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Best SSDs For The Money: November 2011

Best SSDs For The Money: November 2011
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Welcome to the sixth iteration of our highest-ranked SSDs at any given price point. We updated our recommendations to reflect the recent price drops on second-gen SandForce hardware. There are several good deals to be found for right about $200 bucks.

Detailed solid-state drive specifications and reviews are great—that is, if you have the time to do the research. However, at the end of the day, what an enthusiast needs is the best SSD within a certain budget.

So, if you don’t have the time to read the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right drive, then fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best SSD offered for the money.

November Updates:

Over the last month, a few SSD vendors released new drive models. Internally, however, they don't represent anything we haven't already seen from competing brands. For example, Patriot is leveraging a second-gen SandForce controller along with synchronous memory in its Pyro SE SSDs. That makes it quite similar to OCZ's Vertex 3 and Corsair's Force GT.

If you're on a limited budget, be aware that some low-end SSDs may perform worse than mechanical hard drives in random read and write operations (which is why we suggest reading reviews here and elsewhere). Traditionally, those are the disciplines where SSDs absolutely trash their mechanical predecessors. However, we've seen clear cases where that generalization turns out to be false. If you don't believe us, take a look at the performance of SanDisk's P4 SSD on page eight of Asus' Eee Slate EP121: A Windows 7-Based Tablet PC. So far, we've only seen this happen with cheap OEM SSDs, which is why we're going to recommend sticking to more established SSD vendors.

If you're absolutely cash-strapped, go the caching route with an Intel SSD 311 before rolling the dice on what could be a backwards-step in performance.

Endurance
Intel SSD 320 300 GB
Endurance Rating: 128 KB Sequential Write
Queue Depth of One
364 Terabytes Written
Estimated Life: 128 KB Sequential Write
Queue Depth of 32 @ 10 GB per day
99 Years
Endurance Rating: 4 KB Random Write
Queue Depth of 32
132 Terabytes Written
Estimated Life: 4 KB Random Write
Queue Depth of 32 @ 10 GB per day
33 Years


If you're still on the fence about solid-state storage because of perceived worries over write endurance, you might want to check out page four of Intel SSD 710 Tested: MLC NAND Flash Hits The Enterprise. The figures for consumer SSDs like the Intel SSD 320 are very encouraging, given the right context. An average desktop only sees 10 GB of writes per day. Translated, that means you're looking at write endurance that extends well beyond the drive's warranty.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • If you don't need to copy gigabytes of data quickly or load games in the blink of an eye, then there's nothing wrong with sticking with a mechanical hard drive. This list is intended for people who want the performance/responsiveness that SSDs offer, and operate on a specific budget. Now that Intel's Z68 Express chipset is available, the idea of SSD-based caching could come into play for more entry-level enthusiasts, too.
  • There are several criteria we use to rank SSDs. We try to evenly weigh performance and capacity at each price point and recommend what we believe to the best drive based on our own experiences, along with information garnered from other sites. Some people may only be concerned with performance, but that ignores the ever-present capacity issue that mobile users face ever-presently. Even on the desktop, other variables have to be considered.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. Our picks will be valid the month of publication, but we can't extend our choices very far beyond that time frame. SSD pricing is especially competitive, and a $15 difference can be the reason why one SSD makes the list, while another does not. As you shop, use our list as a guide, but always double-check for yourself.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary.
  • These are new SSD prices. No used or open-box offers are in the list; they might represent a good deal, but it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
Display 59 Comments.
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  • 4 Hide
    compton , November 23, 2011 3:57 AM
    I would just add that to anyone looking for a super cheap SSD, look for older drives on sales before buying some of the cheaper solutions. I just bought two excellent SATA II models for less than a $1/GB. The OCZ Solid 3 and Corsair Force 3 are routinely found for $120 for the 120GB models. Occasionally, you can find the Agility 30 for $40 as well. I would much prefer people go that route than the deceptively-named Vertex Plus or JMicron controlled drives. If you have a Z68 board, caching is a good option if you can get a good deal on a fast, 60GB or less drive. After a couple days, routine tasks will get SSD-fast. One time(ish) data won't be accelerated, but there's a lot of value there.

