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: March 2021
A solid state drive is often the most important component for making a PC feel fast and responsive; any PC still using a mechanical hard drive as its primary storage is long overdue for an upgrade. The SSD market is broader than ever, with a wide range prices, performance and form factors.
SSD prices are trending up this month as the semiconductor shortages have begun to noticeably affect the retail SSD market. This is a little different from other shortages that have hit the SSD market in recent years: NAND flash memory is not what’s in short supply but rather SSD controllers, PMICs and other chips that are fighting for limited fab capacity; NAND flash is manufactured in its own special-purpose fabs. Fortunately the effects are minor so far: increases of a few dollars here and there. Many of the affected products are showing limited supply but not major price increases. We’ve tried to avoid listing prices for products that are backordered by more than a week or two.
It’s almost time for us to drop 250GB drives from the guides. In some market segments they’re now only a few dollars cheaper than 500GB class drives, which will tend to be faster as well as offering more headroom for a modest media library or a few games.
|March 2021 SSD Recommendations|
|Entry-level NVMe||Inland Platinum 2TB||$182.99 (9¢/GB)|
|Mainstream NVMe||Mushkin Pilot-E 1TB||$109.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Mainstream 2.5″ SATA||WD Blue 3D 2TB||$199.99 (10¢/GB)|
|M.2 SATA||WD Blue 3D M.2 2TB||$199.99 (10¢/GB)|
|Extreme Capacity||ADATA XPG SX8100 4TB||$399.99 (10¢/GB)|
|Samsung 860 EVO 4TB||$449.99 (11¢/GB)|
Above are some recommendations of good deals in each market segment. Some 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.
|March 2021 SSD Recommendations: Price to Beat, ¢/GB|
|Market Segment||256 GB||512 GB||1 TB||2 TB||4 TB|
|Budget 2.5″ SATA||13 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||9 ¢/GB||9 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB|
|Mainstream 2.5″ SATA||16 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||12 ¢/GB|
|Entry-level NVMe||15 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||15 ¢/GB|
|Mainstream NVMe||18 ¢/GB||13 ¢/GB||12 ¢/GB||12 ¢/GB||18 ¢/GB|
|Premium NVMe||32 ¢/GB||20 ¢/GB||17 ¢/GB||17 ¢/GB||20 ¢/GB|
|M.2 SATA||16 ¢/GB||13 ¢/GB||11 ¢/GB||10 ¢/GB|
As always, the prices and recommendations here are a mere snapshot of the market at the time of writing, based on major North American online retailers. The best deals in each market segment can change on a day to day basis, and availability of specific models and capacities can be unpredictable.
Entry-level NVMe: Inland Platinum (QLC)
The entry-level NVMe SSD market segment consists of drives that make significant technological compromises to cut costs. This is where we classify all the DRAMless NVMe SSDs and those using QLC NAND. For the most part these drives all offer better real-world performance than mainstream SATA SSDs, and with little or no price premium. Most of these drives use 4-channel controllers, but a few have 8-channel controllers which help them reach sequential transfer speeds closer to what we expect from mainstream NVMe drives.
This is the most technologically diverse segment of the consumer SSD market, since there are so many viable ways to cut costs while still offering much higher performance than SATA drives are capable of providing.
|240-256 GB||480-512 GB||960 GB-1 TB||2 TB|
TLC, DRAMless, 8ch
|$37.99 (15¢/GB)||$57.99 (11¢/GB)||$102.99 (10¢/GB)||$209.99 (10¢/GB)|
|$37.99 (15¢/GB)||$57.99 (12¢/GB)||$99.99 (10¢/GB)||$189.99 (9¢/GB)|
|$49.99 (20¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)|
|$44.99 (18¢/GB)||$60.54 (12¢/GB)||$116.24 (12¢/GB)|
|WD Blue SN550
|$46.92 (19¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)||$224.99 (11¢/GB)|
|$96.99 (10¢/GB)||$182.99 (9¢/GB)|
|$58.80 (12¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)||$224.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket Q
|$64.99 (13¢/GB)||$109.98 (11¢/GB)||$219.98 (11¢/GB)|
|Intel SSD 670p
|$69.99 (14¢/GB)||$129.99 (13¢/GB)||$249.99 (12¢/GB)|
The new Intel SSD 670p is continuing a trend started by the QLC drives with the Phison E12 controller: low-end NVMe drives that nevertheless offer peak performance that saturates a PCIe 3.0 x4 connection. It looks like many of the remaining drives that top out around 2.4GB/s or less will be pushed out of the market this year, replaced by entry-level drives with a newer generation of controllers. But for the moment, the 670p’s class-leading performance comes at prices that are squarely in the middle of the mainstream NVMe market segment . The older, slower QLC and DRAMless TLC drives still offer adequate performance and meaningful savings.
