Fast storage is now a commodity, and hopefully it will only get bigger and faster in the years to come. For new builds, NVMe drives are the norm, with prices close to those of SATA SSDs and file transfer speeds that are several times higher. For legacy systems, SATA SSDs offer a great upgrade option with app load times similar to NVMe drives. Yet, if you want to save a huge library of files that you open one by one, traditional hard drives still offer the best value.
Another consideration to make is whether you can install the drive inside your PC or laptop, or you are willing to give up some performance in favor of the ability to carry the drive with you. Our best storage picks are divided into six categories based on form factor and intended use as presented below.
- Best High-Performance SSD
- Best Mainstream SSD
- Best Hard Drive
- Best Portable Storage
- Best External Storage
- Best Home NAS
Best High-Performance Enthusiast SSD
With Micron's 176-layer TLC flash, the Seagate FireCuda 530 offers sustained write speeds up to twice as fast as those of other popular PCIe 4.0 drives. In shorter transfers, the drive saturates the PCIe 4.0 interface with speeds up to about 7,000 MB/s. The Phison E18 controller is no longer among the most efficient, but in terms of pure random performance it still puts up a fight.
Two things set the Seagate drive apart even from drives that use the same components, such as the Kingston KC3000, Corsair MP600 Pro XT, and the current version of the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus. The first is an endurance rating of 2,550 terabytes written (TBW) for the 2TB version, compared to about 1,500 in its competitors. The other is a 3-year data recovery service, in addition to the 5-year warranty -- a worthy addition when the data on your drive is worth more to you than the drive itself.
The 2TB version, which writes faster than the smaller-capacity ones, starts at $240, and for $10 more you'll get an elegant heatsink. The 1TB version is almost as fast for half the price, but the 500GB version is significantly slower, possibly creating bottlenecks even when writing from a PCIe 3.0 drive. A 4TB version is also available.
Best for Gamers: WD Black SN850X
Western Digital has improved upon the SN850 Black in every possible way with the new SN850X, which now costs the same at $230 for 2TB. Maximum write speeds have been raised to become bus-saturating from about 5GB/s in the previous model. Sustained writes are also much more consistent in speed.
On top of that, power efficiency and idle consumption are greatly improved, but if you plan on copying hundreds of GBs at once, you'll want the version with the heatsink. Once PC games start taking advantage of the DirectStorage API, the drive's Game Mode 2.0 may become valuable.
Two Great Alternatives: SK Hynix and Samsung
The SK Hynix Platinum P41 performs similarly to the SN850X, while being even more efficient. It's normally more expensive at $260 for 2TB, but we've already seen it for as little as $170 on a sale. It doesn't offer a specifically made heatsink, but in a laptop you may not have the space for one anyway.
The Samsung 990 Pro offers record-breaking random read performance for an M.2 drive and bus-saturating sequential performance. In long writes it's actually slower than the older 980 Pro, but that's for a reason: the drive remains much cooler than the competition when used without a heatsink, making it a prime candidate for laptops.
Like the SN850X, the drive's Full Power Mode is designed to utilize DirectStorage. The main problem is the price: $290 for 2TB is more expensive than the competition above, but on a sale the drive is just as good and appealing as the choices above.
Best for Old Systems: Western Digital AN1500
If you have an older PC that doesn't have PCIe 4.0 support or even an M.2 slot, you can still enjoy PCIe 4.0 speeds: the Western Digital AN1500 connects to your motherboard similarly to a graphics card, and uses eight PCIe 3.0 lanes, enabling a reading speed of 6,500 MB/s, almost like the best drives that use four PCIe 4.0 lanes.
The listed writing speed of about 4,000 MB/s is less impressive, but still better than any M.2 PCIe 3.0 drive. In long writes the AN1500 actually rivals the FireCuda 530, but consumes much more power in the process. At $281 for 2TB it's close in price to the best M.2 SSDs, and way cheaper than buying a CPU and a motherboard with PCIe 4.0 support alongside a similarly performing drive.
Best Mainstream SSD
If your motherboard or CPU only supports PCIe 3.0, or you don't transfer large files often, you can save some money going with a high-quality PCIe 3.0 SSD, and the Samsung 970 Evo Plus is the best of them.
Unlike the newer Samsung 980 (non-Pro), the Evo Plus has on-board DRAM, so its performance won't degrade as you fill it up. Also, unlike other drives, it uses TLC flash, so it won't slow down to a crawl if you fill a large portion of its free space at once.
The 970 Evo Plus nearly saturates the PCIe 3.0 interface with 3,500 MB/s and 3,200 MB/s read and write speeds, respectively. The 2TB version offers the best value at $160, but the 1TB and 500GB versions are decent options at $100 and $60, respectively.
