In our series of Solid State Drive guides, here’s the latest update to our list of recommended SSDs. All numbers in the text are updated to reflect pricing at the time of writing.

Best SSDs: Holiday 2018

The unsung hero of PC performance, these days it’s often storage that makes the difference between a fast, responsive PC and something that feels like less. A processor can only work as quickly as it can be fed data, and this is where a good solid state drive can help even a slow system become faster. Whether it’s an upgrade for an older system still packing a hard drive, or building out a new system from scratch, picking the right SSD is one of the more important decisions to make in configuring and customizing a computer. To help with this, we’ve assembled our SSD guide, outlining the best choices in SSDs of every form factor and price range.

Sizing up the SSD market here as we go into the holiday shopping season, what we find is that NAND flash memory prices have continued to drop in recent months. And this is a trend will persist into 2019. So as this year winds down we should see plenty of SSD sales, setting some new records for affordability along the way.

SSD Recommendations: Holiday 2018
Market Segment Recommendations
Mainstream 2.5" SATA Crucial MX500 500GB $64.95 (13¢/GB)
Entry-level NVMe MyDigitalSSD SBX 256GB $49.99 (20¢/GB)
High-end NVMe MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro 1TB $189.99 (22¢/GB)
M.2 SATA WD Blue 3D M.2 1TB $134.99 (14¢/GB)

Our selection of recommended drives has not changed much since this summer, though the prices are very different. Drives using 64-layer 3D NAND are the only ones worth considering; older generation products haven't been keeping pace with the price drops, and it looks like 96-layer 3D NAND won't be appearing on the retail market until 2019. In almost every product segment, the best drives to buy are using TLC NAND. The few products using MLC NAND don't offer enough extra performance or write endurance to justify their price premium, and the two retail drives with QLC NAND are barely cheaper than their TLC-based competition.

Above are some recommendations of good deals in each market segment. Several of these aren't the cheapest option in their segment and instead are quality products worth paying a little extra for.

The next table is a rough summary of what constitutes a good deal on a current model in today's market. Sales that don't beat these prices are only worth a second glance if the drive is nicer than average for its product segment.

Holiday 2018 SSD Recommendations: Price to Beat, ¢/GB
Market Segment 128GB 256GB 512GB 1TB 2TB
Budget 2.5" SATA 22 ¢/GB 16 ¢/GB 13 ¢/GB 13 ¢/GB  
Mainstream 2.5" SATA   17 ¢/GB 13 ¢/GB 13 ¢/GB 14 ¢/GB
Entry-level NVMe 39 ¢/GB 20 ¢/GB 15 ¢/GB 17 ¢/GB 20 ¢/GB
High-end NVMe   24 ¢/GB 19 ¢/GB 19 ¢/GB 26 ¢/GB
M.2 SATA   21 ¢/GB 14 ¢/GB 14 ¢/GB 16 ¢/GB

As always, the prices shown are merely a snapshot at the time of writing. We make no attempt to predict when or where the best discounts will be. Instead, this guide should be treated as a baseline against which deals can be compared. All of the drives recommended here are models we have tested in at least one capacity or form factor, but in many cases we have not tested every capacity and form factor. For drives not mentioned in this guide, our SSD Bench database can provide performance information and comparisons.

Mainstream 2.5" SATA: Crucial MX500, Samsung 860 EVO

Entry-level SATA SSDs with DRAMless controllers are the cheapest drives on the market, with 120GB models now under $30. However, for general-purpose consumer usage we recommend getting a mainstream SATA SSD with a DRAM cache and drive capacity of at least 240GB. The combination of better performance, higher write endurance and longer warranty is usually worth the $10-20 upgrade. The entry-level drives from the most reputable large brands (eg. Toshiba TR200, Crucial BX500) tend to be slightly more expensive and thus come too close to the pricing of the mainstream drives.

These days, the best options for a mainstream SATA drive are all at least 240GB. This is large enough for the operating system and all your everyday applications and data, but not necessarily enough for a large library of games, movies or photos. Drives in the 240–256GB range tend to be significantly slower than larger models, and the per-GB pricing is significantly higher than for 480GB and larger drives.

