Storage systems are no longer the ‘bottleneck’ in PC performance thanks to the massive adoption of flash-based drives, which offer multiple advantages over hard disk drives. In PCs, SSDs (solid-state drives) have taken over completely, both in new OEM models and for refurbishing the storage system of existing equipment in what is one of the most cost-effective upgrades any user can use.
Point out what you already know. SSD performance pulverizes that obtained by hard disk drives. in operating system boot time or application opening time, in recoveries from sleep modes or in file transfer. Their advantages do not stop there, since the absence of moving parts also improves noise emission and consumption, and the new SSD formats connected to the PCI-Express bus have made it possible to develop new formats such as the M.2, which is infinitely smaller than that of hard disks.
To conclude the introduction by emphasizing that the reliability of SSDs is similar (or better) than that of hard disks. Their mean time between failures is also higher and the endurance measured in Tbytes write capacity are huge and a typical user will not wear them out during their lifetime. Manufacturers usually offer a five-year warranty on these drives and their cost, due to the falling price of flash memory, makes them affordable for any user.
If storage is key to the operation of any PC, SSD today offers the greatest guarantees. Today we update our guide, reminding you of the technical aspects you should know when buying; the types of memory used by these devices, their different formats and connection interfaces, to finish with the best offers available.
SSD buying guide: what aspects should you evaluate?
Solid state drives serve the same purpose as a hard drive: to store data and files persistently.that is, they remain permanently ‘recorded’ even if the devices are not used. In this way, compared to other types of memory such as RAM, the data on an SSD is retained even when the power is turned off. By saving data in non-volatile memories, they do not require any kind of constant power supply or batteries in order not to lose the stored data, even in the event of sudden PC shutdowns.
However, there is an important difference between how an SSD handles data and how a hard disk does. An SSD writes data in chunks called “pages.” This group of pages are grouped into so-called “blocks” and in order to write new data to a busy block the entire block has to be erased first.
To avoid data loss, all information that exists in the block must first be moved to another location before erasure. Once the data is moved and the block is erased, only then can it be written. This process is almost instantaneous and has no effect on the user, but requires empty free space in order to function properly. If there is not enough free space the process loses efficiency and slows down, and therefore it is recommended to always leave approximately 20 percent of the drive free. We will remind you of this when evaluating offers.
The type of NAND flash memory used by these units is also important, although here the user has little say as it is a choice of manufacturers for their production processes. From 2020 onwards, manufacturers have been betting on memories using QLC (quad cell level). This type of technology increases storage density and lowers costs, making it possible to offer models with higher capacity at lower prices.
Conversely, as the bits per cell increase, the resistance is reduced versus earlier formats such as TLC (triple cell level), MLC (double cell level) and especially SLC, Single-Layer Cell, which store only one bit per cell and are no longer marketed. The vast majority of the offer is already QLC and TLC. In any case, we have already talked about the good resistance and reliability of these units, so the best manufacturers have increased the warranty up to 5 years in consumer units and there are professional versions with up to 10 years warranty.
Next to the memories, is the most important component of an SSD. It is responsible for the final drive performance, interface handling, number of channels supported, RAID level, error correction, NAND flash memory management and also additional DRAM memory which we will see below.
There are manufacturers who specialize in controller production such as Silicon Motion and Phison who sell them to integrators who do not have in-house designs and so you will see them in a wide diversity of models. Industry giants such as WD, Kioxia and Samsung produce their own controllers for their solutions.
Almost all solid state drives include additional memory for data caching. This type of memory is faster than general NAND flash and allows the performance of the drive to be boosted, but only maintains its performance for the duration of its capacity. This cache is managed by the installed controller and is internal, automatic and efficient. When it is exhausted, help is over until it is filled again.
Always depending on the amount installed a typical user does not usually notice performance loss in common tasks. But it can be noticed in more advanced tasks or those that require moving a larger amount of data and that ends up exhausting the cache. It should be noted that some manufacturers are removing this cache memory to reduce costs. At the time of purchase, make sure you know whether or not this memory is included. It is not essential, but it ends up being a plus to move the most used data.
PCIe attached M.2 SSDs are the most advanced drives as we will see below. They are very small and offer very high performance, but they get very hot. That is why the latest generations include by default or as an option a small metal heatsink that covers the unit and helps to keep temperatures under control.
Until now they were only recommended, but the latest generation of drives, the Gen5, have changed the situation and those who want to get the best performance will have to use additional cooling mandatory. They can be purchased together with the SSD (some even have a fan), although motherboards (mid-level or higher) usually already include passive versions (heatsinks) for the M.2 modules available.
We add here the section of robustness and resistance, always important in any electronic product. Again, one of the big differences between SSDs and hard disks is that they have no moving parts, which gives them a great advantage in terms of the impossibility of mechanical failure. On the other hand, SSDs are more prone to power failure while the drive is in operation, causing data corruption or even complete failure. In addition, the memory blocks in an SSD have a limited number of write operations.
Fortunately, the last few years have vastly improved in reliability and as quoted above massive endurance tests confirm that they last longer than a hard drive before they start to fail. In addition, all SSDs include additional free memory cells so that when the others fail they do not lose capacity by reallocating the damaged sectors.
Firmware and software
The program that establishes the low-level logic, better known as the software that physically manages the hardware from its boot until the operating system (in this case the driver) starts, is another component of SSD and any electronic product. It is not as relevant as the driver, but it does pay to keep it up to date.
Manufacturers usually do this through a control software which as an application is loaded into the operating system. In addition to updating the firmware, these applications usually provide performance tests, technical data on the drive and information on operating temperature or estimated lifetime based on Tbytes written. Their use is not mandatory because all operating systems can handle these drives, but they are recommended.
Some manufacturers often offer additional software to facilitate data migration from the installed storage drive to the new SSD. The best are licenses for specialized commercial suites that allow you to migrate the operating system, applications and data, have tools to create the partitions and provide backup and recovery functions.
Solid-state storage drives are marketed in several standardized formats and interfaces that every user should be aware of when faced with their purchase, whether for upgrades or hard drive replacements. We review them.
This is a standardized format also used by smaller hard disks. You will find it in any desktop computer and in some laptops, although here they tend to disappear. In a PC tower you can mount any of these models in the 2.5″ bays and also in the larger 3.5″ bays with an adapter, while in laptops they vary according to their thickness of 9.5 mm and 7 mm the thinnest and usually used in ultra laptops or convertibles.
An exclusive format for desktop computers, but which is also tending to disappear, are those of the card type that are punched directly into a PCIe slot on the motherboard. This format includes drives that mount their chips directly on the card or if the card is used as an accessory to be able to mount the above M.2s on boards that do not have a specialized connector. They are just as fast as M.2 when using PCIe, but take up much more space, are in very short supply and we would really only recommend them when our board does not have M.2 connectors available. Versions for mounting dual SSDs are also available.
Much more modern and smaller in size than the previous ones, it is marketed in several variants although the most widespread is the so-called ‘2280’ which measures only 80 x 22 and 3.5 mm, smaller than a RAM module. It is the format that is gaining ground in the industry and recommended for use in motherboards that support it.both in terms of size and performance when using the PCI-Express interface that we will see below. The mSATA variant, even smaller than the previous one (50.8 mm x 29.85 mm x 4.5 mm), but much less widespread and with less performance.
Related to the previous section, but very different, every buyer of these units must know the interfaces supported by their equipment or what is the same, the connection bus to which the SSD will be connected.. Basically there are two:
(Serial Advanced Technology Attachment). It is a tremendously widespread bus since it has been with us since 2003 and is supported by 100% of the PCs sold in the last 15 years. Tremendously versatile, it is used only by 2.5-inch drives since the few M.2 drives that were marketed years ago for this port have practically disappeared.
Not all SSDs offer the same performance as they depend on the memories used and especially on their controller, but virtually all SATA drives reach data transfer speeds of. 500 MB/sbetween two and three times that of a hard disk drive. They are the cheapest SSDs in cost per GB, although new releases are shrinking compared to PCIe. They can be mounted very easily in laptops and desktops with adapters.
More modern and much faster than SATA, PCI-Express has become the primary local bus in PCs and the trend is for it to become the only one once all existing legacy components for SATA are phased out. It is used both for internal connection in the integrated circuits of the motherboards (chipsets) and for connecting external cards plugged into the corresponding slots.
