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Best SSDs For The Money: February 2012

Best SSDs For The Money: February 2012
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After Valentine's Day, SSDs prices fell once again, and we updated our list to reflect those changes. This month, the best deals are found in the $200-300 range, and there's one bargain in our list for a 240 GB SSD that you simply will not want to miss.

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.

February Updates

Earlier this month, Intel launched its second prosumer-oriented SSD. Dubbed the SSD 520 (check out Intel SSD 520 Review: Taking Back The High-End With SandForce for more), the successor to its SSD 510 leverages an SF-2281 controller, which means that Intel joins a large crowd of vendors building drives based on SandForce's technology. Great, right?

But what makes this SSD any different from the others (which incidentally already benchmark very similarly)? If you only look at performance, there's not a lot different. The SSD 520 is on par with OCZ's Vertex 3. No shocker there. We already know that two SF-22XX based SSDs deliver the same performance, so long as they share a similar memory interface. Both the Vertex 3 and SSD 520 employ synchronous NAND.

It’s true that vendors like Intel can make their own optimizations, and indeed the company claims that its firmware is all its own. Overall, though, those tweaks are outweighed by firmware elements that all SF-22XX-based SSDs have in common. After all, it's SandForce's engine. And that's why we see so many similarities reflected in the benchmark results.

So, if performance isn't an attribute associated with the brand you buy, how do you sort through the mountain of SandForce-based SSDs?

Intel, specifically, claims to use higher-quality NAND skimmed from the top bin of IMFT's production. If you were previously a little nervous about the cost-cutting measures competing vendors take to compete more aggressively on price, Intel's move could be reassuring. Conveying further confidence is Intel's five-year warranty, which easily bests the three-year coverage on most other SSDs.

You do pay more for the promise of superior support, though. At the low end, a 60 GB SSD 520 runs $2.25 per GB. In contrast, OCZ's Vertex 3 is only $1.63 for the same amount of capacity. That's a fairly tough sell. After all, we haven't seen any evidence of NAND endurance issues from other SandForce-based SSDs.

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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  • -1 Hide
    andy5174 , February 28, 2012 4:15 AM
    How could Intel 520 be omitted in Hierarchy Chart? It's currently the most reliable and the absolute no. ONE SSD !
  • -1 Hide
    b8453942 , February 28, 2012 4:17 AM
    Here's another resource if you're planning to buy value for money ssds


    This website tracks the daily prices of SSD's to find the best value for money drives on the market. Check You can also view the daily price charts for comparisons

    Here's the #1 ranked drive at the moment 256GB OCZ Synapse priced at $209.99 or $0.82 per gigabyte.

  • 0 Hide
    hmp_goose , February 28, 2012 4:26 AM
    Why does the $300~400 page even exist when that Chronos Deluxe kicks soooo much ass?
  • 2 Hide
    b8453942 , February 28, 2012 4:44 AM
    Opps here's the correct link
    www.ssdtracker.com
  • 0 Hide
    compton , February 28, 2012 5:44 AM
    The 240GB Mushkin Chronos D is a hell of a deal. I have the 120GB version, but I'm thinking about stepping up to the 240.
  • 5 Hide
    belardo , February 28, 2012 9:18 AM
    Reason to buy the intel 320 or 520 drives? RELIABILITY. Check Newegg and other online complaints... constant BSOD, performance drops, TRIM not available or working right, out-right failure... especially from OCZ. I've set up X25M in many systems without a hitch. And in some benchmarks, especially random - the X25M still holds its own.

    I just built two systems with the 320 in one and the 520 in the other, otherwise same mobo Z68 Mobo and i5-2500K CPU. Both booted into Win7 in about 24 seconds (power on) / 11Sec after POST. Run a benchmark afterwards and the 520 is much faster in many categories, but not much better than the 320 in random read... but the i520 can do everything with much less CPU utilization. (0~4%) compared to the i320's 4~35%!

    Intel has excellent SDD tools... which OCZ doesn't have, period. I worked on a rather new system with an OCZ, went to their site for utility tools... nothing.

    Intel also includes a 3.5" bracket and cables (okay $5~10 worth of goods), a CD and a big-ass sticker that says Speed Demon. The removable plastic retainer is handy for different size drive bays. (intel doesn't include smaller screws when its removed... scotch tape works)

    In the store I bought the latest SSDs, they have a basket full of 128GB $110 OCZ Petrol drives in cheap plastic... I don't think anyone would bother to steal them. (The intels are in a cage) - Yep, I'd take the $200 i320 SATA II over the $110 SATA 3 OCZ Petrol... the reviews for that drive are bad... very very slow drives with very fast failure rates. Lots of DOA and lots of deaths 1~50 days of use.

    OCZ, trying to make a few bucks selling cheap drives ends up crapping on their own brand name. Something intel and Samsung try very hard to NOT do.... making crap is a way to drive away customers.

    Intel drives, not the very fastest... but 5year support, minimal failure makes them worth every penny.
    Read the horror stories on newegg.
  • 2 Hide
    Ragnar-Kon , February 28, 2012 12:20 PM
    belardoIntel drives, not the very fastest... but 5year support, minimal failure makes them worth every penny.Read the horror stories on newegg.

    I agree, 5 year support is hard to beat, and Intel drives are definitively the most reliable.

    My second choice (and the drive I have) is Crucial's M4 line. Yes they had some BSOD problems in the past, but they rolled out a firmware update to fix that awhile back. Now I find them as the next-best option to Intel's SSDs.

    I personally avoid OCZ drives like the plague, as well as any other SandForce-based drives. If I'm going to be spending that much money per GB, I want it to be rock solid.
  • 2 Hide
    cknobman , February 28, 2012 12:30 PM
    I have no complaints from my Corsair Force 3 120GB SSD that was only $135. Going 6 months strong with not a single BSOD.

