We've reorganized the storage section of our System Guide this time around. To make our recommendations a bit more comprehensible, we've broken out our SSD picks into budget, sweet-spot, and high-end options, just like the rest of the components in the Guide.
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 data or large media files.
|WD Blue 1TB 7,200 RPM||$53.99|
|Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 240GB||$61.99|
|Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 480GB||$109.99|
|Toshiba OCZ Trion 150 960GB||$199.99|
|Mushkin Reactor 1TB||$249.99|
Almost any SATA SSD, save for the worst bargain-bin specials, are 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 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. Modern games are only getting larger, and SSD prices are falling to the point where the 500GB upgrade premium isn't that large. It's not fun shuffling data on and off a 240GB SSD to make room for that latest triple-A release.
OCZ's Trion 150 is a great budget performer. The 240GB, 480GB, and 960GB versions of this drive are all selling for compelling prices right now, so purchase the capacity that best meets your needs and budget. Mushkin's Reactor 1TB drive punches way above its weight class, but that drive's price has risen out of "eye-popping value" territory recently and into the "just average" range of $0.27 per gigabyte or so. It's still much faster than a Trion 150, so it's worth picking one up if you can find it for closer to its historical low of $200-ish.
|Crucial MX200 250GB||$81.72|
|Samsung 850 EVO 250GB||$94.99|
|Crucial MX200 500GB||$139.99|
|Samsung 850 EVO 500GB||$159.99|
|Crucial MX300 750GB||$199.99|
|Crucial MX200 1TB||$279.99|
|Samsung 850 EVO 1TB||$306.76|
Step up to a sweet-spot SSD, and you get higher performance and niceties like hardware-accelerated encryption. Samsung's 850 EVO and Crucial's MX200 are our favorite drives in this class. The price winds favor the MX200 right now, but you can't go wrong with an 850 EVO if discounts or market movements bring its price on par with the Crucial competition. As with the Trion 150s above, grab the capacity that meets your budget and capacity requirements.
Crucial's MX300 is a new and interesting option in this performance class. This 750GB drive is the first consumer drive to use Micron's 3D TLC NAND. It offers a significant step up in capacity for about the same price as high-end 500GB SATA SSDs , and its performance is more or less on par with the MX200. If you want more capacity than our 500GB picks here and still value performance, the MX300 does a good job of bridging the gap between value 1TB options and higher-performance 500GB drives.
|Toshiba OCZ RD400 256GB||$174.99|
|Samsung 950 Pro 256GB||$180.99|
|Toshiba OCZ RD400 512GB||$309.99|
|Samsung 950 Pro 512GB||$317.06|
|Intel 750 Series SSD 800GB||$599.99|
|Toshiba OCZ RD400 1TB||$769.99|
|Intel 750 Series SSD 1.2TB||$1067.99|
Moving into the high-end realm of solid-state storage lets us consider blazing-fast PCIe drives from Samsung, Intel, and OCZ. These drives ditch the aging AHCI protocol for NVM Express, or NVMe, a next-generation protocol that was designed explicitly for solid-state storage. PCIe drives from OCZ and Samsung plug into the M.2 slots common on many Z170 and X99 motherboards, while Intel's 750 Series SSDs need a free PCIe slot or a motherboard with a U.2 connector.
Samsung's 950 Pro drives are the company's first to combine its 3D V-NAND flash and a controller that supports the next-generation NVM Express storage protocol. That combo makes for one of the fastest SSDs you can buy right now. The only problem with this drive may be that its real-world performance doesn't often separate it from drives that use the SATA interface and the AHCI protocol, even if the 950 Pro bests them in our synthetic tests. We're not ones to argue with glorious excess, but the PCIe 950 Pro sells for over twice the price of a similarly large SATA 850 EVO. You'll have to decide whether having the latest and greatest tech is worth that considerable premium.
OCZ's RD400 series offers a slightly more accessible path to that glorious excess. In our overall performance index, the RD400 actually edges out the 950 Pro. For those who need a lot of face-melting speed, the RD400 maxes out at a terabyte, compared to the 950 Pro's 512GB range-topper. That's not to say these drives are cheap—they're not—but their costs per gigabyte are a bit lower than the Samsung competition. We don't think you can go wrong with either if you really and truly thrash your storage devices.
Intel's 750 Series solid-state drives are also monster performers, thanks to the fact that they're descended from datacenter-class hardware. Like the other drives here, the 750 Series harnesses four lanes of PCIe 3.0 connectivity, and they also ditch the old AHCI protocol for NVM Express. As with the 950 Pro and RD400, the real challenge for a 750 Series drive is finding desktop workloads that can take full advantage of the performance on tap.
Compared to consumer-grade PCIe drives, the 750 Series offers wicked-fast sequential speeds and substantially higher random I/O rates. You get robust power-loss protection, too, plus a five-year warranty and a high endurance rating. Just keep in mind that the add-in cards we're recommending require full-sized expansion slots with Gen3 connectivity. Intel also makes a 2.5" version with a cabled PCIe connection, but you won't find that U.2 connector on many motherboards outside of the latest X99 offerings.
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.
|WD Blue 2TB||$76.99|
|WD Black 2TB||$122.99|
|WD Blue 4TB||$127.99|
|WD Black 4TB||$196.99|
|WD Blue 6TB||$214.99|
Going by Backblaze's reliability studies, HGST drives appear to be the most reliable out there by a decent margin. Western Digital's drives usually come in second, while Seagate 1.5TB and 3TB drives are the least reliable. HGST's drives tend to be a fair bit more expensive than WD's, though, so we're continuing to recommend WD's products for most builders. Grab the drive that fits your capacity, performance, and budgetary requirements.
WD recently threw a curveball by condensing its Green drives into its Blue lineup. The only way to tell which Blue drives are rebranded Greens is to look for a "Z" at the end of the drive's model number. Since "true Blues"—drives with a 7200 RPM rotational speed—only ever sold in capacities up to a terabyte, expect that most Blue drives you'll see from here on out are rebranded Greens with a 5400-RPM-ish spindle speed.
WD Red and Red Pro drives are mostly the same thing as Blues, aside from a longer warranty and some RAID-friendly features. We don't think those two points are worth the extra cost for most. WD Black drives have a 7200-RPM spindle speed, and they're tuned for high performance, at least by mechanical storage standards. Black drives are better choices than Blues or Reds for storage-intensive work that may exceed the capacities of reasonably-priced SSDs.
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 DVD and Blu-ray discs, though, and we're happy to oblige them with a couple
|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 both DVDs and CDs, 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 and costs less than the now-discontinued Asus drive that we used to recommend. Can't argue with that.
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