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Welcome to the fifth iteration of our highest-ranked SSDs for any given budget. 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.
Late last month, we received an early sample of a new SSD from Samsung called the 830. Armed with a new controlled (sporting an extra core and 6 Gb/s SATA connectivity), the drive leverages 27 nm Toggle-mode NAND flash to push higher performance at a competitive price. Despite demonstrating mediocre random I/O, the 830 impressed us with unsurpassed sequential performance. We still don't have final pricing on the entire lineup though, so we can't make a recommendation yet in this month's column one way or the other. Samsung tells us to expect prices similar to its 470-series drives, which the 830s replace. We'll be looking for somewhere around $2/GB. For more on the 830, check out Samsung Goes 6 Gb/s: Is The 830-Series SSD King Of The Hill?
A few other manufacturers also released new SSDs recently, but they're nothing we haven't already seen in terms of features and performance. For example, Kingston is leveraging a second-gen SandForce controller along with synchronous memory for its HyperX SSDs. That's makes it very much similar to OCZ's Vertex 3. Meanwhile, Patriot's new Pyro SSD is a more price-conscious version of the WildFire that we reviewed a few months back. It also employs a second-gen SandForce controller, but the company uses asynchronous memory in order to drive down costs. Hence, Pyro is more or less equal to Corsair's Force 3.
If you're on a limited budget, be aware that some low-end SSDs may perform slower than mechanical hard drives in random read and write operations (that's why you need to read the reviews). Traditionally, those are the disciplines where SSDs absolutely trash their magnetic predecessors. However, we've seen clear cases where that generality 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 well-known brands like Intel, Crucial, OCZ, Samsung, Kingston, Corsair, and so on. If you're absolutely cash-strapped, go the SSD caching route using an Intel SSD 311 before rolling the dice on what could be a backward-step in performance.
We continue to hear reports of BSODs on second-gen SandForce hardware across different brands, but it's difficult to know if the problems are all related. Based on the volume of forum posts, it seems that problems are most pervasive on Sandy Bridge-based systems, a statistic that we've confirmed with several SSD vendors. There's a suspicion that this may be the result of a timing issue between the SSD and Intel's chipset. But the percentage of users experiencing this remains extremely small. Fewer than 1% of users are affected. While this shouldn't deter you from attempting a new system build, it's something you should still bear in mind. Firmware fixes are still forthcoming, so we expect this to be resolved soon.
Some Notes About Our Recommendations
A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list: