster than and around the same price as the SATA-based MX500 or 860 Evo. It's the best option if you're building a new desktop computer, configuring a barebones mini PC, or upgrading a one- or two-year-old laptop that you bought with a smaller SSD and you want a fast drive for a lot less money than the 970 Evo. But most people will be just fine with a SATA drive (and you also shouldn't upgrade to the SN500 from a SATA SSD of an equal or greater capacity). The SN500 performs well for the price and comes with a solid five-year warranty from a reliable company. But it comes in only 250 and 500 GB capacities, it doesn't support hardware encryption acceleration, and like all M.2 PCIe drives it will work only in newer PCs.
Compared with a high-end drive like the Samsung 970 Evo Plus, the SN500 is less expensive because it uses two lanes of PCIe bandwidth instead of four and it doesn't use a DRAM cache. This is a technical way of saying "it's slower"—peak speeds are about half those of the 970 Evo Plus, and random write speeds are often no faster than those of good SATA drives—but at its fastest the SN500 is still twice the speed of SATA drives like the MX500 and 860 Evo. It also consumes less power and generates less heat than typical high-end PCIe drives, which may help your laptop run just a bit longer on a charge.
Reviewers praise the SN500's performance for its price. AnandTech's Billy Tallis writes that "it doesn't come out ahead in every single test, but the overall performance profile is much more consistent" than other budget PCI Express drives. PC World's Jon Jacobi says that "at the capacities it's available in, I recommend it over the Crucial P1, which suffers a severe slowdown on those rare occasions when it runs out of cache." And Rock Paper Shotgun's Katharine Castle says "as long as you've got a motherboard that supports NVMe SSDs, then you'd almost be silly not to get the WD Blue SN500 at this price."
If you want to copy your existing hard drive over to your SSD before you install it, you'll need cloning software and sometimes additional hardware. All of our recommended SSDs come with access to Windows-only cloning software: MX-class Crucial drives, including the MX500, come with a license key for Acronis True Image HD software; Samsung's SSDs all ship with Samsung's data-migration software. Otherwise you can use the free MiniTool Partition Wizard. On a Mac, if you can install a new drive at all, you can use Carbon Copy Cloner or the built-in Disk Utility.
You'll need a way to connect your new drive to your computer while you're cloning the old one. Desktop owners need only to hook up the SSD to spare power and data cables in their PC, but laptop owners with 2.5-inch SATA drives need a SATA-to-USB enclosure or adapter. Some SSDs come with upgrade kits that include a SATA-to-USB adapter, but getting the drive-only version and buying an enclosure separately is usually less expensive.
If you're buying an M.2 SATA drive, you should get an M.2 SATA–to–USB 3.0 adapter or enclosure, like this one. For M.2 PCIe, the best option seems to be to clone your drive to a USB hard drive, then replace and clone back.
After you've swapped drives, you can put your old laptop drive in a USB enclosure (like the one you may have used for the new SSD while cloning) and use it for backup, if you'd like. Just be careful about doing this with spinning hard drives that are more than a few years old—you won't want to store your backups on a drive that might fail.
If you have a Mac
Most people who own Macs generally shouldn't upgrade the SSDs in their computers unless they absolutely need extra capacity. Many recent Macs can't support upgrades at all, and post-2013 Macs that shipped with removable solid-state storage already use PCI Express drives that are faster than any third-party options. OWC's Aura PCIe SSDs, though respectable enough, are slower than Apple's own drives, and like most third-party replacements, they sell for way more than a typical SSD (the OWC 480 GB Aura sells for around $250, the same as the pricey Samsung 970 Pro).
If you can and must upgrade, know that it's difficult to install a new SSD in most Macs, either because it's hard to open the computer or the solid-state drives in Macs are proprietary and thus incompatible with regular PC connectors.
MacBook Pros up to and including some of the 2012 models are fairly easy to upgrade with our 2.5-inch SATA picks, though there are some pitfalls we'll discuss below. This Apple page can help you identify your MacBook Pro, and iFixit has easy-to-follow guides that will walk you through the upgrade process.
Here's the breakdown, at least for Macs made after 2012 or so:
- MacBook Air: Use this page to identify your MacBook Air; the 11- and 13-inch models use the same drives. Owners of MacBook Air machines made in 2012 can buy these replacement drives from OWC. For the 2013, 2014, and 2015 MacBook Air models, buy these OWC Aura replacement drives.
- MacBook Pro: Use this page to identify your MacBook Pro. Owners of 2012 Retina MacBook Pro models or early-2013 MacBook Pro systems can buy the OWC Aura 6G made specifically for those models—these Aura 6G drives are shaped a bit differently than the drives of the same name for the MacBook Air. MacBook Pros made in late 2013, 2014, or 2015 use this OWC Aura, the same drive OWC sells for newer MacBook Airs. No third-party SSDs are available for 2016, 2017, or 2018 MacBook Pros.
- 12-inch MacBook: Owners of Apple's lightest laptop will never be able to buy storage upgrades. The SSDs in these computers are soldered to the motherboard, much like the flash storage in a smartphone or tablet.
- iMac: All iMacs (aside from the iMac Pro) include space for a 3.5-inch internal hard drive, which means you could use any of our 2.5-inch SATA picks along with an adapter bracket if you really wanted to. However, these computers are extremely difficult to open and upgrade. We recommend that most people consult with an Apple Authorized Service Provider to upgrade iMac storage.
- Mac mini: This page can help you identify your Mac mini. You can upgrade the 2012 model with standard 2.5-inch SATA drives, though as with the iMac you should probably use an Apple Authorized Service Provider to do the work to minimize the risk of damaging the computer. OWC also sells SSDs specifically made to fit the 2014 Mac mini.
Apple doesn't enable TRIM (an operating-system-level garbage-collection command) on third-party SSDs, though in macOS 10.10.4 and later you can force-enable TRIM via a command-line prompt. However, some Linux users have reported lost data and other bugs as a result of forcing TRIM on Samsung and other SSDs in Linux. It's unclear whether macOS would have the same bugs, but we haven't seen any widespread reports of TRIM issues with Samsung drives. If you force TRIM, proceed with caution and keep good backups.
What to look forward to
Intel and Micron's Optane SSDs promise to fundamentally shift the SSD landscape, as the drives claim dramatic improvements in durability and latency compared with current SSDs. But for now, these SSDs primarily come in the form of expensive drives for servers and tiny 16 GB and 32 GB drives that are used as a cache to speed up systems with large, slow hard drives. Larger 58 GB and 118 GB drives have enough space to store an operating system and a few applications, but they're still too small and expensive for most people to consider. Capacity will need to go up and prices will need to come way down before Intel can deliver on its lofty promises here.
SATA and M.2 SATA SSDs
Gobs and gobs of 2.5-inch SATA SSDs are out there, and since just a handful of companies make their own flash memory and/or drive controllers, namely Samsung and Micron (Crucial's parent company), most drives have a hard time standing out from the crowd. Most are fine, and if you encounter a great deal on them, you won't be unhappy. But at current prices, there's little reason to consider them over our main picks. We're listing a few highlights, skipping over drives that appear to be out of stock or otherwise on their way out.
Samsung's 850 Evo is still a great drive, but at this point, the 860 Evo is significantly cheaper, and it gives you slightly better speed and endurance.
WD's Blue 3D NAND and SanDisk's Ultra 3D are identical drives—the only difference is the label on the front, and the fact that the WD Blue includes an M.2 version while the SanDisk comes in only a 2.5-inch SATA version. Both are well-reviewed, good-enough SATA SSDs with solid performance, and both are available for around the same price as the Crucial MX500. But their lack of hardware encryption support and their shorter, three-year warranty ultimately make the MX500 the better buy.
Intel's 545s uses a controller and NAND flash that are similar to the components in the Crucial MX500, so overall it performs similarly to our top pick; it includes a five-year warranty and encryption support too. But as of this writing, it usually costs $150 or $160, more than the MX500 and close to the superior 860 Evo. If you can get this model for less, it's a good drive, but otherwise you have no reason to consider it over our main picks.
Samsung's 850 Pro and the new 860 Pro are both top-of-the-line SATA drives with high endurance and good warranties (though the 860 Pro gets only a five-year warranty, down from 10 years for the 850 Pro), but at this point people who want a faster, better SSD than our main picks should be looking at PCI Express drives, not SATA models. Drives like the Crucial MX500 and Samsung 860 Evo are significantly cheaper but not all that much slower. Also, neither Pro comes in an M.2 or mSATA version.
Compared with the MX500, Crucial's BX500 has slower performance, a shorter (three-year) warranty, and no hardware encryption support. It might be a good choice if you need an extremely cheap low-capacity drive—a 120 GB version costs less than $30—but the 480 GB version isn't much cheaper than our top picks. It also tops out at 480 GB, so it's a poor choice if you need 1 TB or more of storage.