For larger capacities, the Inland Platinum is one of the cheapest QLC drives that isn’t also DRAMless. For capacities below 1TB, the WD Blue SN550 remains one of the best-performing DRAMless TLC drives, but the Kingston A2000 with TLC and DRAM can often be found for almost as cheap.
Mainstream NVMe: Mushkin Pilot-E
SSD performance that more or less saturates a PCIe 3 x4 interface is now pretty standard. This market segment has the most lively competition and a wide range of options. These drives all use TLC NAND and most use 8-channel controllers, so they’re all plenty fast for almost any consumer use case. Many drives that were top of the line one or two years ago are still available at greatly reduced prices.
A lot of models in this segment that have been on the market for a long time have unfortunately seen silent changes to their components. Updating from 64L to 96L TLC is usually nothing to complain about, but some of the controller changes really should have been introduced with new models. Switching from 256Gbit to 512Gbit TLC dies can also lower performance, especially for the lower-capacity drives. Many of the cheaper drives based around the Phison E12 controller have switched to the more compact E12S variant and reduced the amount of DRAM, which hurts performance a bit on the heaviest workloads. Some drives based on the Silicon Motion SM2262(EN) controllers have also seen tweaks that may hurt performance a bit. A few brands have even taken the more drastic step of switching between SMI and Phison controllers without renaming the product—we’ve seen kind of behavior before in cheaper market segments, but it’s a new low for this market segment.
Ultimately, none of these unannounced hardware changes make any of these drives no longer suitable for inclusion in this category. The performance changes are minor and seldom noticeable in real-world usage. What we’re seeing is really a result of the competition for the performance crown moving into the PCIe 4.0 space. SSD makers are much less focused on performance for their PCIe 3.0 products now and are making very reasonable compromises to deliver more affordable products. The only problem here is the lack of transparency.
|240-256 GB||480-512 GB||960 GB-1 TB||2 TB|
|ADATA XPG SX8100||$39.99 (16¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$109.99 (11¢/GB)||$229.99 (11¢/GB)|
|ADATA XPG Gammix S50 Lite
|$139.99 (14¢/GB)||$259.99 (13¢/GB)|
|Inland Premium||$39.99 (16¢/GB)||$61.99 (12¢/GB)||$113.99 (11¢/GB)||$221.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Mushkin Pilot-E||$43.99 (18¢/GB)||$64.99 (13¢/GB)||$109.99 (11¢/GB)||$212.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Samsung 970 EVO Plus||$58.66 (23¢/GB)||$79.99 (16¢/GB)||$164.99 (16¢/GB)||$319.99 (16¢/GB)|
|SK hynix Gold P31||$74.99 (15¢/GB)||$134.99 (13¢/GB)|
|WD Black SN750||$49.99 (20¢/GB)||$62.99 (13¢/GB)||$129.99 (13¢/GB)||$293.73 (15¢/GB)|
The Silicon Motion SM2262EN controller with TLC NAND is still one of the best combinations for good real-world performance at low prices. Mushkin’s Pilot-E is usually one of the cheapest such drives. More premium options that offer better performance on the most demanding workloads, or drives like the very power-efficient SK hynix Gold P31 are a clear step up in price, but still more accessible than premium PCIe Gen4 drives.
Premium NVMe: Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus
Until recently we recommended holding off on purchases from this market segment, but now there are several options available from the second wave of PCIe gen4 drives. The Samsung 980 PRO and ADATA’s XPG Gammix S70 with the Innogrit Rainier controller both come with some performance caveats, so drives based on the Phison E18 controller or the WD Black SN850 are generally the fastest options. Sabrent and Corsair have led the way in shipping their E18 drives, and several other options are on the way. Meanwhile, older Gen4 drives based on the Phison E16 controller are starting to get down to the upper end of the mainstream NVMe price range.