  240-256GB 480-525GB 1TB 2TB
Samsung 860 EVO $57.99 (23¢/GB) $72.99 (15¢/GB) $127.99 (13¢/GB) $294.99 (15¢/GB)
WD Blue 3D NAND $53.65 (21¢/GB) $69.99 (14¢/GB) $134.99 (14¢/GB) $311.97 (16¢/GB)
SanDisk Ultra 3D $52.95 (21¢/GB) $79.99 (16¢/GB) $139.99 (14¢/GB) $299.37 (15¢/GB)
Crucial MX500 $42.99 (17¢/GB) $64.95 (13¢/GB) $139.99 (14¢/GB) $326.99 (16¢/GB)
Intel 545s $54.99 (21¢/GB) $99.99 (19¢/GB) $242.75 (24¢/GB)  
Micron 1100       $279.88 (14¢/GB)

Among current-generation mainstream SATA drives with 64-layer TLC NAND and a full-size DRAM cache, the differences in performance and power consumption are slight. The best pick is usually whichever one is cheapest. Today, that's the Crucial MX500. Next week, it could be the SanDisk Ultra 3D again, or perhaps the Samsung 860 EVO. The aging 2TB Micron 1100 OEM drive is still available from some third-party sellers at very low prices, but the current retail drives that come with manufacturer's warranties are closing in and may match the prices of the 1100 before supplies completely dry up.

NVMe SSDs

The market for consumer NVMe SSDs has broadened enough to be split into entry-level and high-end segments. There are now several low-cost NVMe SSD controllers that feature only four NAND channels instead of eight, and most of these controllers also have just two PCIe lanes instead of the four used by high-end drives.

Almost all consumer NVMe SSDs use the M.2 2280 form factor, but a handful are PCIe add-in cards. The heatsinks on many of the add-in cards tend to increase the price while making no meaningful difference to real-world performance, so our recommendation for NVMe SSDs are all M.2 form factor SSDs.

High-end NVMe: HP EX920 and Samsung 970 EVO

Drives with next-generation high-end NVMe controllers from Phison and Silicon Motion are starting to hit the market, but supplies are limited and prices are still rather high. The Phison E12 controller can most readily be found in the MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro, and some retailers also have some capacities of the Corsair MP510 in stock. The Silicon Motion SM2262EN controller will soon be available in the ADATA XPG SX8200 Pro, replacing the current SX8200 that uses the plain SM2262 controller. All of these drives are products to watch, because they could easily become the best deal for a high-end NVMe drive in a month or two when they are more widely available. In the meantime, SM2262 drives like the ADATA SX8200, HP EX920 and Mushkin Pilot are much cheaper than other premium NVMe drives but aren't noticeably slower.

Intel's Optane SSDs are down to around $1/GB. On select synthetic benchmarks they can appear to justify this price premium over NAND-based SSDs, but hardly any consumer workloads benefit meaningfully from the performance advantages of Optane SSDs over high-end flash-based drives. There's also the problem that Intel's Optane products are somewhat of an awkward fit for consumer machines. The 800P and Optane Memory products are low-capacity PCIe 3 x2 M.2 drives, and while the 900P and 905P are power-hungry U.2 and add-in card drives. The M.2 version of the 905P has finally hit the market, but it's still a 110mm long card that doesn't fit in most laptops. We'll have to wait until next year for Intel to introduce Optane SSDs that can be considered true high-end alternatives to mainstream NAND-based NVMe drives.

