Best SSD for gaming 2020: top SATA, NVMe and external SSDs

PC

With loading times and game install sizes getting bigger and longer every passing month, having one of today’s best SSDs for gaming inside your PC has never been more important. They’re much quicker than hard disk drives (HDDs), which means faster loading times and less time hanging about before getting to your favourite games. You don’t need to break the bank getting the best SSD for gaming, either, as there are plenty of quick, cheap, budget SSD options that are excellent value for money.

To help you get the best SSD for gaming for your PC, I’ve rounded up all of the best SSDs I’ve tested here at RPS. I’ve covered a range of prices, form factors and size capacities, too, helping you get the best SSD for your budget. Whether you’re looking for the best cheap SSD, or the fastest NVMe SSD money can buy, I’ve got you covered.

Here are my best SSD for gaming picks at a glance. You can either click on the individual SSD in question, or just carry on scrolling to read the whole thing. I should also note that all prices are correct at time of writing, but if you’ve got your eye on a particular SSD then you may want to have a read of our Best SSD deals page as well to make sure you get the best price. Updated every week, it’s a good way of keeping track of price fluctuations as well as any sudden price drops that make one SSD much better value for money than another.

So what exactly makes a best gaming SSD? Read and write times play a key role in my tests, as this tells us how quickly a drive can open or save a file on your PC. This is crucial when your PC’s trying to open dozens upon dozens of game files to load up a new area, for example, but it’s also important if you’re copying large batches of files, or verifying Steam installs.

Another important consideration is an SSD’s capacity versus how much it costs, or price per gigabyte. The minimum size I’d recommend these days is 250GB, as this will give you enough room for your Windows installation (around 20GB), a few big games, plus all your music, photos and any other programmes you might need, but if you like having lots of games installed at the same time it can often pay to opt for a larger 500GB or 1TB SSD if you’ve got the budget for it. Here, price per gigabyte is key, as price gaps between different SSDs tend to be much larger on high capacity SSDs. I’ve highlighted which size I think is the best value in the best SSDs for gaming I’ve picked below, but it’s something to bear in mind when shopping for SSDs more generally.

While you’re here, be sure to check out our other best PC component guides as well, including our best graphics card guide, our best gaming monitor recommendations and our best gaming CPU picks. And in case you need a reminder, here’s how to install your SSD, plus everything you need to know about upgrading your PC (including the things you’ve probably forgotten about) in 2020. With all that in mind, here are my best SSD for gaming picks for 2020.

1. Samsung 860 Evo – the best SSD for gaming

Samsung 860 Evo - Best SSD for gaming 2020

When it comes to buying an SSD for gaming, most people still opt for a 2.5in SATA drive rather than a super fast NVMe SSD, if only because the latter tend to be quite expensive and you need a specific type of motherboard that supports them. For SATA SSD hunters, then, the Samsung 860 Evo is hands down the best SSD for gaming you can buy today. Its random read speeds are faster than any other SATA SSD that’s crossed my testing bench, and its warranty and endurance rating are also top of their respective classes.

The only other SSD I’ve tested with a faster random write speed is Samsung’s 860 Qvo. However, the Qvo’s smallest size is 1TB, so it can be quite expensive to have as your main drive. That said, the 860 Qvo is a lot cheaper than the 860 Evo once you start pushing into the 1TB and 2TB categories, so it arguably makes more sense if you’re looking for a 1TB+ SSD and have enough cash.

For those looking to keep SSD costs down to under £100 / $100, though, the 500GB Samsung 860 Evo is definitely the way to go. Crucial’s MX500 is another good budget option for SATA buyers, but the 860 Evo is much faster overall, particularly when it comes to random write speeds. The 860 Evo also comes with a much higher endurance rating, too: 300 terabytes written (TBW) for the 500GB model as opposed to just 180TBW on the 500GB MX500. It’s fast, durable and I’ve yet to see another SATA SSD beat it when it comes to overall value.

2. WD Blue SN550 – the best budget SSD for gaming

WD Blue SN550 - Best SSD for gaming 2020

SATA SSDs like the Samsung 860 Evo are great, but if you’ve got a motherboard with an M.2 slot then you should absolutely go for the WD Blue SN550 as your primary SSD drive.

It’s the successor to the excellent WD Blue SN500, and now comes in a larger 1TB size as well, making it a great option no matter what kind of size you’re looking for. Simply put, the WD Blue SN550 is fantastic value for money. It’s got great random read and write speeds – better than almost every other budget NVMe SSD out there – and doesn’t cost that much more than the best budget SATA SSDs, either. It’s also brilliant at handling larger workloads, making this a brilliant all-round SSD for your gaming PC.

If you’ve got a motherboard that supports it, this SSD should definitely be at the top of your list.

3. Crucial MX500 – the best budget SATA SSD for gaming

Crucial MX500 - Best SSD for gaming 2020

If you don’t have a motherboard that supports M.2 SSDs, however, then the Crucial MX500 is the next best thing in the world of SATA SSDs. Its random read and write speeds are some of the best around for this type of SSD, and it’s a much better buy than many of Crucial’s other budget gaming SSDs, such as the BX300 and BX500.

Indeed, you may well be tempted by the BX500 lower prices when it comes to choosing your next SSD, but the BX500’s random read and write speeds simply don’t compare with the MX500. As a result, I’d strongly recommended finding room in your budget for the extra cash if you can. You won’t regret it.

4. Samsung 970 Evo Plus – the best NVMe SSD for gaming

Samsung 970 Evo Plus - Best SSD for gaming 2020

For those after the very best of what SSDs have to offer, then it really doesn’t get much better than the Samsung 970 Evo Plus. You’ll need a compatible motherboard with an M.2 slot in order to use it, but most modern motherboards come with at least one of these as standard.

