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The Best SSDs for Faster Load Times

Transfer files and open applications in the blink of an eye with these solid state drives.

best ssd cards
Staff, Courtesy of SK hynix

If you’re sick of long load times while opening applications or transferring large files, it’s time to switch to a solid state drive, or SSD. Instead of relying on a physical spinning disk to write and access data like traditional hard drives, SSDs utilize digital flash memory. With nearly instant access to information, SSDs rapidly gather and store data at a faster rate than hard drives. There’s no moving parts to worry about which means SSDs are often thinner, use less power, and are an overall more reliable storage solution. Historically, SSD prices have been high, but as the technology proliferates, they’ve become more affordable. And with frequent sales throughout the year, there’s never been a better time to upgrade to one of these top performing models.

The Expert: Around four years ago, I installed a 500 gigabyte SSD alongside my gaming rig’s hard drive and haven’t looked back. Since then, every computer I use either includes or receives a SSD installation so that I can boot into my startup programs like Discord and Spotify faster and transfer my larger game and video files in seconds. My lesser played games and media collection still sit on an external hard drive, and I transfer them to my SSD when I want them. Because the latest generation of video game consoles now support SSDs, I’ve recently installed a M.2 drive in my PlayStation 5. All this prior experience, coupled with my years as a technology reporter, helped me evaluate and recommend the nine best SSDs below.

Features of a Solid State Drive

Form Factor

The traditional SSD is a rectangular 2.5-inch (7 millimeter) SATA drive similar in size to older laptop hard drives. Modern SSDs come in the M.2 format which is both thin and compact, often compared to the shape of a stick of gum. Without the bulk of a large enclosure, an M.2 SSD saves space and slips into dedicated slots on a computer’s motherboard. Beyond the more streamlined design, M.2 drives are an improvement because they allow for PCIe connection standards that can access more data lanes from the CPU directly, unlike SATA cables, for dramatically faster speeds.

PCI express devices produce more operations in a given time span with lower latency compared to SATA interfaces. But to use the latest 4.0 standard, which is capable of reaching read speeds of 7 gigabytes per second and write speeds of up to 5 GB/sec, you need a motherboard and CPU from 2019 or newer. Drives that use a SATA interface top out at read speeds of 560 megabytes per second, nearly 10 times slower.

Capacity

The amount of data a drive can fit is measured in gigabytes and terabytes. A higher capacity means you can fit more game games and programs on the SSD. The standard SSD sizes are 120 GB, 250 GB, 500 GB, and 1 TB, but we don’t recommend buying a drive with less than 250 GB given that modern AAA game sizes hover around 80 GB. Hell, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare alone would eat nearly an entire 250-GB SSD on its own.

Read and Write Speeds

Read and write speeds determine how fast you can open and transfer data and are measured in megabytes per second. The higher these rates are, the faster a drive is. Manufacturers claims can vary from actual performance, so I got a general idea of real-world performance through expert reviews that feature benchmark test results and consumer reviews vetted with FakeSpot analysis to ensure authenticity.

How We Evaluated

As Pop Mech’s expert in all things consumer tech, it’s my job to stay up to date on the latest gadgets, right down to the internal components that power them. The SSDs that made this list are options that I’ve researched (and even purchased) for my own needs of moderate gaming, content creation, and fast file transfers. I visited expert sites like Tom’s Hardware, PCMag, and Wirecutter for benchmarks and general impressions from fellow reviewers. Then I cross-checked and narrowed down our drive selections based on essential criteria including speeds, storage space, and price.

Not everyone is going to need speeds of up to 7 GB/sec like gamers or content creators do. That’s why I’ve also included affordable high performance selections for everyday benefits of faster file transfers, snappy OS bootup, and quick application load times.

