With solid state drives now fully mainstream and hard drives being more affordable than ever, there is a broad a mix of high-performance and high-capacity options to choose from in a range of form factors. Fortunately for you, we have spent dozens of hours testing storage, so we have a pretty clear idea about what devices are worth buying. We've divided our picks into six categories based on form factor and need as shown below.
- Best Enthusiast SSD
- Best SATA SSD
- Best Hard Drive
- Best Portable Storage
- Best External Storage
- Best Home NAS
Best Enthusiast NVMe SSD
Update (5/7): Samsung has introduced the new 970 Pro and 970 Evo series of NVMe SSDs with sequential write speeds rated at nearly 30 percent faster than the previous SSD 960 series, and accompanied by a five-year warranty. The drives starting selling just now and now are in the process of reviewing these along with new competing releases from HP and WD (read more about these below).
The SSD 960 Evo showed no faults throughout our testing back in 2016 and its price vs. performance ratio remains largely unparalleled, being even more affordable today at $200 for around 40 cents a gig for the 500GB version. Offering sequential reads and writes of 3,200MB/s and 1,800MB/s, the 960 Evo is available in 250GB, 500GB and 1TB versions, though the smaller drive will cut down on performance, so our buying recommendation exclusively applies to 500GB and larger variants.
Samsung’s latest drives looked rather attractive.Like the more expensive SSD 960 Pro, the 960 Evo is powered by Samsung's Polaris controller coupled with Samsung's 48-layer V-NAND. Although the 960 Evo has been outfitted with TLC memory instead of MLC, the impact on performance is relatively minor with sequential read speeds dropping from 3.5GB/s to 3.2GB/s and write throughput going from 2.1GB/s to 1.9GB/s. In other words, you'd be paying over 20% less for the 960 Evo and yet the impact on performance could be considerably less than that.
All in all, the 960 Evo is blazing fast and with over 18 months in the market and a proven record, it makes us worry far less about TLC memory than ever before, hence our top recommendation for enthusiasts.
Two Impressive Newcomers
Until just recently Samsung offerings' price vs. performance ratio were unmatched, but Western Digital and HP have launched competing M.2 (2280) PCIe 3.0 x4 SSDs featuring their own SSD architecture and newer controllers with specs on par with the SSD 960 series and value that matches or improves upon the Evo. The new WD Black 3D NVMe SSD comes in capacities of 250GB, 500GB and 1TB, reviews paint a pretty picture, and value is there.
Perhaps even more impressive is the HP EX920, also available in 256GB, 512GB and 1TB capacities, with throughput rated at 3200MB/s reads and 1800MB/s writes for the bigger 1TB model. That's the only version of the HP SSD that's been reviewed so far with excellent marks and a super competitive $370 price point on Amazon that compares favorably against the 960 Evo's $449 and the Black 3D's $455 for the same capacity.
We'll be watching these two alternatives closely and see how they behave long-term before we can recommend it on top of the SSD 960 Evo.
For workstations and professionals, the extra oomph and confidence provided by the SSD 960 Pro may be justified at a premium. The 960 Pro offers class-leading M.2 NVMe performance and is also available in 2TB capacities, we just believe most users will be well served by what's offered on the Evo.
Marking a larger jump in performance, Intel's Optane 900p exists as a pricier option if you require extreme performance (and less capacity: 280GB or 480GB). The Optane SSD 900P’s key attributes include incredibly low latency, extended endurance and performance improvements at practical queue depths. Derived from the enterprise-focused DC P4800X, this quasi-consumer drive is speedy, essentially the only drive that is significantly faster than Samsung's SSD 960 Pro overall.
Endurance on the 480GB Optane 900p is rated at an insane 8,760 TBW vs. Samsung’s 2TB SSD 960 Pro 1,200 TBW (terabytes written). Intel's drive costs about twice as much per gigabyte than Samsung's top offering though.
