The purchase of an SSD to replace / complement hard drives (or install more modern and advanced versions) is one of the most profitable acquisitions that a user who wants to improve or extend the life of their equipment can perform in updating / maintaining PCs.
The benefits are direct and immediate in terms of performance, in the time it takes for the operating system to start up, at the start of applications, in transferring files in the unit itself or to other internal or external ones and in recovering the device from sleep modes. Its advantages are also appreciable in terms of consumption, heat emission or zero noise emitted. The improvement of its robustness and resistance to failures in the last generations surpasses today to the one of the hard disks, whereas the new smaller formats have allowed to the manufacturers include them in ultrathin teams.
Although hard drives are still shining at cost per GB, SSDs have registered a fast and constant price drop which has added additional attractions and finally making them the great standard for internal consumer storage. If the purchase of an SSD is required before any update of a PC, its use in the OEM channel is absolute and you will not see today a new equipment that is launched without them as we saw in the CES.
Today we update another of our great SSD buying guides by reviewing what has reached the market since last summer, a selection of the current offer and a review of everything a user should know about its internal operation, formats, interfaces and possibilities of use.
What is it, how does an SSD work?
SSD (always in feminine if we want to speak correctly because it is the acronym for "solid state drives") is a storage format with the same purpose as a hard drive: store data and files persistently. In this way the data in an SSD is maintained even if we attach the equipment. When saving data in non-volatile memories, they do not require any type of constant power supply or batteries to avoid losing the stored data, even in sudden blackouts of the PC.
The design of a typical SSD is much simpler than that of a hard disk. It consists of an electronic board (PCB) where an indeterminate number of NAND flash memory chips are located, the base of these units and where the data is stored. They also need an additional chip that acts as a controller and an interface that we use for their connection.
In front of a hard disk that has magnetic plates, turntables and a needle that, in order to read and write data, you need to turn the plates to the correct location before, the structure of an SSD changes completely and hence its great advantages. It has no mechanical or mobile parts and uses an electric cell system to send and receive data. These grids are separated into sections called "pages" and these pages are where the data is stored. Pages are grouped to form "blocks."
If you want to deepen the technique of SSD and its position among the other memories of the architecture of a computer (RAM and cache), we recommend this special with the operation of SSD where we explain it thoroughly. Yes, you should know that one of the theoretical disadvantages of these units compared to hard drives is that the flash memory can only maintain a finite number of writes before the end of its useful life. In practice, its usage time without errors is similar.
What format of SSD can I buy?
The most popular and versatile format is the one that uses the same standards as the smaller hard drives, that of 2.5 inches. Massively extended, you'll find it on any desktop and in most laptops. If you are going to mount it on a laptop you have to make sure that its height is supported, because there are 9.5 mm and 7 mm thick units. In a PC tower you can use all existing models and can be mounted in 2.5 "bays and also in 3.5" with an adapter.
The second format to be valued in the purchase of an SSD is called M.2. Much more modern and smaller in size than the previous 2.5-3.5 inches is sold in several variants although the most widespread is the 2280 that measures 80 x 22 and 3.5 mm. Another variant is mSATA, even smaller than the previous one (50.8 mm x 29.85 mm x 4.5 mm), but less extended.
M.2 is the format that is being imposed in the industry and the recommended one to use in motherboards that support it. Its disadvantages compared to an SSD of 2.5 ″ is precisely that, its lower versatility because there are millions of older equipment that do not support it. The performance section is identical as long as they use the same SATA interface, although it is much higher when using PCIe as we will see later, something that the former cannot do.
A third format that we can find for desktops is that of card type punctured directly into a PCI slot of the motherboard. This format includes the units that mount their chips directly on the card or if it is used as accessories to be able to mount the previous M.2 on boards that do not have a specialized connector. They are very fast when using PCIe, but are usually somewhat more expensive and are not the most used, since the industry is committed to M.2, supported on 100% of new motherboards for desktop PCs and in most Laptops that are coming to market.
SATA vs. PCIe
We must not confuse the previous section of the format with the interface, which deals with the connection bus used by an SSD. The most widespread and supported is known as SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment), which has been with us since 2003. The second interface used in SSD is PCIe. More modern, it offers much greater performance and everything indicates that in the medium term it will be the only bus for the future of the PC. The units that use the 2.5-inch format can only be connected to a SATA bus, while the M.2 mostly choose PCIe. There are also M.2 to SATA ports, but their adoption is minimal.
Not all SSDs offer the same performance even under the same connection bus, derived from the memories used and especially from their controller. The user who buys an SSD today, should not settle for less than one unit that does not reach 500 Mbytes per second over SATA at data transfer rates in both reading and writing. There are very cheap SSDs that lower this data especially in writing. Avoid them, they are not worth it.
