We are nearing the end of the era of the spinning platter – 2019 has seen SSD prices tumble and performance skyrocket. With current motherboard chipsets universally supporting at least one NVMe M.2 drive, there has never been a better time to jump on board and experience the low latency and insane data transfer rates of modern SSD technology.
In this article, we’ll take you through a range of options to ensure peak performance from your Gaming PC. There really is an SSD for all cases and wallets so even a budget system need not suffer the slow boot and loading times of a traditional hard disk.
How an SSD can improve your gaming system:
It’s true that on the face of it, an SSD doesn’t help gaming performance. CPU and GPU muscle dictate the frames your system can generate and an SSD doesn’t change that. However an SSD can dramatically improve your overall experience in the following ways: Firstly, time spent waiting for boot or loading is time you’re not gaming. If you’ve got 30 minutes to fit in a quick blast, do you want 5 minutes of that time to be spent waiting for windows to boot, the game to load, and then a couple of map transitions? With an SSD taking care of Operating System and key games that wait time can be reduced to mere seconds, meaning more gaming time. In fact with prices as low as £100/$100 per Tb there’s no reason your whole games library can’t reside on an SSD. Secondly it’s worth considering how games shuttle data from disk to RAM. With open world games getting ever bigger and more complex, game engines have to move assets and textures into RAM on the fly so the game can seamlessly render the world around you. If the demand for data outstrips the rate the source disc can supply, stutters, pop ups and ugly texture transitions can result. A fast source drive eliminates this problem and lets you get on with enjoying the game. Other benefits of SSD’s include a smaller size so really small ITX gaming builds become viable, less noise and power consumption, and enhanced reliability with no moving parts to fail. In our opinion a premium PC build deserves a great SSD.
Quick Jargon Buster: M.2, NVME and TLC vs QLC SSDs
Most consumer SSD’s are now available in two form factors known as M.2 and 2.5”. M.2 Drives are about the same size as a stick of chewing gum (the size 2280 is their size – the first two denote width in mm and the second two denote length which can be 40, 80 or 110mm – almost all mainstream drives are 22mmx80mm). M.2 drives plug directly into a socket on the motherboard of the PC. SATA drives and some NVMe drives are available in 2.5” drive format, the same size as a laptop hard disc drive. The size is distinct from the protocol they use: Either SATA or more recently NVME. SATA is an older standard designed to deal with spinning hard disc drives, and its data bandwidth tops out at around 500MB/s. Indeed most SATA drives memory can exceed this speed but they are held back by the SATA protocol. The newer NVME protocol allows vastly higher speeds and connects directly to the PCIe lanes in the motherboard chipset (And to the CPU). Transfer speeds can meet or exceed 3,000MB/s combined with exceptionally low latency making for a very responsive drive – although in general use you’re unlike to perceive a major difference between a good SATA drive and a consumer NVME drive. There are basically three drive types that you should consider buying right now: M.2 NVME, M.2 SATA, or 2.5” SATA.
Finally there’s the thorny issue of the type of NAND flash memory employed on the drive itself. Most NVME drives use some variant of MLC or TLC NAND – standing for Multi Level Cell or Tri Level Cell. This refers to the number of ‘states’ a memory cell in the chip can express, and so the memory density of the chip. More recently consumer drives with QLC – you guessed it ‘Quad Level Cell’ NAND have hit the market – specifically the intel 660p and Crucial P1. This NAND is significantly slower than traditional flash memory. It also has lower endurance – the number of times it can be overwritten before failing. These drives are well-engineered with clever controllers that mask their inherent weaknesses from the user and they are fine for general use and offer unprecedented value. However we would not recommend them in any workstation or heavy usage situation, and with newer offerings based on the Phison E12 controller and more robust TLC NAND, we’d recommend those for a slight price premium.