In the case of SSDs they have dedicated connectors on the motherboards, the M.2 mentioned and support NVMe protocol that makes the drive bootable, allows to obtain high performance, reduces the overhead of I/O components and CPU. Among the few drawbacks compared to SATA models is the one we mentioned above, that PCI drives get hotter. They are also somewhat more expensive in price per GB. The most widespread drives connect to the PCIe 3.0 interface and offer speeds in the neighborhood of 3,000 MB/s in sequential reads, while the 4.0 version (the most recommended at the moment) raises the data transfer rate to over 7,000 Mbytes per second.
The Gen5 are the newest and fastest, reaching a performance of up to 14,000 Mbytes per second in sequential reads, but the major manufacturers have not yet made the leap, they need to use the latest Intel or AMD platforms to obtain their full potential, they are more expensive than the previous ones and the problem of temperature rise is more pressing, needing in all cases at least heatsinks to avoid problems. To say that they are backward compatible with previous generation boards.
SSD Buying Guide (Offers July 2023)
The trend in the industry is to commercialize more M.2 to PCIe drives and less 2.5″ SATA.although they bring more compatibility and a slightly lower price. Speaking of prices, it will be impossible for you not to find models adjusted to your budget because they are quite economical after the drop in flash memory.
At the time of purchase, remember that to achieve its maximum efficiency we should leave approximately 20 percent of the drive free. Hence, we recommend purchasing drives with one point more storage capacity to what we really need. For example, the price of a 250 GB model compared to a 500 GB model is usually not excessive and will always be worth it. We leave you with a selection of the best current offers separating them by connection interface and also some external ones among the most representative ones.
– Corsair MP700. Perhaps the Gen5 drive that we like the most after analyzing it in depth. It supports the latest NVMe 2.0 interface and Microsoft’s Direct Storage, has 3D TLC NAND memories, 4 GB of DRAM memory as a high-speed cache and a Phison PS5026-E26 controller to exceed 10,000 Mbytes per second. With a five-year warranty, it can be found for 206 euros with 1 TB. Another series recommended to Gen4 is the Corsair MP600 PRO available with 1 TB for 99 euros.
– Seagate FireCuda 540. Recently launched this month, it is one of the few drives available for the PCIe Gen5 interface among the major manufacturers. It exceeds 10 Gb/s in sequential reads and offers an endurance rating of 2000 TBW. Its price is quite high and the version with 2 Tbytes sells for 391 euros. Seagate also sells the FireCuda 530 series (Gen4) at lower prices.
– Crucial T700. Another one of those available for PCIe 5.0 and perhaps one of the cheapest on the market. It uses 232-layer Micron TLC NAND memories together with a controller that we will see in other integrators, the Phison E26. It promises data transfer of 12,400 Mbytes per second in sequential reads and 11,800 Mbytes per second in writes. The 1TB version costs €199, while the 2TB version is on offer for €316. Crucial sells other SSDs such as the P5 Plus Gen4 with the 500 GB version for 63 euros.
– GIGABYTE AORUS Gen5. Another Gen5 SSD that exceeds 12,000 Mbytes per second in sequential read. It is supported by the Phison PS5026-E26 controller, 3D TLC NAND Flash memory chips and LPDDR4 cache memory. The 1 TB version is priced at 200 euros. The Aorus Gen4 is quite a bit cheaper at 100 euros for 1 TB.
– Kioxia EXCERIA Pro. Another industry great takes full advantage of the PCIe Gen4 interface to achieve 7.3 GB/s. It features the always reliable Toshiba memories, high endurance and five years warranty. You can buy the 2 Tbyte version for 199 euros. If you don’t need that much, the 1 Tbyte version is on offer for 112 euros.
– Samsung SSD 990 PRO. The latest version of the leader in solid storage sales has not yet marketed the Gen5, but has in this Gen4 one of the fastest on the market, supporting the latest protocol available, NVMe 2.0 and speeds in data transfer up to 7,450 / 6,900 MB / s in sequential read / write modes. The 1TB version costs 126 euros and the 2TB version costs 193 euros. Samsung sells many other series such as the 980 Gen3 priced at only 62 euros for 1 TB.
