As today’s AAA Best SSD for Gaming demand more computing resources, PC gamers (and sometimes even console players) are under intense pressure to upgrade their components to maintain speed. They need speed; They need space. Adding a primary solid-state drive (SSD), adding secondary storage, or both can help keep your rig as mobile as possible. And vice versa: Unlike graphics cards and some other PC parts, SSD has seen shortages and skyrocketing prices.
Buy any SSD, though, it’s a little complicated. With platforms ranging from gaming consoles to many laptops or desktops, there is no one-size-fits-all gaming-SSD solution. The choice of your Best SSD for Gaming depends largely on what type of device you are updating, what type (and how many) drive slots or drive bays it has, and what the USB-C port might look like. The latest built-in PCI Express 4.0 M.2 SSDs have been called for gaming, and Sony’s PlayStation 5 drives are getting their attention, but not all PCs support PCIe 4.0 and I’m sure I’m not the only one. ‘Still haven’t found the PS5 at the price they’re willing to pay. Fortunately, you can find fewer solid-state storage solutions than current systems.
Gazing Speed: How many SSDs do you need for fast games?
Over the past year or so, we’ve seen amazing advances in SSD transfer speeds (as measured by the Crystal Disk Benchmark), with some recent PCI Express 4.0 NVMe internal drives. (If you don’t understand drive short words and abbreviations, check out our SSD terminology glossary.) Sequential reading and writing tests which measure throughput in the best case, for straight-line transfers of large files can exceed your reading speed, and write Speed can go up to 7,000 megabits per second (MBps) per second with a PCIe 4.0 drive on an optimized PC. It’s all good, and raw speed can also help strengthen game-specific performance.
Speed is most important for a boot drive, which captures your PC’s operating system and from where games are traditionally played. Secondary drives, internal or external, tend to be slow and high-powered-these are often used to hold the game library, but you can get a fast, high-powered secondary drive and play games from it if you have the right. Expansion slots and willing to pay the price.
Can I get an internal SSD or an external SSD?
Those who purchase the Best SSD for Gaming typically look to the internal drive using the M.2 “stick of gum” form factor. PCI Express 4.0 NVMe drives provide the fastest throughput speeds (and generally the best overall performance based on our tests), but your system may not have M.2 slots that support this type of bus. Although PCIe 4.0 SSDs are backward compatible with motherboards that support PCI Express 3.0, you need a motherboard and chipset that supports PCI Express 4.0 to get them rated something like maximum speed. (To learn more about the finer points of M.2, check out our deep-dive roundup on the best M.2 SSD.)
Examples include a select group of desktop motherboards on your AMD Ryzen processor, as well as Intel Z590-chipset boards designed for 10th generation and 11th generation (“Rocket Lake”) CPUs and Z690. boards for 12th Gen (“Alder Lake”) processors. The “Alder Lake” platform also supports the latest PCI Express spec, PCI Express 5.0, which effectively doubles the bandwidth of PCIe 4.0 and offers, at least theoretically, the fastest PCIe 4.0 SSD sequential read and write speed of almost twice. (The first PCIe 5.0 drives are making their way into the enterprise system in this article, customers need to follow the drives ৷ they’re not a factor for gamers … yet!)
Old-school speed: Should I have a 2.5-inch SATA drive?
Depending on the age of your rig and which slots you have available, a solid-state drive with an older serial ATA (SATA) interface and a 2.5-inch hard-drive-style design can be a wise option. The throughput of the Best SSD for Gaming is not expected to be comparable to PCI Express devices, but the Best SSD for Gaming drives do relatively well in-game loading and 4K read/write testing. Their advantages are low prices and (often) relatively high capacity.
And still don’t count the platter drive. Although this roundup is dedicated to SSDs, which easily outperform lumbering hard drives in overall speed and game-loading performance, platter-based drives still play a role in gaming. Because of their often large capacity and relatively low cost per gigabyte, hard drives can be a great place to store game libraries, although you may not want to run games from such drives if you care about load speed as a first choice. But rarely lots of games or legacy games for cheap raw storage, hard drives can be great. A cheap good external-drive example is the Seagate FireCuda Gaming Hub, available in 8TB and 16TB versions; Internal SATA platter drives are even cheaper per gigabyte.
SSD Heatsinks: Ways to lose heat
In the case of SSDs, phrases such as blazing fast or blistering speed may not be the only metaphor. Gaming SSDs, especially some recent PCIe 4.0 NVMe drives rated at 5,000MBps or more, generate a lot of heat. It can be throttling or slowdown which can be a performance hit and potentially shorten the life of a drive. Drive manufacturers use a variety of methods for heat management, ranging from firmware-based solutions to low-cost SSD designs.
Physical solutions include thin heat spreaders that are usually glued to the top of the M.2 SSD. These are primarily made of graphene, which has high thermal conductivity and can dissipate heat across their surface area.
So, which gaming SSD should I buy?
So here you have it: our pick for the best PCI Express 4.0 and 3.0 M.2 SSDs for gaming, as well as the confusion of SATA options and USB externals. Whether you have a desktop, a laptop, or a PS5, and you’re after a connected-heatsink design or with a blinking-out RGB light, you don’t need a whole new rig to start your gaming. These drives can do it.