The Best Computer Storage
Solid State, HDD, External Drives & NAS
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 differentiated by how extreme you want to go and how willing you are to pay for the very best. For new builds, NVMe drives have become the norm as prices continue to fall.
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
Sabrent’s Rocket NVMe PCIe 4.0 SSD is currently the fastest consumer drive on the market. When paired with a PCIe 4.0 compatible motherboard, you can expect to see read speeds of nearly 5000MB/s.
The Rocket was our favorite SSD in our recent PCIe 4.0 vs PCIe 3.0 SSD benchmark comparison, and for good reason. Although most drives on the market share the same internal hardware, Sabrent’s firmware and optimizations allow it to stand out. Pricing is very attractive, too.
While most people don’t have PCIe 4.0 compatible motherboards as of now, this drive will still work fine on older boards, although at Gen 3.0 speeds. Older boards won’t support PCIe Gen 4.0, but the drive is backwards compatible with a Gen 3.0 board.
The value offered by this drive is what really got us excited. It’s as cheap or cheaper than almost every other drive in the category. Even if you don’t have a Gen 4.0 board now, this would still be a great investment if you plan to upgrade in the future. The previous NVMe SSD king, the Samsung 970 Pro, costs $300 which is nearly twice as much as Sabrent’s $170 for the same-size drive. It’s hard to justify buying an older drive when the newer drives are cheaper and faster. The Sabrent is also available in a 2TB version while the 970 Pro goes up to 1TB.
Compared to last year’s high-performance recommendation, the 970 Evo Plus, these Gen 4.0 drives outperform it in almost every workload. The Evo Plus is even a mid-tier drive and the Sabrent is still about 15% cheaper.
Best Mainstream 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, 1TB, and 2TB variants. Pricing ranges from $70 for the 250GB version up to $400 for the 2TB variant. The most popular 1TB version is available for $200. All drives are rated at the same 3.5GB/s reads, but writing will drop roughly in half once the internal write-cache is full. This high-speed “TurboWrite” cache is used to speed up lightweight operations, but is limited to just a few GB depending on which drive you go for.
WD, HP, Corsair, and many others 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. If you can pick up a deal on a WD Black SN750 or Corsair Force MP510 drive, 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.
Best Hard Drive
If you’re in the market for a mechanical hard drive, you’re either looking to put together a budget system or you just want a ton of storage. This year’s recommendation goes to the Seagate BarraCuda line.
Starting at $50 for 2TB, it’s one of the cheapest drives on the market. The BarraCuda is also available in 3TB, 4TB, 6TB, and 8TB models with the 4TB model costing $90 and the 8TB model costing $150. At this ridiculously low price point, you might expect the drive to be very low performing but that’s certainly not the case.
Most other drives in this category are 5400 RPM models which are unsuitable for a main boot drive or really anything other than a NAS. The 1TB and 2TB models of the BarraCuda are 7200 RPM drives which are fast enough for a boot drive and moderate applications on top. If you really care about speed, check out SSDs that will outperform this drive. Another thing we like about this drive is the 256MB cache. Many other drives in this category have just 64MB. A larger cache is useful for storing frequently used files without needing to keep them on the slower disk.
The 3TB and above models slow down to 5400 RPM but we think that’s reasonable. Anyone needing a drive that big won’t be using it as their main drive or to store any interactive applications. Drives of that size and above are great for a NAS, backups, or bulk media storage since performance isn’t as critical.
Best Portable Storage
Runner-up: SanDisk 1TB Extreme Portable
Starting at $80 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.
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 ($140 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 useful for charging mobile devices or plugging in flash drives on your desktop.
By default, the Backup Plus Hub comes formatted for Windows PCs but with a driver install you can add macOS 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. To add Windows support, again 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. Since a NAS is essentially just a barebones computer with space for lots of storage, you’ll still need to purchase drives separately. Synology offers a list of drives that are compatible with its products. Regardless of the configuration you end up with, 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.