While there may be all kinds of means to tweak the performance of a PC, there is no better way to speed it up by switching from a hard drive to an SSD.
You can even give new life to computers that are half a decade old by throwing in a solid-state drive and installing Windows 10 on it.
It is the single most effective upgrade available at a budget.
And one that no one should be without!
SSD technology banks on computer chips to store information and access it blazingly fast, as opposed to spinning disks that make a traditional hard drive. Because there are no moving parts, these drives are much more quickly at seeking and retrieving information. Windows boots faster, programs load in a snap.
Like other updates, it is not as simple as popping out your old hard drive and slotting in a new SSD. It is because there are different connection standards. There are also different types of SSDs available with varying performance levels, and various price ranges.
Top Tips for Buyers
- Most SSDs now use MLC (multi-level cell) or TLC (triple-level cell) flash memory. This feature allows them to pack more data in each cell than SLC (single-level cell) SSDs. TLC-based memory is now popular among consumer drives due to its cost, but their performance and endurance suffer.
- Some SSDs make use of caching software to boost everyday performance. It uses system RAM as cache significantly, but this increases the risk of data loss due to power failure.
- An internal SSD is the best way to go. But if you can’t upgrade internally, you can also connect your SSD to your fastest external port. Either buy external SSDs that are ready to be plugged in, or get an inexpensive drive enclosure and insert your SSD into it.
What to Look in an SSD?
The main decision that you will have to make when buying an SSD is the type of connector.
Most solid-state drives use the same data and power connector as regular mechanical hard drives, which is known as SATA. Meaning, they should work with almost all modern PCs.
Even those that were manufactured within the past ten years.
The problem with the SATA interface is that its performance is limited to around 550 MB/s, which is still leagues ahead of mechanical hard drives, but nowhere near what these chips can run. In other words, you’ll notice the improvement in speed but will not realize the full potential.
It is where the M.2 standard steps.
Most manufacturers have embraced this new type of little slot, expressly designed for SSDs. It offers five times the bandwidth of SATA, which translates to a top transfer speed of 3,940 MB/s — at least theoretically. However, even the fastest modern SSDs don’t come close to this limit.
But the form factor is only part of the problem, though.
The rapid improvements in performance, reliability, and capacities of SSDs meant that new standards should be made around the needs of flash memory.
Older, slower, spinning hard drives worked fine on the AHCI command protocol. Then a much-improved one was prepared for SSDs called NVMe that these next generation of storage devices used to deliver blistering fast speeds.
Consider SSD Price Factor
You will need to balance out your needs between good performance, capacity, and reliability at a cost point that is right for you.
The increased demand for this type of storage in laptops and smartphones has meant that the SSD prices have trended upward over the past year — though not by much.
NVMe based SSDs are currently around twice as expensive as the traditional ones and are ideal for professional use and content creation. But even a standard SSD will offer a level of performance that is unmatched by regular hard drives.
It will provide the best blend of capacity and performance for everyday computing, work, and gaming.
Prices will also depend on the make and model of an SSD, with a few different brands worth considering. But the most important factor is the size of the drive, with capacities ranging from 64GB to 4TB available to consumers.
Top 10 Budget SSDs Comparison Chart
275GB, 1TB, 2TB
128GB, 256GB, 1TB
256GB, 1TB, 2TB
250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB
120GB, 480GB, 960GB
60GB, 120GB, 960GB
File Copy Performance
Copying a 20GB folder full of files (photos, songs, documents, and a few 4K videos) of various sizes from one location to another.
LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE
Adobe Photoshop Heavy Usage Test
Our custom Photoshop test involves running a series of intensive actions to generate a high-resolution 3D mockup.
LONGER BARS INDICATE BETTER PERFORMANCE
Even though some manufacturers make SSDs, Samsung rules the roost these days. It makes some of the most speedy and reliable solid-state drives on the market, with the likes of 850 EVO and PRO topping sales charts year in, year out.
Crucial is usually an excellent value, and then you get companies like Adata, Corsair, Kingston, Transcend, and even WD in the mix.
Intel, meanwhile, has made a name for itself in the enterprise. But it is now making something of a comeback on the consumer front too. In short, you have plenty of options.
Below is a list of the best choices for your Windows 10 machine.
1. Intel SSD 545s
Intel strikes back! The company was one of the pioneers of the SSD technology before Samsung worked its magic and became the king of the ring. With its latest creation, Intel has put out an affordable yet reasonably fast SSD that offers enough to take the crown in the consumer space.
The 545s offers wholesome 512GB of storage at $180, but its most amazing trick is in sustained writes.
No longer will you have to watch speeds drop after a few seconds when copying or moving large files in Windows. We found this SSD kept things nice and steady at 420 MB/s, no matter the size of the content you are transferring, which is downright impressive.
