When it comes to storing data, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' solution. While cloud storage has become more accessible, we’re still very much dependent on local storage and that’s not changing any time soon. With solid state drives now more affordable and finally mainstream, consumers have a broad a mix of high-performance and high-capacity options to choose from, whether in the form of internal storage, external or network attached. With dozens of hours testing storage devices under our belt in the last year alone, we have a pretty clear idea of what are the top devices you should buy right now, divided into six categories:
- Best SSD (Performance)
- Best SSD (Value)
- Best HDD
- Best Portable Storage
- Best External Storage
- Best Home NAS
Best Performance SSD
The Samsung SSD 960 Pro is hands down the best consumer grade SSD money can buy. Speaking of money, at a cost of at least $0.60 per gigabyte the 960 Pro series isn't cheap. It is however blistering fast and moves data at a rate we had not previously seen in our tests before.
For example, an on-disk 38GB file extraction took just 39 seconds thanks to a sustained throughput of almost 1GB/s. This made the 960 Pro almost 30% faster than Samsung’s previous consumer flagship, the 950 Pro. When compared to Intel’s SSD 750 Series the 960 Pro offered twice the performance in this file extraction test.
The most affordable model in the 960 Pro series will set you back $330, though that lands you 512GBs of storage. The 1TB model that we reviewed comes at $618 which works out to be $0.61 per gigabyte, and the 2TB model will set you back $1,299 or $0.63 per gigabyte.
Frankly right now there is no worthwhile alternative to the Samsung SSD 960 Pro for those seeking maximum performance.
Best Value SSDs
If all you are after is zero-millisecond access times for super snappy responsiveness, then we recommend the very wallet friendly Crucial MX300 series. Available in either 2.5” SATA or M.2 (2280) interfaces not much can match the M300 series in terms of bang for your buck.
The 275GB model currently costs $95 which is a low cost per gigabyte of just 35 cents. They get slightly cheaper per gigabyte as well, with the 525GB model costs just $150, or 29 cents per gigabyte. There are also 1TB and 2TB models as well selling for just $280 and $550, respectively. These prices are up 10% to 25% compared to when we first recommended the series a year ago, but even so the MX300 is still hard to beat.
Truth be told, most users won’t notice any difference in performance between the Crucial MX300 series and say, the new Samsung SSD 960 Evo or even the 960 Pro drive, for the most part. Things like boot up times and game load times will certainly be much the same.
... also great
Another great bang for your buck pick is Samsung’s SSD 960 Evo series, the budget alternative to the 960 Pro series up above and widely popular mainstream drive (read our review here).
The 960 Evo series really isn't that different from the Pro series. The only real change being the use of TLC NAND flash, rather than the costlier MLC NAND. This brings three key differences: a reduced endurance rating, slightly lower performance -- neither of which should worry most users -- and lower costs.
For the most part, the 960 Evo manages to match last generation's 950 Pro, and in areas where the 950 used to show weakness, the 960 Evo shines. Not only that, but the 960 Evo doesn't appear to suffer from throttling under heavy load. The 960 Evo series is slower than the 960 Pro as expected, but not alarmingly so, its lower price makes up for the difference.
The 960 Evo series starts at just $130 for the 250GB model which is a very reasonable $0.52 per gigabyte. Meanwhile the 500GB model costs $250 with the largest model priced at $500 for 1TB of storage.
Best Hard Drives
Buying a mechanical hard drive is more about storage capacity and reliability than performance, but the WD Black 6TB manages to surprise with 220MB/s read and write figures in some benchmarks. That’s almost 50% the performance of today’s fastest SATA 6Gb/s SSDs -- keep in mind we’re comparing a NAND chip versus a 7,200 RPM rotating platter here.