  240-280GB 480-512GB 960GB-1TB 2TB
ADATA XPG SX8200 $69.99 (29¢/GB) $109.99 (23¢/GB) $214.99 (22¢/GB)  
HP EX920 $73.99 (29¢/GB) $99.99 (19¢/GB) $189.99 (19¢/GB)  
Mushkin Pilot $59.99 (24¢/GB) $108.99 (22¢/GB) $209.99 (21¢/GB)  
MyDigitalSSD BPX Pro $62.99 (26¢/GB) $109.99 (23¢/GB) $209.99 (22¢/GB) $519.99 (26¢/GB)
Western Digital WD Black (2018) $84.99 (34¢/GB) $99.99 (20¢/GB) $258.75 (26¢/GB)  
Samsung 970 EVO $86.90 (35¢/GB) $116.99 (23¢/GB) $227.99 (23¢/GB) $547.95 (27¢/GB)
Samsung 970 PRO   $177.99 (35¢/GB) $377.99 (38¢/GB)  
Intel Optane SSD 900P $269.99 (112¢/GB) $479.99 (100¢/GB)    
Intel Optane SSD 905P   $509.99 (107¢/GB) $1129.00 (118¢/GB)  

Entry-level NVMe: MyDigitalSSD SBX

The entry-level NVMe market segment has been shaken up by the arrival of the Intel 660p and Crucial P1, the first two consumer SSDs to use four bit per cell (QLC) NAND flash memory. These products necessarily have more of a high-capacity while most other entry-level NVMe product lines are geared toward low capacities. The QLC drives have finally started beating the TLC competition on price per GB, meanwhile they also bring a 2TB option to this market segment.

Despite high DRAM prices, the handful of DRAMless NVMe SSDs on the market (Toshiba RC100, HP EX900) have not been able to beat the prices of higher-performing entry-level NVMe drives that include a full-sized DRAM buffer. This means that drives with the Phison E8 controller are the most competitive products in this segment. The Kingston A1000 has at times been very cheap for some capacities, but at the moment the MyDigitalSSD SBX is in the lead across the board. However, the persistent problem remains that the cheapest high-end NVMe drives are only $10-20 more and they are significantly faster than any of these entry-level drives.

  120-128GB 240-256GB 480-512GB 1TB
Kingston A1000   $56.99 (24¢/GB) $102.99 (21¢/GB) $188.99 (20¢/GB)
MyDigitalSSD SBX $34.99 (27¢/GB) $49.99 (20¢/GB) $94.99 (19¢/GB) $219.99 (21¢/GB)
Crucial P1     $87.99 (18¢/GB) $219.99 (21¢/GB)
Intel 660p     $74.99 (15¢/GB) $169.99 (17¢/GB)

 

M.2 SATA: Crucial MX500 and WD Blue 3D

Consumers looking to remove cable clutter from their desktops should generally prefer M.2 NVMe drives over M.2 SATA drives now that there are several very affordable options offering a significant performance boost over SATA. Notebook users who have no choice of form factor can rejoice that M.2 SATA SSDs now usually carry little or no premium over their 2.5" counterparts, which was not often the case when mSATA was the dominant small form factor for SSDs. These M.2 SATA SSDs will also generally still offer better battery life than M.2 NVMe SSDs, though a few NVMe SSDs are starting to match SATA drives for power efficiency.

  250GB 500GB 1TB 2TB
Samsung 860 EVO M.2 $67.99 (27¢/GB) $97.77 (20¢/GB) $189.99 (19¢/GB) $399.99 (20¢/GB)
Crucial MX500 M.2 $52.99 (21¢/GB) $74.99 (15¢/GB) $139.99 (14¢/GB)  
WD Blue 3D M.2 $54.99 (22¢/GB) $69.76 (14¢/GB) $134.99 (14¢/GB) $314.87 (16¢/GB)

The Samsung 860 EVO M.2 not in the running at the moment thanks to its across-the-board higher prices. The WD Blue 3D and Crucial MX500 are reasonably priced across the entire range, with the MX500 currently beating the WD Blue at lower capacities.