It’s also a consistent performer in other daily tasks. The operating system booted up quickly, all types of applications popped up fast, and there were no stutters when editing files or creating content. Everything was silky smooth and consistent.
Intel even offers a 5-year warranty for the 545s, a notable increase from the 3-year that is standard on most another consumer SSDs out there in the wild.
That said, being a new arrival, the Intel SSD 545s is still not widely available everywhere. But the company eventually plans to release 256GB, 1TB and 2TB versions of this model, as well as M.2 variants later down the road.
Given its super-low price, outstanding warranty, and excellent overall performance, this is the SATA SSD that you should buy. You can’t do better than the Intel SSD 545s right now, not at this price.
2. Samsung 960 PRO
If money is no object, then the Samsung 960 PRO is pretty much your best bet. It may look expensive on paper, but this 512GB model that uses the M.2 connection came to the right at the top of all our performance tests, offering a sustained random IO about 30% higher than the Samsung 960 Evo.
Samsung was the first on the block with the M.2 NVMe drives, and they pretty much dominate this side of the market. The 960 PRO comes in capacities of 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB — the lack of the 256GB model means that all these drives offer similar specifications and speeds.
It also uses 3D NAND, the company’s newest iteration, making it is the fastest overall SSD right now. About three to four times as fast as budget SATA drives. What this means is that this drive is amazingly adept at demanding creativity tasks, gaming, and other massive storage workloads.
Arguably the biggest hurdle for the 960 PRO is its price, which is expensive for an SSD that will see everyday use. With that in mind, the slightly slower, considerably more affordable, 960 EVO starts to make much more sense.
But for those that need the utmost in performance and reliability, the 960 PRO is worth the extra outlay.
3. Samsung 960 EVO
Just like its elder cousin, the 960 EVO is a new arrival on the scene, and it delivers impressive levels of performance for those that want it. The biggest difference between the two, apart from an uptick in speed, is that the EVO has a write tolerance of 200TBW, whereas the rating of PRO is at 400TBW.
Terabytes Written, that is.
What this means is that the EVO drive is capable of writing 200TB of data before it starts to fail. Or at least, is rated. In real-world usage, however, your mileage is sure to be quite a bit better than these quoted prices.
Point being, even if you write 50GB a day to this SSD, it will still last you well over ten years!
Samsung also packs in its Data Migration tool with the EVO, which makes the business of cloning your existing Windows installation from your current drive to the SSD a breeze. The Magician software allows for easy management, and with built-in AES-256 encryption, you can lock the entire drive with BitLocker, if you are using Windows 10 Pro.
Long story short, the 960 EVO is nearly as fast as the PRO and offers an excellent price-per-GB for an NVMe drive. The overall combination of price, performance, and capacity gives Samsung its second win.
4. Intel 600p
Depending on the deal you get, the 512GB model of the Intel 600p is pretty much the best budget M.2 NVMe drive around. It certainly has the lowest price-per-GB of all such drives, and while it will typically be faster than the traditional SATA SSDs, expect speeds about half of what you get with the 960 PRO.
The more important question then is whether you need to fork out the extra cash for this one and whether you will benefit from having this fast an SSD — particularly when the 128GB and 256GB variants only perform at the level of a good SATA drive.
Where the 600p, and its average price premium, becomes interesting is for power users and gamers that want performance without breaking the bank. In real-world tests, this drive continuously delivered speeds nearly twice as our SATA drives.
Booting into Windows, launching applications, loading games also fared well, with the Futuremark PCMark 8 constantly giving us bandwidth figures of easily over 1 GB/s, besting all the SATA drives we tested without breaking a sweat.
If cost is a consideration, and you want the perfect balance between performance, capacity, and price, then the 512GB model of the Intel 600p is the one for you.
5. Adata Ultimate SU900
There’s nothing ultimate about this Adata, but at half the price of the Samsung 960 EVO, it is perfect if you want to run Windows, a few important programs, and an occasional game from your SSD, and are willing to keep your mechanical drive for storing everything else.
In that use case, this SSD delivers an entirely sufficient balance of price and performance.
Adata Ultimate SU900 is an SATA drive, meaning installation on most PCs should be easy and straightforward. The company even throws in an adapter for a 3.5-inch slot. The drive also comes with Acronis True Image HD, a neat little software that streamlines the process of migrating everything from your old drive to the new one.
Now, while the Ultimate SU900 is one of the fastest SATA drives we tested, it was not able to match the performance levels of an M.2 drive. Still, it makes for an excellent choice no matter if you want to slide it into your main PC, or you need some SSD speed for your aging old laptop.
The performance boost will be noticeable and tremendous.
