SSDs in Laptops and Desktops Cost Too Damn Much

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Boot drives rarely get the attention they deserve. The type and capacity of your C: drive significantly affects how fast your system boots, how quickly your programs load, and how long you have to spend tapping your toe before you can actually get your game on.

It’s where all your programs get installed and files get downloaded by default, making your boot drive a huge potential bottleneck for everything you do in your operating system. So why are the boot drives on most modern PCs still so small? To be fair, plummeting solid-state drive (SSD) prices have now thankfully relegated the near-tortuous experience of a spinning-platter boot drive to the past. 

Just how far have SSD prices fallen? Intel’s X25-m launched at $595 for the 80GB model in 2008. For roughly a third of that price ($209) a decade later, I bought a Crucial MX500 drive with 25 times that Intel drive’s capacity (2TB). And since then, prices have continued to crater, to the point that some of the more affordable 4TB M.2 SSDs often hover just above the $200 mark.

But even on premium laptops and gaming rigs today, system sellers (be they boutique builders or big-name PC makers) often seem out of touch with the realities of modern pricing and storage needs.

Since I last wrote about this issue a few years ago, things have improved a bit on the consumer and business sides, where storage capacity needs are somewhat low for many people. For example, Dell ships the $849 entry model of its latest XPS 13 with a 512 GB NVMe boot drive. That's probably enough space for most office or home / school users, now that so many of us store things in the cloud. Still, the first model that steps you up to a 1TB drive is $1,349. Granted, you get quadruple the RAM and a higher-end (Core i7) CPU for that added cost as well.

But the retail price difference between a reasonably speedy 512GB and 1TB SSD is roughly $15-30. So anyone who thinks they might want more than 512GB of storage in their laptop should strongly consider stepping up to a 1TB boot drive – and it shouldn't cost more than $50-$100 at most to choose that option, given that the difference in cost between those drive capacities is minimal. Obviously, big companies like Dell buy their drives in bulk and can get much better pricing than I can while surfing Newegg.

Then there’s the gaming PCs, where storage is much more important. We’ve seen several pre-built rigs in recent months (be they laptops or desktops) priced between $2,000 and $5,000, with 1TB SSD boot drives. Now, 1TB is definitely better than half that capacity. But many game installs these days are approaching 200GB – and that's not counting DLC. Clearly something more spacious is called for unless you only plan on having a couple of games installed at a time. And keep in mind many drives slow down precipitously once they're more than half full.

There are fast 2TB PCIe 4.0 SSDs available at retail hovering around the $150 mark. When I wrote this, Samsung's 2TB 990 Pro (the best SSD according to our testing) was selling for $180, and WD's also excellent SN850X was just $160. 1TB versions of those same drives cost $60-$65 less. That's a paltry price difference for double the drive capacity on systems that often cost several thousand dollars.

In recent memory, the worst offender on the mobile gaming front is Razer's Blade 16. It's an expensive laptop in general (thanks in part to a swanky dual-mode Mini-LED display). But all models of the laptop at the time of writing ship with a 1TB SSD, save for the maxed-out RTX 4090 model, which includes a 2TB SSD – and costs a whopping $4,299.99! Give those of us without the deepest of pockets an option for reasonably-spacious storage, please.

These days, if you’re spending more than $2,000 on a gaming rig, I think it’s reasonable for about a tenth of that cost to be spent on the drive that’s going to be responsible for running your OS and games (which means at least a 2TB SSD). Because no matter how fast the graphics card or CPU is, a cramped boot drive is going to lead to a frustrating gaming experience.

Given the continuing slide of SSD prices, here are some guidelines for what I’d like to see from PC makers in 2023. My ego isn’t inflated enough to think that large companies are going to change their plans based on my advice. But at least for anything I review personally, sticking close to these capacities and price points for a PC’s boot drive should be beneficial to a system’s overall score. More importantly, a PC that adheres to these reasonable storage rules will deliver a better experience to potential buyers.

Below 512GB: Unless it’s in a sub-$300 budget laptop, this cramped capacity should never be considered. Many drives start at 500 or 512GB these days, and decent options in that capacity range can be found for less than $40, while lesser capacities still generally cost around $30. Even if that price difference is passed directly to the consumer, it's well worth the extra ten bucks.

512GB: For mainstream systems, this should be considered the absolute minimum--especially if there’s no spare M.2 slot or secondary storage drive.

1TB: This should be the minimum for a gaming PC. Even if it's a budget laptop (like one of the best laptops under $1,000, you should get a system with a 1TB drive. Opt for 512 and by the time you install one recent AAA game, your OS, and a few key programs, you could be dealing with performance issues due to space. Note that, on our best PC Builds page, we have an $800 build with a 1TB drive so it’s more than affordable.

2TB: Any "creator" or gaming-focused PC priced well above $2,000 should come with a 2TB SSD boot drive at this point. It doesn't have to be a class-leading drive. But with options like the 2TB PCIe 4.0 Solidigm P41 hovering around the $100 mark, people with serious storage needs shouldn't have to fumble their bits and bytes around a cramped 1TB SSD.