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  • Eidigean - Friday, November 09, 2018 - link

    I think it's important to note which "high end" SSDs are actually MLC, TLC, or QLC in the tables. Perhaps a recommendation for each type. I personally would want to filter out anything that's not MLC or better. Looking to see what the apples-to-apples competition looks like against the Samsung 970 Pro. Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Friday, November 09, 2018 - link

    You're certainly entitled to your opinions, but I don't think it is reasonable to pretend that the one or two MLC SSDs still on the market are vastly better than the good TLC drives. Even for a high-end system, cost effectiveness is still usually a factor, and paying 70% more for MLC that won't be perceptibly faster is not a recommendation I'm going to make. Reply
  • Eidigean - Saturday, November 10, 2018 - link

    It's never been about higher performance, but higher endurance and reliability. With TLC and QLC, leaking just a couple of electrons from a cell can change the data. the number of writes before failure is also usually double for MLC. Comparing the 1 TB 970 EVO and 970 PRO, they support 600 TBW vs 1200 TBW, respectively. Reply
  • Impulses - Saturday, November 10, 2018 - link

    You might have a usage case or life expectancy where that's a big concern, but I agree with Billy that it's not really a big deal for most people. That being said, there's also cases where a smaller drive in a series takes more of a dive in performance than the larger one and the cost per GB isn't always everything...

    I was looking for a new boot drive to replace a 256GB SM951... 500GB vs 1TB really didn't make a difference to me, a big chunk of the space on the latter would likely go to waste over the life of the drive. The smaller 970 EVOs do see a bigger sacrifice in performance tho... So I didn't save a buck on the 500GB EVO, and yet I also preferred single sided (the HP is 2x sided IIRC).

    So I splurged on a 512GB 970 Pro for about the same price as other lesser 1TB drives. It's not something I'd suggest other people do tho, my usage case and setup is pretty niche as I imagine yours is. The guide is about overall recommendations for the average user. People with niche needs or preferences can figure it out on their own.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Saturday, November 10, 2018 - link

    I agree with you. TLC cost savings hardly justify the loss of endurance and QLC has a long way to go before I feel as though the price would make the even lower endurance worth it. Performance is, at absolute best, a distant second concern in light of the low P/E offered by current TLC and QLC drives. Reply
  • frenchy_2001 - Wednesday, November 14, 2018 - link

    The split is a lot more subtle than what you expect.
    Since the move to 3D NAND, reliability has been a moot point.
    A 3D NAND TLC will certainly retain its data much better than a planar MLC at 1Y size, simply due to the backing to much larger lithography (and hence much bigger cells) for 3D NAND (those are around 40nm litho). Even a 3D QLC could be more reliable than a planar MLC.

    3D has been a big win for consumers, enabling both more reliable cells and cheaper prices.
    Reply
  • LordanSS - Friday, November 23, 2018 - link

    As frenchy_2001 said, a 3D NAND TLC at 40nm lithography will have better endurance and data retention than a MLC at sub 20nm.

    I have an old 840 EVO, and had the issue with the cell leakage. It was a planar TLC drive tho, very different from the 3D NAND drives we have today.

    Couple years ago I got a 850 EVO to replace it, and put the old 840 in a secondary computer as an OS disk (upgrading from a normal HDD), and it's chugging along just fine to this day.
    Reply
  • npz - Friday, November 23, 2018 - link

    That has been the savior for TLC in comparison its planar ancestor. But current 3D QLC isn't better at all, and in comparison to 3D TLC at the same process size, it's much much worse. So something else is needed to mitigate the losses, as it already uses the best process and layout method.

    You could just use a larger process with bigger gaps/junctions, but that would entirely negate the cost savings of QLC, not to mention increase heat and power requirements.
    Reply
  • FwFred - Sunday, November 18, 2018 - link

    What drives have you seen that 'change the data' returned by the SSD? You are talking about something at the transistor level but are ignoring what happens at the drive level with ECC, data refresh and other methods. Are you storing your data in a powered off SSD for months?

    There are reasons for some people to not buy TLC or QLC, but as Billy states the average consumer and even enthusiast is well served with this.
    Reply
  • npz - Friday, November 23, 2018 - link

    You know I actually have a cheap 120GB planar TLC ssd in a nuc type machine as OS drive that has been powered off for over a year now. I'm curious myself as to its health. It may be another few months till I find space and time to power it on again, lol. Reply

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