Best SSDs For The Money: February 2012
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.
Earlier this month, Intel launched its second prosumer-oriented SSD. Dubbed the SSD 520 (check out Intel SSD 520 Review: Taking Back The High-End With SandForce for more), the successor to its SSD 510 leverages an SF-2281 controller, which means that Intel joins a large crowd of vendors building drives based on SandForce's technology. Great, right?
But what makes this SSD any different from the others (which incidentally already benchmark very similarly)? If you only look at performance, there's not a lot different. The SSD 520 is on par with OCZ's Vertex 3. No shocker there. We already know that two SF-22XX based SSDs deliver the same performance, so long as they share a similar memory interface. Both the Vertex 3 and SSD 520 employ synchronous NAND.
It’s true that vendors like Intel can make their own optimizations, and indeed the company claims that its firmware is all its own. Overall, though, those tweaks are outweighed by firmware elements that all SF-22XX-based SSDs have in common. After all, it's SandForce's engine. And that's why we see so many similarities reflected in the benchmark results.
So, if performance isn't an attribute associated with the brand you buy, how do you sort through the mountain of SandForce-based SSDs?
Intel, specifically, claims to use higher-quality NAND skimmed from the top bin of IMFT's production. If you were previously a little nervous about the cost-cutting measures competing vendors take to compete more aggressively on price, Intel's move could be reassuring. Conveying further confidence is Intel's five-year warranty, which easily bests the three-year coverage on most other SSDs.
You do pay more for the promise of superior support, though. At the low end, a 60 GB SSD 520 runs $2.25 per GB. In contrast, OCZ's Vertex 3 is only $1.63 for the same amount of capacity. That's a fairly tough sell. After all, we haven't seen any evidence of NAND endurance issues from other SandForce-based SSDs.
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. 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 issue that mobile users face ever-presently. Even on the desktop, other variables have to be considered.
- Prices and availability change on a daily basis. Our picks will be valid the month of publication, but we can't extend our choices very far beyond that time frame. SSD pricing is especially competitive, and a $15 difference can be the reason why one SSD makes the list, while another does not. As you shop, 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.