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Best SSDs For The Money: May 2012

Tom's Hardware's SSD Hierarchy Chart

We understand that SSD prices make it difficult to adopt the latest technology. Maybe that's why you aren't too keen on blowing a few hundred dollars on solid-state storage, especially when you can spend the same amount and buy four 2 TB hard drives or a high-performance processor. That's why it's important to put things into perspective.

Over the past five years, CPU performance has hit new and unforeseen heights, and processors are increasingly spending time waiting on data from hard drives. This is what makes storage today's most glaring bottleneck. Overcoming it requires an SSD.

At the end of the day, the real-world differences between SSDs in a desktop environment aren't altogether very different. The most important jump happens when you go from a hard drive to (almost) any SSD. With that said, there are differences between SSDs, but they have to be digested as a sum of many parts. Within individual apps, you'll hardly notice the difference between a Vertex 2 and Samsung's 830. But if you look at performance over an entire month, you will find the 830 to be a faster performer.

The hierarchy chart below relies on information provided by our Storage Bench v1.0, as it ranks performance in a way that reflects average daily use for a consumer workload. This applies to gamers and home office users. The chart has been structured so that each tier represents a 10% difference in performance. Some rankings are educated guesses based on information from testing a model at a different capacity or a drive of similar architecture. As such, it is possible that an SSD may shift one tier once we actually get a chance to test it. Furthermore, SSDs within a tier are listed alphabetically.

There are several drives that we're going to intentionally leave out of our hierarchy list. Enterprise-oriented SLC- and 512 GB MLC-based SSDs are ignored due to the extreme price they command (and the difficult we have getting samples in from vendors). Furthermore, SSDs with a capacity lower than 60 GB are left off because of the budget nature of that price range.

In order to simplify the landscape, we're going to omit brand names for those vendors leveraging SandForce. There are simply too many to list. At a given capacity, performance breaks down based on memory type, and this is their order of performance, from highest to lowest.

We're making a special exception to list Intel's SSD 330 separately because it's special case of a SandForce-based SSD that runs with reduced performance specs. The 60 GB SSD 520 is also being called out separately because it offers performance somewhat higher than the norm.

  1. SandForce controller with Toggle DDR NAND (Mushkin Chronos Deluxe, Patriot Wildfire, OCZ Vertex 3 Max IOPS, OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G)
  2. SandForce controller with Synchronous ONFi NAND (OCZ Vertex 3, Corsair Force GT, Kingston HyperX/HyperX 3K, Intel SSD 520)
  3. SandForce controller with Asynchronous ONFi NAND (OCZ Agility 3, Corsair Force 3, Mushkin Chronos, Patriot Pyro, OWC Mercury Electra 6G)
SSD Performance Hierarchy Chart
Tier 1240 GB second-gen SandForce SSDs with Toggle NANDSamsung 830 SSD 256 GB
Tier 2240 GB second-gen SandForce SSDs with Sync ONFi NAND
Tier 3Crucial m4 256 GBOCZ Vertex 4 512/256 GBSamsung 830 SSD 128 GB120 GB second-gen SandForce SSDs with Toggle NAND240 GB second-gen SandForce SSDs with Async ONFi NAND
Tier 4-
Tier 5Crucial m4 128 GBIntel SSD 330 180 GBSamsung 830 SSD 64 GB120 GB second-gen SandForce SSDs with Sync ONFi NAND
Tier 6Intel SSD 330 120 GBSamsung 470 SSD 256 GB
Tier 7240 GB first-gen SandForce SSDsIntel SSD 320 300 GBSamsung 470 SSD 128 GB120 GB & 180 GB second-gen SandForce SSDs with Async ONFi NAND
Tier 8-
Tier 9Crucial m4 64 GBIntel SSD 320 160 GBIntel SSD 520 60 GB
Tier 10Intel SSD 320 80 GBIntel SSD 330 60 GB60 GB second-gen SandForce SSDs (with Sync or Async ONFi NAND)120 GB first-gen SandForce SSDs
  • DjEaZy
    ... my vertex 3 still strong...
  • barracks510
    vertex=75 or 65 dollars. shows both
  • mayankleoboy1
    what about Vertex4 drives?
  • acku
    9532779 said:
    what about Vertex4 drives?
    I need to retest the 256 GB Vertex 4 because of weird results. Couldn't make it in time this month. Definately will be in next month's feature.

    Andrew Ku
  • _zxzxzx_
    Great how Tom's hardware has an article on this every month :)
  • vestibule
    Gotta love random deals on Newegg, I narrowly missed a 128 GB Crucial M4 for $110 a couple weeks ago, it was out of stock just seconds before I decided to get it. A week later they had a 256 GB one for $210 which is an even sweeter deal, it took days for that to be out of stock.

    Both were the newest version BTW, and I'm just holding on to the SDD for a bit for a build I'll do in a month or so.
  • iamtheking123
    "But if you look at performance over an entire month, you will find the 830 to be a faster performer"

    Still going to do 4x SSD's in raid 0 in my next build for the e-peen.
  • darn, should have waited, I could have got double the space for $10 more, good to see SSD prices come down though
  • deepb
    Is there a reason why the Mushkin 90GB version is recomendded over the OCZ Agility 3 90 GB version as the OCZ one is available at Amazon for 85$
  • wmfoster2001
    Would the 180Gb Intel 520 SSD belong in Tier 2 or 3?