If your system does support PCIe 4.0, the Samsung 980 Pro is a nice step up at $180 for 2TB, $110 for 1TB, and $80 for 500GB. A good alternative is the similarly performing but less efficient Crucial P5 Plus.
A Trusted SATA Alternative for Older PCs and Laptops
The always wallet-friendly Crucial MX500 is a proven affordable option if you want to upgrade an older PC that only supports the SATA interface. This group of consumer-grade SSDs is a great option for all kinds of uses, laptop upgrades, builders, and at this point even storage capacity upgrades.
The best performing SATA drives squeezed the most they could from the interface years ago, so the speed differences are minor between the top models. Currently, you can buy a 1TB Crucial drive for about $80, or half a terabyte for $55.
Best Hard Drive
With SSDs reaching a nice level of affordability, we can't recommend any mechanical hard drive to be used as main system storage. But if you want a secondary drive with a ton of storage, Seagate IronWolf NAS drives remain unbeatable.
The IronWolf drives are state of the art as far as consumer hard drives go, leveraging PMR (perpendicular magnetic recording) platters running at 7,200 RPM to cram up to 18 terabytes of data in a regular 3.5-inch form factor drive.
Being NAS-optimized drives, the IronWolf series doesn't come cheap for a disk drive as it's designed to withstand performance-intensive workloads involving constant read/write operations for days on end. They are, however, more reliable as a result, come in higher capacities, and perform well (for a hard drive).
In case you were wondering, higher-end series like the IronWolf Pro and Exos are meant for larger servers and prioritize vibration resistance over performance.
You can find IronWolf HDDs in capacities of 1/2/3TB (5,900 RPM, 256MB cache), 6TB (5,600RPM, 256MB cache) and 8/10/12/16/18TB (7,200 RPM, 256MB cache). Moreover, these drives utilize conventional magnetic recording (CMR) technology instead of "shingled magnetic recording" (SMR), so you won't get the write performance penalty associated with SMR, which manufacturers employ to produce cheaper, denser disks. Inevitably, this also means paying a small premium over budget drives. For example, an 8TB IronWolf drive will set you back around $160, while an identical capacity Barracuda can be had for $120.
A Worthy Alternative: WD Red Plus
WD added a 'Plus' tier to its Red series of 3.5-inch NAS HDDs following the SMR/CMR controversy. These CMR drives have been competitively priced with Seagate's IronWolf across their entire range of 2/3/4/6/8/10/12/14TB models. There are, however, minor spec differences between the two, including RPM speeds and cache size.
WD's Red Plus drives offer more cache in the lower-capacity models, but the Seagate IronWolf range come with a 5-year warranty, unlike WD's 3-year warranty for the Red Plus series.
HDD Budget Option
If you simply want an inexpensive, barebones HDD, the Seagate Barracuda line has a variety of options to get you the most storage for your money. A capacious 2TB model can be had for just $50, or you can double the space with the $68 4TB version. The Barracuda is also available in 1TB, 3TB, 6TB, and 8TB variants.
The 2TB model of the Barracuda is the sweet spot in terms of speed, spinning at 7,200 RPM and 256MB of cache. The 1TB model spins at the same speed, but only includes 64MB of cache. The 3TB and above models slow down to 5400 RPM, but we think that's reasonable for the price. A larger cache is useful for storing frequently used files without needing to keep them on the slower disk.
Best Portable Storage
Having speedy storage on the go can be a lifesaver in some situations and a routine requirement in others. External drive enclosures will let you turn your internal drive into an external one (and vice versa in the future), offering features such as USB-3.2 ("Gen 2 x 2") or Thunderbolt-4 speeds, fingerprint readers and water/shock resistance. Yet, if you want a new storage device, "all-in-one" external drives offer a good value these days.
The Samsung T7 Shield is a great example. Provided you have USB 3.1 (or "3.2 Gen 2 x 1") connector, you'll get up to 1,050 MB/s reads and 1,000 MB/s writes that remain surprisingly consistent in sustained workloads, unlike the original T7. The 2TB version is currently the better value at $150, while the 1TB one goes for $100.
The current version of the Sandisk Extreme Portable performs similarly and costs the same for the 2TB and 1TB versions, but is rated for P55 water/dust resistance and 2-meter drops, compared to the T7 Shield's P65 and 3 meters.
Need for Speed
On-the-move professionals and enthusiasts looking to transfer hundreds of gigabytes of data regularly would fare off better with faster, costlier options like SanDisk's Extreme Pro, whose USB 3.2 (Gen 2 x 2) can reach up to 2,000 MB/s, or the company's Thunderbolt-3 capable Professional Pro-G40 with blazingly fast 3,100 MB/s reads and 2,700 MB/s writes.
