As CPU performance hits new and unforeseen heights, processors increasingly spend time waiting on data from hard drives. This is what makes storage today's most glaring bottleneck, and overcoming it requires an SSD. At the end of the day, the real-world differences between SSDs in a desktop environment aren't altogether large. The most noticeable performance increase occurs when you go from a hard disk to just about any solid-state drive.
However, there are measurable attributes separating one SSD from another. But you'll need to approach a purchasing decision as the sum of many parts. Within individual apps, you'll hardly notice the difference between most SATA 3Gb/s and faster SATA 6Gb/s drives. It's the more taxing workloads that make a faster device worth owning.
It's been several months since we last updated this article, and the industry has changed in many ways since then. We've seen some nice NAND flash innovations, lithography shrinks and the first new memory technology introduced in over a decade. Meanwhile, retail products have changed as well. SATA SSDs introduced at Computex are finally tricking out, while Samsung's SM951-NVMe is available as well. Samsung's retail NVMe solution, the 950 Pro, has entered the pre-sale stage with deliver dates not too far out.
We have a change in our best picks today, with the Intel SSD 750 1.2TB taking the top spot for performance PCIe — an honor that has just as much to do with capacity as it does performance. The Samsung 950 Pro 256GB slips into the value PCIe SSD pick with impressive performance at a sub-$200 price point.
It's difficult to believe that our SATA value and performance picks have held for so long, yet each month we try to find a better product of equal or higher customer value, and we keep coming up short. The Samsung 850 EVO fluctuates in price week after week. It seems like once a month Buy.com gets in around 5,000 drives and undercuts every other merchant. But within a week, the drives are sold out, and prices shoot back up.
While the Mushkin Reactor 1TB is still a great value at $330, if you get lucky enough to find an 850 EVO 1TB for the same price or less, scoop it up since the Samsung offers superior latency, software and warranty.
The SanDisk Extreme Pro SSD is still our top performance pick for SATA SSDs. Time has been really good to this drive, and the prices continue to decline even though it offers the best heavy workload performance of any SATA SSD. The Samsung 850 Pro is a close second, but we're still bullish on the SanDisk. We're not too sure how much longer this drive will be available, as Western Digital just purchased SanDisk and the A19 flash will get replaced by new, unproven 15nm soon.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday are big shopping days in America, but it also marks the annual price reduction for solid-state drives. For the last three years, prices went down right around this time and never recovered. Don't jump on the first hot deal unless it's exactly what you want. From now until CES in January, companies will blow out drives at very low prices to make way for new models coming at the start of the year.
And remember, nothing says I love you more than a new NVMe SSD.
SSD Best Picks
About Our Recommendations
- We only recommend SSDs we've actually tested.
- There are several criteria we use to rank SSDs. We try to evenly weigh performance per dollar at each capacity tier and recommend what we believe to the best drive based on our own experiences and information garnered from other sources.
- The list is based on U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary.
- These are new SSD prices. No used or open-box offers are in the list.
- Our picks should be valid throughout the month of publication, but SSD pricing is especially competitive, and a $15 difference can be the reason why one SSD makes the list, while another does not.
- Prices and availability change on a daily basis, but the embedded green links provide real-time pricing
256GB SATA Recommendations
512GB SATA Recommendations
1TB SATA Recommendations