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Roundup: The Best SSDs For Enthusiasts

Roundup: The Best SSDs For Enthusiasts
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The SSD market continues evolving. We got our hands on six drives we hadn't yet tested, including Samsung’s 470-series, and ran them through our benchmark suite. All told, this roundup includes a total of 24 SSDs to compare. Which drive is right for you?

The solid state drive (SSD) market now spans from $80 all the way up to roughly $700. Within this range, you’ll get capacities between 30 GB and 256 GB. All modern SSDs are fast enough to outperform conventional hard drives, and all will improve system responsiveness and performance by a noticeable margin if used as a system boot volume. At the same time, SSDs consume less power than hard drives and are far more rugged. This article looks at seven SSD products and compares a total of 24 drives in the benchmark section. Welcome A-Data’s Nobility N002, the Corsair Force F160, Kingston’s SSDNow V and SSDNow V+, the Patriot Inferno, and the brand new Samsung 470-series.

SSD Market Overview

SSD vendors often base their designs on one of a few popular controllers and architectures. Alternatively, some vendors simple purchase and re-label entire drives. The number of SSD vendors continues to grow as companies anticipate a burgeoning market and attractive profits.

Most of the silicon architecture is available from Indilinx, Intel, JMicron, Marvel, Samsung, SandForce, and Toshiba. Seagate and Western Digital have solutions, but they’re not yet very relevant in the SSD world. There are several NAND flash memory manufacturers too, including Hynix, Intel, Micron, Samsung, and Toshiba, but only two SSD makers actually control their entire manufacturing process from controller design to NAND flash production to final assembly. The focus here should be on the fact that these manufacturers can; it doesn’t mean that they always do.

Controllers Matter

SSD vendors have some room for optimization, such as in the firmware and how they configure flash memory channels. Therefore, it’s only possible to generalize about how an SSD with one controller type or another should perform. Only an in-depth product review will provide the full picture.

This is the PCB of Corsair’s F160 SSD, based on SandForce’s SF-1200 controller and Intel NAND flash memory.This is the PCB of Corsair’s F160 SSD, based on SandForce’s SF-1200 controller and Intel NAND flash memory.

It’s important to put controllers in the spotlight, because most SSD innovation happens on this front. All SSD vendors utilize similar flash memory types. Clock speeds have been increasing a bit, but all production MLC NAND flash memory still stores two bits per cell. In reality, it’s the controllers that are responsible for most performance tweaking and faster interface bandwidth.

Fortunately, future products will be able to store more than two bits per cell, yielding increased storage density and capacities. Today, the biggest news going is Samsung’s toggle mode DDR NAND flash memory, which applies double data rate technology to NAND flash memory. This could double theoretical throughput and is now available on the new 470-series, included in this article.