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.
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.