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One of the most cost effective ways to upgrade a computer or console is with solid state storage. Faster flash drives will make your desktop or laptop feel snappier with shorter operating system and application load times. The best part is that we’re at a point where you don’t have to choose between speed and capacity—the latest SSDs offer both. Whether you’re looking to replace an old hard drive or upgrade the capacity of your existing SSD, this guide will help you navigate all the intricacies of buying a modern flash drive. Don’t know the difference between an NVMe and M.2 drive? Don’t worry, Engadget has you covered.
What to look for in a PC SSD
The cheapest way to add fast storage to a computer is with a 2.5-inch SATA drive. It’s also one of the easiest if you don’t want to worry about compatibility, as almost every computer made in the last two decades will include a motherboard with Serial ATA connections. For that reason, 2.5-inch SSDs are a great way to extend the life of an older PC. Installation is also easy. Once you’ve secured the SSD in a drive cage, all you need to do is connect it to your motherboard and power supply.
The only downside to SATA drives is that they are slower than their NVMe counterparts, with SATA III limiting data transfers to 600MB/s. But even the slowest SSD is significantly faster than the best mechanical drives. And since 1TB SATA SSDs cost around $100, they’re a good choice for mass storage.
If your PC is newer, it most likely includes space for one or more M.2 SSDs. The form factor represents your ticket to the fastest possible consumer storage on the market, but the tricky part is navigating all the different standards involved.
M.2 drives can feature a SATA or PCIe connection. SSDs with the latter are known as non-volatile memory drives, or NVMe, and are significantly faster than their SATA counterparts, with Gen3 models offering sequential write speeds of up to 3,000 MB/s. You can get twice the performance with a Gen4 SSD, but you’ll need a standard-compliant motherboard and processor.
If you’re running an AMD system, that means a Ryzen 3000 or 5000 CPU and an X570 or B550 motherboard. With Intel, meanwhile, you’ll need an 11th or 12th generation processor and a Z490, Z590, or Z690 motherboard. Keep in mind that you’ll pay a small premium for a Gen4 SSD.
You may have also seen something about Gen 5 NVMe drives. You can safely ignore them for now. At the moment, only Intel 12th Gen desktop CPUs support PCIe 5 and there are no Gen5 NVMe SSDs on the market. We’ll see the first ones arrive alongside AMD’s next-gen Ryzen 7000 processors later this year, but if the price of the first Gen4 units is any indication, they’ll be expensive.
As for why you’d buy an M.2 SATA drive instead of a 2.5-inch drive with similar specs, it all comes down to ease of installation. Add M.2 storage to your computer by installing the SSD directly on the motherboard. That may sound intimidating, but in practice the process involves a single screw that you first remove to connect the drive to your computer, then retighten to secure the SSD in place. As a bonus, there are no cables involved, making cable management easy.
Please note that you can install an M.2 SATA SSD into an M.2 slot with a PCIe connection, but you cannot insert an M.2 NVMe SSD into an M.2 slot with a SATA connection. Unless you want to continue using an older M.2 drive, there’s little reason to take advantage of that feature. Speaking of backwards compatibility, it’s also possible to use a Gen4 drive over a PCIe 3 connection, but you won’t get any of the speed benefits of faster NVMe.
One last thing to consider is that M.2 drives come in different physical sizes. From shortest to longest, common options are 2230, 2242, 2260, 2280, and 22110. (The first two numbers represent width in millimeters, the last number indicates length.) For the most part, you don’t have to worry about that. since 2280 is the default for many motherboards and manufacturers. Some boards can support more than one size of NVMe thanks to multiple standoffs. That said, check your computer’s documentation before purchasing a drive to make sure you’re not trying to install one that isn’t supported.
The best buying advice I can offer is don’t get too caught up in being on the cutting edge of storage technology. The sequential read and write speeds you see listed by manufacturers on their drives are theoretical. Actually, the real-world differences between different SSDs aren’t as noticeable as you might think.
If your budget forces you to choose between a 1TB NVMe Gen3 model and a 512GB Gen4 model, go for the former. From a practical standpoint, the worst thing you can do is buy a unit that is too small for your needs. Units can slow down drastically as they get closer to capacity, and you’ll probably end up buying a higher capacity one in the future.
With all that boring stuff out of the way, here are some recommendations.
Best 2.5-inch SATA drive: Crucial MX500
You don’t have to look far to find the best all-in-one 2.5-inch SSD. Is he Crucial MX500. With sequential read speeds of 560MB/s and a price of $85 for the 1TB model, it offers a combination of performance and value that’s hard to beat. It also comes with a five-year warranty for added peace of mind.