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Best Overall
Sabrent 1 TB Rocket 4 Plus NVMe 4.0 Solid State Drive
Sabrent amazon.com
$159.99

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: M2 PCIe 4.0
  • Capacities: 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB
  • Read Speed: 7,000 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 5,300 MB/sec

For the shortest load times in your games and work file transfers, the Rocket Plus is a high performance drive that’s at home in both a gaming or office setup. At just 16 cents per gigabyte, this SSD is very affordable when compared to other PCIe 4.0 drives. The Rocket Plus also manages to edge out the much pricier Samsung 980 Pro and Western Digital SN850 below in terms of maximum write speeds. And it even works at 3,400 MB/sec on older PCIe 3.0 in backward compatibility if you haven’t upgraded your motherboard or CPU just yet. This is our top pick for most people because it’s affordable and offers the majority of modern devices plenty of power for the foreseeable future.

  • PCIe 4.0 speeds of 7 GB/sec (read) and 5 GB/sec (write)
  • High performance at a low cost

  • Average life endurance
Best Value
Crucial P5 Plus 1 TB
Crucial amazon.com
$179.99
$144.99 (19% off)

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: M2 PCIe 4.0
  • Capacities: 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB
  • Read Speed: 6,600 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 5,000 MB/sec

With a solid price-to-performance ratio, the Crucial P5 Plus’s 6,600 MB/sec PCIe 4.0 speeds are impressive and work out to just 14 cents per gigabyte for some serious bang for your buck. Although it falls a bit behind in read speed—about 500 MB/sec less than equivalent drives—it’s a pretty negligible amount in the grand scheme of things. You’ll still glide through load times but might have hangups if you transfer lots of data at once versus a 7 GB/sec model.

  • Excellent price-to-performance ratio

  • Lacking write performance
Best Performance
Seagate FireCuda 530 NVMe 1 TB
Seagate bestbuy.com
$229.99

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: M2 PCIe 4.0
  • Capacities: 500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4TB
  • Read Speed: 7,300 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 6,000 MB/sec

Seagate’s FireCuda 530 PCIe NVMe Gen 4 SSD is for people with a need for speed. It can read at a whopping 7,300 MB/sec, smoking the competition and edging out our overall top pick. This translates to a nearly instantaneous boot and transfer time depending on your task workload, but you will have to pay for it at 23 cents per gigabyte. Although the SN850 below is the best option for a majority of PS5 owners, I used the FireCuda 530 drive in my PS5 SSD install because its capacity reaches up to 4 TB instead of just 2 TB and offers power users the absolute fastest speeds for their consoles.

  • Fastest performance
  • Capacity up to 4TB

  • Expensive
Best for PS5
WD_BLACK 1TB SN850 with Heatsink
Western Digital amazon.com
$279.99
$199.99 (29% off)

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: M2 PCIe 4.0
  • Capacities: 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB
  • Read Speed: 7,000 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 5,300 MB/sec

With massively detailed AAA games like Call of Duty, NBA 2K, and Assassin’s Creed filling up your PlayStation 5’s internal drive, you need a SSD with performance and space. Western Digital’s SN850 is the SSD of choice for PlayStation’s lead system architect Mark Cerny thanks to its low latency and better value. This drive comes in heatsink and non-heatsink models, but PlayStation recommends a heatsink to protect the NAND as data is constantly transferred at high speeds. Although the FireCuda above offers larger capacity options and faster speeds, its admittedly overkill for most console users. The SN850 is older, so its better priced, at 20 cents per gigabyte, and is still plenty fast with maximum speeds just 300 MB less than the FireCuda. Bottom line: It’s more affordable and better suited for most PS5 owners.

  • Recommended by lead PlayStation architect
  • Built-in heatsink

  • Runs hot under heavy loads
Best for Xbox
Seagate Storage Expansion Card for Xbox Series X|S 1TB
Seagate amazon.com
$209.99

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: Expansion cartridge
  • Capacities: 512 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB
  • Read Speed: N/A
  • Write Speed: N/A

Seagate’s SSD for Xbox Series S and X is a pretty radical form factor. The externally seated plug-and-play cartridge delivers speeds consistent with an onboard 1-TB SSD. Xbox’s Velocity Architecture ensures a consistent performance from the card with minimal peaking. After clicking in the flash storage, you have more room to install games and make use of Xbox’s quick resume feature that allows you to instantly jump between the action of up to three games simultaneously. With the latest games creeping over 100 GB, this card has shifted from a luxury item to a must-have accessory for today’s gamers. If you’re able to find an expansion card in stock at retail price and you’re in the market for one, do yourself a favor and pull the trigger.