Best Mainstream SATA SSD
New for 2018 and meaning to replace its 3-year-old SATA SSD line, Samsung has added the 860 Evo along with the 860 Pro to its family of consumer-grade solid-state drives. The 860 Evo remains a great value option and is available in capacities of 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, 2TB and 4TB, while boasting sequential read and write speeds of up to 550MB/s and 520MB/s as well as max random read and write speeds of 98K IOPS and 90K IOPS. The previous-gen SSD 850 had already squeezed most it could from the SATA interface, so the speed difference with the new drive is negligible if perhaps more consistent.
You can pick up an 860 Evo in 2.5-inch and mSATA variants and pricing starts at $90 for the 250GB 2.5-inch version, which is our recommendation for a typical build. Both the 860 Evo and 860 Pro use Samsung's MJX controller and V-NAND memory, they are compatible with Samsung's Magician software for management purposes, and they are backed by a five-year warranty or up to 2,400TB written.
A Wallet-Friendly Alternative
Another proven option for an affordable SATA SSD is the wallet-friendly Crucial MX500. Based on Micron's 64-layer 3D TLC NAND and available in 2.5” SATA or M.2 interfaces, most users won’t notice any difference in performance between the MX500 and the SSD 860 Evo or even the 860 Pro. So if you want to save a few bucks, Crucial's drives are usually found at a discount and they're a safe bet for a snappy SSD.
Best Hard Drive
After updating its branding in 2015, Western Digital now has three HDD families: Blue, for entry-level drives; Red, for NAS systems and long-term reliability; and Black, for ultimate performance from a spinning disk drive. The company's Green drives were dropped from the lineup and WD's slower drives were incorporated into the Blue family.
The branding changes have already come into effect at most retailers, but make sure you look at the model when purchasing a Blue drive to ensure you're getting the desired performance. That said, raw storage capacity is the main reason for considering a conventional hard drive and you won't be seeing blistering speeds regardless with a mechanical drive.
It's also that realization which resulted in us choosing the WD Blue series over the company's faster but pricier Black drives ($45 vs. $72 for 1TB, while our recommended 3TB Blue is $92 and works out to be a better overall value than the cheapest one).
We figure those of you who need an HDD to store tons of 4K videos, photos, and games, but you also care about performance, you might as well step up to Seagate's Barracuda Pro, which is the largest consumer hard drive you can buy with capacities ranging from 2TB ($120) on up to 12TB ($440) and offers a maximum sustained transfer rate of more than 200MB/s.
Best Portable Storage
Starting at $125 for 250GB of portable solid-state storage, Samsung's T5 series has set the bar for external USB 3.1 SSDs, offering read and write speeds of up to 540MB/s, a three year warranty and AES 256-bit hardware encryption with software that is a snap to set up.
The device is encased in metal and is compact enough that it can fit in the palm of your hand or thrown in your pocket, measuring less than 3x3x0.5". Compatible with Windows, macOS and Android, the T5 should allow you to expand the storage of any device with a USB port.
Between its compact size, sub-$0.50/GB pricing and top-end performance, the T5 has yet to be bested in this form factor. Do note however that is you want the best performance possible (especially for sequential writes) the larger 500GB version and above are faster than the base 250GB offering.
Best External Hard Drive
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 NAS
Networked Attached Storage (NAS) devices have become affordable enough for home users to consider purchasing if they are looking for a home file server/media center. Synology makes it easy to migrate data to and from other locations and the company's software now provides a ton of apps for anything you might require from this sort of setup (media streaming, file sharing, home surveillance, etc.)
Pricing for the 4-bay DS418play without any drives begins at $425 while options for bundled storage start at 2TB for $585 and go on up to 10TB for more than $1,000. Regardless of the package you buy, specs include a dual-core Intel J3355 processor with support for dual-channel transcoding, 2GB of DDR3-1866 memory (expandable to 6GB), and encrypted sequential throughput of up to 226MB/s on reads and 185MB/s on writes.
If you wind up buying the drive-less DS418play, Synology offers a list of drives that are compatible with it.