In this article we offer general storage- and SSD buying advice, before getting into the nitty gritty of SSD reviews. But if you just want to jump down to it, click here to go straight to our reviews of the six best SSDs you can buy in the UK in 2016.
Best SSD 2016: SSDs buying advice
Solid-state is standard-issue for storing data in tablets and smartphones, where it's relied upon for its tiny size and knock-proof nature. Those same assets can be handy in desktop and especially laptop PCs too, but traditional computers also have the pace to really unlock SSDs' most talked-about virtue – their incredible speed.
Instead of a fragile magnetised disk whirring at 90 or 120 times every second, SSDs store binary data on shock-resistant silicon chips. Some people use the word ‘memory' when they mean storage, but the lines are confused with NAND flash technology, which is essentially non-volatile memory. In other words, RAM that keeps its memory even after you switch off the pwer.
And besides being physically robust, silent, and smaller and lighter than any hard-disk drive, the big incentive to go flash remains sheer data-hurtling performance. The bits can simply be read and written hundreds and thousands of times faster from electric flash memory.
This speed factor is about so much more than go-faster bragging rights though. Old-school desktop PC users may still battle over who has the fastest processor or the hottest graphics card, but SSD performance is more about the overall user experience – applications launch almost instantly, web pages spawn faster, and files copy in a fraction of the time.
Put simply, and regardless of whether your processor has the number 3, 5 or 7 after the ‘i', the whole computer just responds so much better to your touch. The main drawback in the past has been the extortionate price of entry to the premier-class storage club. (See all storage reviews.)
Best SSD 2016 benchmarks: CrystalDiskMark Seq rnd (read/write MB/s)
Best SSD 2016: best value storage
Until quite recently anyway. It's taken six years or more, but we are now at the state where the solid-state drive, the SSD, is a truly affordable component for any computer user. And if your wallet won't even stretch to £100, just juggle your byte budget instead and get a 256 GB drive for 70 quid or less.
Performance has swelled over the years – not just in the drag-race test of copying big files, but crucially with the way that small files are handled. And also in the way that a drive maintains itself, forever pruning and sweeping up the garbage of deleted files in the background.
Much of the background housekeeping of a modern PC operating system is with the incessant background reading and writing of very small files of 4 kilobytes or smaller. It's the random access to these all over the platters that can choke old disks that need to physically move a pickup head across spinning platters.
We have reached a point where just about any SSD you put into a computer to replace a hard disk will transform your experience. But for performance seekers like professional workstation users, there's still a case for finding the fastest. And that fastest metric is now more about small-file transfers, which we can measure by the number of input and output operations capable in one second – otherwise known as IOPS. The best SATA-based flash drives are returning peak figures around 100,000 IOPS, made possible by the way that datastreams can be paralleled together, a major asset of flash over disks. See our group test: What's the best SSD?
Best SSD 2016 benchmarks: AS SSD Score (points)
Best SSD 2016: Buying an SSD for your computer
Performance – in terms of the speed with which data can be read and written – has now effectively plateaued among the best SSDs. It's not that flash memory has reached its limit, far from it, but the Serial ATA interface between the flash and your computer is now an increasingly narrowing bottleneck.
Pioneered by Apple and now finally trickling into the Windows world are solid-state drives that put SATA in the wastebasket, flash storage drives that hook more directly into the PC's native PCI Express bus. But Apple Macs take a proprietary version of these cards that are not available to buy or upgrade; and Windows PCs that are now available with the necessary M.2 PCIe attachment are very thin on the ground in late 2015.
So for the moment, if you're building or upgrading a PC, chances are you'll be turning to the old tried-and-tested Serial ATA Revision 3.0 interface; often mistakenly called SATA III. This bus has a 6 Gb/s (750 MB/s) nominal speed, but circa-550 MB/s real-world ceiling.
Despite current SATA SSDs' shortcomings and converging performance specs we have tested the essential speed of this group of six, both in large-file sequential transfers and small-file random access, as differences do exist between brands and models.
Our selection covers the highest-performing SATA SSDs today, as well as some cheaper models that juggle the value factor rather than best-in-class performance figures.
When buying an SSD, look out for long warranties and high write limits if you prize data integrity, although with the help of proper backup routines, data loss is less an issue today. Different SSDs demand more or less power in active use or when idle, and there are different power ratings again for when a laptop is in a sleep or hibernation mode. Unfortunately we don't have the capability to measure power consumption in-house, and each manufacturer has its own way to present its numbers in the best light so we can't give a meaningful rundown of which has the best power economy.
Do look out for manufacturers that provide accessible support with firmware updates possible on the platform of your choice. Most storage brands are still firmly routed in the Wintel world although with the decline of that platform more drive makers are making cross-platform upgrade tools available, in the form of bootable ISO images you can download from their support sites.
