Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Best SSDs For The Money: April 2014

Best SSDs For The Money: April 2014
By

This month we introduce new benchmarks based on Futuremark's PCMark 8 storage suite. Most illuminating, perhaps, is that the data we generate shows that there's probably little reason to upgrade if you already own a modern SATA 6Gb/s-attached SSD.

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.

April Updates: Our Benchmark Suite Evolves

The first time you swap an SSD in to replace a hard drive, there's a sense of euphoria as it dawns on you that this is what enthusiast-oriented computing should always be like. Where have these magical little devices been your whole life? But eventually you get used to that speed, and PCs powered by mechanical storage simply become infuriatingly slow. At that point, you swap between SATA 6Gb/s-capable SSDs and can't tell the difference. They all feel fast, and most do in fact deliver comparable performance.

There are good reasons why this is the case. Simply adding an SSD to a modern machine is enough to shift its principal performance bottleneck from storage to something else. Exceptions do exist; there were some truly bad solid-state drives before the technology really matured. Generally speaking, though, the perceptible differences between two good drives in 2014 are minor. Would you notice if Photoshop fired up in 1.33 seconds rather than 1.45? Probably not. And according to our benchmarks, just about every SSD released in the past year can boot Windows, run productivity applications, or load Skyrim in practically the same amount of time.

The following chart of Futuremark's PCMark 8 trace-based storage suite illustrates this using three of the metric's 10 workloads, including World of Warcraft, a session of Battlefield 3, and a light Adobe Photoshop photo manipulation workload. I tested nine drives and arranged them from fastest to slowest. As you can see, eight of them don't reflect much variance at all. And one of those eight includes four SSD S3500s in RAID 0. That's 2 TB of flash capable of pumping out 4x the performance of one SSD...in theory. But it finishes PCMark 8 no faster than the other seven data points that aren't SanDisk's U110.

In short, regardless of your storage device's potential, there is a point where it doesn't make sense to connect anything faster to the SATA 6Gb/s interface. Does that mean SSD performance isn't important to measure anymore? Of course not. It's just that these real-world workloads don't expose the benefits of slightly-faster storage hardware, particularly without any other operations happening in parallel.

Does this mean SSD performance doesn't really matter anymore? Absolutely not. It just doesn't much matter for those specific workloads, especially without anything else occurring in parallel. It takes a lot of concurrent storage activity to expose the advantages of one drive over another. Browsing the Web, sending email, and watching YouTube isn't hardcore enough. As your usage intensifies, though, I/Os take longer to service. Inside, your SSD is programming, reading, and erasing, all of which affect speed. While all of that is happening, Windows might decide to ask the drive to TRIM some LBAs, further impacting performance.

In order to better understand the implications of heavy drive activity with the same workloads, we need to introduce additional testing.

In my last SSD review, I added another PCMark 8-based test that characterizes performance using the same collection of traces played 18 times in a row. Namely, the first 13 iterations employ punishing random writes. The last five runs are preceded by five-minute resting periods. That's the only time during the day-long benchmark when nothing happens. A ton of data gets generated during this process. So to keep things simple, I follow just one trace (Adobe Photoshop [Heavy]) through its 18-round bout. Of PCMark's workloads, this one takes the longest to run and is the most write-heavy.

Each drive starts in a more degraded state than it would during a normal PCMark 8 run. That's a deep hole from which the SSDs cannot escape until rest periods are introduced between the Recovery Phase rounds. Adding five minutes of idle time is a big deal, explaining why the MB/s figure increases in three of my four test cases. A quick glance makes it easy to separate the products able to recover from taxing work and the ones that don't.

Our new tests appear complicated, but I'm working to simplify them as much as possible. Then again, SSDs are generally complex beasts. Some of their inner workings are discussed freely, while other aspects are black boxes we can only evaluate after hundreds of hours of benchmarking. Their behavior changes from one workload to the next, which is why we're cautious about making generalizations. Performance remains an important consideration, though we'll keep reminding you that it's only one criteria of reviewing SSDs.

Storage Reviews For The Month:

Plextor M6S and M6M SSD Review: Revving Another Marvell Engine
Adata Premier Pro SP920 SSD: From 128 To 1024 GB, Reviewed
The Crucial M550 SSD Review: Striking Back With More Performance

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

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

  • We only recommend SSDs we've actually used. Recommending SSDs we've never put hands on wouldn't be incredibly helpful.
  • 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 316 Comments.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , October 23, 2012 4:15 PM
    there was as typo with the Vertex 4, there is no 120GB, it's 128GB
  • 20 Hide
    killerclick , October 24, 2012 6:51 AM
    Mushkin Enhanced Chronos has an awful lot one-star reviews on Newegg.

