As a graphic designer having a properly specced PC is essential to improving your workflow and overall efficiency. Load times, lagging/freezing PCs, all of that stuff affects your productivity.
Asides from obvious upgrades like your PC’s CPU, RAM and graphics card, one place you can improve to get a more than significant performance boost is your SSD. SSDs or solid-state drives are faster than traditional HDDs, but with the many options, configurations and types, it can be tough to find the perfect SSD for your graphic design needs.
In this guide, I talk briefly about SSDs in general – what you need to know – and how they improve PC performance for graphic design. In the end, I round it all up with a summary of the best SSDs available to buy for graphic designers.
First things first, do you need an SSD for graphic design
The simple answer is yes. As a graphic designer, you’re going to be working with a lot of files. You need a storage device that can transmit files fast and efficiently.
That’s what SSDs are for. Compared to HDDs, the average SSD transmits files up to 50x faster, so you get shorter load times for your favorite design application and blazingly fast upload and download speeds when you upload or download design files in-app.
SSDs offer more advantages than speed, and I cover all of the nitty-gritty in my introduction to SSDs guide. Just so you have an idea, they are also more energy-efficient, more compact and durable than HDDs.
What makes a good graphic design SSD
So we now know SSDs are better off than HDDs, but with the different kinds of SSDs available on the market today, what makes a decent enough SSD for graphic design:
An SSD that’s fast enough
Even among SSDs, there’s a difference in speed. Basically, SSDs can be classed into two categories SATA (ACHI) type SSDs and NVME SSDs. The latter has better throughput read/write (data transmission) speeds, although the former is no slouch either – still certainly light years ahead of the typical HDD. If you want the latest and greatest, you should be opting for an NVME type SSD.
An SSD that’s durable to a fault
SSDs, despite being durable, have a theoretically finite lifespan. They’ll still, on average last longer than the typical HDD, but it’s a known fact that if you use any one particular SSD for long enough, it’s bound to fail eventually. Luckily this time period of ‘long enough is pretty long, and it’s unlikely that’ll you use an SSD for that long.
The caveat is this is only true for durably built SSDs. Some (many) SSD manufacturers cut corners to save costs. If you buy an SSD with inferior tech, it’ll fail faster.
An SSD that has enough space
When SSDs were first introduced, they were freakishly expensive. Many people had to settle for small sized 256GB SSDs to afford one. Thankfully today SSD prices are down by a huge margin, so much that you can get a durable and fast 2TB SSD for just $200.
For graphic design, the larger the SSD storage space, the better, since you’ll be saving and dealing with many files. Ideally, the minimum threshold should be 1TB or at least 512GB – a 256GB SSD is simply not enough in this day and age.
As I said, SSDs used to be such expensive technology, but thankfully prices have dropped. Still, you’re going to find pocket crunchily expensive SSDs with a ton of features you might not necessarily need. A good SSD is basically four things, fast enough (note: not fastest but fast enough), durable, and with enough storage capacity – anything above that, and it’s mostly overkill for a graphic designer.
You want an SSD that strikes the sweet spot between performance and affordability. Thankfully again, there are many SSDs fitting that tag, and that’s what we’ll focus on in the next section – the best SSDs you can buy now as a graphic designer.
Best SSDs for graphic design
If you’re building a PC from scratch or plan on replacing your old storage drive with a better SSD storage option, then these are the picks for you.
Best overall – Samsung 970 Evo Plus
The 970 Evo plus is Samsung’s bestselling consumer-grade SSD, and for obvious reasons. It’s arguably the most performance-oriented, consumer-grade SSD you can buy now for less than 150 bucks.
I say performance-oriented because this SSD packs all the bells and whistles you’d want in a performance type SSD: including a peak read/write number of 3500MBps/2300MBps and an endurance rating of 1200TBW for the 2TB version.
That’s to say this drive is guaranteed to not fail for the first 1200TB of data you write onto it. Pretty impressive number if you consider the fact that the average graphic designer only writes about 20TB worth of data to their storage device every year.
IOPS (input/output operations per second) numbers for read operations check out at 620,000 IOPS; IOPS for random write operations max out at 560,000 IOPS. While sequential read/write numbers tell you the performance threshold of an SSD, they’re reflective of tests conducted in optimized settings.
IOPS numbers are a more direct way of gauging real-world performance since they are a measure of random operations in non-optimized settings. Higher numbers are better.
