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Storage
Outside of a single budget hard drive option, we'll first be recommending SSDs for system drives—the place where you want your operating system, games, frequently-used files, and anything else you want to be able to get to quickly. We'll then talk about larger bulk storage options for less-frequently-used files that take up lots of space.

We're now recommending 500GB SSDs as a baseline for most systems. Modern games are only getting larger, and SSD prices are falling to the point where 500GB-class SSDs are often a much better value than their 240GB-class counterparts. It's not fun shuffling data on and off a 240GB SSD to make room for that latest triple-A release, so get the largest chunk of solid-state storage for your OS that you can afford.

System drives

Budget

Product Price
WD Blue 1TB 7200 RPM $49.99
Crucial MX300 275GB $99.99
Crucial MX300 525GB $159.99
Crucial MX300 1TB $289.99

Almost any SATA SSD, save for the worst bargain-bin specials, is going to provide snappier system performance than a spinning disk for most tasks. If you need capacity more than speed, we continue to recommend WD's Blue 1TB drive as the all-rounder for budget boxes. This drive's fast spindle speed and relatively high capacity for its price make it hard to go wrong with if you can only afford one storage device.

Our budget SSD picks store bits and move them around quickly, and that's all we really want out of drives in this price range. If you're building a new gaming PC, we think you should skip a 240GB drive and step up to a 480GB or 512GB one instead. This time around, the pricing winds favor the Crucial MX300 in its 275GB and 525GB flavors for our smaller SSD picks. The MX300 offers solid performance along with features that used to be reserved for higher-end drives like hardware-accelerated encryption. Samsung's 850 EVO SSDs may be better performers in some situations, but their pricing seems to be quite inflated of late. Plus their performance lead isn't that wide.

Some of you may wonder why Intel's affordable 600p NVMe drives aren't in this list. We've decided against recommending them, at least for the time being. For all the extra performance the NVMe interface provides in some situations, their seemingly uneven performance in multiple scenarios leaves us wary of giving them a clear stamp of approval. For now, we'd stick to more tried-and-true SATA options.

High end

Product Price Notable needs
Samsung 960 EVO 500GB $249.99 M.2 slot or U.2 port
with PCIe 3.0 x4 connectivity
for maximum performance
Samsung 960 EVO 1TB $499.99
Samsung 960 Pro 512GB $329.99
Samsung 960 Pro 1TB $617.38

Moving into the high-end realm of solid-state storage lets us consider the recent takes on blazing-fast PCI Express drives. Samsung's introduction of the 960 EVO and 960 Pro drives has upended the high-end storage market, to say the least. Where before we were recommending a mix of OCZ RD400s and Samsung's own 950 Pro drives, we've now gone squarely for Samsung's latest-and-greatest. The 960 EVO models deliver world-class performance with a reasonably affordable price tag, while the 960 Pro is—to put it simply—in a league of its own, overthrowing even the datacenter-class Intel 750 Series SSD. If you're going to spend this much money on an SSD, there's no reason to choose anything but a Samsung 960-series drive. Just make sure your workload can take advantage of the performance on tap.

As we wrote in our review of the 960 EVO, these drives share much of the 960 Pro's technology. The EVO's affordable pricing stems from the fact that it couples TLC V-NAND with a proprietary pseudo-SLC caching scheme. This setup, coupled with Samsung's firmware and controller smarts, lets the 1TB EVO blaze past the Intel 750 1.2TB in our overall SSD performance index.

Meanwhile, the 960 Pro uses Samsung's 48-layer, 256Gb V-NAND chips and a new, five-core "Polaris" controller to do its thing. These drives also have TCG Opal-compliant 256-bit AES hardware encryption and a 5-year warranty. Their longevity should be outstanding, too—the 2TB version is rated for 1.2 total petabytes written. But the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and the 960 Pro drives are insanely, freakishly fast. If you need further proof, just go read our review.

Bulk storage
SSDs are great for storing your operating system and most-used programs, but they can't compete with good old spinning rust for density per dollar just yet. If you often work with large media files, operating system images, or anything else that takes up a lot of room, it's handy to have a mechanical hard drive in your system so you can preserve precious SSD space.

Product Price Spindle speed
HGST DeskStar 7K3000 3TB $79.99 7200 RPM
WD Blue 4TB $117.99 5400 RPM
Toshiba X300 5TB $146.99 7200 RPM
WD Blue 6TB $196.99 5400 RPM

Going by Backblaze's reliability studies, HGST drives appear to be the most reliable out there by a decent margin. Western Digital drives typically come in second, but the most recent edition of Backblaze's numbers suggests that Seagate has greatly improved the reliability of its products of late, besting even WD's record. Our choices tend to favor Western Digital drives, though, mostly thanks to the company's aggressive pricing. Really, though, it's hard to go wrong with modern hard drives. Follow your wallet. For those reasons we're recommending a heterogeneous mix of drives for this section, covering both 5400 RPM and 7200 RPM offerings.

WD Red drives are mostly the same thing as Blues, aside from a longer warranty and some RAID-friendly features. HGST Deskstar NAS drives are a good alternative to WD Red Pro drives, too. While those two points usually aren't worth the extra cost over standard HDDs unless you're building a file server of some kind, steep discounts on these drives make them interesting options for those that need their spinning storage to be a cut above the rest.

Optical drives
Living without optical storage is easy today, thanks to the ubiquity of high-capacity USB thumb drives and high-speed Internet connections. Some people still like their DVDs and Blu-ray discs, though, and we're happy to oblige them with a couple options.

Product Price
Asus DRW-24B1ST DVD burner $19.99
LG WH16NS40 Blu-ray burner $58.99

Asus' DRW-24B1ST DVD burner has been a staple of our System Guides for quite a while. It costs only 20 bucks, reads and burns DVDs and CDs alike, and has a five-star average across more than 5,000 reviews on Newegg. We feel pretty safe recommending it. If you need to play or burn Blu-ray discs, LG's LGWH16NS40 Blu-ray burner offers higher speeds at a fairly affordable price. Can't argue with that.