Let’s face it — we’ve all been there. You’re up to your eyeballs in the best game of this decade; the music’s pumping, your equipment is fully upgraded, and you’re about to decide the fate of the galaxy in the next few minutes. Sprinting forward, the climactic battle with the villain that’s been hounding you for the last two games comes into view. Your heart beats just a little faster. Let’s do this, you think to yourself. And then…
Not just any loading screen, but the dreaded “go make a cup of coffee” length loading screen. So you do, and you return, only to find that the villain’s defiant words seem hollow. The conflict, overplayed. The tension melted away like the lumps of sugar in your coffee, and you’re left with a ho-hum final battle after your suspension of disbelief was irreparably shattered. Is there a solution? Is it affordable? Do we always have to be this melodramatic?
“Of course,” we reply, to all of the above—but your solution might not involve a new graphics card, more RAM, or a faster CPU. The problem may actually lie within the moving parts and spinning disks of your hard disk drive.
6 Best SSDs for Gaming
Thanks for sticking with us so far. We hope you know a little more about solid state drives than when you started. One differentiating factor to keep in mind when shopping for gaming SSDs is drive space, especially if you do not have a backup drive. If you have a huge game library going for a 500GB+ minimum is necessary. With all that said and done, the time has come—the moment of truth is at hand! Let’s dig in to find out which SSDs are worth your money.
(Please bear in mind that any customer review averages and prices listed within are all to be considered valid as of this writing, and are subject to change at a moment’s notices by mischievous forces out of High Ground Gaming’s control.)
1. Samsung 850 EVO Series
One of the highest rated batches of SSDs on the market, sitting at 4.5/5 stars on Amazon, the Samsung 850 EVO series has everything you should be looking for in an SSD. It’s geared toward the mainstream audience, with strong performance statistics and a variety of storage capacities to fit your needs, whatever they may be. The SATA interface clocks at 6GB/s, pushing the tech to its current limits, while remaining backwards compatible with 3GB/s and 1.5GB/s as well. Read/write speeds top out around 550MB/520MB per second respectively, and Samsung backs the drive up with a respectable five-year limited warranty. Every model of the 850 EVO series is currently on sale on Amazon.com, with prices ranging from $69.00 (reg. $99.99) for the 120 GB drive up to $349.00 (reg. $499.99) for the 1 TB drive.
What else needs to be said? Samsung is leading every market they have a share in with top notch products and innovative technology. The 850 EVO series is a no brainer for those seeking the best SSD for gaming.
2. Kingston SSDNow V300 and HyperX Series
Building on its reputation as a fine purveyor of SD cards, RAM, and flash drives, it should surprise absolutely no one that Kingston would stake a claim in the SSD market as well. The SSDnow V300 is their flagship consumer series for the time being, clocking 6GB/s at the SATA interface as well as being backwards compatible with 3GB/s and 1.5GB/s. Read/write speeds peak at around 450MB/s each, and Kingston backs up their work with a three year warranty. Depending on who you ask, there are rumors that the SSDNow V300 series suffers from a switch in NAND chips that cripples the maximum data transfer rate, changing the chip only after early batches of the SSD shipped. Whether you get the model which performs as advertised or the slower one is a bit of a shot in the dark. Bad news for concerned consumers—but luckily Kingston offers more consistent products with the Fury and Savage model SSDs under their HyperX gaming brand. If you’re still willing to try your luck with the SSDNow V300, the current prices on Amazon range from $45.99 (reg. $126.00) for the 60 GB model up to $189.99 (reg. $582.00) for the 480 GB model. Bear in mind that the 960 GB model listed for $575.43 (reg. $927.00) is actually an SSDNow V310, and may not suffer from the same reduction in speed.
The HyperX Fury SSD is geared to be the consumer model of the HyperX family, with decent performance and passable storage sizes for a great price. The SATA interface in the Fury is capable of the same 6GB/s peaks, as well as the same backwards compatibility we’ve seen in the other drives so far. Read/write speeds max at around 500MB/s, placing it ahead of the SSDNow V300 series but falling just short of the Samsung 850 EVO series in terms of performance.
