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.
Not everyone can afford to spend big bucks on an SSD large enough to host their operating system and most performance-sensitive applications. That's really the idea behind caching (at least on the desktop; caching is prevalent in more enterprise-oriented environments for different reasons). In the past month, we covered two solid-state caching solutions in The Intel Z68 Express Review: A Real Enthusiast Chipset and SSD Caching (Without Z68): HighPoint's RocketHybrid 1220. By matching a small, inexpensive SSD up to a hard drive, letting the flash-based device serve as a buffer between slow, mechanical storage and system memory, you're supposed to enjoy the benefits of an SSD without sacrificing the capacities enabled by hard drives.
The unfortunate caveat is that a good SSD delivers incredible read and write performance. Caching only real exposes the solid-state technology's advantage in read speed, though. Because data must be kept synchronized between the SSD and hard drive, writes hover around the disk's best effort instead.
As a result, our recommendation is to buy a large-enough SSD for your OS and apps, then simply keep all of your movies, music, and pictures on a large hard drive. Managing data across two storage devices takes a little getting used to if you're not already being forced to consider what goes where, but in time you'll find the control and resulting performance satisfying. Caching only really makes sense for the folks who either can afford $100 for Intel's SSD 311, but can't spend $160 on an 80 GB SSD 320, or simply cannot be bothered to sort through their data. Caching is the fire-and-forget approach, and we can't deny its convenience.
If you're a little more flush with cash (in which case cache is the last thing on your mind), then you should be excited about OCZ's latest PCI Express-based SSD, which we covered in The OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 Preview: Second-Gen SandForce Goes PCIe. If you thought one Vertex 3 was fast, imagine tripling its performance using an interface uninhibited by the top speed of SATA 6Gb/s. Of course, you can expect to pay a significant premium for the privilege of owning one of the fastest workstation-oriented storage devices in existence. OCZ offers the RevoDrive 3 X2 in three capacities: 240, 480, and 960 GB, but it costs $699 just to get your foot in the door with the 240 GB model.
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. And 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 conundrum that we often encounter when trying to balance SSD price with the other variables. If you have a mobile system, you can usually only have one drive installed. On a desktop system, you want room for your operating system and your more performance-sensitive apps. That's why we have to consider the major weight of capacity, too.
- Prices and availability change on a daily basis. Our picks will be valid the month of publication, but we can't make guarantees beyond that. SSD pricing is especially competitive, and a $15 difference can be the reason why one SSD makes the list, while another does not. While you are shopping, 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.