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Best SSDs For The Money: May 2012

Best SSDs For The Money: May 2012
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We're updating this month's recommendations after the introduction of Intel's SSD 330. But the new drives don't affect the outcome of today's story because one vendor in particular is going crazy with price-cutting that earns it several mentions from us.

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.

May Updates

When we write about solid-state storage, we make a lot of caveats. This drive does really well in sequential reads and writes, but doesn't handle random I/O very well. This other drive registers higher power consumption than the others for some unknown reason. And, when it comes to SandForce-based SSDs, they only achieve their peak performance when you're moving around compressible bits of data.

Now, let's face it. Anyone going from a hard drive to an SSD (almost any SSD) will see massive performance increases, much lower power use, and incredibly low response times, even if our benchmark data, which most often compares solid-state technology to itself, suggests more significant differences. Nevertheless, we still think it important to tell you how each architecture, and even more specifically, how each drive behaves relative to its competition.

Because of this, we know a lot of folks are wary of SandForce-based drives explicit because their behavior changes based on workload. It's telling, though, that Intel is the controller vendor's newest customer. We recently reviewed its highest-end desktop drive in Intel SSD 520 Review: Taking Back The High-End With SandForce. And while we really liked Intel's effort (particularly its five-year warranty coverage), high price tags remain a barrier for many folks looking to adopt an SSD they can trust with their important data. 

If you're ready to look past the fact that Intel is using the same controller as its less-expensive competition, one other feature that helps define the SSD 520's performance is its memory interface. Drive makers can choose between Toggle-mode DDR, synchronous ONFi-compliant, and asynchronous ONFi-compliant NAND. Intel uses 25 nm synchronous memory to achieve good (not the best) benchmark results.

Even more recently, Intel unveiled a second-string of SandForce-based SSDs that we reviewed in Intel SSD 330 Review: 60, 120, And 180 GB Models Benchmarked. The company chose not to send any of those drives out for review, so we bought the entire line-up on Amazon for our evaluation. As it turns out, the SSD 330s might actually be more attractive to cost-conscious enthusiasts. They're essentially hardware duplicates of the SSD 520s, including the same controller and same NAND. We suggested that Intel binned the drives for lower performance or capped their speed with a specific firmware. Even still, they're slightly faster than SandForce-based drives with asynchronous NAND like OCZ's Agility 3. The SSD 330 only comes with three-year warranty coverage, but is still backed by Intel's more robust track record for reliability and support.

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.
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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    _zxzxzx_ , May 29, 2012 6:46 AM
    Great how Tom's hardware has an article on this every month :) 
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    DjEaZy , May 29, 2012 5:23 AM
    ... my vertex 3 still strong...
  • 2 Hide
    barracks510 , May 29, 2012 5:27 AM
    vertex=75 or 65 dollars. shows both
  • 4 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , May 29, 2012 6:00 AM
    what about Vertex4 drives?
  • 5 Hide
    acku , May 29, 2012 6:42 AM
    Quote:
    what about Vertex4 drives?

    I need to retest the 256 GB Vertex 4 because of weird results. Couldn't make it in time this month. Definately will be in next month's feature.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • 12 Hide
    _zxzxzx_ , May 29, 2012 6:46 AM
    Great how Tom's hardware has an article on this every month :) 
  • 2 Hide
    vestibule , May 29, 2012 7:13 AM
    Gotta love random deals on Newegg, I narrowly missed a 128 GB Crucial M4 for $110 a couple weeks ago, it was out of stock just seconds before I decided to get it. A week later they had a 256 GB one for $210 which is an even sweeter deal, it took days for that to be out of stock.

    Both were the newest version BTW, and I'm just holding on to the SDD for a bit for a build I'll do in a month or so.
  • -2 Hide
    iamtheking123 , May 29, 2012 8:50 AM
    "But if you look at performance over an entire month, you will find the 830 to be a faster performer"

    Still going to do 4x SSD's in raid 0 in my next build for the e-peen.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , May 29, 2012 9:07 AM
    darn, should have waited, I could have got double the space for $10 more, good to see SSD prices come down though
  • -2 Hide
    deepb , May 29, 2012 9:08 AM
    Is there a reason why the Mushkin 90GB version is recomendded over the OCZ Agility 3 90 GB version as the OCZ one is available at Amazon for 85$ http://www.amazon.com/Agility-2-5-Inch-Midrange-Performance-AGT3-25SAT3-90G/dp/B005MYFHYS/ref=sr_1_6?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1338281637&sr=1-6
  • 0 Hide
    wmfoster2001 , May 29, 2012 10:10 AM
    Would the 180Gb Intel 520 SSD belong in Tier 2 or 3?
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , May 29, 2012 11:23 AM
    There's a cheaper option for the 120GB drive:
    http://www.amazon.com/Mushkin-Chronos-2-5-Inch-Solid-MKNSSDCR120GB/dp/B005CGFU4I/ref=pd_sim_sbs_pc_1/177-0683581-1054634
    The only listed "Mushkin Enhanced Chronos Deluxe" is not available also.
  • -2 Hide
    juan83 , May 29, 2012 12:17 PM
    At 1$/GB i think is time to talk about raid 0, but i know little about reliability of this disks.

    2 x 90GB = 180GB and ~ 900 Mb/sec and spending 180$
  • 1 Hide
    notsleep , May 29, 2012 12:32 PM
    i managed to snag a brand new samsung 830 128 gb for $119 a couple weeks ago for my new build. it's my very first desktop ssd. one of the best thing performance wise that i noticed in my new build was the ssd. :) 
  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , May 29, 2012 12:51 PM
    Remember that with Raid 0 you lose TRIM functionality and performance will degrade overtime.
  • 1 Hide
    eddieroolz , May 29, 2012 1:44 PM
    Bought a Crucial m4 128GB for $148CAD, then prices dropped to $128CAD this month. Ah well.
  • 6 Hide
    jaquith , May 29, 2012 2:00 PM
    There are so many sales that it's impossible to justify "Best" based upon MSRP. I truly wish the maximum R/W wasn't listed in this review as the headliners, especially since IOPS (R/W) and 4K (R/W) are what's important -- not to mention Reliability, $/GB, and Warranty.

    Choosing the "Best SSD" per price range needs to be a weighted scoring.
  • 3 Hide
    RaidenSix , May 29, 2012 2:06 PM
    Any particular reason the Corsair Performance Pro series was not included?
  • 3 Hide
    samuelspark , May 29, 2012 3:03 PM
    deepbIs there a reason why the Mushkin 90GB version is recomendded over the OCZ Agility 3 90 GB version as the OCZ one is available at Amazon for 85$ http://www.amazon.com/Agility-2-5- [...] 637&sr=1-6


    Mushkin Enhanced Chronos has sychronous flash and offers much better performance, comparable to the Vertex 3.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , May 29, 2012 3:29 PM
    The Mushkin Enhanced Chronos has asynchronous NAND.
  • 2 Hide
    TheBigTroll , May 29, 2012 3:41 PM
    mushkin chronos deluxe is awesome
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