The M.2 that use PCIe are the fastest units that you will find in solid consumer storage. They use the native PCI-e interface to shoot your performance up to a theoretical maximum that multiplies by five that of solid state drives connected to SATA and fifteen that of hard drives. Although in the beginning its price was prohibitive for large consumption, the distances from SATA have been greatly reduced as you will see in the end in the offer to buy an SSD.
It is also worth knowing that the new generations of M.2 PCIe SSD support the standard NVM Express, designed from scratch taking advantage of the low latency and parallelism of PCI Express SSDs, offer spectacular performance and make the drive bootable, allowing you to completely dispense with other storage units. If you are going to buy this type of SSDs to completely replace hard drives, make sure your board supports or can be updated to support the NVM protocol and make the drive bootable.
How long is an SSD?
It is a question that potential buyers ask themselves and has a quick answer: the same as hard drives. Despite its mechanical components, hard drives have stood out for their resistance and hence its massive use in data centers 24/7 where reliability prevails above all. In addition, these environments require tests and certifications that can last for months and years, and therefore the adoption of SSD in the business segment is much lower than the consumption. That, yes, is only a matter of time and will end up imposing too.
In addition, SSDs are more prone to power failures while the unit is in operation, causing data corruption or even total device failure. This does not mean that an SSD lasts less than a hard drive because new generations have greatly improved reliability and mass resistance tests have shown that they support writes above 2 petabytes. A huge amount of data that a user in real conditions (normal use) would take tens of years to complete.
In addition, all modern SSDs include additional free memory cells for when the others fail (something inherent in this type of memory that has a limited number of write operations.) Not to lose capacity or suffer errors, reallocating damaged sectors.
It should be noted that in the last generations of SSD, manufacturers are betting on NAND TLC flash memory, triple level per cell, and the QLC or quad core per cell will be as follows. This technology increases storage density and lowers costs, but reduces the resistance of previous formats such as MLC and especially SLC, Single-Layer Cell, It only stores one bit per cell and has virtually disappeared from the consumer market.
To compensate, the best manufacturers have increased the warranty up to 5 years in consumption units, while there are professional models with up to 10 years warranty. The official half-life of an SSD is estimated between 5 and 7 years.
Solid state drives offer advantages in any type of equipment as we have seen and can be used both in laptops and desktops, either replacing hard drives or next to them to maintain a greater storage capacity economically.
One of the most common use cases is its installation in a laptop to replace hard drives, but we can also combine them if the equipment offers compatibility for it.
The same can be said for a typical desktop. In this type of equipment we are more likely to have both PCIe and SATA connectors and can play with them. To keep in mind that SSD always has to be the first boot drive to take advantage of its performance advantages. We would install the operating system and main applications in the SSD, leaving the hard drives as the second drive for mass storage.
The combinations are varied and will depend on the needs and budget of each user. If it is limited, an economical and small capacity SSD can be acquired while maintaining the hard drives. If the budget is large, we would bet on high capacity PCIe drives and say goodbye to hard drives. Remember that the hard drives we remove can and should be used. For example as an external storage unit; for mounting on a NAS or connected to the router for content distribution on the local network.
Purchase of an SSD
Any of the major manufacturers (Samsung, Kingston, OCZ-Toshiba, SanDisk-WD, Crucial, Seagate …) will offer us interesting models, varied in formats, performance and capacity. Until last year, the price drop had continued to reach a cost of around 10 cents / GB. If you are thinking about buying, do not delay, because everything indicates that the price is going to skyrocket in 2020. In fact, the rise in NAND flash memories are already having an impact on the final sale price in the retail channel.
In the last semester we have had news of all of them, especially in the M.2 formats that will be imposed in the future. Also interesting are the new PCIe 4.0 that currently only support motherboards for the latest Ryzen from AMD. We separate them by the SATA and PCIe formats that we have seen in the article and add the portables in case you need any. And we repeat, you will not go wrong; There is a lot of offer from all manufacturers. We select the most interesting with updated prices.
– Kingston SSD KC600. New series that we had the opportunity to analyze and is the most advanced in SATA. It offers 256 GB, 512 GB and 1 Tbyte versions for 54, 90 and 167 euros.
– Samsung EVO 860. A series that offers great performance and multiple capabilities. The most interesting right now is 500 GB for 81 euros. You have versions of 1, 2 and 4 Tbytes for 145/297 and 590 euros respectively. The 250 GB version costs only 57 euros.