Base architecture wise, it’s a TLC NAND SSD, so better than QLC type SSDs which is what you’ll get from many other SSD manufacturers. I dive into SSD architecture and structure in my introduction to SSDs, so check that out If you want to understand the difference between SLC, MLC, TLC and QLC type SSDs.
Overall the 970 Evo plus is about the best SSD you can get at its super affordable price point. It has all it takes to give you the storage performance boost you’ll need to speed up things as you go about your graphic design tasks, and more importantly, it’s an SSD that was built to stand the test of time.
You can get it in the 512GB, 1TB or 2TB variants, although I’ll recommend getting the top-tier 2TB option for the added storage and also because it’s the variant with the most blue-chip performance hardware.
Top performance + affordability – Corsair MP600 Pro LPX
Corsair’s MP600 Pro LPX SSD is a touch above the 970 Evo performance-wise. On paper, this is a PCIe gen-4 drive compared to PCIe gen-3 on the 970 Evo with sequential read/write speeds of 7364MBps/6870MBps and random read/write speeds of 3021MBps/2687MBps.
These numbers are well above what you’ll get on the 970 Evo plus, and it shows in the superior performance boost this drive brings to the table.
It comes second on this list of top SSDs for graphic design because, overall, as a graphic designer, you might not need all of the performance boosts the MP600 Pro affords, it’s certainly debatable whether the aluminum cooling fins add-on fits the tag of essential.
Still, when you compare all that it offers, whether superfluous or not, and factor in the somewhat meager 20% price increase above the 970 Evo Pro, the MP600 pans out to be a great deal.
It’s the best deal for anyone who’s not working on a budget and who needs a super capable SSD at the top of performance rankings for consumer-type SSDs. The 970 Evo Pro might work great without additional cooling fins, but it’s a known fact that at peak workloads, heat can cause SSDs to enter throttle mode.
The cooling fins on the MP600 Pro LPX were made specifically to tackle ‘thermal throttling.’ Throw in the significant performance boost you get with the MP600 above the 970 Evo Pro, and you can see why this drive is worth the extra cash.
Best budget option – Samsung 870 Evo
The 870 Evo is a lesser cousin to the 970 Evo Pro, and as you’d expect, it comes with a more than significant hardware and performance drop compared to the latter. For one, this is a 2.5-inch type SSD, different from the M.2 standard of the other two SSDs above it.
There’s nothing wrong with being 2.5 -inch and I outline the differences between the two in my SSD buying guide, but for what it’s worth, these days, 2.5-inch SSDs are considered to be sorta old school – most manufacturers are transitioning to M.2 type SSDs.
It’s also a SATA based SSD. SATA SSDs using the ACHI data transmission protocol are a tad bit slower (although still very much faster than HDDs) than NVME type SSDs. The speed difference could be up to 50x.
The significance of all this is that overall the Samsung 870 EVO is slower performance-wise and less future proof than the other two options above it. Read/write speeds for this drive check out at a handy 530MBpS/560MBps that’s almost 60% slower than the 970 EVO, and its endurance rating of 600TBW is not exactly the best on the market.
But for all that cut in performance (600TBW is still durable enough) you get a seismic cut in price. The 870 EVO at the time of writing this retails for a paltry $79 (this price will drop further). For an SSD, this is an absolute steal and while you might worry about the performance drop, remember this is still fast enough to boost up the overall capability of your PC.
It’s certainly not the pinnacle of SSD engineering, but if you’re on a budget, it’s a well worthy way to upgrade your storage performance without breaking the bank or, better still, so have you enough to spend on more important performance components like your CPU and graphics card.
If you already have a solid PC or Laptop and all you need is an expansion of your current storage capacity, this is for you. Unlike internal SSDs, which connect via an M.2, SATA or PCIe slot, external SSDs plug into your laptop via USB.
For external SSDs, the selection criteria is a little bit different. What you need to consider before buying an external SSDs include:
Flash technology (what’s used in SSDs), although more durable than HDDs (which use magnetic storage tech), also have points of failure. The underlying flash technology matters but more importantly, for external SSDs, the casing material, what protects it against falls and daily wear, play a huge role. As you’ll see shortly, our top pick for the best external SSD right now is an SSD with military-grade rubberized external protection.
With external SSDs, performance is not so much an emphasis, and the reason is simple. While internal SSDs connect to your PC via PCIe lanes, external SSDs must connect via USB. The speed cap for USB connections is relatively low compared to how fast SSDs can go, so often the limiting factor is USB connection speeds and not SSD performance.
