Most of us can't afford the highest-performance SSDs with 256 GB or more of flash memory. But that doesn't mean a smaller, slower solid-state device has to necessarily disappoint you, especially compared to a conventional hard drive-based setup. To the contrary, even an entry-level SSD is going to feel substantially faster.
Case in point: OCZ's 120 GB Agility 3 delivers 3.5x the performance of what you'd get from a 2 TB Barracuda XT, according to our Storage Bench v1.0. Spending more than twice as much on the 240 GB Vertex 3 yields two times the capacity, sure, but it only gets you 5.5x the performance of a desktop hard drive. That's hardly what we'd consider a quantum leap, though it's a nice perk to buying a larger SSD.
The real trick is balancing solid-state and mechanical storage. Let's face it. Buying enough capacity for an SSD-only storage setup is a great way to miss a mortgage payment. Most enthusiasts' music and movie libraries edge up into terabyte territory, making conventional hard drives much more economical for that sort of user data. Install your operating system and applications to the flash drive for optimal performance, and kick everything else down to a 1.5 or 2 TB disk. So, we've established that you don't need a massive (budget-busting) SSD to really enjoy the technology. In fact, we're going so far as to recommend 120 GB as a solid buy-in point for anyone interested in a solid system drive.
As we've just seen though, even when you're talking about seven drives all based on the same controller, performance and pricing vary pretty significantly. There's the issue of memory type to consider, plus the firmware modifications each company makes. To that end, you're going to get the best transfer rates out of SF-2200-based drives matched up to synchronous ONFi 2.x-compliant NAND or Toggle Mode DDR memory. Patriot's Wildfire and Mushkin's Chronos Deluxe demonstrate the absolute pinnacle of what SandForce's newest controller can do when matched up to Toggle Mode flash. These are easily the two fastest 120 GB SSDs we've ever tested.
Unfortunately, then we turn to pricing. The Chronos Deluxe and Wildfire each command a hefty price premium over the models armed with asynchronous NAND, while delivering less than 20% additional performance. The synchronous ONFi 2.0-compliant memory from IMFT is a little slower, but it's also clearly cheaper, based on the prices of Adata's S511 and OCZ's Vertex 3. That helps explain why OCZ's high-end offering is only $30 richer than the Agility 3 and $60 less expensive than the Wildfire and Chronos Deluxe.
As of right now, OCZ's Solid 3 uses the same memory configuration as its Agility 3, which means the two drives perform differently due to firmware implementations. We're told this is intentional, and that OCZ plans to drive down SSD prices in the future by integrating cheaper memory still capable of enabling the Solid 3's more entry-level performance specifications. Right now, the Solid and Agility drives are priced very similarly, but we're looking forward to a day when 120 GB SSDs will sell for well under $200.
Second-gen SandForce-based SSDs are by no means perfect (as we've seen based on dissimilar issues from both Corsair and OCZ), but they are still some of the best-performing drives that you'll find for the dollar. Our 120 GB recommendation goes to the Vertex 3. It costs 20% more than the Agility 3 at the same capacity, but its price scales with performance, as you can also look forward to getting 22% more performance (at least in our Storage Bench v1.0 benchmark).
|Model||S511||Force 3||Chronos Deluxe||Vertex 3||Agility 3||Solid 3||Wildfire|