    Just sayin'...
  • 27 Hide
    Nintendo Maniac 64 , October 24, 2012 7:10 AM
    Seriously? No mention of the Samsung 830 at ALL? The 128GB model is only $90 on Amazon/Newegg!
  • 0 Hide
    abbadon_34 , October 24, 2012 8:55 AM
    what about bootable pci-e ssd ??? regadless of the Enterprise designation often give, they are price competative with these and we are talking PERFORMANCE...
  • -1 Hide
    Onus , October 24, 2012 11:17 AM
    Reliability is my primary concern, so my quick and dirty rule for SSDs is "No Sandfarce, and no OCZ."
    I use a Crucial m4 mSATA (238GB formatted) as my system drive in my primary rig, and it is certainly fast enough, even though the mSATA slot is "only" 3Gb/s.
    My other rig uses a 256GB Samsung 830 on a 6Gb/s port. I can not tell any performance difference based on the drive; the two rigs are too different to compare them directly.
  • 14 Hide
    TheMadFapper , October 24, 2012 12:23 PM
    I've never had a problem with my Vertex 4. Read/write are both around the 500 mark and everything loads instantly.
  • 25 Hide
    blazorthon , October 24, 2012 12:44 PM
    jtt283Reliability is my primary concern, so my quick and dirty rule for SSDs is "No Sandfarce, and no OCZ."I use a Crucial m4 mSATA (238GB formatted) as my system drive in my primary rig, and it is certainly fast enough, even though the mSATA slot is "only" 3Gb/s.My other rig uses a 256GB Samsung 830 on a 6Gb/s port. I can not tell any performance difference based on the drive; the two rigs are too different to compare them directly.


    OCZ Vertex/Agility 4 is just as reliable as Crucial M4 with current firmware, so a no OCZ rule doesn't seem fair. Going by individual line rather than company is a better way of going about this.
  • 14 Hide
    wanderlustx2 , October 24, 2012 12:49 PM
    AnonymousI don't see why OCZ gets recommended at ANY price point...Since when is unreliability a benefit?


    I run 2 x 256 GB of Vertex 4 and they've ran flawlessly for about 3 months now. I guess it's easy to regurgetate what you read from outdated articles referencing the original firmware.
  • 12 Hide
    blazorthon , October 24, 2012 1:21 PM
    spookymanyeah how come no mention of Samsung SSD drives?


    The first page has a bug picture of a Samsung SSD along with a four paragraph *essay* mostly about the drive in the picture. There are several references to Samsung SSDs in this article.
  • 0 Hide
    Onus , October 24, 2012 1:30 PM
    It is true that the OCZ "4" series drives aren't Sandfarce, however I don't care to be an unpaid beta tester for their firmware. OCZ has lost my trust. There's competent competition (e.g. Samsung) with no such issues, so there's no reason to choose OCZ.
  • 3 Hide
    blazorthon , October 24, 2012 1:43 PM
    jtt283It is true that the OCZ "4" series drives aren't Sandfarce, however I don't care to be an unpaid beta tester for their firmware. OCZ has lost my trust. There's competent competition (e.g. Samsung) with no such issues, so there's no reason to choose OCZ.


    Generally better pricing and at least compared to the Samsung 830, better performance. There's plenty of reason to go with OCZ. Furthermore, how OCZ did the launch isn't really bad. They could release it as it was at the time and improve it along the way, or simply wait until they've already improved it (which would probably take longer and probably also mean higher launch prices).

    At that point, you're not an unpaid beta tester because you got the drive cheaper than you would have if OCZ had to wait months to a year or more before getting it *ready*. Besides, it's not like Vertex 4 wasn't a good drive for the money even when it launched and the support that OCZ has offered to Vertex 4 owners is superb, to say the least.

    Furthermore, Samsung has had firmware issues. No SSD company has been truly free of them.
  • 6 Hide
    Onus , October 24, 2012 2:12 PM
    In actual use, the performance difference between a couple of Marvell drives, or even a Marvell and a Sandfarce, will be virtually invisible. I'll happily pay a few dollars more for a drive I can plug in and use, vs. one I have to plug in and update first. Updates should be optional (even if they provide a visible improvement), not required to get the drive to work properly at all. OCZ's latest drives may be fine, but like I said OCZ has lost my trust. I simply find no compelling reason (a few dollars isn't it) to take the risk. As far as whether or not that's "fair," I'm sure they weighed the risks of releasing unfinished / untested products, and decided it was a risk they could take; at least in my case it looks like they guessed wrong.
  • 13 Hide
    bmyton , October 24, 2012 2:28 PM
    I would love it if you guys would include a chart, like your transfer speed chart, that also factors Price and Capacity in the ranking.

    I took the first price from Amazon to build this and weighted the Capacity and Speed equally, normalized to Price (enhanced GB/$)... Not sure that's the most realistic, but you get the idea, and it helps identify good value/capacity/speed compromise points.