– Kingston SUV500. High speed, encryption and 5 years warranty and a very attractive price, with 480 GB capacity for 73 euros and 960 GB for 153 euros. If you need more, the 2 TB unit costs 299 euros and is discounted over the previous quarter.
– Crucial BX500. It offers versions of 240 GB and 480 GB with outstanding prices: 37 and 58 euros. The 960 GB drive only costs 109 euros. If you need more, the 2 Tbytes unit has a price of 216 euros.
– SanDisk SSD Plus. Another of the largest in the sector, acquired by WD, with a series of consumption at a very good price, which offers 240 GB versions for only 39 euros, 480 GB for 54 euros and the 960 GB version for 168 euros. The series has been extended with a 2 TB model for 260 euros.
– Toshiba TR200. The same can be said of the TR200 series, available in capacities of 240, 480 Gbytes for 38 and 73 euros, respectively. The 960 Gbytes version costs 120 euros, also discounted.
– WD Blue SSD. Sample of the entrance of the big manufacturers in the sector of the SSDs are the new units of Western Digital, with capacities of 250 and 500 Gbytes for 55 euros (92 euros last January) and 137 euros. The upper unit with 1 Tbyte costs 181 euros.
– Seagate Barracuda. The other big manufacturer of hard drives, sells this series with 250 GB for 58 euros; 500 GB for 106 euros and 1 TB for 144 euros. The 2 TB version costs 305 euros.
PCIe SSD – NVMe
– Samsung 970 EVO. The best-selling segment offers 3,200 Mbytes per second in read mode. It maintains prices in the 250 GB unit for 79 euros, the 500 GB model costs 116 euros and the 1 Tbyte version for 209 euros. The 2 TB version costs 496 euros.
– Kingston KC2000. Another of the best sellers offers versions of 250, 500 GB, 1 and 2 Tbytes with prices starting at 71 euros.
– Samsung SSD 970 EVO Plus. Series faster than the previous one. The 500 GB version has dropped 40% to 111 euros, while the 1 Tbyte version costs 222 euros.
– Corsair MP600 PCI3 4.0. The fastest of this selection with support for PCIe 4.0 interface. The 500 GB version costs 156 euros and you have a 1 and 2 TB option.
– WD Black SN750. Another of the great novelties of 2019 with versions of 250 GB, 500 GB and 1 TB for 75, 94 and 189 euros, respectively. As a novelty, a version of 2 TB for 474 euros is for sale.
– WD Black NVMe SSD. Of the best PCIe SSDs you can buy. With 256 Gbytes it only costs 76 euros and with 512 GB for 113 euros. As a novelty this quarter, you have the version of 1 Tbyte for 244 euros.
– Kingston A2000. Another of the M.2 series recommended (lower performance than the previous ones, but cheaper) and also analyzed. You have the 250 GB version for only 50 euros. The 500 GB costs 88 euros, while the 1 TB is priced at 154 euros. If you have enough with its performance it is one of the cheapest PCIe SSDs.
– Intel Optane H10. Another one that we have analyzed and is special, because it combines Optane technology with the storage capacity of an SSD. You have the 512 Gbytes version for 128 euros.
– Corsair MP500. It uses Toshiba memories and is very fast according to our own analysis (3,000 / 2,400 MB / s). In M.2 format, it offers versions of 240, 480 and 960 Gbytes, with respective prices of 58, 93, 219 euros. The 2 Tbytes version costs 367 euros.
– Adata XPG SX8200 Pro. Another very fast (3500 MB / s) that with a capacity of 1 TB is priced at 178 euros. The versions with 256 and 512 GB cost 62 and 96 euros, respectively.
– Intel 660p. Very cheap M.2 unit with 1 Tbyte for only 133 euros, after a monumental price drop. Their performance is medium, like the Kingston A1000.
External storage solutions based on solid-state drives are another option to purchase an SSD and have been gaining market in recent years compared to those based on hard drives and as has happened with internal drives. The lower cost of NAND flash memories has reduced the final sales price and these portable SSDs are today a viable alternative with huge advantages over those based on hard drives. We leave you a selection of the current offer.
– Samsung T7 Touch. It is one of the highest performance on the market with read mode of up to 1,050 Mbytes per second. It is available in capacities of 500 GB, 1 and 2 Tbytes, with respective prices of 180, 266 and 442 euros.
– SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD. Low size, robust and wide mobility, with 250 GB version for only 79 euros. There is option of 500 GB and 1 Tbyte.
– Crucial X8 Portable. Similar to the previous one in size, but with more performance. 130 euros for the 500 GB version, while the 1 Tbyte version costs 180 euros.
Purchase of an SSD, resources, comparatives, use guides and assemblies: