How to pick an SSD, with price guide

Seagate SSD 600 series header

In this article we’ll be taking a look at various factors to consider when buying a Solid State Drive (SSD) and what important bits need to be considered before buying one.

Do you need one? Which ones should you be going for? What are the pitfalls? We’ll cover that as briefly and concisely as we can.

SSD’s first became a hot topic on the market in 2007 when the first consumer-orientated drives were released on store shelves. SSD’s themselves had been available since the early 90’s to the military for rugged applications, but up until early 2007 had never been readily available in the consumer market.

The first SSD’s had immediate benefits over hard drives – they had seek times which were under a millisecond, carried no moving parts (increasing reliability), and used much less power. However, the first consumer SSDs were also dogged by slow controllers, write speeds that would fall off a cliff when tasked with copying large files, and a ridiculously expensive starting price. For a 64GB SSD, it was not uncommon to see it fetch a price of R4,000 or more.

Over time economies of scale kicked in and drove down the price towards a more sensible R10 per GB level. Controllers became more flexible, robust, smarter and faster and NAND technology advances went through the roof – Samsung, Micron, and Hynix all expect to break the 14nm barrier before the end of 2014.

So, it’s time you looked at getting one, isn’t it? And if you’re going to buy one, how do you make your choice? Lets run through a few criteria that need to be checked off.

Price per GB is important

Seagate's 600 family is good value for money

Seagate’s 600 family is good value for money

That final price sticker is important to everyone, but it’s the actual price per GB that is crucial. Some SSD’s start at attractive prices but offer you less accessible storage space. Its a no-brainer to choose a 64GB SSD at R800 (R12.50 per GB) when the 32GB variant you’re looking at only costs R600 (or R18.75 per GB). Ideally, you want to be aiming for the R10 per GB mark – that’s our sweet spot.

But if you’re going to be using the SSD as your primary system drive to store apps, files and games, you’ll definitely want to look at getting one that has a better price per GB ratio. Its the main deciding factor over speed because almost any SSD today is faster than most hard drives you can pick up off the shelf.

Aiming at a 256GB SSD for R2,000 is a good deal, because your effective price per GB goes down to R7.81, ducking nicely under our R10 per GB marker. Always stay below it, unless you need extra performance or don’t mind paying for more exotic solutions.

Drive controller selection not that important today

Samsung 840 SSD

Samsung 840 Pro – Perfect for everyday use.

Nearly all SSD’s available today are faster in every metric than their platter-spinning cousins. Because of the extreme boosts in speed and responsiveness to your system, most first-time users can’t discern between different SSDs unless benchmarks or timed reboots are placed in front of them.

Learning the nuances of the controllers is a wasteful task because the way firmware is progressing is to more transparency – every modern SSD on the market supports TRIM, most have a background garbage collection scheme, most do not drop 4K writes so low that a hard drive could overtake them. The instructions today are pretty much set and forget, and all the optimisation and black magic is done without user intervention.

Although brands like Samsung, Crucial, Corsair and SanDisk are at the top of the pack when it comes to performance and cutting-edge features, most users will be happy with something that’s driven by a Sandforce controller.

The only controller to really walk away from is anything made by JMicron. They’re not that advanced, they’re not that cutting edge, and they are much better at making controllers for hard drives in any case.

Additionally, I would caution against buying OCZ drives for the interim, at least until we have some indication that Toshiba will see out the acquisition to take over the company. If they don’t, OCZ will become defunct and getting your drive supported while under warranty will be an issue.

Identify your workload

SSD’s won’t die very easily. Although manufacturers give a life cycle rating of between 20 – 50TB over the course of three to five years, the reality is that if you discount electrical failures and lightning strikes, most modern SSD’s will continue operating past the 300TB write mark quite easily – the equivalent of writing 168GB of data to the drive every day for five years.

But if you’re not going to be using the drive for things like video recording or frame capture, audio production and software development, do you need an advanced drive at the end of the day? The answer is: not really (unless it’s for bragging rights!). Spending extra for a better quality product is a good idea, but most people don’t need anything too advanced.

So, with that in mind, which drives should you be looking at when shopping around with a budget in mind? The table below should help to give you an idea of where to start aiming.

Budget Recommended SSDs
R700 – R900  ADATA SP900 64GB, Kingston SV300 60GB, Corsair Force LS 60GB, ADATA SX300 64GB (mSATA), SanDisk Standard 64GB
R1300 – R1800  Kingston SV30 120GB, SanDisk Ultra Plus 120GB, Seagate 600 120GB, Corsair Neutron 128GB, Transcend SSD720 128GB, ADATA SX900 128GB, ADATA SX300 128GB (mSATA), Samsung 840 Pro 128GB
R2000  Samsung 840 Evo 250GB, Crucial M500 240GB
R2300 – R3000  Samsung 840 Pro 256GB, Corsair Neutron 256GB, SanDisk Pulse 256GB, ADATA SX900 256GB, Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB, Transcend SSD720 256GB
R4500 – R6500  Samsung 840 Evo 500GB, Seagate 600 480GB, SanDisk Extreme 480GB, Crusla M500 480GB, Corsair Neutron GTX 480GB
Uber Extreme budget  Samsung 840 Evo 1TB, Crucial M500 960GB

So who’s buying an SSD for themselves or a loved one for the festive season? Let us know in the comments below and in our forums!

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How to pick an SSD, with price guide

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