Best in Storage: Solid State, HDD, Home NAS and More

When it comes to storing data, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. While cloud storage has become better and more accesible we’re still very much dependant on local storage and that’s not changing any time soon. With SSDs rapidly becoming much more affordable, consumers have a broad a mix of high-performance and high-capacity options to choose from, whether in the form of internal storage, external or network attached. We’ve gone through dozens of expert reviews, performed our own tests, and gathered long-term user opinions to bring you the best storage devices available right now divided into six categories: Best performance SSD, best budget SSD, best hard drive, best external hard drive, best home/SMB NAS, and a selection of the best thumb drive storage alternatives.

Best Performance SSD

Samsung 950 Pro M.2 SSD

The Samsung 950 Pro is not only incredibly fast but also a terrific value. The tiny M.2 drive uses Non-Volatile Memory Express or NVMe, a new performance controller interface set to replace the aging AHCI standard. The latter was designed years ago with hard drives in mind and is therefore optimized for high latency rotating disks, whereas NVMe brings new advantages such as multiple queues, higher queue depths and lower latency due to a direct path from the storage to the CPU.

Depending on storage capacity the Samsung 950 Pro can hit sequential read performance of 2200MB/s to 2500 MB/s, which is about 4-5 times faster than a standard SATA SSD. Sequential write performance is equally impressive at 1500 MB/s, or about three times the performance of most SATA drives. Random read and read IOPS performance is twice as fast as a SATA SSD, but the random write and write IOPS are only about on par.

Next to its competition only the Intel SSD 750 manages to beat the 950 Pro in certain tests, but the 950 Pro’s boot times blow Intel’s drive out of the water. Also keep in mind Intel’s drive takes up a PCIe slot and has a heatsink, whereas the 950 Pro tucks away in-between PCIe slots. The 512GB 950 Pro at $350 gives you more capacity than Intel’s SSD 750 400GB at a lower price point, too.

The Samsung 950 Pro comes in 256GB ($200) and 512GB ($350) capacities and uses 3D V-NAND rather than planar NAND. It supports AES-256, TCG Opal 2.0 Full Disk Encryption, supports the NVMe Deallocate command — the equivalent to the ATA Trim command — is has a MTBF rating of 1.5 million hours and is backed by a 5 year warranty.

The main ‘downside’ is that being a new technology you’ll need a relatively new motherboard with the necessary M.2 connector and firmware that supports NVMe. But the standard has been around long enough that virtually every consumer device with an M.2 slot providing PCIe lanes should have NVMe support or a firmware update available to add it.

NVMe-based storage represents a jump in pricing compared to SATA offerings. But if you need lightning-fast performance the 950 Pro delivers and does so at a competitive price.

Best Budget SSD

Samsung 850 Evo SSD

Samsung pushed SATA 6Gb/s to its limit in 2015 with the 850 Pro, leaving virtually no room left to exploit out of the interface. But because SATA remains the mainstream interface, the next logical step was to take that maxed out performance and make it cheaper. That’s where the 850 Evo comes in.

The 850 Evo uses Samsung’s 3D TLC NAND, so it has a much higher write endurance rating than its predecessor. The 500GB model (and up) are rated for 150TB of writes, twice as much as the 120GB and 250GB models, and half the 300TBW rating you get with the 850 Pro. In real life it is almost impossible to wear out a consumer SSD, though. The point is that you get a bit more performance and peace of mind with the Pro, but the 850 Evo isn’t too far behind and is about 30% cheaper per GB.

In our review of the 500GB Evo it reached sequential read and write speeds of up to 520MB/s and 493MB/s, respectively. Random read and write performance was 409MB/s and 339MB/s, while throughput in file copy tests reached up to 300MB/s.

Samsung includes a feature called TurboWrite, which treats a small portion of the flash storage as faster SLC NAND for caching, and RAPID, which lets you use up to 4GB of system RAM as write cache for the drive. The former works within the drive automatically so you don’t need to enable it, but you do have to enable RAPID within the Windows-only Magician software.

