Welcome to the last column of 2011. 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 $150-200 bucks. Prices are falling, and we keep you informed.
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.
OCZ's Octane is really the only interesting bit of news since our last update. Based on the new Everest controller from Indilinx, Octane represents an effort by the company to make itself less reliant on SandForce, particularly as it tries to distinguish itself from a crowded market also using the same controller technology.
In terms of overall performance, Octane is fast. On a SATA 6Gb/s-equipped motherboard, it achieves sequential speeds similar to a Vertex 3 at the same capacity. Unfortunately, when it comes to random data, Octane gives up its position, as performance is pretty typical of most SATA 3Gb/s SSDs.
It's going to be interesting to see where OCZ goes from here. According to SandForce itself, OCZ sells the most SandForce-based drives. So, its own efforts to promote good performance wind up benefiting its competitors' products. Depending on the type of NAND inside, we've seen some variation in the performance of SandForce-based drives. For the most part, however, they behave fairly similarly, meaning OCZ's been doing a lot of marketing work for its competition. Although Octane isn't a Vertex 3 replacement, it does represent OCZ's first SSD with the company's own controller hardware. Might OCZ take this opportunity to start pushing prices on mainstream SSDs lower? We certainly hope so.
In the short term, if you're in the market for a storage expansion, it's a good time to consider an SSD. Although you'll still pay more than a dollar for every gigabyte of capacity, falling prices on solid-state storage are more tolerable in the fact of rising prices on conventional hard drives. Western Digital reports that it's slowly resuming production after the catastrophic flooding in Thailand, but there's no telling when we'll see disks drop to their pre-disaster levels. SSD vendors are taking advantage of the interruption in hard drive production, along with the holiday season, to offer great deals. As a result, we've seen prices fluctuate several times in the past 30 days.
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.