In building or purchasing a PC for programming, it’s important to gun for a capable build. Programming is not as resource intensive as, say, high res video editing or object modelling, but a beefed-up PC helps you avoid any performance roadblocks as you progress through your programming journey.
SSDs are a critical component of any well-built PC. Let’s talk about the best SSDs for programming and how a good, scratch, great SSD can help you code better.
First off, what makes a great SSD
SSDs are complex technology, and understanding the bare bones of what differentiates great SSDs from good and bad ones goes beyond the scope of this guide. If you want to take a deep dive, check out my understanding the fine prints of SSD guide.
But to summarize, a great SSD for programming is one that’s:
SSDs will degrade over time, and that’s why most SSDs you’ll buy online will have a theoretical usage lifespan. I say theoretically because in real-world applications, it’s unlikely that you’ll use any one SSD (caveat, SSD made by reputable brands) for long enough to have them fail.
SSDs from less reputable brands might spot older, not so efficient and likely to fail technology. They’ll be cheaper also, and that’s why many newbies buy them, but if you want a durable SSD that’s sure to last long enough to outlive its usefulness, stick with reputable brands – they use optimized tech and, even better, have longer warranty periods.
Performance in an SSD is a multifaceted concept. Simple search online, and you’re bound to see discussion on Read/Write speeds, IOPS, MBTF, TBW and other seemingly confusing metrics I cover in the guide I talked about earlier.
When it comes to building a PC for programming, I regard most if not all of these storage-specific metrics to be vanity metrics – you shouldn’t dwell too much on them. Except you plan on building a server or are concerned about your compile taking 15 mins instead of 13, the upgrade from HDD to SSD is more than enough. None of that SATA vs NVMe or 2.5 inch vs M.2 stuff matters that much. You’re better off spending the extra cash on something more impactful like your RAM or CPU.
I’ve intentionally avoided using ‘cheap’ here because buying a ‘cheap’ SSD can get you into many problems with your PC build – performance, data corruption, system failure, you name it. The ideal SSD for programming is instead budget-friendly, so not so expensive but also not downright cheap as well.
The mistake many newbies will make is fall for the current marketing ploy to end up purchasing absolute top of the line SSDs made for very performant use cases – not necessarily programming. Here’s an example premium over the top-spec SSD I’m referring to. Again, if you’re not building servers or nitpicky with load times and general performance, you don’t need these SSDs.
4. Matching to your build
SSDs come in various form factors and configurations. Again look to my detailed guide for more info. Your overall PC build (or planned PC build) will determine what form factor and config you will opt for.
So, for instance, if you’re using a micro ATX (mATX) motherboard, it makes more sense to choose an M.2 SSD since those have a small build conforming to the small build of the motherboard. If you’re using an ATX motherboard, then you can get away with a 2.5 inch SSD.
When shopping online, you’ll find so many SSDs matching these requirements but only if you know how to search. So you steer clear of the marketing gimmicks and Google ads which may or may not provide the best deal for you, I’ve handpicked the top SSDs for programming currently available.
Best SSDs for programming
1. Best Overall – Samsung 870 EVO
The EVO 870 is our top pick because, everything considered, it is one of the very few SSDs that manage to strike the delicate balance between affordability, durability and performance. This is a SATA based SSD in the 2.5-inch format, so nothing novel by today’s standard and in fact, this SSD was released last year, which is a huge lag by SSD market standards. But as I’ve pointed out through much of this guide, if your PC is majorly meant to be a programming build, you don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest.
The advertised sequential read/write speeds of 530MBps/560MBps, TLC (trinary-level cell) architecture (better off that the QLC architecture on many lowly priced SSDs), and 600TBW rating makes this a performant and more than dependable SSD for programming.
Again to understand these technical bits (I/O speeds, TLC/MLC, TBW) check out my full SSD guide. What you need to know right now is in day to day usage, you’re not going to experience any SSD-caused lags or process slowdowns.
More importantly, the price cut on this SSD compared to many others in the market, despite it having a solid build and performance spec means you get to save more to invest in other more impactful areas of your PC build – like your RAM, GPU or CPU.
Sure, you’re not getting a PCIe 4.0 support (this SSD is a PCIe 3.0 variant) or NVMe (the data transfer protocol here is ACHi), but there’s no arguing the fact that this is one of, if not the most bang for buck SSD you can purchase right now. It certainly is the best SATA based SSD you can buy now, and as far as the day to day storage requirements for a programmer goes, SATA provides more than enough of what you’ll need.
2. Top performance choice – Samsung 970 Evo plus
The Evo Plus is Samsung’s mainstream made for the average consumer SSD. It’s a little bit pricier than the 870 Evo, but this is in the revered M.2 form factor with many significant upgrades in the hardware architecture. Those upgrades all coalesce to provide better performance above what you’d get on the 870 Evo.