|240-280 GB||480-512 GB||960 GB-1 TB||2 TB|
|ADATA XPG Gammix S70||$199.99 (20¢/GB)||$399.99 (20¢/GB)|
|$174.99 (17¢/GB)||$339.90 (17¢/GB)|
|Silicon Power US70||$159.99 (16¢/GB)||$319.99 (16¢/GB)|
|Samsung 970 PRO||$158.46 (31¢/GB)||$249.99 (24¢/GB)|
|Samsung 980 PRO||$79.99 (32¢/GB)||$127.02 (25¢/GB)||$199.99 (20¢/GB)||$429.99 (21¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus||$199.98 (20¢/GB)||$399.99 (20¢/GB)|
|WD Black SN850||$119.99
|$229.99 (23¢/GB)||$399.99 (20¢/GB)|
|WD Black AN1500||$299.99 (30¢/GB)||$552.99 (28¢/GB)|
The Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus with the Phison E18 controller is among the cheapest and fastest of the second-wave PCIe 4.0 drives, and it’s the first to offer a 4TB option. The earlier Sabrent Rocket 4.0 is also the cheapest Phison E16 + TLC drive at the moment.
The SATA SSD market is unsurprisingly pretty stagnant. It’s becoming increasingly common for manufacturers to silently update the NAND in SATA SSDs without changing the product name, which is why products like the Crucial MX500 are still around with no successor on the horizon. While in the past we have strongly criticized this kind of silent swapping of components, a straightforward update from 64L to 96L flash doesn’t have much impact on performance of SSDs that are already constrained by the SATA interface. We continue to condemn any invisible product updates that swap TLC for QLC or switch to a DRAMless SSD architecture.
Options for high-capacity multi-TB consumer SSDs are increasing, with some product lines now going all the way up to 8TB. But at the opposite end, we’re seeing disappointing prices on 256GB models: for quite a while they’ve been more expensive on a per-GB basis than 512GB and 1TB models, but that gap is widening. As with 120GB models, these lower capacities are starting to be left behind as flash memory technology pushes for higher capacities. These drives are still fine options for users with modest capacity and performance requirements, but stepping up to a 500+GB model is now usually very cheap.
Mainstream 2.5″ SATA: Samsung 860 EVO
We consider mainstream SATA SSDs to be those that use TLC NAND and have DRAM buffers. These offer performance and reliability that’s a step above budget models with DRAMless controllers or QLC NAND (or both). We don’t bother making recommendations for those budget-oriented models, because the right answer is usually just whatever’s cheapest at the time, and with many of those products it’s impossible to keep track of what kind of components they’re using from one month to the next.
|240-256GB||480-512GB||1 TB||2 TB||4 TB|
|Samsung 870 EVO||$39.99 (16¢/GB)||$64.99 (13¢/GB)||$119.99 (12¢/GB)||$249.99 (12¢/GB)||$479.99 (12¢/GB)|
|Samsung 860 EVO||$49.99 (20¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$109.99 (11¢/GB)||$209.99 (10¢/GB)||$430.06 (11¢/GB)|
|WD Blue 3D NAND||$40.48 (16¢/GB)||$67.68 (14¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)||$199.99 (10¢/GB)||$469.99 (12¢/GB)|
|Crucial MX500||$48.56 (19¢/GB)||$53.99 (11¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)||$214.99 (11¢/GB)|
|SK hynix Gold S31||$43.99 (18¢/GB)||$56.99 (11¢/GB)||$104.99 (10¢/GB)|
Samsung is really the only company left making major announcements of new consumer SATA SSDs. Last year’s 870 QVO introduced the first 8TB consumer SATA SSD, and this year they have also refreshed their TLC product line with the 870 EVO. However, the 860 EVO is still readily available and is a bit cheaper than the 870 EVO, making it a pretty good deal at some capacities. The WD Blue also has generally good pricing, especially for the 2TB model.
Niche Product Segments
M.2 SATA: WD Blue 3D M.2
The M.2 SATA form factor is also on its way out, but isn’t as far gone as mSATA. PC notebook OEMs switched over entirely to M.2 NVMe SSDs over M.2 SATA SSDs for new machines. Even an entry-level DRAMless NVMe SSD allows OEMs to advertise that they’re using NVMe, and for the most part the performance will indeed be better than with a SATA-based SSD. With OEM SSD shipments falling, SSD manufacturers are starting to abandon their M.2 SATA product lines.