    Sorry but Intel is just not worth that big of a price difference. If they were at least a little more competitive I would be willing to pay a few extra bucks but not 150-170% more. Frack that.

  • 2 Hide
    CaedenV , February 28, 2012 1:11 PM
    120GB Chronos has a 3 year warranty and costs $143
    120GB Intel 520 has a 5 year warranty and costs $225

    Assuming SSDs drop in price by 50% and doubble performance every 2 years (which may be a little optimistic on performance, but should not be too far out of the ballpark on cost), you could buy the cheap drive now, plus a 2nd much faster and potentially much larger drive for ~$50-70 in 3 years and still cost less than the Intel drive did in the first place. For home/small business use this is a much better way to go, but always back up your system drive (even if you are on a traditional HDD).

    For business/enterprise where things are more 'mission critical' and down time costs thousands of dollars per hour, the Intel drive is still the way to go. The idea is not that you would not replace the drive within 5 years (because you probably will), but that you would replace the drive on your time table instead of when the drive fails on you and you need to replace it.
  • 0 Hide
    BattleshipLorenzen , February 28, 2012 1:56 PM
    Another vote for Corsair Force 3 120GB. Paid $160 - $30 MIR (approved) = $130 back in December. And although their rebate company isn't great, Corsair is known for paying rebates themselves if the company screws you (and you have your copies of the form with UPC stapled, etc., of course).

    No BSOD. Win7 64 login screen ~7-8 seconds after POST with i5-2500k at stock speed. I love my SSD.
  • 0 Hide
    gsacks , February 28, 2012 2:04 PM
    The 128GB version of the M4 also dropped in price last month as is generally available for around $160. At least is was at the time that I decided to buy. I can't say how it performs, because I haven't installed it yet.
  • 0 Hide
    OntarioHero , February 28, 2012 2:16 PM
    Cheaper sandforce alternatives don't seem to last as long as their warranties do. For power users who keep regular clones of their drives, SSD dying once in a while is probably not a big deal, but for regular lazy bloke like myself who only have 1 desktop system and no spare drives, and don't do regular backups, spending the extra $100 and getting an intel drive buys so much peace of mind.
  • 0 Hide
    jaquith , February 28, 2012 3:08 PM
    Best SSD for the money entirely depends on the PRICE to CAPACITY/....PERFORMANCE the DAY you're BUYING the SSD. I've seen what I wanted go up $50 in one day and it's nearest competitor go down by $50 the same day, plus Rebates. $100 savings sure influences my choices on consumer SSD's. Obviously, daily pricing complicates the hell out 'choosing' the 'best' ; assuming money still matters and to me it does!

    Take the $100 saving and buy a better GPU, CPU, HSF, etc. The vast majority of folks couldn't tell the fastest from the slowest SSD 9/10 times. Nor am I recommending purchasing a sub-par aka unreliable SSD. IMO - 1. Reliability 2. Capacity per price, and don't bother with an SSD smaller than 120GB; if one's 550MB/s 120GB @ $190 and another is 500MB/s 180GB @ $190 then get the larger capacity if it's reliable, and don't get hung-up with 550MB/s vs 500MB/s -- reality is it's all about 4KB random R/W -- not ATTO fastest oddball sized R/W speeds.
  • 0 Hide
    josejones , February 28, 2012 4:22 PM
    Where is the very best place to purchase that Intel 520, 120G "Cherryville" from in order to get the best price? Is it Newegg or that ssdtracker website?

    I have to play it safe and go with an Intel SSD for our small business. I'd rather get a cheaper one but, I can't afford to get cheap on reliability and lifespan.

    I've never had an SSD before so I'm curious about basic maintenance. What all do I need to know before getting my first SSD?
  • 0 Hide
    balister , February 28, 2012 5:25 PM
    When are you guys going to finally update your read speed on the Crucial M4s? After the M002 firmware, the read speed went to 500 MB/s, it hasn't been at 415 MB/s for over 10 months now.
  • 0 Hide
    OntarioHero , February 28, 2012 5:29 PM
    Quote:
    I've never had an SSD before so I'm curious about basic maintenance. What all do I need to know before getting my first SSD?


    Make sure AHCI is enabled in bios, and install Windows 7. That's it. Windows 7 will automatically install in correct partition alignment, enable TRIM, disable defrag etc. You don't have to do any extra work.

    Some people may tell you to do further maintenance (disable indexing, page files, etc), but that's absolutely unnecessary.
  • 0 Hide
    ph1sh55 , February 28, 2012 5:43 PM
    The chronos deluxe is already OOS at both newegg and amazon (and price rose on amazon). Call it the tom's hardware effect
  • 0 Hide
    dcompart , February 28, 2012 8:34 PM
    It's exciting to see the Mushkin Chronos Deluxe on the list. I bought one while back during the awesome Xmas and New Years sales (saved well over $300 on my build with rebates) and couldn't be happier with the drive and bought another for a family member's build. Great drive! I hope my checks in the mail Mushkin!
  • 0 Hide
    A Bad Day , February 28, 2012 9:24 PM
    It would be nice if the price per gigabyte was listed. Although for some people who also take in consideration of the performance, the price per gigabyte would be useful for the budget spenders as the slowest SSDs runs in circles around the fastest HDDs.
  • 0 Hide
    tsnor , February 28, 2012 10:45 PM
    comptonThe 240GB Mushkin Chronos D is a hell of a deal. I have the 120GB version, but I'm thinking about stepping up to the 240.


    Consider also buying another 120gb for a 2 X 120GB in raid0 array... should be faster and a smaller price for you. Most MBs have raid0 support baked in.
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