Samsung's 860 QVO is meant to be a relatively cheap drive for people who need lots of space—it will be available in only 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB capacities. However, although it performs well, is cheaper than the 860 Evo, and supports hardware encryption, it has only a three-year warranty and isn't any cheaper than the MX500 if you're buying a 1 TB drive. There's no reason to buy it unless you need something bigger than 1 TB but don't want a spinning hard drive.
Seagate's Barracuda SSDs are competitively priced and have five-year warranties, but reviews indicate that they don't perform quite as well or as consistently as our top picks. It's not significantly cheaper than our main picks and it doesn't have hardware encryption support, either.
Adata's Ultimate SU800, SanDisk's Ultra II, and Mushkin's Source SSDs are all good enough and readily available, but they run slower than our main picks, have shorter, three-year warranties, and lack encryption support.
PCIe NVMe SSDs
The original Samsung 970 Evo, our former upgrade pick, is still available, and if you can get it on sale it's still a good drive. But at its regular price the 970 Evo Plus costs about the same, has the same warranty and features, and is significantly faster. Get the Evo Plus instead.
The Crucial P1 is around half as fast as the original 970 Evo most of the time but it's still between two and four times faster than SATA drives. Though we like its price—it's cheaper than the 860 Evo, in some cases—its lack of drive encryption support and relatively low 100 TBW endurance rating keep us from recommending it for most people.
The Western Digital WD Black SN750 benchmarks in between the original 970 Evo and the 970 Evo Plus and has the same five-year warranty and 300 TBW endurance rating. But it costs the same as the Evo Plus as of this writing and it doesn't have hardware encryption support; unless the SN750 is significantly cheaper, get the Evo Plus instead.
Both the Corsair Force MP510 and the MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro look like good NVMe mM.2 drives—they benchmark similarly to the original 970 Evo, include a five-year warranty, support drive encryption, are rated for up to 800 TBW, and are a bit cheaper than either 970 Evo version. We recommend Samsung's drives because of their support, the Magician software, and their wider and more consistent availability, but the MP510 or BPX Pro aren't bad ways to save some money if you don't care about those things.
There's no reason to buy Samsung's 960 Evo, the 970 Evo's predecessor and our previous upgrade pick, unless you can get it for significantly less than the 970 Evo. The 960 is older and slower and its warranty and endurance ratings are both lower, so we recommend buying the newer drive.
Samsung's 970 Pro is usually overkill even for pros, and we recommend it only if you need the fastest drive money can buy. (We don't recommend its slower predecessor, the 960 Pro for the same reason as the 960 Evo.) The 970 Pro uses multilevel cell (MLC) flash and doesn't rely on TurboWrite or Dynamic Write Acceleration caches for speed, so it can offer faster and more consistent performance if you're always writing tons of data at a time, and its endurance rating is twice has high as the Evo's (though both have the same five-year warranty). But you'll pay more for an MLC drive: A 512 GB 970 Pro costs around $50 more than the 512 GB 970 Evo, and a 1 TB Pro is $150 more expensive than the corresponding Evo.
Western Digital's WD Black PCIe SSD with 3D NAND (also sold as the SanDisk Extreme Pro M.2 NVMe 3D SSD) is usually as fast as, or faster than, Samsung's previous-generation 960 Evo and occasionally even competitive with the older 960 Pro. Both AnandTech and Tom's Hardware were impressed by its performance. The WD Black has a five-year warranty similar to Samsung's, but it doesn't support any kind of hardware encryption acceleration and it's not much cheaper than the 970 Evo Plus or its faster replacement, the WD Black SN750.
The Intel 760p isn't as fast as the 970 Evo Plus, though it is significantly better than any SATA SSD and a big improvement over the previous-generation Intel 600p. Intel offers a five-year warranty and drive-encryption support, and this model is one of the very few PCIe drives that come in a 128 GB version for people who just want a fast, cheap drive for their operating system and a few apps. But the 760p tops out at 512 GB, and Samsung's drive offers better performance for around the same price.
MyDigitalSSD's SBX series sits in between SATA SSDs like the MX500 and great PCIe SSDs like the 970 Evo in both performance and price. It costs around $30 more than the MX500 as of this writing and about $40 less than the 970 Evo, but AnandTech's review shows that its performance is usually closer to SATA. Generally, you should either save more money and go with a somewhat slower SATA drive, or spend a little more and get a significantly faster high-end PCIe drive.
The Plextor M8Pe is around the same price as the 970 Evo and offer slower performance and no drive encryption.
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