    Thanks,

    Ben

    Sorry, the formatting on this sucks
    1. Capacity Speed Price (C+S)/P
    2. M3Pro 128 214 115 3.0
    3. 830 64 142 70 2.9
    4. V3 120 149 100 2.7
    5. Agility3 120 114 90 2.6
    6. M3 128 182 120 2.6
    7. V3IOPS 120 179 120 2.5
    8. 830 256 201 185 2.5
    9. SSD330 120 127 100 2.5
    10. Agility4 128 104 95 2.4
    11. V4 256 191 195 2.3
    12. V3 240 194 190 2.3
    13. Agility4 256 130 170 2.3
    14. M4 256 168 188 2.3
    15. SSD330 180 141 150 2.1
    16. Agility3 180 122 150 2.0
    17. SSD520 240 183 235 1.8
    18. Perf.Pro 128 171 190 1.6
    19. SSD320 300 121 450 0.9
    20. 470 256 124 500 0.8
  • -3 Hide
    blazorthon , October 24, 2012 3:00 PM
    jtt283In actual use, the performance difference between a couple of Marvell drives, or even a Marvell and a Sandfarce, will be virtually invisible. I'll happily pay a few dollars more for a drive I can plug in and use, vs. one I have to plug in and update first. Updates should be optional (even if they provide a visible improvement), not required to get the drive to work properly at all. OCZ's latest drives may be fine, but like I said OCZ has lost my trust. I simply find no compelling reason (a few dollars isn't it) to take the risk. As far as whether or not that's "fair," I'm sure they weighed the risks of releasing unfinished / untested products, and decided it was a risk they could take; at least in my case it looks like they guessed wrong.


    There can be significant performance differences between different Marvell-based SSDs, especially where the M4 is concerned because it's simply not that fast compared to some of these other drives and of the current Marvell drives, the Agility 4 is probably the only line that is generally slower than M4. SandForce versus Marvell can have huge performance differences in different scenarios. The firmware updates for Vertex 4 are optional (if you don't want them, then don't get them, the drive isn't not going to work just because you're not on the latest version). There isn't a risk.

    OCZ lost your trust because they released products when they were "in beta" rather than "finished? Sorry, but that's ridiculous. OCZ simply gave us the choice of buying them early. There's nothing wrong with that. If you wanted more mature firmware, then whether or not you have the option to buy it before it has firmware that you like doesn't hurt you whatsoever.

    It helps you because not only will it take less time to get to that point, not only will you pay less money when the firmware is at that point, but you also get nearly constant news about the progress and thus an understanding of how the drive/firmware is doing at any given time as well as how well customer support and such deal with issues. If anything, I'd trust OCZ more for doing things this way because it better serves intelligent consumers than simply waiting in the dark of what's going on and not knowing what to expect.

    Perhaps you'll disagree anyway, but I do not understand your point of view at all if you still disagree.
  • 5 Hide
    awood28211 , October 24, 2012 3:49 PM
    I use: OCZ Vertex 4 as my system/boot drive. under 15 seconds from "Loading Windows" (Win7pro) to a responsive desktop and that includes typing in my password.
  • 13 Hide
    bnot , October 24, 2012 4:26 PM
    In the preface to your article you write, "we've heard rumors as to why SSDs are so cheap, though, and we're not sure this is sustainable." If I'm not mistaken, you never follow up on that. What's the point of making such a big one-off statement like that if you don't elaborate?
  • -2 Hide
    Onus , October 24, 2012 5:26 PM
    Quote:
    There can be significant performance differences...

    OCZ lost your trust because they released products when they were "in beta" rather than "finished?


    Performance differences on benchmarks, certainly, and I'm sure on certain types of workloads. In "typical" uses, not really, especially when compared to a mechanical HDD. A double-digit performance difference that amounts to a fraction of a second simply doesn't matter. I do agree that for those certain workloads where it matters, where time is money, a professional will need to focus more on those benchmarks.

    OCZ has lost my trust for a pattern of decisions, from PSUs that review well on day 1 but fail early due to substandard caps, to the way they handled the change to 25nm, and more recently the fact that a lot of their [Sandforce] drives had major firmware issues that were bricking drives. What else do they have that might fail, and how? When I can buy a Seasonic, or a Crucial, or a Mushkin, or a Samsung, or ... and be certain it is going to work (given that anyone can have an occasional DOA), I just don't see a need to risk OCZ.

    Please don't misunderstand, I'm not lumping them with Crappermaster and others guilty of willful dishonesty; OCZ might earn my trust again someday, it's just that they've been relying on their premium name but have stopped delivering premium products.
  • 4 Hide
    baconeater , October 24, 2012 6:07 PM
    AnonymousI don't see why OCZ gets recommended at ANY price point...Since when is unreliability a benefit?


    This is the one thing that gets me. Every site talks about OCZ because of their read/write numbers. I wouldn't buy any of their products. I would pay the premium for intel or crucial reliability. (which i do/have)
  • 4 Hide
    Ironslice , October 24, 2012 8:03 PM
    Where's the Corsair Neutron GTX?
Display more comments
React To This Article