The Best Storage 2019
It’s been over a decade but we can finally declare solid state drives are not only mainstream, but they’re a commodity. Fast storage will hopefully only get faster but today’s best choices are only differentiated by how extreme you want to go and how willing you are to pay for the very best.
Enthusiast and pro-level SSDs are reserved to non-volatile storage (NVMe and Intel Optane) which carry a premium but are certainly worth the money if you run applications that fully take advantage of the 2x performance bump. For the rest of users, mainstream SSDs are very affordable at good capacities, speeds and endurance, and can grow as large as 4TB. Our best storage picks are divided into six categories based on form factor and need as shown below.
Best High-Performance / Enthusiast SSD
The Samsung 970 Evo Plus is as good as it gets for a top performing drive that won’t break the bank. Having commanded many of our top SSD lists for the past few years, Samsung’s impeccable track record is hard to beat when it comes to premium solid state storage.
The 970 Evo Plus receives a small bump in performance and efficiency from the Evo (non-plus) model that was released a year prior. Making good use of Samsung’s 3D V-NAND technology, this NVMe drive uses the company’s latest 96-layer V-NAND 3-bit MLC. Compared to traditional NAND storage in which the cells are laid out flat on the PCB, V-NAND uses a vertical arrangement. Samsung claims that stacking the cells also improves longevity and power efficiency. However what you will want to know is that for the past two generation of SSDs, Samsung has blurred the line between their top Pro and Evo series, with both performing nearly at the same level, with the Pro becoming more of a niche player for higher endurance.
The 970 Evo Plus is available in 250GB, 500GB and 1TB variants, with a 2TB drive arriving soon (April/19). Pricing ranges from $86 for the 250GB version up to $250 for the 1TB variant. All drives are rated at the same 3.5GB/s reads, but writing will be slower on the smaller version (2.3GB/s) and faster on the 500GB and 1TB drives (3.2GB/s and 3.3GB/s).
WD and HP offer competing M.2 PCIe SSDs featuring their own architecture and controllers with specs on par with the SSD 970 Evo Plus. When we said SSDs are now a commodity, we were not only referring to affordable mainstream models, but even top tier NVMe are hard to differentiate, so if you can pick up a deal on the WD Black SN750 or HP EX950, rest assured you are getting the best there is at the enthusiast level. Even previous-gen models, like the 970 Evo (non-plus), WD Black NVMe and HP EX920 are good buys if you get them at a discount since performance difference is marginal.
For workstations and professionals, the extra oomph and confidence provided by the SSD 970 Pro may be justified at a premium. The 970 Pro offers class-leading M.2 NVMe performance but is only available in capacities up to 1TB.
Marking a larger jump in performance, Intel’s Optane 905p now offers up to 1.5TB of ultra fast storage. It’s damn expensive, but Optane’s key attributes include incredibly low latency, extended endurance and performance improvements at practical queue depths. Derived from enterprise-focused drives, the Optane 905p is essentially the only drive that is significantly faster than Samsung’s 970 Pro overall.
Endurance on the 960GB Optane 905p is rated at an insane 17.52 PBW vs. Samsung’s 1TB SSD 970 Pro 1.2 PBW (perabytes written). Intel’s drive costs three times as much than Samsung’s top offering though.
Best Mainstream SSD
SSDs for everybody. Equally great choices:
Based on Micron’s 64-layer 3D TLC NAND and available in 2.5” SATA or M.2 interfaces, the wallet-friendly Crucial MX500 is a proven affordable option. Most users won’t notice any difference in performance between the MX500 and the Samsung 860 Evo, or even the 860 Pro. So if you want to save a few bucks, Crucial’s drives are usually found at a discount and they’re a safe bet for a snappy SSD.
There haven’t been many changes in mainstream solid drives for the past year, except for lowering prices which means today you can buy a 1TB drive for as little as $125, or half a terabyte for $70. A relatively newcomer to the SSD market, WD offers a competitive line of drives also available in both form factors.
This group of consumer-grade SSDs are great option for all kinds of uses, laptop upgrades, builders, and at this point even storage capacity upgrades. The best performing SATA drives had already squeezed most they could from the interface a few years ago, so the speed differences here are negligible if perhaps more consistent than they were before. Expect sequential read and write speeds of up to 550MB/s and 530MB/s as well as max random read and write speeds of 95K IOPS and 85K IOPS. Best of all, with enthusiasts moving on to NVMe, prices for these SATA drives are at their all-time low.
Best Hard Drive
Raw storage capacity is the main reason for considering a conventional hard drive and you won’t be seeing blistering speeds regardless with a mechanical drive. That’s the reason we’re picking a cost-effective yet reliable hard drive, choosing the WD Red over the company’s faster but pricier Black drives.
Western Digital’s consumer HDDs comprise three families: Blue, for entry-level drives; Red, for NAS systems and long-term reliability; and Black, for ultimate performance from a spinning disk drive. The company’s Green drives were dropped from the lineup, while Gold and Purple have been added for enterprise and surveillance purposes.
WD Red HDDs are tested for compatibility in NAS environments, but even if that’s not your need, it does offer lower noise and vibration compared to regular hard drives, built-in NASware 3.0 technology and error recovery controls should something go awry. They come in both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch form factors with capacities ranging from 2TB up to 10TB. Our pick of a 4TB Red drive is just $120 at the moment.
For those of you who need an HDD to store tons of 4K videos, photos, and games, but you also care about performance, you might as well step up to Seagate’s Barracuda Pro, which is one of the largest consumer hard drives you can buy with capacities up to 14TB ($550) and offers a maximum sustained transfer rate of more than 200MB/s. Meanwhile, 15TB HDDs are now available with 16TB plus models in the works.
Best Portable Storage
Close runner-up: SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable
Starting at $100 for 500GB of portable solid-state storage, Samsung’s T5 series has set the bar for external USB 3.1 SSDs, offering read and write speeds of up to 540MB/s, a three year warranty and AES 256-bit hardware encryption with software that is a snap to set up. The device is encased in metal and is compact enough that it can fit in the palm of your hand or thrown in your pocket, measuring less than 3 x 3 x 0.5″.
Compatible with Windows, macOS and Android, the T5 should allow you to expand the storage of any device with a USB port.
Between its compact size, sub-$0.25/GB pricing and top-end performance, the T5 has yet to be bested in this form factor. Do note however that is you want the best performance possible (especially for sequential writes) the larger 500GB version and above are faster than the base 250GB offering.
I Want More Speed
Honestly, the T5 is plenty fast for a portable drive. In fact, we’ve been spoiled by it. But for mission-critical work, you don’t want fast, you want the fastest. The Samsung X5 Portable SSD is a newer NVMe-based offering that leverages Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, enabling read speeds of up to 2,800 MB/s and write speeds of up to 2,300 MB/s. According to Samsung, you can transfer a 20GB 4K UHD video in just 12 seconds. It is nonetheless a first-gen drive and you’ll have to find suitable laptops/PCs that fully take advantage of it. It’s expensive, too, but blazing fast.
Best External Hard Drive
For those after something big to backup or transfer data, and don’t need the performance of an SSD — or don’t want to pay the premium — Seagate’s Backup Plus Hub delivers ample storage at a great value ($150 for 8 terabytes). The drive comes in 4 TB, 6 TB, 8 TB and 10 TB capacities, and unlike our portable pick it requires its own power, and must be plugged into a wall outlet.
The design is compact for a full fledged external HDD, while the front-facing USB 3.0 hub is quite useful for charging mobile devices or plugging in flash drives on your desktop.
By default, the Backup Plus Hub comes formatted for Windows PC but with a driver install you can add Mac support and use it interchangeably between the two operating systems without reformatting. Furthermore, Seagate also offers a ‘Hub for Mac’ white version that is Time Machine compatible right out of the box, though again, to add Windows support you simply have to install some extra software.
The bundled Seagate Dashboard interface lets you back up your PC, mobile devices, and photos and video from social media, or to restore an existing backup. Seagate drives have proven reliable over the years, but you can also set up an automatic backup that sends your files to an offsite cloud storage provider, so your data is safe even in the event of a failure or unpredictable events like a natural disaster.
Best Home NAS
Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices have become affordable enough for home users to consider purchasing if they are looking for a home file server/media center. Synology makes it easy to migrate data to and from other locations and the company’s software provides a ton of apps for anything you might require from this sort of setup (media streaming, file sharing, home surveillance, etc.)
Pricing for the 4-bay DS418play without any drives begins at $425 while options for bundled storage start at 2TB for $585 and go on up to 10TB for more than $1,000. Regardless of the package you buy, specs include a dual-core Intel J3355 processor with support for dual-channel transcoding, 2GB of DDR3-1866 memory (expandable to 6GB), and encrypted sequential throughput of up to 226MB/s on reads and 185MB/s on writes.
If you wind up buying the drive-less DS418play, Synology offers a list of drives that are compatible with it.