Storage Review conducted some synthetic and real-life tests against hybrid SSHD drives -- the Seagate Desktop SSHD 4TB and WD Blue SSHD Desktop 4TB. Understandably, the WD Black 6TB didn’t always come up on top compared to its NAND-assisted rivals, but it still performed admirably. In synthetic benchmarks the drive had a dominant showing with 214.53MB/s sequential read and 214.91MB/s sequential write speeds, while in an HTPC workload it posted 81.85MB/s and 1,100 IOPS, while average latency was calculated at 7.3ms. Overall it’s a noticeable boost in performance compared to the previous WD Black model with a significant increase in storage.
The drive features an LSI controller, 128MB of DRAM and Dynamic Cache Technology, which improves caching algorithms in real time by allocating and optimizing cache between reads and writes. WD also claims increased reliability and is backing the drive with a 5-year warranty. User reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive as well.
Alternative: Still lots of storage, for less
If you are looking for something to complement that killer-value offered by the Crucial MX300 SSD, then we suggest the WD Blue series. The 3TB model is as small as we would suggest going as you lose quite a bit of value going for 2TB. On the other hand, if you require more space then the 4TB version is also suitable.
Best Portable Storage
There is not a huge difference between the various 3.5" external hard drive solutions that are out there. For those after something big to backup or transfer data, performance likely won't be a huge priority here and something like the Seagate Expansion 3TB or WD My Book 3TB (both USB 3.0) will fit the bill nicely.
For professionals looking to move data quickly or even work off their external storage device then we highly recommend the Samsung T3 series. This portable SSD easily outpaces thumb drives and rival SSDs, runs cool and is super light to boot (our full review is here).
Of course portable SSDs aren’t cheap but the T3 isn’t overpriced either. The 250GB model starts at $118, while the 500GB version will set you back $198. There is also a 1TB model for $380 and you can even get a 2TB model if you can stomach the $759 asking price.
In early April, Western Digital announced the My Passport SSD which is meant to compete with Samsung's T3. It has similar price points and capacities but claims to be slightly faster -- we'll reserve judgement until we try one.
Best External Storage
For those after something big to backup or transfer data, and don't need the performance of an SSD -- or don't want to pay the premium -- Seagate’s Backup Plus Hub delivers ample storage at a great value. The drive comes in massive 4 TB, 6 TB, and 8 TB capacities, and unlike our portable pick it requires its own power, and must be plugged into a wall outlet.
The design is sleek and compact for a full fledged external HDD, while the front-facing USB 3.0 hub is quite useful for charging mobile devices or plugging in flash drives on your desktop.
In terms of performance The Wirecutter compared a version of this drive (same hardware, sans the USB hub) against competing products from Toshiba and Western Digital, and found the Seagate Backup Plus comes ahead in most tests -- average HD Tune read and write speeds were 150.7 MB/s and 135.3 MB/s, respectively.
The bundled Seagate Dashboard interface lets you back up your PC, mobile devices, and photos and video from social media, or to restore an existing backup. Seagate drives have proven reliable over the years, but you can also set up an automatic backup that sends your files to an offsite cloud storage provider, so your data is safe even in the event of a failure or unpredictable events like a natural disaster.
Prices are currently set at $110 for 4TB, $160 for 6TB and $180 for 8TB.
Best Home User NAS
We happen to test more NAS devices that we end up formally reviewing and without question right now the best NAS server for home users and small businesses is the QNAP TS-451A. This network-attached storage device provides an innovative USB QuickAccess port which can be used to quickly complete the first-time NAS installation. Beyond that it can also be used to directly access files and data stored on the NAS, essentially offering conventional DAS-like functionality.
The TS-451A is powered by the very efficient 14nm Intel Celeron N3060 dual-core 1.6GHz processor allowing it to support 4K video playback and transcoding. Bolstering the devices multimedia capabilities is a HDMI output and infrared remote, essentially making this a HTPC replacement.
We recommend saving by getting the 2GB base model and then upgrading the memory yourself, if need be. Starting at ~$475, the TS-451A might seem like a luxury for home users but we feel it’s well worth the investment for those keen on backing up and sharing their data.