Buy MX500 (1TB) on Amazon – $100
Best PCIe 3.0 M.2: Samsung 970 EVO Plus
the 970 EVO more it’s a great choice for anyone buying their first Gen3 NVMe. It comes in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB varieties, all of which are competitively priced. Expect to pay around $70 for the 500GB model, $100 for the 1TB version, and $190 for the 2TB one. Samsung SSDs also have a solid reputation for reliability.
Buy 970 EVO Plus (1TB) on Amazon – $100
A more affordable Gen3 NVME: Crucial P2
If the 970 EVO Plus is out of your budget but you still want an NVMe drive, the Crucial P2 is a compelling option. It’s slightly slower than Samsung’s M.2 drive, offering sequential read speeds of up to 2,400MB/s instead of 3,500MB/s, but it’s significantly cheaper. Crucial offers the P2 in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB variants.
Buy Crucial P2 (1TB) on Amazon – $85
One SATA option: WD Blue SA510
If you have an older computer but still want to take advantage of the M.2 form factor, consider the WD Blue SA510. It’s slower than the previous two options, but the price is comparable to what you’d pay for a 2.5-inch drive.
Buy WD Blue SA510 (1TB) on Amazon – $110
Best Gen4 NVME: Crucial P5 Plus
If you have the necessary hardware and the money to spare, it’s hard to beat the Crucial P5 Plus. With 6600MB/s sequential read speeds, it’s not the absolute fastest Gen4 NVMe you can buy, but it offers the best value. The P5 Plus comes in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB varieties. The WD Black SN850 that we recommend below in the console section is also a great choice.
Buy Crucial P5 Plus (1TB) on Amazon – $100
What to look for in portable and USB flash drives
Portable SSDs are a somewhat different beast than their internal siblings. While read and write speeds are important, they are almost secondary to how a drive connects to your PC. You will not get the most out of a model like the SanDisk Extreme Pro V2 without a USB 3.2 Gen 2 x 2 connection. Even among newer PCs, that’s a premium feature. For that reason, most people are better off buying a portable drive with a USB 3.2 Gen 2 or Thunderbolt 3 connection. The former offers transfer speeds of up to 10 Gbps.
Also, if you plan to drive on trips and commutes, it is worth buying a waterproof and dustproof IP-certified model. Some companies like Samsung offer rugged versions of their most popular units. For added peace of mind, 256-bit AES hardware encryption will help prevent anyone from accessing your data if your drive is ever lost or misplaced.
Some of the same features make for a great USB stick. The best models have USB 3.0 connections and some kind of hardware encryption.
Best Portable Drive: Samsung T7
For most people, the samsung t7 offers the perfect combination of features, performance and affordability. The company offers the T7 in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB varieties and three different colors. It’s also relatively fast, offering sequential read speeds of up to 1050 MB/s. Best of all, you can often find it on sale.
Buy Samsung T7 (1TB) on Amazon – $140
Best USB Flash Drive: Samsung Fit Plus
Another Samsung pick here for good reason. the fit plus It has all the features you could want in a USB drive. It connects to your computer via USB 3.1 and supports transfer speeds of up to 300MB/s. The Fit Plus is also compact and has a handy slot to attach it to your key chain. The only drawback of the Samsung USB drive is that it is expensive.
Buy Samsung Fit Plus (256GB) on Amazon – $36
A note on console storage
Fortunately, equipping your fancy new console with the fastest possible storage is a lot easier than doing the same thing on PC. With a Series X or Series S, the conversation begins and ends with Seagate Storage Expansion Cards. The company offers 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB models, with the most affordable starting at a not-so-trivial $139. The good news is that you can often find them on sale. Your best bet is to set up an alert for the model you want on a price tracker like camelcamelcamel.
With Sony’s PlayStation 5, upgrading the console’s internal storage is a bit more complicated. Instead of employing a proprietary solution, the PS5 uses NVMe storage. Fortunately, there aren’t as many potential settings as you’d find on a PC. Engadget published a comprehensive guide on buying a PS5 SSD last year. In short, your best bet is a Gen4 drive with a built-in heatsink. Check out that guide for a full list of recommendations, but for quick access, consider the Western Digital SN850. It meets all memory specs for Sony’s latest console and won’t have any heatsink clearance issues. Western Digital offers 500GB, 1TB and 2TB models of the SN850. Expect to pay around $150 for the 1TB variant and around $260 for the 2TB.
For those still playing on a previous-gen console, you can get slightly faster load times from a PlayStation 4 by swapping the included hard drive to a 2.5-inch SSD, but going all out to do so probably isn’t worth it. the sorrow. this point and you’re better off saving your money for one of the newer consoles.