Available in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB and 2TB size capacities, the 970 Evo is a big step up from your typical 2.5in SATA SSD. Its random read speed is 28% faster than Samsung’s 860 Evo, while its random write speed is 34% faster, which is quite the jump. The 970 Evo Plus is also capable of handling heavy read and write queues in over 1400MB/s, this is the best gaming SSD for the ultimate power user. Technically, Samsung’s more upmarket 970 Pro is the superior NVMe SSD here, but there’s really not much it when it comes to performance, and you’ll hate yourself a lot less by opting for the significantly cheaper and still blisteringly fast Evo Plus model.

Speed-wise, the 970 Evo Plus also comfortably sees off the competition from its closest rivals, such as the WD Black SN750 and Adata XPG SX6000 Pro, although I should note that the Adata XPG SX8200 Pro still comes out on top for random read speeds. I should also mention you can get a 1TB SX8200 Pro for around £130 / $150, whereas a 1TB 970 Evo will set you back £195 / $200. As a result, if you’re after a lot of storage for less and don’t mind having slightly slower random write speeds, the SX8200 Pro is also worth considering – although the WD Blue SN550 is arguably better value overall.

5. Samsung T5 – the best external gaming SSD

Samsung T5 - Best SSD for gaming 2020

When it comes to the best external SSDs for gaming, there’s really nothing like the Samsung T5. Samsung may be about to replace it with the Samsung T7 Touch (and its non-touch sibling, the regular Samsung T7) this year, but unless you’ve got a bang-up-to-date laptop or PC that supports the USB 3.2 Gen 2 standard, then you’ll be just as happy with the USB 3.1 Gen 2-supporting T5.

It’s much faster than the WD My Passport SSD, for example, and it’s also a fraction cheaper and an infinitely nicer looking thing to boot. Plus, the fact it’s an SSD also means it’s far less likely to break than an external HDD. Yes, the Samsung T5 is expensive compared to a standard SSD (and especially expensive compared to external HDDs such as the WD Black P10), but if you’re the type of person who travels a lot and doesn’t have enough room for all your games on your laptop, the T5 is a worthwhile investment – although if you really want to future-proof your external SSD purchase, then you’re probably better off spending a bit more on the equally excellent Crucial X8 instead, as this supports the same USB standards as the newer Samsung T7 Touch and is faster overall.

For those that want to keep costs down, however, the Samsung T5 is a tough act to beat. It comes with both USB3 and USB-C connectors for super fast transfer speeds, and its random read and write speeds are pretty good too. It’s not as nippy as Samsung’s 860 Evo, but in terms of overall convenience, nothing else comes close.


SATA vs NVMe: What’s the difference?

2.5in SATA SSDs: The easiest drop-in replacement for a standard hard disk is a 2.5in SATA model. These are the same size and shape as a standard 2.5in hard disk, and plug into a normal SATA port on your motherboard. Most modern PC cases have mounting points for 2.5in hard disks, often on the back of the motherboard tray. If yours doesn’t, you can use a £5 adaptor (really just a 3.5in-wide metal plate with screw holes) to fit the SSD in a normal 3.5in hard disk bay.

To avoid crippling the SSD’s performance, make sure you plug the SSD into a SATA 3 port on your motherboard, rather than use SATA 2. SATA 3 SSDs will work in SATA 2 ports, but you’ll likely lose around half the SSD’s performance.

The chief disadvantage of 2.5in SSDs, compared to the mSATA, M.2 and PCI Express cards discussed below, is that they use SATA 3: an interface that’s been around since 2009, and one that isn’t quick enough to cope with the fastest modern SSDs. However, for most users, a SATA 3 SSD will be fine, and still several times faster than a mechanical hard disk.

NVMe SSDs: If you’re in the market for a super-fast SSD that won’t be encumbered by its interface, you need to move beyond SATA to NVMe (also called PCI Express, PCIe NVMe, or just NVMe). Most NVMe SSDs are mounted directly to the motherboard in an M.2 slot. If your motherboard doesn’t have such a slot, there’s only one way to unleash the speed: a PCIe add-in card (AIC). These add-in cards will fit in a spare PCIe x4 or x16 slot and are monstrously quick, as well as monstrously expensive.

If you have a newer motherboard with an M.2 slot, an NVMe SSD is a neater way to add super-fast PCIe storage. Most NVMe SSDs are just 22mm wide and 80mm long (so about a third shorter than a stick of RAM) and screw straight into the motherboard – no more having to route SATA and power cables around your case.

NVMe SSDs require an M.2 slot (above) on your motherboard.

However, the M.2 standard is a little complicated, chiefly due to its versatility. For starters, there are several sizes of M.2 card, such as 2280 and 22110: the first two digits denote the card’s width in mm, and the remaining numbers are the card’s length. Fortunately, the majority of consumer NVMe SSDs are the 2280 size. What’s more, as well as PCIe storage, the M.2 slot can also support SATA SSDs. These don’t have the performance advantage of NVMe drives, but score for neatness, and are about the same price as 2.5in SSDs. Check what standards your motherboard supports, as PCIe SSDs will not work in SATA-only slots and vice versa.

The good news is that many motherboards support both NVMe and SATA M.2 SSDs, giving you the versatility to choose between fast-but-expensive NVMe and slower (but still fast) and cheaper SATA. Bear in mind that the claimed speeds are for sequential transfers, rather than random reads and writes, so should be considered a best-case scenario. It’s also worth looking at a drive’s IOPS, or input/output operations per second, rating. This isn’t always listed in an SSD’s specifications, but it can make a big difference to an SSD’s real-world performance. A drive with a high IOPS rating can perform many more data reads and writes per second than a lower-rated model, which can make a huge difference in the complex data transfer tasks required by a modern operating system.

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