If you’re super particular about performance or are working with a PC build where it’s better to use an M.2 type SSD, then the 970 Evo plus is a worthwhile choice. The 970 Evo also offers some future-proofing – meaning it’ll still be a relatively relevant SSD in years to come. Actual performance numbers are super impressive for an SSD at this price point. You get sequential read/write speeds of 3500MBps/2300MBps, a more than a significant upgrade over the 870 Evo, and if you choose the 2TB variant, you get an endurance rating of 1200TBW, twice that of the 870 Evo.
All that and Samsung’s five-year warranty perk for a very pocket-friendly sub $150 price point. Very few other SSDs, certainly very few from manufacturers with the reputation of Samsung, come close to the 970 Evo when you consider its feature set and pricing. This is arguably the most budget-friendly yet top of the range performance SSD currently on the market. The fact that it was released some three years back and is still one of the more popular SSDs on the market says all you need to know about just how impressive this SSD is.
Again, if you want top-tier performance for a programming PC at a still pocket-friendly price, this is the SSD to get.
3. Money no object – Corsair MP600 Pro XT
Now I know despite what I’ve said so far about not fixating on top of line specs for performance, some programmers (maybe you) might still want the latest and greatest SSD for their builds. Maybe you’re building a server station or plan on putting your PC through some very heavy programming workload that goes above what the ML engineers at Amazon currently do. If this is you and you thirst for absolute performance, the Corsair MP600 Pro XT is just what the doctor (read: engineer) ordered.
The MP600 PRO XT is not your typical SSD. It’s an M.2 type SSD alright, but unlike the typical M.2 type SSDs you’ll see plastered all over amazon and other tech buying sites, this SSD comes pre-fitted with a custom cooling kit. This cooling kit provides a larger optimized-for-cooling surface area, meaning they have more space to dissipate heat. If you’re familiar with PC components, you’ll know heat leads to throttling and how a PC component manages to do away with the heat it generates impacts its performance.
Performance numbers are also fitting for a top tier SSD. This is a PCIe gen 4 SSD – all other SSDs on this list are PCIe gen 3. You get max 7100MBps/6800MBps read/write speeds, again well above any other SSD on this list and above most Pro-consumer SSDs on the market right now. Durability is guaranteed with a TBW rating of 3000TB, almost twice the endurance rating of the 870 Evo.
Safe to say that with the MP600 Pro XT onboard your PC, it’s certain that you won’t experience any storage-related performance drops, even for the most demanding tasks. That’s guaranteed by the aluminum cooling fins I talked about earlier, which help with better heat dissipation. While many other Pro tier SSDs throttle performance as temperature rises when handling peak workloads, the MP600 Pro XT can rid itself of heat better, allowing it to go harder for longer.
Do you need this SSD if you’re the average programmer developing websites, apps and frameworks, Nah. Except you’re a freak for performance, I’ll only recommend the MP600 Pro XT when you’re a programmer dealing with some really resource-intensive projects, maybe ML, AI-type programming tasks. Anything else, and you’re fine with the other two SSDs I’ve recommended above.
In shopping for an SSD for programming, you will see a lot of options, and it’s easy to get confused. With this guide, my goal is to simplify it all. If you need an SSD for programming, the options I have up there are more than fitting. Don’t get swarmed by the seemingly abundant SSD options out there – it’s not that complicated.
As I said earlier, pay less attention to the many ‘improved specs’ manufacturers will throw at you. Nine out of ten times you don’t need them. 3D NAND, 5D NAND, 10D NAND … you don’t need to bother yourself with all of that; that’s for the performance geeks, people who’re rendering 40 hour-long 3D movies in 4K high-definition.
For programming, you just need a fast SSD that’s durable. As you’ll find out as you progress in your developer journey, performance in a programming PC will be limited to a greater extent by other non-SSD components.
Frequently asked questions
The simple answer is SSD. SSDs or solid-state drives are light years ahead of HDDs (hard drives) in terms of performance, efficiency and practicality. The average HDD maxes out at a handy 550MBs read/write speed. SSDs, on the other hand, approach 6000MBs/9000MBs in read/write speeds.
Meaning with an SSD, you’ll transfer and receive files faster, and that’ll influence everything from load times to install and compile times as you code your favorite software.
SSDs are also more durable. Unlike the magnetic architecture of hard drives, which are prone to structural failure or outright damage when dropped, SSDs are ‘solid’ computer chips meaning they’ll stay for longer and withstand drops and other physical stressors better. They use less power too, since they lack the physical moving parts you’ll find in a HDD.
If you have extra storage needs, maybe for install files and assets of accessory packages, you can get a cheaper 2TB/3TB HDD to pair with your 512GB SSD. The SSD will host mission-critical files that affect load times and compile speed, while the HDD will serve as a storage reserve.
A 256GB SSD is on the low side of the SSD storage capacity tier list, but if you’re doing just basic coding, it should be okay. My advice, anyway, will be to get a 512GB SSD at least instead of a 256GB SSD if you have the money – and the price difference between both is not that much really.
With a 256GB SSD, you’ll be operating on the margins of running out of storage space. A 512GB SSD gives you better headroom, and as I said, the money you’ll pay for a 512GB is just a few dollars above what you’d pay for a 512GB SSD.