Savage as it claims to be, the HyperX Savage drive is positioned to be the next step for SSD enthusiasts. It’s a powerhouse of an SSD, with a SATA 6GB/s interface and read/writes clocked at an exceptional 560MB/s and 530MB/s respectively. One wonders if Kingston saw the Samsung 850 EVO and scoffed, pushing speeds just past Samsung to prove a point. Either way, we reap the benefits of their little turf war in the form of a slightly more expensive SSD that provides just enough of an edge to be noteworthy. On Amazon, the prices range from $142.00 for the 120 GB to $294.22 (reg. $488.00) for the 480 GB model. HyperX Savage is the obvious gamer’s choice for the operating system and select games, but for most users it lacks the capacity to operate without a secondary drive as well.
3. Crucial MX200 Series
Renowned for the free web-based RAM upgrade Advisor tool on their website, it would be easy to overlook the fact that Crucial sells RAM and SSDs as well. Well, the reviews are in, and the purchasing public gave the Crucial MX200 series a rock solid five-star rating on Amazon.com. The performance is respectable, peaking in line with competitors at 555MB/s reads and 500MB/s writes—the biggest selling point is the prepackaged download for a paired down version of Acronis True Image 2014, to assist with disk imaging and the data migration process.
Crucial MX200 SSDs carry the SATA 6GB/s backwards compatible interface, and powerful AES 256-bit encryption for the privacy minded. The price and storage sizes as of the time of this writing range from $104.99 (reg. $113.99) for the 250GB model, up to $429.99 (reg. $459.99) for the 1TB model. Given the regular pricing, Crucial certainly gives Samsung a run for its money.
4. SanDisk Ultra II Series
SanDisk seems to have the market cornered when it comes to SD cards and flash drives—where there’s a digital camera, there’s likely to be a SanDisk SD card inside. Like Kingston, it was a natural progression for SanDisk to step into the solid state realm, and they’re really bringing it home with their Ultra II series. A strong 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon.com belies the budget pricing of their SSDs, which is welcome news for those of us looking to save a few dollars when we upgrade.
SanDisk fields the standard gamut of competitive specifications: read/writes clock in at 550MB/s and 500MB/s respectively, a SATA 6GB/s interface, and storage sizes ranging from 120GB to 960GB. Their pricing is where they really stand apart, as the 120GB model will only set you back $69.54 (reg. $71.99) while priced for the ongoing sale. The 960GB model is on sale for $359.40 (reg. $404.99), which positions it as the most wallet-friendly high capacity option.
5. Intel 530 Series
Dear readers of High Ground Gaming, we present a solid state drive from a brand which needs no introduction. Intel’s 530 Series of SSDs doesn’t make a name for itself through price, specifications, or capacities, but instead relies upon Intel’s reputation as a manufacturer of high quality goods to move units. It doesn’t disappoint as far as quality is concerned, netting 4.5/5 stars via customer reviews. For the purpose of this review, we will be evaluating the choices under the “Drive Only” option on Amazon.
Under the hood, it boasts read speeds of up to 540MB/s, with write speeds falling a bit short at 480MB/s. Its SATA interface clocks in at 6GB/s, and is backwards compatible with 3GB/s as well. Pricing and storage options run from 80GB at $69.47 (reg. $129.99) to 240GB at $139.09 (reg. $288.00). There’s a 480GB model available as well—though it is sold out on Amazon, you can find it on Newegg for $229.99 (reg. $499.99). It fails to stand out in any appreciable way from the competition, but if there’s one name brand in computing that’s trusted the world over, it’s Intel. For many, the name alone is enough to secure their purchase.
6. PNY Optima Series
PNY is another strong brand in the portable storage field, standing toe-to-toe with Kingston and SanDisk. Not to be outdone, they introduced their own SSD line dubbed the Optima—and optimum it is. It’s a direct attack on the budget bracket, though it doesn’t emerge quite as scot-free as SanDisk’s budget SSDs. Like Kingston, rumors abound that PNY pulled the quality NAND that the series launched with in favor of a cheaper, slower model. Whether the “minimum advertised performance levels” are fast enough is for you to decide.