    Tom's recommendations can't recommend one time sales or the like, but my best advice is shop around before buying a low end drive for MSRP. And stay away from Jmicron and the Vertex Plus.
  • 0 Hide
    The Greater Good , November 23, 2011 4:22 AM
    Can we please get some SSD RAID benchmarks?
  • 2 Hide
    compton , November 23, 2011 4:36 AM
    I would also like to add that I was one of those unlucky few who were affected by the myriad SF2281 issues. Despite the nonsense that it was all Intel's fault, the last FW did fix all of my issues with 2nd gen SandForce drives. As such, I highly recommend the awesome Mushkin Chronos Deluxe. As is pointed out in the performance section, the Wildfire and the Chronos D are identical but for price. As an added bonus, both drives are manufactured here in America (how much of your computer hardware is anymore??). I can't recommend the 2281 + 32nm Toshiba Toggle NAND drives enough (except the MaxIOPS, which is not made in the USA).
  • 0 Hide
    compuservant , November 23, 2011 7:40 AM
    Sorry, I missed the tier 2 rating for the 240 GB drive but the 120 performs just as well and at $180, can you imagine 2 in a RAID configuration?
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , November 23, 2011 8:05 AM
    I see you're quoting the manufacturer's speed of 500 MB/s for the OCZ Agility 3. I bought one on that basis, then found I got way lower speed (250 write/350 read at best, much less typically, below 50 for small R/W), even though I was using SATA 3. OCZ say to get the rated speed you must be using a particular Intel SATA controller, and a benchmark that uses highly compressible data (all 1's or all 0's) - it won't run that fast with typical real data. Have a look on the OCZ Forum for people's real experiences before trusting the "too good to be true" headline speed.
  • 3 Hide
    csm101 , November 23, 2011 8:36 AM
    so i guess since there is no big price riase as a result of the recetn HD crysis in Thailand, we can get the SSD's as per the above prices. anyone bought SSD's recently ?(like last week or this week)
  • 2 Hide
    stany , November 23, 2011 9:32 AM
    DaveOCZcustomerI see you're quoting the manufacturer's speed of 500 MB/s for the OCZ Agility 3. I bought one on that basis, then found I got way lower speed (250 write/350 read at best, much less typically, below 50 for small R/W), even though I was using SATA 3....


    I was just going to ask about Agility 3. I bought it a week ago but couldn't get more than ~260MB/s from it. I was thinking it's because there's another SATA II HDD on the same controller.
  • 0 Hide
    ojas , November 23, 2011 9:38 AM
    ok. i have some problems with charts. Could the tiers be sub-classified into random r/w performance, sequential performance and then an overall rank? Because this is a bit weird...see,

    The Intel 510 and Crucial m4 (both 120/128 GB) are put in tier 5. the m4 smokes the elm crest drive by a HUGE margin in random stuff and both are averagely the same in sequential ops (m4 better at reads and intel at writes). Yet they're in the same tier.
    The Intel 320 120GB and Samsung 470 128GB both have higher IOPS than the 510, but look where they are.
    The 160GB 320 is placed a tier below the 470 128 GB, but it beats it at everything except slightly lagging behind in sequential writes.

    Now the article says it's based on storage bench. But, at the 120GB capacity point, wouldn't random IOPS have more significance? especially reads, since you'll mostly be reading small files to load programs, boot the OS, etc.
    Large sequential writes would most probably be bottlenecked by other devices. Same may apply to reads.

    Either more random IOPS don't always mean better random performance, or i'm not understanding things correctly.

    Another thing. The last i checked, intel's 20GB 311 was sitting at about $115. Why not just buy an 64GB m4 for a cache drive (or heck, just use it as a boot drive)? Doesn't make sense using the 311. The m4 isn't slower than a HDD by any means....If the 311 was priced at $40 that would be great (and actually make sense), but at about $6 per GB...the 34nm flash version of the vertex 2 (i.e. non E-series) is priced at $170 on newegg. Intel prices 16% of that capacity at 67% of the price. It's just dumb.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , November 23, 2011 12:32 PM
    What about the Kingston HyperX SSD's? They've gotten a lot of good press recently, and while not the cheapest, their performance seems to be top-notch ... and the bundled "upgrade" kits are well packaged.
  • 1 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , November 23, 2011 1:00 PM
    Glad to see the Samsung 830 make the list. The 470 series has a stellar record of reliability. Let's hope Samsung can repeat it with the 830.
  • 8 Hide
    cadder , November 23, 2011 2:34 PM
    I can't believe you guys are still recommending the highly unreliable OCZ drives. You are doing your readers a big disservice.
  • -2 Hide
    mutex7 , November 23, 2011 3:24 PM
    You don't need Intel's Z68 chipset if you want to go the caching route. The OCZ Synapse works with any Windows 7 computer and any SATA boot drive. Obviously SATA III would be preferable but it isn't a requirement.

    This SandForce SF-2281 caching solution strikes me as the perfect transition solution for users not yet ready to get an SSD for a boot drive. It's relatively inexpensive, provides a performance boost on par with most SSDs, solves the capacity issue and it's EASY.

    Don't get me wrong, within 5 years virtually all computers will move to SSD boot drives but in the mean time caching seems to be a great option. The only question remaining for me is reliability given that caching is write-intensive. I guess this is why OCZ uses 50 per cent of the disk for over-provisioning.

    Read about it here: http://thessdreview.com/our-reviews/sata-3/ocz-synapse-cache-64gb-ssd-review-top-caching-solution-at-a-great-price/

  • 0 Hide
    acku , November 23, 2011 4:05 PM
    Quote:
    ok. i have some problems with charts. Could the tiers be sub-classified into random r/w performance, sequential performance and then an overall rank? Because this is a bit weird...see,

    The Intel 510 and Crucial m4 (both 120/128 GB) are put in tier 5. the m4 smokes the elm crest drive by a HUGE margin in random stuff and both are averagely the same in sequential ops (m4 better at reads and intel at writes). Yet they're in the same tier.
    The Intel 320 120GB and Samsung 470 128GB both have higher IOPS than the 510, but look where they are.
    The 160GB 320 is placed a tier below the 470 128 GB, but it beats it at everything except slightly lagging behind in sequential writes.

