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 best SSDs you can buy in the UK in 2016.
Best SSD 2016: SSDs buying advice
Solid-state storage is standard-issue for storing data in tablets and smartphones, where it's relied upon for its tiny size and rugged nature. Those same virtues can be handy in desktop PCs and especially laptops too, but it’s the speed of an SSD (solid-state drive) compared to a traditional hard drive which is the biggest reason to upgrade to one.
Instead of a fragile magnetic 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 blurred with NAND flash technology, which is essentially non-volatile memory. In other words, RAM that keeps its memory even after you switch off the power.
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 be read and written hundreds and thousands of times faster from electronic flash memory then conventional hard-disk drives.
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 an Intel or AMD logo, the whole computer responds so much faster to your clicks. The main drawback in the past has been the steep price of entry to the premier-class storage club. (See all storage reviews.)
Best SSD 2016: best value storage
It's taken six years or more, but we are now at the state where 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- or 500GB SSD for £75 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 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 those seeking the very best performance, there's still a case for finding the fastest rather than just choosing the cheapest. 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 data streams can be paralleled together, a major asset of flash over hard disks.
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 attachments are just starting to go mainstream in 2016. With that said, they're still expensive, alongside the motherboards which actually support M.2.
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 called SATA III. This bus has a 6Gb/s (750MB/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, 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.
There are various technologies SSD manufacturers choose to utilise, from multi-level cell (MLC), to the cheaper triple-level cell flash (TLC) architectures. You might even come across the rare and more expensive single-level cell (SLC) drive. The differences between the cell technologies boil down to the amount of bits (data) that a single cell (within the SSD) can handle. TLC handles three, MLC, two and SLC one. The greater the number of bits per cell, the increased likelihood of failure, inconsistencies and most importantly performance. However, as this is a general sweeping statement, manufacturers have found ways around the limitations of SSD technology, but it's worth noting what is being used in your SSD, regardless of how it performs.
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 of 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. However, laptop users should take note of the rated power consumption of the SSDs in our group test, so that you know how much additional battery power you'll be using with an SSD.
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.
For laptop users specifically, you'll want to also know the exact dimensions of an SSD, as it might not fit into your laptop. All SSDs have a 2.5in form factor, and often have 69.9x100.1x7mm dimensions – ensure it will fit in your laptop before purchasing it.
Best SSD 2016: how we test
The PNY CS2211 240GB, Kingston KC400 SSDNow 512GB, Crucial BX200 480GB, Samsung 850 Evo 500GB, Toshiba Q300 480GB (2016) were tested on the same Intel-based Windows 10 test rig.
In addition, we ran the same benchmarks on our AMD-based rig and were shocked by the difference in performance. This budget system has an ASRock 970 Extreme3 Rev2.0 motherboard, with an AMD 970 Northbridge and AMD SB950 Southbridge.
We found the Samsung 850 Evo could only manage 405.3MB/s sequential read speed and 387.8MB/s write speed compared to 550.8 and 505.8MB/s on the Intel rig fitted with an Asus Sabertooth motherboard and the Intel Z77 chipset.
This doesn’t mean you’ll see that performance on all AMD systems: we can only speak to our experience of this one PC.
We also found that even on our Intel test rig, the ASMedia SATA 6Gb/s ports performed considerably worse than the Intel Z77 SATA 6Gb/s ports. Also, bear in mind that a 3Gb/s port will perform even slower, so you should ensure you’re your laptop or PC’s motherboard has a decent SATA controller in order for you to achieve the fastest possible speeds.
We would recommend benchmarking your SSD upon receiving it and making sure it's connected to the fastest SATA port available. Also check that all your motherboard drivers are up to date.
- Reviewed on: 19 May 16
- RRP: £92.66 inc VAT; $118.28
The Crucial BX200 480GB is a cheaper SSD and certainly offers an impressive step-up over traditional hard drives. However, given its cache limitations, you should think carefully about whether the saving is worth it.
Read our Crucial BX200 480GB 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: 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: 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.
- Reviewed on: 9 May 16
- RRP: £58.13 inc VAT; $89.99
The PNY CS2211 240GB is an affordable SSD that performs very well in its benchmarks. It however suffers from being limited in its availability, but should be made available within the UK in June/July 2016.
Read our PNY CS2211 240GB review.
- Reviewed on: 4 May 16
- RRP: £132.82 inc VAT
The Kingston KC400 SSDNow 512GB is a fantastic SSD which delivers consistent high-speed performances across various benchmarks. The SSD is easy to recommend for those wanting to upgrade from their old hard drives or older generation SSDs, but it's more expensive than the Samsung 850 Evo.
Read our Kingston KC400 SSDNow 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: 1 June 16
- RRP: £79.99 inc VAT
The Toshiba Q300 480GB (2016) SSD is cheaper than most of its competitors and yet is able to provide a fantastic all-round performance. If you're looking to upgrade or build a budget system, then the Q300 is a solid choice.
Read our Toshiba Q300 480GB (2016) review.
- Reviewed on: 3 May 16
- RRP: £109.04 inc VAT
The Samsung 850 EVO 500GB is an extremely impressive SSD that provides class-leading technology and speeds to the market. Through our benchmark results, we found the drive to perform consistently well and above all its competitors. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to recommend the SSD for those looking to upgrade from an old hard drive or an old-generation SSD.
Read our Samsung 850 Evo review.