Best SSD 2016: Best SSDs you can buy
In the earlier days of solid-state upgrade drives, Intel was one of the prime movers, but the silicon specialist seems to have lost its interest and early lead and is now recycling other company's components. The Pro 2500 Series is based on a reliable platform, using an old but still reliable SandForce controller, adding hardware encryption as a near-necessity for a drive that otherwise would be slowed too much due by its compression dependency in a solely software-encrypted OS. The result is the rather poor value Pro 2500, which nevertheless was found to perform confidently well in most areas, and is backed by a 5-year guarantee.
Kingston's performance-inclined HyperX Savage continues the company's marketing theme of brash colours and brasher names, but their is a little less substance below this gamer-friendly styling. We would be less concerned about the relatively poor 4 kB random read/write figures, for instance, if this drive wasn't the most expensive on test after the Intel. Its support is also lacking somewhat, both in availability of software and in length of warranty.
Crucial's SSDs have been a favourite for PC upgraders, although with the MX200 we can't help feeling the real benefactor in this season's upgrade is Crucial alone. The drive performs little better and in our tests typically just behind the previous M550 model. Its construction quality is visibly cheapened and the flash stock has shrunken, both moves to maximise corporation profits. In its favour the Crucial MX200 is good value in price-per-gigabyte terms and the brand's SSDs are ably supported with firmware and tools to apply it on any platform.
The erstwhile enthusiast brand of OCZ has a surprising cracker in its portfolio with the ARC 100, which is not only one of the best value drives we've seen, it also turned in some great performance results.
The two leading SATA solid-state drives of today are both now a year old, but perhaps given the limits of the bus have not been surpassed by anything in the same category since. The SanDisk Extreme PRO was the first SSD to receive a 10-year guarantee, which should give any user the confidence to go solid-state; the Samsung 850 PRO launched a few weeks later in June last year and was also quickly upgraded to a 10-year support scheme.
Both offer state-of-the-art performance on a SATA connection, and can be found for around 36p/GB, depending on capacity. We highly recommend the SanDisk drive, and award the Samsung our gold gong for its breakthrough in 3D semiconductor manufacture, which combined with the larger 40 nm process should ensure this drive is going fast and going strong even after the decade counter rolls over.
- Reviewed on: 1 July 15
- RRP: £126 inc. VAT
The Intel SSD Pro 2500 is designed for Wintel business computing, where its Opal 2.0 compliance may interest IT managers, however this security feature is not unique to business SSDs and can be found on, for example, Crucial and Samsung drives too at lower cost. Where the Intel SSD may excel is in its use of older but well-tested components, promoting reliability and freedom from issue inherent with newer hardware and firmware.
Read our Intel SSD Pro 2500 240 GB review.
- Reviewed on: 2 July 15
- RRP: £185 inc. VAT
The Kingston HyperX Savage turned in a solid performance among the leaders of the current SSD pack, and the flashy looks may appeal to gamers and PC enthusiasts wishing to pimp up their rig. Its overall performance is just behind the best of Samsung and SanDisk, and with a price that exceeds these drives it just loses out on any overall recommendation. But it is a good SSD.
Read our Kingston HyperX Savage 480 GB review.
- Reviewed on: 30 June 15
- RRP: £301 inc. VAT
When we tested the Crucial M550 last year it had a price/storage quotient of 37 pence per gigabyte. The latest MX200 is today available for around 30p/GB but other than that little has changed, except the newer drive has smaller process 16 nm flash and it measured slightly poorer in some tests. It's still a good drive but it's lost a little headway against higher performing or better value competitors like Samsung, SanDisk and OCZ.
Read our Crucial MX200 review.
- Reviewed on: 13 July 15
- RRP: £176 inc. VAT
SanDisk's top consumer SSD is backed by a confident 10-year guarantee, and its clear high performance a great value at around 36 pence per gigabyte make this one of the top SSDs you can find today, even a year after its launch.
Read our SanDisk Extreme PRO 480 GB review.
- Reviewed on: 10 July 15
- RRP: £365 inc. VAT
The Samsung 850 PRO arrived just too late for last year's round-up of the best SSDs, but even a year down the line it still has little serious competition in the stakes for the world's best SATA SSD. It may be left for dust by more modern PCIe drives such as Samsung's own XP941, but if you have a SATA-based PC and want to fit it with the best storage, take the closest look at the 850 PRO.
Read our Samsung 850 PRO 1 TB review.
- Reviewed on: 6 July 15
- RRP: £69 inc. VAT
This may be only OCZ's budget drive but it offers great performance with plenty of all-important support to provide peace of mind to anyone concerned about moving to solid-state storage. With its attractive warranty terms and great performance for the price it's easy to recommend.
Read our OCZ ARC 100 240 GB review.