So here are our recommendations for the best Gaming SSD’s money can buy right now:
Best Gaming SSDs – My Recommendations
|Best SSDs for Gaming||Design||Model|
|Nest value NVMe SSD for gaming||Sabrent Rocket 1Tb|
|Best NVMe SSD for workstations/heavier workloads||Adata SX 8200 pro|
|Best SSD for Bulk Storage||Intel 660p 2Tb|
|Best SATA SSD for gaming||Crucial MX500 1Tb|
|Best budget SATA SSD for gaming||Adata SU650 1Tb|
The best value NVME SSD for gaming – The Sabrent Rocket 1Tb
Sab-who? Indeed. This smaller peripheral manufacturer have leveraged the Phison E12 controller and Toshiba NAND to bring a cost-effective and very high-performance NVME SSD to market, the Sabrent Rocket. This drive comes with read/write speeds exceeding 3000MB/s in 1Tb format and a five year guarantee. There are actually several budget drives offering this combination from MyDigitalSSD (BPX Pro), Silicon Power (P34A80), addlink (S70) and Corsair (MP510) using the same controller and NAND combination and since they all use the reference design for this set up they perform near identically. We’d suggest shopping around for the best price – but in recent weeks that has been the Sabrent Rocket. 1Tb is a great primary drive size, with space for OS, core programmes and main games so nothing needs to hold you up whilst it’s being read from a slow platter in the basement of your PC case.
Best NVME for workstations/heavier workloads: Adata SX 8200 pro/Gammix S11 Pro
So we’re not all just gamers, right? If you need an SSD that can endure sustained read/write loads and doesn’t hide slower flash NAND behind clever controller trickery like the intel 660p, there are drives that have you covered.
Adata have a slightly confused product stack in the NVMe SSD arena at the moment. The SX8200 was first to market in mid 2018 and has since been superseded by the SX8200 pro. There’s also the ‘Gammix S11 pro’ branded line up which are the same drives, renamed and with a bundled heat sink. We’d consider the heat sink as purely cosmetic – no normal consumer load will thermally overload an NVME controller chip, and NAND prefers to be warm for optimum performance anyway so it comes down to pricing and looks as to which option you choose. The SX8200 pro comes with a thinner XPG branded heatsink at any rate, if 4 small chips on a PC are really going to bother you in a case full of chips and PCB…
Using the Silicon Motion SM-2262EN controller and a full 4 PCIe lanes, along with TLC NAND, this drive outperforms the more expensive Samsung 970 Evo across the board, and beats the much more expensive Samsung 970 Pro in almost every metric too. Only the most brutal data throughput applications warrant a more expensive drive than this, and gaming, video edit and general use workloads are a picnic. It has 640TBW endurance in 1Tb format, and a 5 year limited warranty backing it up, so recording, manipulating and editing large videos won’t be an issue.
Honorable Mention: The HP EX920 uses the same controller and Micron 64layer TLC nand to give almost exactly the same performance as the Adata SX8200 pro, so buy whichever is cheaper.
Bulk storage on SSD – the Intel 660p 1Tb/2Tb
Intel has pushed the value boundary forwards with this QLC based NVME Drive, the Intel 660p. Whilst it cannot perform at the same level as TLC NAND, clever controller firmware and a large SLC Cache mask the storage flash behaviour from the end user, meaning it behaves as you would expect a lightning-fast NVME SSD should do. Benchmarks show a slower 1,800MB/s transfer speed, and high latencies in some situations – but rest assured this doesn’t manifest in poor performance in gaming and general use. This drive makes an excellent option either as a boot/main drive or perhaps playing bulk storage second fiddle to a TLC NAND NVMe main boot drive. At $95 for the 1Tb option or $190 for the 2Tb version, this drive provides unparalleled value for high-performance game data storage. The Crucial P1 is essentially the same drive with tweaked firmware so it’s a worthwhile option if prices dip low enough.
Best SATA SSD for gaming: Crucial MX500 1Tb
Crucial have long been a stalwart in the Flash NAND market, and the MX500 is their rock-solid SATA SSD. Significantly undercutting offerings from Samsung in price, but equalling them in performance and 5 year warranty, the smart money goes to the MX500. With 1Tb and 2Tb versions now affordable at around £100/$100 per Tb, your entire game library as well as OS can reside on SSD and you don’t need an M.2 slot to fit it.
Best budget SATA SSD for gaming: Adata SU650 1Tb
A 1Tb SSD as a budget option? Oh yes. Even an entry level PC should not be without an SSD and for the cost, it should be this 1Tb SATA option from Adata, the Adata SU650. Whilst it lacks DRAM it still hugely outstrips the speed of any mechanical hard disk using SLC Cache NAND to ensure fast read and writes of commonly accessed data. At a $/Gb level that cannot be beaten and backed by a three year warranty we have no hesitation in recommending this drive for the cost-conscious builder.