  • Same speeds as internal drive through Xbox Velocity Architecture
  • Easiest install process of all SSDs

  • Proprietary design keeps price high
Best 2.5-inch Drive
Samsung 870 Evo SATA III SSD 1TB
Samsung amazon.com
$169.99
$119.99 (29% off)

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: 2.5-in. SATA
  • Capacities: 250 GB, 500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB
  • Read Speed: 560 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 530 MB/sec

If your older device doesn’t have a M.2 SSD slot or you simply prefer a 2.5-inch solid state drive, the 870 Evo pushes the SATA interface to the max. With impressive read and write speeds of 560 and 530 MB/sec, respectively, the Evo bests a majority of SATA drives. This speed is plenty for high-quality photo transfers, a slightly speedier startup, and moderate gaming. Samsung’s drives are reliable, and in my experience, retain their high performance targets over extensive use.

  • Maximized SATA speeds
  • Premium design
  • Capacities up to 4 TB

  • Expensive for a SATA drive
Best SSD for Laptops
SK Hynix Gold P31 1TB PCIe NVMe
SK Hynix amazon.com
$124.99

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: M2 PCIe 3.0
  • Capacities: 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB
  • Read Speed: 3,500 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 3,200 MB/sec

Beyond its compact 2280 (that is, 22-mm wide and 80-mm long) form factor, the SK Hynix Gold P31 is one of the best SSDs for laptops because of its high efficiency. The limited way this drive draws power means your laptop’s battery can last longer. Its 3,500 and 3,200 MB/sec speeds aren’t the highest, but the 12 cent per gigabyte asking price is quite affordable and sits on the lower end of our cost scale. If you want to boost your gaming time and expand your laptop’s internal storage, this card helps you save some serious cash while doing so.

  • Compact M2 factor for laptops
  • Power efficiency to extend battery life

  • Locked to PCIe Gen3
Best On A Budget
Crucial MX500 1 TB
Crucial amazon.com
$99.99
$84.99 (15% off)

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: 2.5-in. SATA
  • Capacities: 250 GB, 500 GB, 1 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB
  • Read Speed: 560 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 510 MB/sec

At just 8 cents per gigabyte—the lowest cost of any of our recommendations—this is the best drive you can grab on a budget. This $85 SATA drive offers 1 TB of storage and reaches a reading speed up to 560 MB/sec—a huge bump over older 2.5-inch hard drives. If you’re upgrading a work computer, school laptop, or older device, this drive not only makes file access and transfers easier, but also helps your system run like new while drawing a minimal amount of power. However, for tasks heavier than Microsoft Office suite work, browsing the web, and light gaming, we recommend you find a faster drive.

  • Ultra affordable
  • Fast SATA speeds top out at 560 MB/sec
  • Capacities up to 4 TB

  • Aged design
Best for Heat Dissipation
Samsung 980 Pro with Heatsink 1 TB
Samsung amazon.com
$249.99
$219.99 (12% off)

Key Specs

  • Form Factor: M.2 PCIe 4.0
  • Capacities: 250 GB, 500 GB, 1 TB, and 2 TB
  • Read Speed: 7,000 MB/sec
  • Write Speed: 5,000 MB/sec

If you have the latest PCIe 4.0 NVMe Gen 4–capable components such as a newer AMD Ryzen 3000 or 5000 processors or an 11th generation Rocket Lake Intel CPU like the stellar Core i5 11600K, the Samsung 980 Pro is a worthy investment. Its 7 and 5 GB/sec throughput keeps our other top PCIe 4.0 Gen 4 SSDs on their toes. The 980 Pro’s nickel coating effectively dissipates heat in conjunction with Samsung’s thermal control algorithm to give the drive enough air for consistent high performance. You can get this SSD at a lower price if you decide to forego the heatsink model—to the tune of $50 in savings.

  • Nickel-coated with dynamic thermal control for optimized performance
  • High performance

  • Known issues with hardware encryption
  • Expensive
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