How To Buy…SSD Drives (Part 2)

10/25/2012 9:17:25 AM

Although you can encounter a reasonable number of manufacturers, we recommend sticking with one of the big five: Intel, Crucial, Kingston, Samsung and OCZ. All of these brands produce well-priced, well-performing SSD drives in a wide variety of capacities. Don't stray outside of them unless you have a very specific idea about what you want and none of those manufacturers fulfill it.

Description: Crucial 64 GB M4
Crucial 64 GB M4

In terms of specific models, it's a good idea to go for the latest product lines, as these all use the fastest technology and have the longest lifespan ahead of them. For Intel, that means the 520 and 330 series devices, and for Kingston it means HyperX (3k or SSD). If you're interested in buying an OCZ drive, look for Vertex 4 and Agility 4 devices. Crucial fans should look at the M4 range, and finally, if you're buying Samsung go for anything branded Sata III.

That's not to say that older drives are significantly worse, of course. Any solid state drive will vastly outperform a hard drive of equivalent capacity in terms of transfer speed, power consumption and access times, even if it costs more. If your budget is limited, don't be afraid to go for a cheaper SSD - you'll still see the benefits.

Description:  If you're interested in buying an OCZ drive, look for Vertex 4 and Agility 4 devices.

If you're interested in buying an OCZ drive, look for Vertex 4 and Agility 4 devices.

What technology should you look for?

They might do similar jobs, but SSD technology is quite different to hard drive technology.

Because they don't rely on moving parts, solid state drives have substantially faster access times than hard disk drives, and this creates a trickle-down effect which you can see for yourself when doing things like playing games. Quicker access times means data can be cached faster, which means fewer pauses and vastly reduced loading times with games and applications. Even on the fastest machines, the slow churning of data on a hard disk can cause stuttering and jerking in-game. A solid state drive should render your experience immune to such effects.

Access times are described in terms of IOPS (input/ output operations per second) and the best drives are currently capable of around 85,000 IOPS of 4k random read/write operations. The slowest drives may fall as low as 23,000 IOPS, though even this is substantially faster than a hard disk drive.

SSDs also run much cooler than hard disk drives. No moving parts and low power requirements keeps their temperature low, which in turn reduces their impact on the case's thermal ecosystem. The advantage is a passive one, but less heat in the system is always good for the components most sensitive to temperature, and those are the ones which directly affect the quality of your system's performance.

Description: Intel SSD 320 Series
Intel SSD 320 Series

When buying an SSD, look out for the power consumption ratings - particularly if you're buying one for use in a laptop where power consumption will be a much bigger issue than on a desktop PC. You should be able to find a value for both 'active' and 'idle' power consumption (though they may be listed under different terms). The former value tells you how much power is used when the drive is reading and/or writing, whereas the latter value tells you how much power is used just to keep it ready to be accessed. In both cases, the lower the value, the less power it uses and, for laptops, the longer your battery life will be.

“The slow churning of data on a hard disk can cause stuttering and jerking in-game”

Like modern hard drives, SSDs use a SATA interface. The fastest SSDs are SATA 6GB/s (sometimes called SATA III) but older models may use SATA II (which offers speeds of 3GB/s). Ideally, you should go for a SATA 6GB/s device, but don't worry too much - it's unlikely that anything other than the best quality drives will get anywhere near maxing out the transfer rates, and even then, only in certain circumstances.

Finally, beware the lure of the so-called 'hybrid' drive. Hybrid drives combine a small portion of solid state memory and a larger-capacity, platter-based hard disk drive into a single unit. The idea is to use the SSD as cache for frequently-used files and get the best of both worlds - the speed of SSD access and the capacity of a traditional hard drive.

However, in practice, this doesn't quite work. Hybrid drives are normally only slightly faster than typical hard disk drives, and the amount of SSD storage they have tends to be inadequate for storing anything substantial. We strongly recommend that you avoid them in favor of one or the other; since they don't just exhibit the advantages of each type of drive they also heighten the disadvantages.


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