The best SSDs of 2021: New cryptocurrency could send prices skyrocketing

The best SSDs of 2021: New cryptocurrency could send prices skyrocketing

Switching to a solid-state drive is the best upgrade you can make for your PC. These wondrous devices obliterate long boot times, speed up how fast your programs and games load, and generally makes your computer feel fast. But not all solid-state drives are created equal. The best SSDs offer solid performance at affordable prices—or, if price is no object, face-meltingly fast read and write speeds.

Many SSDs come in a 2.5-inch form factor and communicate with PCs via the same SATA ports used by traditional hard drives. But out on the bleeding-edge of NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) drives, you’ll find tiny “gumstick” SSDs that fit in M.2 connections on modern motherboards, SSDs that sit on a PCIe adapter and slot into your motherboard like a graphics card or sound card, futuristic 3D Xpoint drives, and more. Picking the perfect SSD isn’t as simple as it used to be.

That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve tested numerous drives to find the best SSDs for any use case. Let’s take a look at PCWorld’s top picks, and then dive into what to look for in an SSD. Quick note: This roundup only covers internal solid-state drives. Check out PCWorld’s guide to the best external drives if you’re looking for a portable storage solution.

Updated April 29 to mention warning of the Chia cryptocurrecy to the news section, and add the Crucial BX500 to our budget SSD section.

Latest SSD news

  • Check out our guide to which SSD you should buy, breaking down everything you need to know about which sort of solid-state drive works best in each system.
  • The devastating winter storm in Texas shut down Samsung’s Austin chip facility for an extended period. That facility creates SSD controllers, and the disruption is expected to cause SSD prices to increase soon, analyst firm TrendForce predicts. Making matters worse, there’s a new cryptocurrency brewing called Chia. Chia mies cryptocoins on your storage drives, and if it takes off, hard drives and SSDs could become as scarce as graphics cards. If you’re looking to buy an SSD, consider buying it sooner than later, especially larger capacities. 
  • Intel discontinued all desktop consumer versions of its radical Optane drives, though the technology lives on in laptops and servers. Optane SSDs delivered blistering random access performance and incredible endurance, but in limited capacities with sky-high prices. It will be used as a caching-type feature to speed up slower NAND SSDs in future laptops.

Best SSD for most people

Samsung’s mainstream EVO series of SSDs has sat atop our recommended list ever since 2014, and the new Samsung 870 EVO is still a great option for people who want a rock-solid blend of speed, price, compatibility, and the reliability of Samsung’s 5-year warranty and superb Magician management software. But most people would be better off buying the SK Hynix Gold S31.

Not only is the Gold S31 among the fastest SATA SSDs we’ve ever tested, landing within spitting distance of the best-in-class 870 EVO, but the price for this drive is spectacular. At $44 for a 250GB drive, $57 for a 500GB drive, or $105 for 1TB, the Gold S31 costs much less than Samsung’s line, which charges $70 for a 500GB model. “When all was said and done in those real-world 48GB copies, the Gold S31 proved the fastest drive we’ve ever tested for sustained read and write operations,” our review proclaimed at the time. Enough said.

Well, maybe not. Let’s talk a bit about the brand itself, since SK Hynix isn’t exactly a household name. Despite that, it’s one of the largest semiconductor manufacturers on the planet. The company has been developing NAND and controller technology since the get-go, and while it’s been the SSD manufacturer for numerous large computer vendors, it generally hasn’t taken a place for itself on the shelves. Now it has, and the results are sterling.

If you need a larger capacity, though, or simply want to stick with a tried-and-true brand, still look to the Samsung 870 EVO, which is available in 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB models. They’re just a tiny hair faster than the SK Hynix drives in raw performance but cost a wee bit more in return. That speaks more to how wildly good of a deal the Gold S31 is though, as the Samsung 870 EVO offers a very compelling and affordable package compared to most SSDs. The Samsung 870 QVO is another strong contender, with capacities ranging from 1TB all the way to a whopping 8TB, but we’ll discuss that in the next section.

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