These guidelines should also be considered for anyone building their own system. I recommend an NVMe drive for any system where performance matters (like a gaming or content creation rig), and a 1TB drive only for a budget build. For most people doing more than basic productivity tasks, a 2TB drive should be standard at this point. In fact, 4TB drives are becoming quite reasonable, with some reputable models getting down around the $200 mark. I would have bought one already, except there are so many affordable 2TB drives these days that I own at least five of those already. I don't have a storage problem, you do — but you don't have to give how affordable SSDs are these days.

Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom's Hardware as a team.

Matt Safford

After a rough start with the Mattel Aquarius as a child, Matt built his first PC in the late 1990s and ventured into mild PC modding in the early 2000s. He’s spent the last 15 years covering emerging technology for Smithsonian, Popular Science, and Consumer Reports, while testing components and PCs for Computer Shopper, PCMag and Digital Trends.

  • bit_user
    For example, Dell
    Yup. At work, we just bought new Dell desktop machines for our team. After looking at their storage options, we opted to take their lowest-spec option and add storage via aftermarket parts. Not only were their larger SSDs overpriced, but they maxed out at just 2 TB and we wanted 4 TB.

    Another weird thing about Dell is just how long it took to be able to order a Precision workstation with an i9 Alder Lake CPU. Until earlier this year, the highest they went were i7's. Probably a market segmentation tactic, trying to push people into higher-end workstations. That said, you can sometimes arrange a custom configuration by calling their sales people, beyond what's configurable on their website.
  • RichardtST
    Dell for sure. I just built a pair of 5950X 64GB RAM 5TB monsters each for less than the price of what they wanted for a 4TB NVME. I just smiled and will happily use that as my excuse to keep on building... (I build our company machines because its cheaper and they are more reliable). But they charge that nonsense because 99.9% of the population has no clue and probably doesn't want to. To us Tom's readers its just silly, of course.
  • DavidLejdar
    Basically, I agree. For my self-build, I am doing it a bit differently though. My "boot drive" is only 1 TB, a KINGSTON SNV2S1000G in a chipset M.2 slot, with the OS, browser, game launcher clients, and some other software on it. And then there is a faster 2TB NVMe with nothing but a number of games on it. And a 2TB SATA SSD (and two more M.2 slots left). Not sure if it is more efficient to have OS data and gaming data on two separate drives. But it works fine for me, in particular as my more expensive NVMe is idle most of the time, which I assume helps in not wearing it down too fast (my boot drive still is at 100% too though, after half a year).

    But yeah, only 1TB in total for everything, including for the Pagefile when a system comes with limited RAM, difficult to imagine how that is supposed to work out when one does more than to just browse some websites.
  • gg83
    Its always been like this I think. I would always buy the lower ram and storage option as long as I could upgrade it myself.
  • ikjadoon
    HP has reasonable SSD pricing, esp. for PCIe 4.0 SSDs: 512 GB → 2 TB is +$190, which is only $100-ish over retail.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, likes to bleed people dry, even worse than Dell and Apple.
  • PEnns
    They are all hell bent on fleecing their customers. (maybe there are exceptions, but I have yet to see one)

    Because they think, and they are correct 90% of the time, their customers will pay anything for an upgrade (a cool $100+ to go from 500 to 1 TB!), due to apathy, ignorance or laziness.

    And it doesn't help either when many techie websites list their weekly / monthly / quarterly BS of "Best Laptop blabla..." which includes a pathetic 256 Gig or even a 128 for boot drive & storage!
  • Darkoverlordofdata
    And how many people actually need that much storage space? When the 1TB hard drive in my Dell died, I replaced it with a cheap 250 gb ssd. After installing linux, all my software and vm and images, I still have 100 gb free. I will never use all 250 gb.
  • TechieTwo
    It's a lot like buying a car - They charge whatever they believe the traffic will bear. $3000 for a navigation system that is inferior to a $300 portable Nav is pretty outrageous but common. It boost the ASP and profit margins significantly. It's no different with PCs or laptops.

    Most consumers are not technically savy enough to change SSDs or DRAM so they pay the price if they really desire the increased capacities. Most consumers that use a PC for work do not need large drives nor lots of DRAM but for those that do there are pricey options.
  • Alvar "Miles" Udell
    Same principle behind Samsung selling us a 990 Pro 1TB for $100 and then charging $100 per 128GB in a Galaxy phone or tablet.
  • zipspyder
    ikjadoon said:
    HP has reasonable SSD pricing, esp. for PCIe 4.0 SSDs: 512 GB → 2 TB is +$190, which is only $100-ish over retail.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, likes to bleed people dry, even worse than Dell and Apple.

    Except if that is an upgrade, i.e., the 512GB is already included in the cost of the laptop you are basically paying $100 to add 490GB and not in addition too.