The rest, however, will find the T7 Shield or the Sandisk Extreme Portable easily meeting their expectations, if not exceeding them.
Best External Hard Drive
The cost and capacity advantages of mechanical hard drives become more appealing when it comes to storing data outside of your PC. Backups, media, and other important files can often take terabytes of space and need to be stored externally for safety. If you want the most reliable external drive, you should put one of our recommended internal drives inside an external enclosure with a power connector. That way, you also won't lose all access to your data because of a broken external connector.
But if you prefer simplicity, WD's My Book stands out above the competition by offering lots of reliable storage space on the cheap. There are plenty of storage options to choose from, ranging between 4TB and 18TB. Currently, some of the best options are the 6TB model for $111, and the 16TB version for $280.
The My Book comes with the exFAT file system by default, alongside WD's Backup software for Windows/Mac PCs, and is also compatible with Apple's Time Machine. With a slow spinning disk and a USB 3.0 interface, this drive won't be winning any speed contests with mediocre 170-180MB/s sequential reads and writes, and even slower random transfer and I/O performance. Although these speeds are unacceptable on a boot drive, you are unlikely to be loading applications or games from the My Book, where its main purpose is offering cost-effective, reliable storage for your less frequently accessed data.
There are a few additional, but minor quirks with the My Book. It uses a Micro-B USB 3.0 connector (to USB-A) unlike USB-A/USB-C interfaces that have become more commonplace. The drive doesn't have an activity light and needs a separate (included) 12V power adapter to work, making it better suited for users with fixed workspaces. WD's My Book comes with password-protected 256-bit hardware encryption and a 3-year warranty, which is longer than its Seagate rival and overall makes it the best, inexpensive external storage currently available.
A Worthy Alternative
For those looking to get portable storage on a budget, WD's My Passport Ultra hits the middle ground in terms of capacity, performance, portability, and price.
With a sleek, pocket-friendly design, the 5TB option currently offers the best value at $114, with 1TB, 2TB and 4TB options available for less. This model uses a modern USB-C port (USB-A adapter included) and features other niceties such as an activity light, onboard hardware encryption, useful software utilities, and a class-leading 3-year warranty.
Performance of the My Passport Ultra is nothing to write home about, but its ~130MB/s read and write speeds are on par with the competition and easier to accept considering the price, features, and daily usability.
Best Home NAS
It's now more affordable than ever to set up a Home NAS for your file sharing and media needs. Synology's latest $300 DiskStation DS220+ makes the best case for itself in this category, offering the most value for entry-level NAS users.
This DS220+ comes with two empty drive bays, supports up to 32TB of max storage for 3.5/2.5-inch SATA HDDs and 2.5-inch SATA SSDs, with transfer rates of up to 225 MB/s reads and 192 MB/s writes. It packs more powerful internals, including a dual-core Celeron J4025 chip, 2GB of DDR4 RAM (expandable up to 6GB), 2 x 1Gb LAN ports with link aggregation and 2 x USB 3.0 (5 Gbps) ports. There's also support for 4K transcoding for high quality media streaming, while RAID types include SHR, Basic, JBOD, RAID 0 and RAID 1.
An M.2 slot is still lacking here though, which means you'll need to shell out more for costlier alternatives (see below) if faster, NVMe-cached storage is a priority. There's also no support for an expansion unit to add more storage down the road.
These are the DS220+'s only key weaknesses at this price point. However, Synology's class-leading software makes up for its hardware shortfalls and keeps it ahead of rivals in terms of the software experience, making the DS220+ our top pick in the Home NAS category.
Upgrade to 4 Bays...
Synology's DS920+ stands out as a capable 4-bay Home NAS solution with support for up to 64TB of raw capacity, 2 NVME SSDs for cache, and a total of 9 drives with a separate expansion unit.
It's powered by a quad-core Intel Celeron J4125, features 4GB DD4 RAM (expandable up to 8GB), dual 1GbE ports with link aggregation/failover support and two USB "3.1 Gen 2" (5 Gbps) ports. With more drives, Raid 5, 6 and 10 become available.
If you want to connect your NAS directly to a TV, or just want to save some money, the QNAP TS-453D-4G is a great alternative for $400 with similar hardware to the DS920+, plus an HDMI port. For $720 (with a $180 coupon) you can get the device with four 4TB Seagate IronWolf drives, pre-configured in RAID-5 for a total of 12TB of storage and data immunity to the failure of any single drive.