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Best SSD For Gaming 2021: Top Solid-State Drives For Faster Storage

Choosing the best SSD for gaming can be confusing, but here are our top picks across all formats to make things easier.

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In the past, solid-state drives (otherwise known as SSDs) were optional, expensive PC storage devices that you might install your operating system onto for some overall performance benefits, but the flash-based storage has now been around long enough to become a viable option to incorporate throughout your build. From SATA to NVMe, PCIe Gen 3 and Gen4, SSDs come in various shapes, speeds, and, most importantly, price points, which can make finding the best SSD for gaming a little confusing.

Why are SSDs best for gaming?

First, it's important to know just why SSDs are so much better than those chunky, traditional HDDs you might still be using. SSDs use flash memory, which, aside from being much, much faster, is also more reliable. Without all of the mechanical parts that make up an HDD, SSD failures are far less common when moving your PC or coming into contact with magnets. SSDs are also smaller, making them easier to integrate into a build. They're silent, too--no more annoying vibration noise when trying to load up a game of Apex Legends, for example.

Types of SSDs

SSDs come in a variety of types and form factors. SATA SSDs are still incredibly popular and are most likely what you have in your PC right now. They require you to connect them to your power supply and motherboard's SATA ports. M.2 SSDs are a faster option and require you to plug them into the M.2 slots on your motherboard--you'll want to make sure your motherboard has M.2 slots prior to your purchase.

M.2 SSDs also come in a number of different configurations. M.2 SATA is the slowest, as it uses the same standard that hard drives and early SSDs have used for years. M.2 PCIe, on the other hand, is much faster. Most M.2 PCIe SSDs make use of the NVMe memory standard, offering blistering speeds as they interface directly with your CPU across PCIe lanes. Nowadays, you'll probably only have to choose between Gen3 and Gen4 drives, with the latter requiring either the latest Intel CPUs or AMD's Zen2 or Zen3 CPUs (as well as a compatible motherboard) to access their ridiculously high speeds. M.2 PCIe NVMe SSDs typically cost more, but you can often find NVMe SSDs at a lower price than their regular, thanks to sales.

A few things to look out for

Be sure to consider the type of flash storage an SSD is using. This heavily influences endurance, the number of read and write operations that the memory can support before becoming unreliable or damaged. The more bits stored per layer, the more storage a memory module can offer at the expense of a shorter lifespan. High-endurance flash memory is also expensive, offering far less storage per GB but promising a longer life. If you're just using your PC for light work and gaming, endurance shouldn't really factor into your purchasing decision. This is a concern reserved for intense workloads where you're constantly moving files around, such as with servers and some content creation workloads. Most SSDs listed below use either TLC or QLC flash memory, both of which offer their own pros and cons depending on your most critical use case.

Also important is ensuring that your chosen SSD features an on-board controller. This is mainly an issue when looking at extremely cheap SSDs, many of which manage to cut costs considerably by shipping without a controller. These are generally poor SSDs to invest in, and none on our list are of this type. Equally important is a cache, which is often made with much faster flash storage, such as SLC. A cache speeds up transfers of files by first making use of the faster memory before it's offloaded to regular flash storage by the controller. These can make high-capacity drives operate at high read and write levels, which eventually taper off as the drive fills up. Sabrent uses this effectively to offer competitive prices for high-capacity drives, for example, but it's a compromise you should consider carefully.

The last thing to consider is whether or not you need a heatsink. Many modern motherboards come with at least one M.2 slot with an on-board heatsink, but if you happen to have one without that, then you should consider buying an SSD with one attached already. This is not especially important for PCIe Gen3 SSDs, but it's arguably essential for PCIe Gen4 drives that get notoriously hot during operation. Without an effective heatsink, you can find speeds throttled during use and, in some worse cases, full drive failure as the flash memory gets damaged.

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