Other highlights include full-disk encryption and a 5-year warranty. Priced at around $140 – $150 ($0.28 to $0.30 per GB) the 950 Evo is an amazing value. Competing drives include the Crucial MX100 and BX100, Corsair Neutron XT and Samsung’s own 850 Pro, but the 850 Evo offers a better overall deal for value seekers without sacrificing much performance.

Best Hard Drive (Big capacity)

WD Black 6 TB (WD6001FZWX)

Buying a mechanical hard drive is more about storage capacity and reliability than performance, but the WD Black 6TB manages to surprise with 220MB/s read and write figures in some benchmarks. That’s almost 50% the performance of today’s fastest SATA 6Gb/s SSDs — keep in mind we’re comparing a NAND chip versus a 7,200 RPM rotating platter here.

Storage Review conducted some synthetic and real-life tests against hybrid SSHD drives — the Seagate Desktop SSHD 4TB and WD Blue SSHD Desktop 4TB. Understandably, the WD Black 6TB didn’t always come up on top compared to its NAND-assisted rivals, but it still performed admirably. In synthetic benchmarks the drive had a dominant showing with 214.53MB/s sequential read and 214.91MB/s sequential write speeds, while in an HTPC workload it posted 81.85MB/s and 1,100 IOPS, while average latency was calculated at 7.3ms. Overall it’s a noticeable boost in performance compared to the previous WD Black model with a significant increase in storage.

The drive features an LSI controller, 128MB of DRAM and Dynamic Cache Technology, which improves caching algorithms in real time by allocating and optimizing cache between reads and writes. WD also claims increased reliability and is backing the drive with a 5-year warranty. User reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive as well.

If you are looking for low cost first, bulk storage second, then you could opt for one of the WD Red and Green models. But if you want plenty of storage AND the fastest performance a traditional hard disk drive allows, you can’t go wrong with the WD Black 6TB. It does produce a bit more heat and vibration than your average disk drive, so be sure to use anti-vibration screws or rubber damper to help minimize the noise.

Best External Hard Drive

Samsung Portable SSD T1

The Portable SSD T1 raised our expectations of what a portable storage device is capable of when we reviewed it back in January. The drive proved itself with internal SATA SSD-like results, sustaining a throughput of 390MB/s when downloading (reading) a single large compressed file and 300MB/s when uploading (writing). When handling lots of small files, the T1’s download performance was 40% greater than the fastest thumb drive we’ve seen and almost four times faster than a conventional 2.5″ hard drive. Put simply, it’s the fastest USB 3.0 storage device we’ve ever tested and comes in an incredibly small and convenient package (2.8 inches long, 2.1 inches wide, 0.4 inch thick and weighing in at just 1.1 ounces).

Pricing was a bit hard to swallow back at launch, especially for the larger 500GB and 1TB variants, but less than a year later and the T1 is now hovering the $0.35-$0.38 per gigabyte mark. Originally priced at $180, $300 and $600 for the 250GB, 500GB and 1TB models, the drive is now at a much more palatable $88, $170 and $370, respectively. It’s still a premium portable drive when you consider there are 2TB disk drive alternatives going for $80, but we think the speed and portability of Samsung’s T1 is well worth it.

Because solid-state drives don’t have moving parts, the T1 is also more durable and shock resistant than its platter based counterparts. Its plastic case isn’t designed to stand up to significant abuse, but it will survive falling a short distance.

The Samsung T1 Portable SSD also offers 256 AES encryption if you’re using it on Windows or OS X. One downside, however, is the lack of support for the TRIM command as neither Apple nor Microsoft currently allow issuing TRIM commands through the USB interface. Samsung was working on a way of manually enabling it through the Samsung SSD Magician software, but we haven’t heard any news on this front.

Best Home/SMB NAS

Synology Disk Station DS415 Plus

A NAS is great for people with large media libraries or anyone interested in a local backup solution for more than one computer that doesn’t involve connecting an external drive to each of them. While those may be your primary concerns when considering buying network-attached storage, these days they can do so much more — for example, act as email server, a virtual private network server, BitTorrent downloader, small website host, DVR for network cameras and more.

Our pick for advanced home users or SMBs is the 4-bay Synology DiskStation DS415. It comes with a quad-core 2.4GHz Intel Atom C2538 with a dedicated AES-NI hardware encryption engine and 2GB of RAM. There are four 3.5-inch hard drive bays supporting up to a maximum 24TB of storage (thanks to 6TB drive support) and the ability to hot swap storage. On the connectivity front you get dual Gigabit Ethernet (both for failsafe and Link Aggregation), one eSATA, one USB 2.0 and a pair of USB 3.0 ports.

In TechPowerUp’s tests using four Seagate ST500DM005 500 GB hard drives in RAID 6, the DS415+ was able to deliver up to 180 MB/s read and write speeds under heavy throughput. Even with encryption enabled tests show very minimal impacts for sequential data transfers.

The biggest strengths of Synology NAS units is their DiskStorage Manager software (DSM), which is highly intuitive even for newcomers and updated regularly. There’s a laundry list of supported protocols and services to move your data in and out of your drives. There’s even the ability to plug in a USB Wi-Fi dongle and use your NAS as a wireless access point. Synology hasn’t skimped on mobile apps either. They’re simple yet useful and there’s about ten of them to handle different features remotely — note taking, video and audio streaming, local and remote file backups, surveillance cameras, managing downloads, managing the NAS itself and more.

At $600 without disks it’s definitely not for everyone, but in the world of NAS you can’t go wrong with Synology and the DS415+ is an amazing pick for power users. As a more ‘mainstream priced’ alternative, you could opt for a 2-bay drive instead, such as the DS214. You still get the same incredible DSM software and feature set but also a hardware downgrade to a less powerful ARM-based SoC and more limited connectivity options.

Best Pen Drives

Despite the convenience of cloud storage we still think anyone who needs to move files around should have a USB flash drive. Rather than picking just one we have a handful of recommendations, each with a different advantage. For the fastest high-capacity USB 3.0 flash drive, the SanDisk Extreme USB 3.0 is our main pick with its best-in-class random transfer speeds. It has a convenient stiletto-inspired design and at $20 for 32GB or $33 for 64GB it’s pretty reasonably priced. It also offers encryption and comes with a lifetime warranty.

The Patriot Supersonic Magnum is our runner-up performance pick if you need larger capacities. It comes in 64GB ($40), 128GB ($62) and 256GB ($120) variants, it’s very well constructed and it’s backed by a 5-year warranty.

If you’re looking for something that is able to take a bit of tear and wear, the LaCie XtremKey USB 3.0 should be right up your alley. Its metal alloy body protects the device from scratches and dents from up to 10 meters or 10-tons of pressure, and can handle temperatures at up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit and as low as -22 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s not as fast as the aforementioned drives but should the Apocalypse come this is the drive you’ll want to have. It’s priced at $57 for 32GB, $90 for 64GB and $117 for 128GB.

Another less-extreme rugged option is the Corsair Flash Voyager, which ranges from 16GB ($10) to 128GB ($80) capacities. It’s both shock and water resistant thanks to a rubber body and cap that seal out moisture and protect against bumps and bangs.

Lastly if all you need it a dirt cheap option, the SanDisk Cruzer is only USB 2.0 but at $8 for 32GB and $13 for 64GB it’s an incredibly popular option. It has more than 10,000 reviews on Amazon with an average score of 4.6 out of 5.0. That speaks volumes of how dependable this little drive is.

Masthead SSD/HDD image by Shutterstock

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