I ended up sending the drive back for a replacement since I'd had it for only about 10 days. Imagine my frustration when, after reinstalling Windows 7, the new drive started to exhibit similar behavior, i.e., "disk read error/press control-alt-delete to restart" or some message indicating bootable media wasn't detected.
I noticed that when I rebooted the system, the drive would suddenly not be detected by the BIOS, and it would take frequent restarts before the drive was recognized again and I could boot into the operating system. On a whim, I swapped out the SATA cable with a different one and voila! The drive was detected every time I rebooted and I've had no problems since.
I'm still left with two questions:
1) The regular hard drive previously connected to the very same cable exhibited no unusual behavior whatsoever. Is it a coincidence that the cable went bad as soon as I switched to an SSD, or is there something about the characteristics of an SSD that exposed the cable problem?
2) Did the repeated reboots and sporadic connectivity with the first SSD lead to the SMART failure? Or would the drive have functioned normally with the new cable?
It's amazing to me that all these headaches and the week of downtime while I waited for the replacement drive were caused by a $5 cable. Lesson learned!