Best SSDs For The Money: October 2011

Welcome to the fifth iteration of our highest-ranked SSDs for any given budget. We updated our recommendations to reflect the recent price drops on second-gen SandForce hardware. There are several good deals to be found for right about $200 bucks.

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.

October Updates:

Late last month, we received an early sample of a new SSD from Samsung called the 830. Armed with a new controlled (sporting an extra core and 6 Gb/s SATA connectivity), the drive leverages 27 nm Toggle-mode NAND flash to push higher performance at a competitive price. Despite demonstrating mediocre random I/O, the 830 impressed us with unsurpassed sequential performance. We still don't have final pricing on the entire lineup though, so we can't make a recommendation yet in this month's column one way or the other. Samsung tells us to expect prices similar to its 470-series drives, which the 830s replace. We'll be looking for somewhere around $2/GB. For more on the 830, check out Samsung Goes 6 Gb/s: Is The 830-Series SSD King Of The Hill?

A few other manufacturers also released new SSDs recently, but they're nothing we haven't already seen in terms of features and performance. For example, Kingston is leveraging a second-gen SandForce controller along with synchronous memory for its HyperX SSDs. That's makes it very much similar to OCZ's Vertex 3. Meanwhile, Patriot's new Pyro SSD is a more price-conscious version of the WildFire that we reviewed a few months back. It also employs a second-gen SandForce controller, but the company uses asynchronous memory in order to drive down costs. Hence, Pyro is more or less equal to Corsair's Force 3.

If you're on a limited budget, be aware that some low-end SSDs may perform slower than mechanical hard drives in random read and write operations (that's why you need to read the reviews). Traditionally, those are the disciplines where SSDs absolutely trash their magnetic predecessors. However, we've seen clear cases where that generality turns out to be false. If you don't believe us, take a look at the performance of SanDisk's P4 SSD on page eight of Asus' Eee Slate EP121: A Windows 7-Based Tablet PC. So far, we've only seen this happen with cheap OEM SSDs, which is why we're going to recommend sticking to more well-known brands like Intel, Crucial, OCZ, Samsung, Kingston, Corsair, and so on. If you're absolutely cash-strapped, go the SSD caching route using an Intel SSD 311 before rolling the dice on what could be a backward-step in performance.

We continue to hear reports of BSODs on second-gen SandForce hardware across different brands, but it's difficult to know if the problems are all related. Based on the volume of forum posts, it seems that problems are most pervasive on Sandy Bridge-based systems, a statistic that we've confirmed with several SSD vendors. There's a suspicion that this may be the result of a timing issue between the SSD and Intel's chipset. But the percentage of users experiencing this remains extremely small. Fewer than 1% of users are affected. While this shouldn't deter you from attempting a new system build, it's something you should still bear in mind. Firmware fixes are still forthcoming, so we expect this to be resolved soon.

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.
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  • aznshinobi
    Kingston has truly stepped up their SSD game, Their HyperX SSDs are a huge step from where they were with their basic Kingston SSDs. Good Work.
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    This is EXACTLY the article I wanted, since I want to get an SSD soon! Great review, though a bit short... maybe could do boot time comparison?

    This 60GB OCZ Agility 3 seems like a great option and costs only $100... well, $156 'round here :( Still, it has the best read/write speeds for the price; anyone having issues with that drive? Don't want to run into some BS for that much money...

    Any other good drive for that money? The hierarchy chart has many models listed, but very few made it in the "Best" categories.
  • cumi2k4
    I don't get this sentence: "a file operation completes 85% faster on a low-end SSD than it does on a high-end hard drive, but there is only an 88% speed difference between a high-end hard drive and a high-end SSD"

    does this mean there's only 3% margin difference between low-end and high-end ssd?

    Also i don't get the chart...does this mean OCZ Agility 3 60 GB (tier 9) is worse than OCZ Agility 3 120 GB (tier 8) in speed? or is it just due to less capacity?

    (sorry this is my first time to foray into ssd...budget user here ;))
  • Anonymous
    Just bought Samsung 470 128GB on Newegg for $179.99.
    Great deal, if you ask me. And the speeds are absolutely amazing!
    Lucky me, sale ended day after I ordered mine. $229.99 at the moment.
    Seq read 200 MB/s
    Seq write 245 MB/s
    Rand read 28000 IOPS
    Rand write 15000 IOPS
  • sceen311
    I think breaking it down, Best buy for capacity would be > then for the money.
  • radium69
    Crucial M4 hands down ;)
    Reliability is #1 priority
    Don't forget that!

    Can we see some failure and RMA rates please!
  • flong
    Finally, an SSD hierarchy that actually matches the data of other professional reviewers with the exception of the M4. A much better job by TH for this article.

    However, the Muskin 120GB is the top dog for 120GB SSDs. It beats most 240GB drives including the Vertex 3 240GB in most benchmarks. This is phenomenal for a 120GB drive.