6. Samsung 850 EVO
All the rage a while back, and 850 EVO still is an admirable choice for most use cases, even if a couple of other SSDs have caught up with it regarding speed. It is not the most affordable SSD around, not by a long shot, but this midrange drive can still outpace more expensive drives in many a test.
We regularly hit over 500 MB/s read speeds, though the lower capacity models are markedly slower.
Speeds also tend to drop under heavy loads.
But if you are after performance, at a whole range of capacities, then you can’t do much better than this Samsung. The 850 EVO works excellent in 120GB, 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB and even 4TB capacities, though sadly, the higher capacity models are not exactly coming down at a price.
The company rates this SSD at 75TB of writes over five years for the lowest capacity model, going up to 300TB for the two highest ones. Meaning unless you are putting the 850 EVO through a ton of use, it will most likely last you the life of your PC, and beyond.
7. Crucial MX300
Crucial has long been the second-biggest name in consumer SSDs, right after Samsung. And it built its standing with affordable and speedy drives that delivered.
The MX300 is a departure from previous models from the company, in that it sacrifices pure speed for more space.
If you are more concerned with value than performance, then this may be the one for you. At 525GB capacity, this SATA drive is right up there at the top when it comes to price per GB, though the downside to all this is that it is not particularly fast.
Sure, plenty quick when compared to a mechanical hard drive.
But not nearly as fast as the competition when it came to both of our synthetic and real-world tests.
Impressively, and somewhat surprisingly, the Crucial MX300 comes with the same Acronis True Image software as the Adata drive above, but it comes with the ability to encrypt the whole disk, which the Adata one does not provide.
Regarding technology, the Crucial MX300 also makes use of 3D NAND, just like Samsung — it was the first to follow its lead. But the whole point of this drive is to offer large capacities, rather than pursuing speeds and provide a solution for users that want more storage instead of benchmark scores.
Speaking of which, while the numbers come in some 15% lower than the 850 EVO, the Samsung drive also costs more, around 25% more, with slightly smaller capacities as well. Factor in the excellent reliability standards that Crucial is known for, and you have a winner.
Worth a mention that there is also an M.2 version of the MX300, but that is no faster than the SATA one.
8. WD Black
Although Western Digital joined the SSD party very late, the company has put forward some budget creations, of which its Black range is famous for above-average performances at reasonable prices. The M.2 version beat the pricier Samsung 960 EVO in multi-threaded read and write tests.
And it kept within our real-world tests like Photoshop, Excel and Vegas Pro.
Where it fell behind the 960 EVO was in subsequent trials. Where the maximum throughput of the WD Black was around 50% less in reading the data. And it was 100% lower in writing it.
You do get a neatly organized WD SSD Dashboard. It also has Acronis True Image HD software to go with a generous 5-year warranty with this one. But it does not have encryption.
Still, after considering all things, this is still a relatively affordable way to promote your PC storage to the faster NVMe league. Just don’t expect the WD Black to pull off miracles.
WD also sells its Blue line of drives, which are traditional SSDs, and offer relatively good value for money.
9. Silicon Power S55
Those of you strapped for cash. You want the most affordable drive without the fancy features. Then you will find that the 120GB model of the Silicon Power S55 is about as good as it gets.
One of the most affordable SSDs on the market right now. This one is perfect for a Windows 10 installation and a few essential apps.
Maybe even a game or two.
The limited capacity means that it is best used as the primary drive for the operating system in a PC or a media center to speed up boot times, while secondary hard disk stores the files and documents. Another ideal use case is on an old computer that you can give new life to by dropping this in.
Nothing’s stopping you from sliding it in into your laptop either. But that 120GB is going to fill up fast unless you are a very light user. At this point, the 250GB model of the WD Blue is a much better bet for laptop users. You can get more than double the storage for a little more.
Regarding performance, this one delivers some real bang for the buck.
The Silicon Power S55 had no problems pushing things over at 405 MB/s when writing, and 425 MB/s when reading, consistently at that. Which makes it right at home whatever the task you throw at it, gaming, image creation, even video editing.
It is a little drive that could!
10. SanDisk SSD PLUS
If you can live without an extra 10GB of space, then the 240GB model of the SanDisk SSD PLUS is the best value you get on the market right now. It is best regarding features and performance, as well as durability and reliability.
The SanDisk had no trouble at all staying above the 400 MB/s barriers both on reading and write, in our tests, which is still very good, considering the price you pay for this drive.
Those of you upgrading from traditional hard drives will feel very noticeable improvements in your computer speed after installing this one. Programs open instantly, and file copy performance remains robust.
SanDisk offers a 3-year warranty on this one, standard affair. You do get access to a dashboard software. But a cloning program to transfer your data from your current drive would have been handy.
Overall, while this drive may not be the fastest one around, nor the flashiest, it does what it says on the tin, and does it well.