    Now the article says it's based on storage bench. But, at the 120GB capacity point, wouldn't random IOPS have more significance? especially reads, since you'll mostly be reading small files to load programs, boot the OS, etc.
    Large sequential writes would most probably be bottlenecked by other devices. Same may apply to reads.

    Either more random IOPS don't always mean better random performance, or i'm not understanding things correctly.

    Another thing. The last i checked, intel's 20GB 311 was sitting at about $115. Why not just buy an 64GB m4 for a cache drive (or heck, just use it as a boot drive)? Doesn't make sense using the 311. The m4 isn't slower than a HDD by any means....If the 311 was priced at $40 that would be great (and actually make sense), but at about $6 per GB...the 34nm flash version of the vertex 2 (i.e. non E-series) is priced at $170 on newegg. Intel prices 16% of that capacity at 67% of the price. It's just dumb.


    If you want separate rankings, I'd recommend looking at our reviews. Second, I'd never go by the spec sheet. It's always more inflated than actual performance. Third, our Storage Bench is an actual benchmark that looks at real-world performance. Think of it like an in house rendition of PCMark 7 (we actually use the same code base as Futuremark.)

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • 0 Hide
    acku , November 23, 2011 4:07 PM
    Quote:
    What about the Kingston HyperX SSD's? They've gotten a lot of good press recently, and while not the cheapest, their performance seems to be top-notch ... and the bundled "upgrade" kits are well packaged.


    The dirty secret is that all SF drives of the same NAND flavor are basically identical in performance. Kingston uses sync ONFi NAND on the HyperX, so it's equivalent to the Vertex 3.
  • 0 Hide
    acku , November 23, 2011 4:11 PM
    Quote:
    You don't need Intel's Z68 chipset if you want to go the caching route. The OCZ Synapse works with any Windows 7 computer and any SATA boot drive. Obviously SATA III would be preferable but it isn't a requirement.

    This SandForce SF-2281 caching solution strikes me as the perfect transition solution for users not yet ready to get an SSD for a boot drive. It's relatively inexpensive, provides a performance boost on par with most SSDs, solves the capacity issue and it's EASY.

    Don't get me wrong, within 5 years virtually all computers will move to SSD boot drives but in the mean time caching seems to be a great option. The only question remaining for me is reliability given that caching is write-intensive. I guess this is why OCZ uses 50 per cent of the disk for over-provisioning.

    Read about it here: http://thessdreview.com/our-reviews/sata-3/ocz-synapse-cache-64gb-ssd-review-top-caching-solution-at-a-great-price/


    Have you seen the price on the Synapse? 64 GB is $154. That's really sucks in comparison to a 60 GB Agility 3 at $104. Caching doesn't even give you a speed up on everything, only stuff that you do repeatedly. And if you change your routine, performance "resets" and starts at hard drive levels again.

    If caching were cheaper, I'd have no problem recommending it. As it stands, you're paying more for less performance.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • 2 Hide
    acku , November 23, 2011 4:17 PM
    __-_-_-__no SSD's above 256Gb wtf...


    I explained on the ranking page why we left those drives out. If you can buy a 512 GB drive, I'd say that price clearly isn't a problem.
  • 2 Hide
    acku , November 23, 2011 4:28 PM
    cadderI can't believe you guys are still recommending the highly unreliable OCZ drives. You are doing your readers a big disservice.

    Let's be fair, all second-gen based SSDs had the same problems that OCZ had. Second, Sandforce was really the one responsible for fixing the bug. Third, OCZ is the launching partner of SF, but the company has gotten a bad rap because they had the most aggressive firmware and largest install base.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , November 23, 2011 4:34 PM
    We need to know which brands are the least most reliable. I'd pay more for reliability!
  • 2 Hide
    acku , November 23, 2011 4:41 PM
    avjguyWe need to know which brands are the least most reliable. I'd pay more for reliability!


    There's no definitive data backing this up other than my own experience and what's generally reported by larger enterprise clients like data centers, who ALWAYS pay more for reliability. The top choices remain Intel and Micron/Crucial.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • -1 Hide
    acku , November 23, 2011 4:43 PM
    DaveOCZcustomerI see you're quoting the manufacturer's speed of 500 MB/s for the OCZ Agility 3. I bought one on that basis, then found I got way lower speed (250 write/350 read at best, much less typically, below 50 for small R/W), even though I was using SATA 3. OCZ say to get the rated speed you must be using a particular Intel SATA controller, and a benchmark that uses highly compressible data (all 1's or all 0's) - it won't run that fast with typical real data. Have a look on the OCZ Forum for people's real experiences before trusting the "too good to be true" headline speed.


    We list manufacturer specs but the rankings and choices are based on our in house benchmarks, because we can't possibly test every single capacity point. However, we do have data for all drives say at 128 GB.

    stanyI was just going to ask about Agility 3. I bought it a week ago but couldn't get more than ~260MB/s from it. I was thinking it's because there's another SATA II HDD on the same controller.


    What hardware are you running?

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