The Crucial MX500 M.2 has been discontinued and Samsung has made no mention of a M.2 SATA version of the new 870 EVO, so it’s pretty clear that this form factor has reached end of life. Consumers who need a capacity upgrade for a notebook that doesn’t support NVMe on its M.2 slot should probably upgrade this year while new M.2 SATA drives are still readily available at reasonable prices. The WD Blue 3D is the obvious choice with good pricing for both the 1TB and 2TB models.
|Crucial MX500 M.2||$59.48 (24¢/GB)||$64.99 (13¢/GB)||$114.99 (11¢/GB)|
|Samsung 860 EVO M.2||$39.99 (16¢/GB)||$68.64 (14¢/GB)||$129.99 (13¢/GB)||$249.99 (12¢/GB)|
|WD Blue 3D M.2||$44.99 (18¢/GB)||$69.34 (14¢/GB)||$99.99 (10¢/GB)||$189.99 (9¢/GB)|
|ADATA SU800 M.2||$39.99 (16¢/GB)||$59.99 (12¢/GB)||$102.99 (10¢/GB)|
Extreme Capacities: Inland Platinum or ADATA XPG SX8100
Options for consumer SSDs with capacities beyond 2TB are still few and far between, but this multi-TB market segment is no longer a mere curiosity. There are now at least three major brands offering 8TB QLC SSDs, and several more with 4TB options including some 4TB TLC NVMe SSDs. All of these high-capacity models carry a price-per-GB premium over the more mainstream capacities from the same product lines, and the best performance is usually found on the 1TB or 2TB models. So these models bring significant tradeoffs, and aren’t necessarily the best way to equip a system with an excess of solid-state storage. But for notebooks with only one M.2 slot or other scenarios where the highest per-drive capacities are required, these multi-TB drives offer new possibilities and much lower prices than high-capacity enterprise SSDs.
The hard drive market has generally cleared the way for compatibility with such massive drives. However, as far as we know none of these SSDs have switched to using 4kB sectors by default rather than 512-byte sectors. This means that cloning from a smaller SSD onto a 4TB or 8TB SSD and then expanding the filesystem is generally a straightforward process, but cloning from a 4k-native hard drive onto one of these SSDs may not be an option.
|ADATA XPG SX8100
TLC OR QLC
|$229.99 (11¢/GB)||$399.99 (10¢/GB)|
|$182.99 (9¢/GB)||$479.99 (12¢/GB)|
|$599.99 (15¢/GB)||$1334.99 (17¢/GB)|
|Corsair MP600 CORE
QLC, PCIe Gen4
|$309.99 (15¢/GB)||$644.99 (16¢/GB)|
|$579.99 (14¢/GB)||$1353.79 (17¢/GB)|
|$249.98 (12¢/GB)||$699.99 (17¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket Q
|$219.98 (11¢/GB)||$719.99 (18¢/GB)||$1497.99 (19¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket Q 4.0
QLC, PCIe Gen4
|$279.98 (14¢/GB)||$689.98 (17¢/GB)|
|Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus
TLC, PCIe Gen4
|$399.99 (20¢/GB)||$799.99 (20¢/GB)|
|WD Black AN1500
TLC, PCIe Gen3 x8
|$552.99 (28¢/GB)||$1004.99 (25¢/GB)|
|Samsung 870 QVO
|$199.99 (10¢/GB)||$422.19 (11¢/GB)||$832.19 (10¢/GB)|
|Samsung 860 EVO
|$209.99 (10¢/GB)||$430.06 (11¢/GB)|
|Samsung 870 EVO
|$249.99 (12¢/GB)||$479.99 (12¢/GB)|
|WD Blue 3D
|$199.99 (10¢/GB)||$469.99 (12¢/GB)|
It has been demonstrated that ADATA is mixing TLC and QLC within the XPG SX8100 product family, and that at least the 4TB model is using QLC. We had assumed it was most likely just using low-grade TLC NAND, so the use of QLC makes the drive’s performance even more mediocre than we thought. Still, at $399.99 it’s cheaper than other QLC drives, even SATA models like the Samsung 870 QVO. We also expect that the post-cache write speed on the SX8100 is better than on the 870 QVO. So we’re still recommending the SX8100 as a decent option for an extreme capacity SSD, but it’s a lot easier for other drives to be preferable. In particular, high-capacity drives with the Phison E12 controller and QLC NAND are probably a step up from the QLC-based capacities of the SX8100. The Inland Platinum is one of the cheapest such drives, at about $80 more than the SX8100 for 4TB.
Among SATA drives, the Samsung 860 EVO is the clear winner, with the 4TB model still widely in stock. For systems that need just one big SSD, a NVMe SSD is a better choice, but for datahoarders building a solid-state NAS the 860 EVO is an excellent choice.
We aren’t expecting any new 8TB options in the near future. Even with QLC NAND, 8TB M.2 drives are pretty crowded, which limits controller options and for the moment is preventing PCIe 4.0 drives from reaching 8TB.