With external SSDs, it’s okay if you go for the bargain deal that slashes off the many extra, almost marketing-oriented features manufacturers try to sell to you. The one thing you should be particular about is durability.
Sandisk Extreme Portable SSD
The Extreme Portable SSD from SanDisk is all you’ll need from an external SSD and then some. Specifications wise, this is an NVMe type SSD, as opposed to an ACHi (SATA) type SSD. You get 1050MBps/1000MBps in read/write speeds, and while that might seem a little bit underhand, especially when you consider the read/write speeds of the internal SSDs I’ve covered in this guide, you need to understand that the threshold for transfer speed via USB, which is what external SSDs connect to your PC with is about 600MBps. The Sandisk Extreme is effectively as fast as it can get!
But fastness aside, it’s also a durably made SSD both in terms of SSD architecture and builds quality. There’s no official word from SanDisk on the exact SSD architecture used in this drive (SLC, MLC, TLC or QLC), but the fact that this comes with a five-year warranty says all you need to know about the drive’s quality.
What’s, however very apparent is the solid build quality. The Extreme Pro is finished with a rubberized, shock resistant/shock absorbing external case that’s pretty much the gold standard for durability in the external SSD market. And it looks exceptionally good if you’re the type to care about aesthetics. You get all of that for a super affordable price point – not the cheapest and not the most expensive but certainly a top contender for best value for money spent.
Top tier specs (latest and greatest for now), awesome and stylized build (with a handy notch for secure handling), and a more than decent enough price is why this SSD leads the lineup of the best external SSDs you can buy for graphic design.
The T7 is a tad bit cheaper than the SanDisk extreme, but for the price drop, you get a noticeable drop in build quality. So you don’t get any of that rubberized military grade external build you’d find on the SanDisk Extreme. You also don’t get that signature styling but what you do get is the durability guarantee that comes with any SSD made by Samsung.
Performance-wise this SSD is exactly similar to the SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD. Sequential read/write speeds check out to be the same 1050MBps/1000MBps on the Extreme Pro, and I reckon the underlying SSD architecture is similar to the Extreme Pro, although it’s fair to note that this ships with only 3 years of after purchase warranty.
So the differentiating factor here between this and the Sandisk is build quality. The T7 spots a minimalist metal external case. There’s no obvious shock or drop proofing but take nothing away from the T7; it still is a properly built SSD, just not up to par with what you’d get with the Sandisk Extreme. For the drop in build quality compared to the Extreme Pro, Samsung has shaved about $50 off the asking price of the T7.
If you’re short on cash and believe you can be careful with your SSD, then yeah, the Samsung T7 is a great bargain.
This is the most expensive external SSD on this list, and on paper it packs the meanest punch. Support for USB 3.2 (others have this too) read/write speeds of up to 2000MBps/2000MBps and a pretty solid (and eye-catching) build justifies the $150 asking price.
The almost 2x increase in read/write speeds is down to the inclusion of X2 USB 3.2 tech. The way this works is the Firecuda connects to your PC via two USB slots allowing it to transmit data with both ports simultaneously. Remember there’s a speed cap on each USB connection to your computer; by connecting to two slots, the Firecuda doubles this speed cap allowing you to transmit data faster. Note, however, that some PCs don’t support this feature.
Build quality on the Firecuda is more than excellent. While it doesn’t have the rubberized shock-resistant casing of the SanDisk, the form factor and build material are still very much sturdy. It’s certainly better than the Samsung T7 and, with its red stripe, fancier than the SanDisk.
If the additional boost in speed and overall trendier look of the Firecuda worth the extra $50 Seagate is asking for this SSD? Maybe. If you’re very particular about looks (like me), this is one of the coolest looking SSDs on the market. If you care for the additional speed boost and have a PC build that supports it, then yeah, the Firecuda might be a worthy consideration.
As a graphic designer, a great SSD goes a long way to improving your efficiency on the job. But be careful: you don’t need that $600 1TB SSD and its overload of extra features. For SSDs, what matters is speed and reliability, and in this market, you can purchase many under $200 SSD that tick all the checkboxes for speed and reliability. Rather than go for a high tech, fancy SSD for $600, you’re better off spending that money on expanding storage, specifically buying more affordable SSDs for backup and for redundancy.