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SSD Tier List: Finding the Best SSD for Your Needs and Budget

If you‘re looking to upgrade your computer with a shiny new solid state drive (SSD), you‘ve got options – lots of them! SSDs come in a wide range of sizes, speeds, and prices to fit different needs.

In this guide, we‘ll break things down into tiers to help you find the perfect SSD:

  • Entry-level – Affordable drives to get your feet wet
  • Mid-range – The sweet spot for most users
  • High-end – Blazing fast drives for hardcore users

I‘ll go over the key differences between tiers and recommend specific drives in each category. My goal is to arm you with the knowledge to pick the ideal SSD for your budget and needs. Let‘s dive in!

Why SSD Tiers Matter

SSD tiers are loosely defined based on performance and features. Entry-level SSDs offer basic functionality at affordable prices. Mid-range SSDs deliver better speed and endurance by adding things like DRAM cache. High-end SSDs pull out all the stops with bleeding edge tech to achieve incredible speeds.

The tier you choose depends on your budget, use case, and performance expectations. A basic office PC used for email and web browsing won‘t benefit much from a high-end SSD. But a power user running intensive applications may need the fastest drive possible.

Stepping up through the tiers brings tangible boosts in areas like:

  • Sequential read/write speeds – How quickly large files transfer.
  • 4K random performance – Impacts loading times in games and apps.
  • Endurance – Total data written over the SSD‘s lifespan.
  • Advanced features – Like encryption and proprietary caching tech.

Now let‘s explore popular options at each tier in more detail.

Entry-Level SSDs

Entry-level drives deliver SSD speeds at hard drive prices. They make it easy to step up from an old spinning hard drive.

Key Characteristics:

  • 120-512GB capacities
  • 300-500MB/s sequential reads
  • No DRAM cache
  • Lower endurance ratings
  • Budget friendly prices (~$50-100 for 500GB)

Ideal Use Cases:

  • Boot drive for basic home/office PCs
  • Secondary storage/cache drive
  • Media storage for music, photos, etc

Our Top Picks:

Model Price Speed Endurance
WD Green $55/240GB Up to 540/465MB/s 80TBW
Crucial BX500 $65/480GB Up to 540/500MB/s 120TBW
Kingston A400 $85/480GB Up to 500/350MB/s 80TBW

I recommend the WD Green or Crucial BX500 as great starter SSDs. They provide a nice bump over hard drives for basic computing. The Kingston A400 gets you more capacity for just a bit more money.

The Bottom Line

Entry-level drives breathe new life into old computers. Their lower speeds are only noticeable for large file transfers or loading huge games. For light office and web use, they offer a snappy experience.

Mid-Range SSDs

Mid-range SSDs strike a balance between affordability and performance. This is the sweet spot for most home and office users.

Key Characteristics:

  • 500GB-2TB capacities
  • 550-600MB/s sequential reads
  • Adds DRAM cache for faster access
  • Higher endurance ratings
  • Reasonable prices (~$100-200 for 1TB)

Ideal Use Cases:

  • Primary OS/apps drive
  • Gaming and creative pro rigs
  • Small business workstations

Our Top Picks:

Model Price Speed Endurance
Crucial MX500 $105/1TB 560/510MB/s 360TBW
Samsung 870 Evo $110/1TB 560/530MB/s 600TBW
WD Blue 3D $125/1TB 560/530MB/s 500TBW

The Crucial MX500, Samsung 870 Evo, and WD Blue 3D are all excellent choices that offer similar performance. I give Samsung the edge for the best overall value, but any of these drives would make a great system drive.

The Bottom Line

Mid-range SSDs deliver a responsive experience for common tasks like booting, launching apps, gaming, and more. Their added endurance also makes them suitable for heavy workstation use.

High-End SSDs

If you demand the absolute best performance money can buy, high-end SSDs deliver blinding fast speeds.

Key Characteristics:

  • 512GB-8TB capacities
  • 3,000-7,000MB/s sequential reads
  • Top-shelf components like PCIe 4.0 and newest controllers
  • Sky-high endurance ratings
  • Premium prices (~$250+ for 1TB)

Ideal Use Cases:

  • Data centers and servers
  • High-end gaming & workstations
  • Professional content creation

Our Top Picks:

Model Price Speed Endurance
Samsung 980 Pro $230/1TB 7,000/5,000MB/s 600TBW
WD Black SN850 $250/1TB 7,000/5,300MB/s 600TBW
Seagate FireCuda 530 $250/1TB 7,300/6,900MB/s 1,800TBW

These drives represent the cutting edge of consumer SSDs. Between their incredible speeds and impressive endurance, they are overkill for normal use but perfect for demanding applications.

The Bottom Line

High-end SSDs are for people who need the absolute fastest storage. For everyday computing, they are hard to justify over mid-range drives.

Finding the Right SSD for You

So which SSD is right for you? Here are a few closing tips:

  • Entry-level drives work great as a boot drive for basic home/office PCs. They can also supplement a larger hard drive.
  • Mid-range SSDs are suitable for primary storage in most home and office builds. They balance price and performance nicely.
  • High-end SSDs are best reserved for hardcore gaming rigs, workstations, or other cases where money is no object. For average users, they are overkill.
  • Look at benchmarks like CrystalDiskMark to compare real-world speeds across tiers. Often even entry-level SSDs feel plenty fast.
  • All else being equal, prioritize endurance and a longer warranty when choosing between similar SSDs.

No matter which tier you end up choosing, any quality SSD will feel blazing fast compared to an old hard drive. Hopefully this guide has helped demystify the different options so you can pick the perfect SSD for your needs and budget!