You need lots of hard drive space, especially in 2018. You need somewhere to store your documents, media, and games. As smartphones offer increasingly stellar cameras capable of highly-detailed images, the disk space requirements for those images continue to grow. Those who like to rip and store their movies digitally understand how quickly you can fill up a drive with 1080p or 4K encodes. If you have ambitions of playing AAA games on your PC, you need to prepare for the reality that many new games can exceed 100GB install sizes.
Even if you are primarily a console gamer, upgrading the system’s internal hard drive or using an external USB drive to accommodate the ever-increasing game installation sizes has become normal. When you decide to build or buy a gaming PC, you have a wide array of possibilities when it comes to configuring your build with storage devices. Solid state drives (SSD) offer blisteringly fast speeds and can make everyday PC use much more enjoyable, but remain very costly in large capacities. Unless you are going with the blank check approach to your gaming PC build, a SSD/platter drive combination setup will likely be your best bet.
Selecting The Best Storage For Your Gaming PC
Drive Types Explained
The two main drive types you need to be concerned about when putting together a new gaming PC are platter drives and solid state drives. Platter drives have been around for a long time and are the most common way to store data on your PC. They contain spindles with circular disks that magnetically store data. The benefits of using a platter drive are large capacities and affordability. Because platter drives rely on delicate moving parts, they are susceptible to shock and vibration. Their mechanical design also restricts their overall performance when compared to solid state drives.
Solid state drives use integrated-circuit assemblies to hold information and, unlike platter drives, contain no moving parts. SSDs are much faster at seeking and reading data than their platter counterparts and generate little heat and virtually no noise. The speed and other benefits come at the cost of affordability. While SSDs in smaller capacities are relatively affordable, drives of 1TB or more can become prohibitively expensive.
Do I Need A Solid State Drive?
While you can build a new gaming PC with only a platter drive and get a good experience, it is highly recommended that you always build with at least one SSD. Installing your operating system (Windows) to a SSD can drastically change the feel of using the PC for virtually every task. Using a SSD as your boot drive greatly reduces the time it takes your PC to power on and into the operating system. Any applications installed on the SSD will also receive large boosts in quickness. It will also make your web browsing much more snappy.
The benefits of using a SSD with your games may not be as pronounced as they are with your operating system. There are many games that can see improved load times from installing them to the SSD, but it is less common to see any in-game performance gains from doing this. If you aren’t bothered by slightly longer load times, choosing to install your big PC games to a platter drive (especially faster 7200rpm models) is a good choice that won’t break the bank. As with any rule, there can be exceptions. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is known to offer more consistent performance when installed to a SSD. This can also be true for large, open-world games that continually need to stream assets from a drive while playing.
M.2 and NVME SSDs
In the last few years, the newest SSD designs (known as NVME drives) have moved over to a PCI-E interface from the traditional SATA interface to benefit from the increased bandwidth afforded by the former. The initial wave of these new drives arrived on PCI-E add-on cards. The new M.2 form factor allows drives (and other device types) to be installed with a minimal footprint in tight spots like laptops or between PCI-E slots on motherboards. Recent chipsets from Intel and AMD allow M.2 SSDs to use the PCI-E interface without the need to occupy a PCI-E slot.
M.2 SSDs can also take advantage of the SATA interface, depending on your motherboard. Some boards offer dedicated NVME slots, dedicated SATA slots, or slots that offer support for both. Typically, when you install a m.2 SATA SSD into one of these slots, some of the traditional SATA ports on the motherboard may disabled (as their bandwidth is now in use by the M.2 slot). Before filling your PC with m.2 drives and regular SATA drives, consult the motherboard manual to ensure you don’t run into issue.
M.2 NVME SSDs can be much faster than their SATA counterparts, but those difference will not be felt in day to day use or in games. It is not worth the extra money to buy NVME SSDs for a gaming PC build. A bonus benefit of using m.2 drives of any type is that they do not require power or signal cables like a conventional drive would. This can make cable management in your PC simpler and possibly contribute to a cleaner looking build.
The Best SSDs For Your Gaming PC
1TB SSDs usually sell for $300 and beyond, though they offer lots of lightning-fast storage. The Samsung 860 EVO series is the newest entry in Samsung’s legendary consumer-class SSD line. It follows in the footsteps of the popular 850 and 750 EVO. Samsung SSDs are often slightly pricier than their competition, but offer best-in-class reliability. The Crucial and WD-branded drives offer similar performance and are often available on sale. Choosing between the 2.5-inch or M.2 versions of these drives will depend on your specific gaming PC build.
500GB SSDs range in price from $120 to $170, though they offer lots of lightning-fast storage. The Samsung 860 EVO series is the newest entry in Samsung’s legendary consumer-class SSD line. It follows in the footsteps of the popular 850 and 750 EVO. Samsung SSDs are often slightly pricier than their competition, but offer best-in-class reliability. The Crucial, WD and SanDisk-branded drives offer similar performance and are often available on sale. Choosing between the 2.5-inch or M.2 versions of these drives will depend on your specific gaming PC build.
250GB SSDs can easily be found for under $100 and make an excellent choice for an affordable boot drive. Fitting your operating system, applications, and a few games will be no issue on one of these drives. The Samsung 860 EVO series is the newest entry in Samsung’s legendary consumer-class SSD line. It follows in the footsteps of the popular 850 and 750 EVO. Samsung SSDs are often slightly pricier than their competition, but offer best-in-class reliability. The Crucial and WD-branded drives offer similar performance and are often available on sale. Choosing between the 2.5-inch or M.2 versions of these drives will depend on your specific gaming PC build.
The Best Hard Drives For Your Gaming PC
7200 RPM Platter Drives For Gaming/Storage
7200 RPM platter drives offer loads of storage space and are quick enough to provide good load times for your games. The pricing on these drives is much more attractive than you will find on SSDs. You can set yourself up with a 4TB platter drive for less than you can get most 500GB SSDs. Toshiba X-series and P-series drives are relatively new on the market, but have garnered praise from gamers and enthusiast builders alike. The Seagate BarraCuda line has been around in one form or another for 20+ years. The newest generation gives snappy performance without kneecapping your wallet.
5400 RPM Drives For Media Storage
When you simply need to store things and maximum performance is not required, 5400 RPM platter drives are the best option. These drives are perfect for holding your music and video collections. If you have plans to use your PC as a NAS or Plex Server, these drives will give you the capacity you need without making much noise or generating excess heat. They are designed to be powered on 24x7 and provide rock-solid dependability.
The WD Red NAS drives are the gold standard when it comes to always-on storage. While not always the cheapest option, they set the standard which all other drives in this category are judged. The WD Blue and Seagate BarraCuda are good options if your storage needs are on the smaller side.