    I still don't get the obsession with Crucial M4 as it is slower than the top tier SSDs. I am not sure why it keeps getting recommended as it is not faster and there is no reliable data to show it is more reliable. Maybe someone can chime in and explain why TH chose the M4?
  • flong
    radium69Crucial M4 hands down Reliability is #1 priorityDon't forget that!Can we see some failure and RMA rates please!

    There are no comprehensive reliability studies for SSDs so why do you think that the M4 is more reliable than any other SSD? Also, if reliability is your top goal then Intel's SSDs supposedly are the most reliable though we have no data to confirm this factually.
  • flong
    ViciousDeliciousJust bought Samsung 470 128GB on Newegg for $179.99.Great deal, if you ask me. And the speeds are absolutely amazing!Lucky me, sale ended day after I ordered mine. $229.99 at the moment.Seq read 200 MB/sSeq write 245 MB/sRand read 28000 IOPSRand write 15000 IOPS

    The Kingston Hyer X is $179.99 on Newegg right now and it is more than twice as fast. What is the attraction to the Samsung 470? I am asking sincerely, not in a smart ass way.
  • thrawn1799
    Why is Samsung left off this list? Yes, I read about the reason they left off the 830 series but that still doesn't explain why the 470 is excluded.
  • Anonymous
    Like thrawn1799 said... Where are the Samsung SSD?
    The 470 are very good ones. And the new ones, 830.
    Good performance and the reliability is on pair whit Crucial M4.
  • chudei
    Best xxxxx for the money are my favorite articles. Keep up the good job Toms Hardware.
  • uruquiora
    well done Tom, thanks, this is exactly the kind of articles i like...
    I would love to see in // a reliability chart ... No mention has been made of all the BSOD problms on the vertex 3 series for instance...
    I understand Intel is the ultimate at the moment but apart from them, i'd love a pro and cons comparison, not only a $/capacity comparison...
  • wolfram23
    I'm rather surprised with those power consumption numbers. Takes a lot more juice (10x) for not a lot more performance (2x)
  • JohnnyLucky
    I'd like to see a real world blind test between the fastest and slowest ssd's. By that I mean real people doing real things with real software on pc's that are identical except for the ssd's.
  • dark_lord69
    Just wanted to say I really like these "Best SSD's for the Money" articles.
    Actually while I'm mentioning it I like video card and CPU ones too!
  • CaedenV
    Could we see the iops instead of the mb/s? I think that would help some of the questions people are having between different drive picks.
    Also, SSDs are hard to compare as they are build for different needs. Intel SSDs tend to be slow and expensive, but very reliable. Some smaller SSDs are great performers, but not for 'single drive use' as you put it. Other larger drives have great throughput (mb/s), but lower iops which is what makes an SSD a good boot/program drive (OCZ Solid/Agility/Vertex is a prime example of this). It would be less confusing to see more separation between the intended use of each drive and then review, rather than throwing them all in the same monolithic list and having a million price point tiers.
  • Anonymous
    flongThe Kingston Hyer X is $179.99 on Newegg right now and it is more than twice as fast. What is the attraction to the Samsung 470? I am asking sincerely, not in a smart ass way.

    I'm with you on this one. My monitoring of NewEgg customer reviews leaves me to believe that the smaller population of Samsung SSD owners (470) are experiencing much lower failure rates, albeit at a reduction of performance. Reliability > performance in my opinion. Apple and a few other OEMs have been using the 470 for a while and at least Apple has had good success with their reliability.

    I'm waiting for the Samsung 830. ;)
  • cadder
    Once again I shall step in as the SSD watchdog.

    I started at the bottom and looked up the user feedback on newegg for the recommended models. The BEST of these had at least 34% of the users that were extremely dissatisfied, the WORST had 66%, that's a full 2/3 of buyers, that were extremely dissatisfied with their purchases. I cannot understand how toms can recommend a product that 1/3 to 2/3 of buyers will be dissatisfied with. Intel, Crucial, Plextor and Samsung seem to have the best reliability, OCZ the worst.

    Research for yourself and think carefully before buying.

    OCZ Vertex Plus 60gb
    66% dissatisfied

    OCZ Agility 3 60gb
    40% dissatisfied

    OCZ Agility 3 120GB
    34% dissatisfied

    Adata S511 120gb
    44% dissatisfied

    Patriot Wildfire
    34% dissatisfied
  • cadder
    flongThere are no comprehensive reliability studies for SSDs so why do you think that the M4 is more reliable than any other SSD? Also, if reliability is your top goal then Intel's SSDs supposedly are the most reliable though we have no data to confirm this factually.

    There is nothing truly scientific, but the next best thing are the user feedback ratings on newegg. You can research what past buyers have said about the drives and make up your own opinion. If 10% of the feedback of one product is bad, and 66% of the feedback of another product is bad, which would you feel safe in spending your own money on? There has got to be a reason that 66% of feedback is bad, and I don't want to spend my money just so I can find out firsthand what that reason is.