Fast storage has become a true commodity, and hopefully it will only get bigger and faster. For new builds, NVMe drives have become the norm, with prices close to those of SATA SSDs and file-transfer speeds that are several times higher. For older systems, SATA SSDs offer a great upgrade option with app load times similar to those of 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 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 our previous pick, the Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus. In shorter transfers, the Sabrent drive already saturated the PCIe 4.0 interface with speeds up to 7,000 MB/s, but it's not really cheaper these days than the Seagate option. With a Phison E18 controller, the FireCuda 530 will also load games and apps more quickly, but the differences will be measured in seconds, not minutes.
Two things set the Seagate drive apart even from drives that use the same components, such as the Kingston KC3000 and Corsair MP600 Pro XT. 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 $320, 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: Western Digital SN850 Black
If you want to use your SSD to store your game library and don't copy hundreds of gigabytes on a daily basis, WD's SN850 currently offers the best value. Thanks to the company's G2 controller, games load times are indistinguishable between the SN850 and the FireCuda 530. The 2TB version goes for $240, though you may need to spend extra on a heatsink as it has been noted to get fairly warm under heavy loads.
Good on a sale: Samsung 980 Pro
It's got the brand cachet and is no performance slouch either. The Samsung 980 Pro (read our review) is a fast and efficient drive, but at $270 for 2TB it's priced too close to the FireCuda 530 and too far from the SN850. On a sale, however, it can be a cheaper alternative to the FireCuda, or a more efficient alternative to the SN850.
Compared to the older 970 Pro, the company's 980 Pro takes a hit to endurance, as Samsung shifted from the 970 Pro's 2-bit MLC flash to denser, 3-bit TLC in the 980 Pro. This has led to a 50 percent reduction in Samsung's TBW ratings for this model over the 970 Pro, coming in at 1,200TBW on the flagship 2TB drive. However, Samsung offers its well-built and mature Magician SSD software.
Best for old systems: Western Digital AN1500
If you have an old 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 writing speed of about 4,000 MB/s is less impressive, but still better than any M.2 PCIe 3.0 drive. At $425 for 2TB it may not look like the best value, but it's still way cheaper than buying a CPU and a motherboard with PCIe 4.0 support alongside another drive.
Best Mainstream SSD
If your motherboard / CPU only supports PCIe 3.0, or you don't often transfer large files, 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 and barely cheaper 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. While the 500GB version can be had for $82, the 1TB one is sold for a more sensible $115. The 2TB version offers the best value at $214.
At the time of writing, the 2TB version of our previous pick, the WD Black SN750, is available for $200 and similarly offers generally better performance than the newer, DRAM-less SN750 SE. Performance will be indistinguishable from that of the 970 Evo Plus except for long writes, where the WD drive will be slightly slower.
If your system does support PCIe 4.0, the DRAM-less SN770 is a good deal at $210 for 2TB, $110 for 1TB, and even $65 for 500GB.
A trusted SATA option for upgrading 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 have already squeezed most they could from the interface years ago, so the speed differences are minor between the best models. Currently, you can buy a 1TB drive for as little as $90, or half a terabyte for $55.
Best Hard Drive
With current SSD prices, we can no longer recommend any mechanical hard drive as a main system drive. Yet, Seagate's IronWolf NAS drives remain unbeatable if you want a secondary drive with a ton of storage. The IronWolf drives are state of the art as far as consumer hard drives go, leveraging PMR (perpendicular magnetic recording) platters running at 7200 RPM to cram up to 16 terabytes of data in a regular 3.5-inch form factor drive.
Being NAS 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 (again, for a hard drive).
You can find IronWolf HDDs in capacities of 1/2/3TB (5900 RPM, 256MB cache), 6TB (5600RPM, 256MB cache) and 8/10/12/16TB (7200 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 $185, while an identical capacity BarraCuda can be had for $144.
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 series 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 Seagate's IronWolf range comes with a 5-year warranty, unlike WD's 3-year warranty for the Red Plus series.
Disk Drive Budget option
If you just 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 $53, or you can double the space with the $85 4TB version. The BarraCuda is also available in 3TB, 6TB, and 8TB variants.
The 2TB model of the BarraCuda is the sweet spot, spinning at 7200 RPM and including 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 any 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 some of those advanced features but can get by with a moderate capacity, "all-in-one" external drives can offer a good value.
The Samsung T7 Touch 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 inside a shock-proof metal enclosure that should survive the odd drop. If you want more protection, Getgear's specifically made cases start at $10. Sadly, the drive doesn't have an IP rating for water or dust resistance.
The T7 Touch adds an extra layer of security with a fingerprint sensor inside its square activity light. The feature adds just $20 to the price over the standard T7, and having a fingerprint-locked SSD on your business trip or holiday might just be worth paying the slight premium. The device is compact enough that it can fit in the palm of your hand or thrown in your pocket, measuring 85 x 57 x 8 mm.
The T7 and T7 Touch have a 3-year warranty, come in 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB capacities and are slightly more expensive than their closest rival, the Crucial X8. It is justifiable though, as Samsung's offerings feature 256-bit hardware encryption and faster, higher endurance TLC flash vs cheaper, denser QLC memory found inside the Crucial X8.
Water/dust-resistant drive enclosures aren't expensive, but if you still prefer to buy a single product, the latest-gen SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD offers the same transfer rates as Samsung and Crucial rivals but adds durability for a very small premium.
The drive's silicon enclosure is IP55 water and dust-resistant and is complemented by a 5-year warranty. On paper, the new Samsung T7 Shield is just as good, but the Sandisk drive is the proven option. The 1TB model is $133, which is $13 more than the T7, while the T7 Shield is just $2 more.
Need for Speed
On-the-move professionals and enthusiasts looking to transfer hundreds of GBs of data regularly would fare off better with faster, costlier options like SanDisk's Extreme Pro, whose upgraded version can reach up to 2,000 MB/s, or Samsung's Thunderbolt-3 capable X5 portable with blazingly fast 2,800 MB/s reads and 2,300 MB/s writes.
The rest, however, will find any of the Samsung T7 drives 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 TBs 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.
Yet, 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 3TB to 18TB. You can get a 4TB model for just $82 or a capacious 12TB drive for $220. Those with even higher storage requirements can opt for the Duo version that offers up to an insane 36TB of storage space for $2,500!
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 now 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.
Worthy alternative: WD My Passport Ultra
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, you can get a 2TB My Passport Ultra for $80 or 4TB for $120, with the drive rounded off by two more (1TB and 5TB) options. 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 Home 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 like the 2-bay DS720+ or 4-bay DS920+ (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: DS920+
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.
Masthead credit: Ekkaphan Chimpalee