– WD_BLACK SN850X. It uses Kioxia’s 3D NAND TLC memory and proprietary controller to take full advantage of the PCIe 4.0 interface and deliver 7,300 MB/s sequential read and over one million IOPS read, which places it among the fastest in the industry. With a five-year warranty and a very high TBW life, it is available in 1, 2 and 4 Tbyte capacities starting at only 106 euros. In case you are interested, you can check out our review of the SN850.
– Kingston FURY Renegade. In the elite of the Gen4, achieving data transfer of 7,300 / 7,000 MB / s in sequential read / write and up to 1,000,000 IOPS in random transfers. For this, they use the Phison E18 controller, triple-layer 3D NAND memories (TLC) and support for NVMe protocol. Another series available for Gen4 is the KC3000 which you can buy for 58 euros with 512 GB.
– Samsung SSD 870 EVO. Surely the best seller among the 2.5″ SATA. Mounts memories and own controller and achieves the maximum performance allowed by SATA with sequential speeds of 560/530 MB / s. It offers capacities from 250 GB to 4 Tbytes of capacity from 45 euros, although the most interesting version right now is the 1 TB for 69 euros.
– KIOXIA Exceria. The new brand of what used to be Toshiba Memory, they mount in-house memories and data transfer up to 555 Mbytes in sequential reading. The 1 Tbyte version is priced at only 49, perhaps the cheapest you can find right now.
– WD Green. The world’s leading manufacturer of hard drives has a wide range of SSDs, such as this model with sequential read speeds of up to 560 MB/s, which is also optimized for lower power consumption and features super-reliable SLC memory. The 500 GB drive is priced at 36 euros.
– Crucial MX500. In a 2.5″ form factor, it mounts Micron memory and offers sequential reads/writes up to 560/510 MB and random reads/writes up to 95/90 K. They have a 5-year warranty and offer capacities from 250 GB to 4 Tbytes of capacity. Economical, the most interesting in terms of capacity/price is the 1 Tbyte for 55 euros. Crucial sells other series such as the BX500 that you can currently buy for only 29 euros in its 512 GB version.
– Kingston SKC600B. Mounts Toshiba memory and Silicon Motion controller for 550 / 520 Mbytes per second sequential read / write. It stands out for its compatibility with comprehensive security packages for data backup, XTS-AES compatible hardware-based 256-bit XTS-AES self-encryption and TCG Opal 2.0 security management solutions. With a five-year warranty, it offers capacities from 256 GB to 2 TB with prices starting at 41 euros. Review here.
The SSD advantages shown by internal drives have also been transferred to external solutions and although with less offer and novelties, we also find interesting solutions that can be carried in a pocket anywhere connected generally by a port as widespread as USB or can be used to increase the storage of products such as consoles. Some of the best offers:
– SanDisk External SSD. Low size, robust and wide mobility. The company offers standard drives at 520 Mbytes per second, the Extreme (1000 MB/s) and the Pro that offer 2,000 MB/sec, They offer all kinds of capacities from 64 euros. A reference in the sector, here we analyze it in depth.
– Crucial X8. A portable SSD that reaches 1050 MB/s connected to a USB 3.2 port. It works with consoles or PCs and is sold in capacities of 1, 2 and 4 Tbytes and the cheapest on the market, as it is sold from only 62 euros.
– Samsung T7. Small size, low weight, (higher endurance option with Shield series) and with speeds of 1,050 Mbytes per second. It is available in several capacities, the 1 Tbyte for 99 euros and the 1 TB Shield rugged version for 130 euros. It has recently been upgraded to 4 Tbytes.
– WD_BLACK P50. Specially designed for gamers on consoles and PCs who need additional storage for their games. Its performance is very high up to 2,000 MB/s sequential read. It has an attractive and resistant casing and is sold in capacities from 500 Gbytes to 4 Tbytes. The 1 TB version is priced at 218 euros.
You know. All of the above is just a selection of what you can find because the offer in SSD is very wide. You can find these offers and many more at our retailers of choice:
Note: This selection contains links from our affiliates, but none of the products included have been proposed or recommended by them or their manufacturers, but chosen at our own discretion.