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Best SSDs For The Money: July 2011

July Updates

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.

July Updates:

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.

RevoDrive 3 X2

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.
  • wintermint
    Can't wait for the $/gb ratio improve :]
  • naidnerb
    I guess someone didn't do the homework...Mr. Andrew Ku, haven't you heard of the 8 MB bug? So how come you're still recommending The Intel SSD 320 series? Aren't you aware they are in the phase of collecting the precise number of drives affected. I'll tell Tom you made me disappointed...:)
  • lunyone
    Waiting for the $1/gb to hit before I'll be buying any of these HD's. Just doesn't make sense, unless $ doesn't mean much to you.
  • alyon
    I apologize if it was mentioned in the article but I would not recommend any new OCZ sata III drives. The reliability and defects with the controller make it a bad buy. Sure it is fast IF it works but that is a big IF. Reliability for expensive storage such as SSDs is extremely important.

    Due to this I ended up buying a Crucial M4 with its good random 4k read/writes and acceptable sequential reads/writes. At first I was looking at the Vector series but the very high amount of DoAs (which is incredibly understated in comparison to what OCZ will claim... 1%). After a ton of research it really came down to buying Crucial or Intel. But hell, that is just my 2 cents.

    Happy shopping Toms readers!
  • boletus
    I'm still waiting for some serious, objective stress and reliability tests. $/GB and Gb/s matter, but do not make a whit of difference if the drive is DOA or goes kaput after a few weeks or months. I have seen way to many reports of failure for me to invest the time and money for this leap forward. All of the claims and hype are enticing, but setting up a fresh OS/programs drive is not a trivial task, and of course possible data loss can be heartbreaking.
  • flong
    I am sorry but I do not understand Tom's choices for best SSD as they are contradictory to almost all other professional review recommendations.

    While the 3rd generation Sandforce drives have had their problems - the second generation Sandforce drive STILL have their own problems and are no more reliable. There is every indication the the 3rd generation drives are better than the second generation Sandforce drives in every respect which brings us to the question.

    WHY are there NO 3rd generation Sandforce drives in ANY price category????

    Let's just take the $210 category. Why didn't you think to recommend the Corsair Force 3 which is $209 NOT ON SALE???? It is faster in every benchmark including the "fill" benchmarks. You recommend the Samsung 470 - no professional review I have read recommends the 470 for anything.

    Here is a review that shows that the 100 GB Vertex 2 beats the 240GB 470 in real world benchmarks: This is a 100 GB VERTEX 2 kicking the 240 GB 470s ass. That's just sad. I don't understand it.

    I'm sorry but these recommendations are surreal. You actually recommend a second generation OCZ Agility 240 GB drive -WHY???? It is the weakest of all the second generation drives and as it fills it's efficiency drops like a rock. Read Anandtech's review of the Agility 3 - it gets a 4 out of 10. The Agility 3 is OCZ's worst drive and it is much faster than the Agility 2.

    I am not sure whether Tom's is trying to be conservative or what, but no one else is recommending second generation drives - and I am talking about professional reviews.

    I love you Tom's Hardware, but I don't get this particular review.
  • LuckyDucky7
    For some reason I don't get these recommendations either- in fact, from a performance standpoint, they're almost asinine!

    For example, at the 75-dollar pricepoint, it's interesting to note that the Patriot Torqx 2, which is 10 dollars more and built on a SandForce controller, is a far better drive than that Vertex 1.

    At the $100 price point, where you suggest an Intel 320, you could get an OCZ Solid 3 60 GB drive that has TWICE the performance of the Intel drive for about 10 bucks more? If the 100-dollar price point is that strict I'll direct your attention to the Corsair Nova 2 60 GB drive. It's still faster and larger than the Intel 320 is.

    Also, why suggest the Samsung 470 @ 64 GB when the Solid 3 crushes that one too for the same price?

    And then, at the 200 dollar price point, why are you suggesting drives that are again crushed by the 120 GB Solid 3/Agility 3?

    If it's OCZ's reliability you're worried about, why aren't you suggesting the Corsair Force 3 120 GB drive that's also the same price?

    I don't get it either. Is Tom's Hardware afraid of second-gen SandForce controllers or something?
  • #flong your comments solely based on performance. if you have not noticed, the title of the $210 group says, "Best SSDs for ~$210: Reliable Option". IMO Corsair Force 3 drive should be avoided at all cost if you take a look at newegg's user review.
  • "why isn't the Force 3 listed?" Because they were recalled is a pretty good reason.
  • flong
    You are right the early Force 3s had problems. I just bought the Force 3 from Newegg and while the early version had a problem, Corsair has fixed it. I carefully checked on the reliability of the Force 3 before I made the purchase.

    As a side note, the real knock on the Force 3 is not its reliability, the knock is its cheaper 25 nm NAND which lowers its fill efficiency more qickly the 32 nm NAND. But in loading Windows 7, it is only 1 second slower than the mighty 240 GB Vertex 3 and it only cost me $180 after rebates. The 120 GB Vertex 3 will maintain better efficiency as it fills.

    The Reliability you point out for the second generation Sandforce drives is likely worse than the 3rd generation drives because the 3rd generation drives corrected a lot of problems inherit in the 2nd generation drives. I repeat, the second generation drives recommended have been proven to be no more reliable than the 3rd generation drives.

    As far as I know there is no comprehensive reliability study of any generation SSD set.