PNY advertises a SATA 6GB/s interface, and benchmarking places the read/write speeds in the ballpark of 470MB/s and 290MB/s respectively, though that could fluctuate depending on the specifics of your rig or whichever NAND you end up with. Despite all the uncertainty, consumers still bestow it with 4/5 stars on Amazon, most likely due to the remarkably competitive prices. Storage capacities range from 120GB to 480GB, and prices from $54.99 (reg. $129.99) to $239.99 respectively. Some will say a little extra money in their pocket is worth a little uncertainty in the product—and this SSD is marketed directly to these consumers.
SSD Guide Part I: Why SSD tech is Awesome
In the last two decades, the computing world has seen some radical changes. Graphics cards and processors improve by leaps and bounds each year, dwarfing their predecessors and paving the way for science fiction to become our reality. The future is now, ladies and gentlemen. So why is it that we tether ourselves to the past with old-school hard disk drives?
Enter the solid state drive. Born from sister technology to our flash drives and RAM memory modules, the solid state drive shrugs off the limitations of traditional hard disk drives. Without any moving or magnetic parts, the most obvious difference is that SSDs can reach speeds faster than HDDs by no less than threefold, and often a lot more. Your computer boots up as fast as you can say “I love my solid state drive”, and applications load in a snap.
If your computer was a highway, the poor HDDs putting along in the slow lane would watch the SSDs with envy, as they weave through traffic fast and furious. They accomplish this feat due to the fact that data isn’t being flung around at 7200 odd revolutions per minute on a metal disk like in your HDD. Data can be immediately accessed, with response times below a millisecond because the SSD doesn’t need to wait for the disk sector you’re seeking to come back around on the platter. It goes right up and knocks on the file’s door, shortly before it grabs it by the wrist and throws it into view on your screen. The file, somewhat bewildered, goes along with the entire process because it doesn’t know any better.
But that’s not all that SSDs have on the whirring plates of metal in most computers you encounter. Disk fragmentation is negligible (read: almost nonexistent) for solid state drives. No moving parts means that crashes due to mechanical failure are a happily forgotten memory. Magnets can’t damage the data stored on an SSD, and it’s easier to think green thanks to power usage that’s a fraction of the old HDDs.
Yes, solid state drives are the next big thing. As with all up and coming tech, there is a sea of quality products and sub-par products all competing for your dollar. You need to know which SSD to spend your money on. Which one will revolutionize your digital world? We here at High Ground Gaming are ready to help, as always—doing the footwork and the research so you don’t have to. Feel free to fact check us as we go along, but our goal is your satisfaction.
SSD Guide Part II: Let’s break down the SSD features and components
What exactly is going on under the hood of a SSD? Let’s take a look.
There’s a swath of similar, yet subtly different technologies making up the memory chips for modern SSDs, but the similarities combine to define the user experience. Regardless of which specific memory chip they use, all solid state drives contain what’s known as nonvolatile memory—generally in the form of NAND flash memory chips—which means that data remains in storage after the computer is powered down. This is the distinguishing factor between SSDs and RAM given their similar memory architecture and is akin to the way a flash drive stores data as well. Good news, for those of us who prefer our data to stay where we put it.
Some SSDs use a cache to speed up data access even further. The cache may be volatile or nonvolatile, as the data stored within will be modified and rewritten to the drive after use—a process which is functionally identical to HDDs. This is why even with a SSD, you should save your work and finish your file transfers before yanking the plug. If the cache is nonvolatile, the risk of file loss is significantly diminished, but it’s still a healthy habit to maintain.
There is a variety of SSD form factors available in the market right now, but most likely you’ll be encountering the 2.5” variety in the wild. It’s a standard form factor, chiefly seen with laptop hard drives, but this doesn’t mean SSDs are limited to use in laptop computers. They’re just that much easier to mount in your gaming rig. And, of course, if you want to swap out your laptop HDD for a SSD, it’s a fairly straightforward process.
Performance for an SSD is generally measured by evaluating the drive’s peak performance for reading and writing sequential data in Megabytes per second. Unless stated otherwise, all speeds listed will be of sequential reads and writes, as “random” data access is a far less impressive number, but still a great deal faster than your traditional hard disk drive.
Each SSD uses a host interface to connect with your system and swap data. Just like its slower brethren, the most common one at the moment is the Serial ATA (SATA) interface, which most modern motherboards support. Another less common standard is the PCI Express (PCIe) interface—gaining ground rapidly as of late because it allows for greater transfer rates than SATA, though it’s generally only used for servers or businesses because of the cost. Due to the SSD Interface comparison, we predict that PCIe will trend positively in the next decade or so. Until then, you should be fine with SATA.
Capacity is likely one of your biggest concerns in upgrading to a solid state drive, and rightfully so. Though market prices are steadily decreasing as storage volumes increase in turn, it’s still significantly more expensive to load up your rig with an SSD as opposed to an economical HDD. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether the blazing fast read/writes are worth the storage trade off. One common trick is to simply build a hybrid machine—a high capacity HDD and an SSD in the same rig, storing your off-games or work on the HDD and leaving the SSD for the operating system and your favorite games of the moment.
In the interest of full disclosure, we have to talk about a few SSD features which can be considered weaknesses as opposed to strengths. Due to the nature of nonvolatile flash memory, each block can only be read or written to a certain number of times before it is rendered inaccessible. Now, this number is generally high enough that the average user—even the average gamer—won’t realistically reach it in the lifetime of their rig, but nevertheless it bears mentioning. In addition, blocks continue to hold the data written into them until they receive a command to wipe it, which hitting the delete button is not. As a result, SSDs can bog down with extended use as well. Luckily, there’s a built in feature known as TRIM which can reset a sector for proper use, as long as it is still able to accept read/writes. So, for all your science-y types out there crunching numbers to run your simulations of the observable universe for months on end, realize that you may hit one of these walls eventually. Backups are your friend—so is the TRIM command. Hey, we’re nothing if not honest.
SSD Guide Part III: The Benefits of an SSD for Gaming
Let’s recap the benefits of SSDs.
- Full-throttle speed: Tired of watching loading screens? Tired of extended family complaining about how long Word takes to start? Computer boot time, file swaps, loading applications—it’s just saved time any way you slice it.
- Put more junk in the trunk: The average SSD storage size is rising almost on a monthly basis. It isn’t as easy these days to say that size is the limiting factor, with 500GB+ drives popping up faster than Rattata on Route 1. (Yes, we mean Kanto. FireRed/LeafGreen master race!)
- Life as long as an Elf: They’re extremely reliable, with no moving parts to jam up the workings. You’re only limited by the number of read/writes to individual sectors before they fail—which, real talk now, is a huge number. The number is bigger than Justin Bieber’s ego.
- Save the world: They’re eco-friendly, and it would be super easy to throw one of them into your rig or laptop right now! Just remember to recycle your old drive responsibly.
A fancy new SSD might be the final part you need for your nutritious breakfast. Or your less nutritious computer. Of course, if you don’t like the idea of slaving a drive (running your old drive in tandem with your new one), you can always move data off of your old one. We’re conveniently glossing over the process for imaging a drive for transfer—but who really cares about that? We kid, here’s a handy guide. You want fast, SSDs got fast.
Best SSD for Gaming: Wrap Up
Solid state drives are still an emerging technology. They improve by leaps and bounds, speeds and capacities growing concurrently, while consumers reap the benefits. As with all technology, there are good seeds and bad seeds aplenty vying for your hard earned cash. Hopefully we were able to clear the fog a bit, and set you on the right track toward a satisfying purchase. If nothing else, use our recommendations as a starting point to research and discover other options that may better suit your needs. Now that you know a NAND from a SATA interface, comparing and contrasting disparate SSDs should be a walk in the park. Don’t forget to TRIM, and tip your waiters and waitresses. You’ve been a great crowd. We’ll see you next time.