Sure-bet SSDs

Where once a machine was bottlenecked by the speed of its hard drive, the advent of SSDs has changed all that. SSDs are so fast, in fact, that beyond benchmarking or very specific workload requirements, getting most any SSD will give a computer a huge performance boost.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and the performance difference between a lower-end and cheaper SSD and the top-end variety is not something you’re likely to see or feel in everyday use.

Indeed, you will often see metrics like IOPS (input/output operations per second, commonly used for indicating peak throughput) quoted in reference to an SSDs performance, but this has almost no bearing on normal use for the majority of the population.

As with any hard drive purchase, the important features to look for are size and price, and ultimately longevity, though this is something not easily tested. In fact, your average SSDs today is supposed to last ten years with heavy use.

But don’t for one minute think that means your data is safe — APC staffers have had SSDs spontaneously die on them, so just as with the old spinning platter hard drives that SSDs are replacing. Always, always back up your data regularly.

For our test, we looked at drives that came in under $0.70/GB. Corsair, ADATA, G.Skill and Transcend were invited but elected not to provide products for review.

What to look for

When it comes to buying an SSD, you’ll usually get slightly more bang for buck by going for a larger drive, as the economies of scale kick in.

There’s another advantage for going for a larger drive too. By their nature, SSDs have limited write-cycles for non-volatile RAM that they use, and to help a drive last a long time, on-board firmware uses ‘wear-levelling’ to spread data out across the least-used cells.

This means that the more free space you have available, the better these algorithms can ensure a longer life your drive, and of course it’s easier to have more free space with a bigger drive.

If performance is important, you’ll see there is a difference between the drives in our test, with better performing drives usually costing more, too.

In our tests, we’ve not only measured performance but also looked at cost per gigabyte, as well as performance per cost per gigabyte, which informs value for money.

Also be sure to check out our guide to caring for your SSDs here.

Crucial BX200 480GB

crucial bx200Crucial has made a name for itself in the SSD market and the BX200 is no exception. And as the cheaper brother of the MX200, and over-provisioned to 480GB, it performs about the same in the PCMark 8 storage results.

However, where it excels over its sibling is in write speeds, particularly in 4k sequential and threaded writes where it performed around 20% faster.

At a street price, the BX200 comes in at exactly $0.50/GB, which is about average and better than the MX200’s $0.55 per gigabyte, though it’s also a smaller drive.

At its peak, throughput in Crystal DiskMark the BX200 managed around 560MB/s read and 480MB/s write, which is on par with most of the other drives in this roundup.

And indeed, while not the highest scorer in the PCMark 8 storage suite, it held its ground in the middle.

Verdict: Among the cheaper of the 480GB models we tested, with good performance and excellent bang for buck.

Price: $239
From: Crucial

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Crucial MX200 500GB

crucial mx200The MX200 comes in at 500GB, the largest in our roundup, and and at roughly $35 more expensive than its BX200 brother. This extra cost gets you extra performance, coming second only to Samsung’s 850 Evo by a small margin.

Its peak throughput with Crystal DiskMark was on par with the Crucial BX200, though it did score a little less in 4k threaded writes compared to its brother.

At $0.55/GB, it’s in the middle in terms of cost effectiveness, but this extra cost pays off with the MX200 being the fastest among the 480GB drives we tested, giving it a decent ranking in our value index.

Beyond this, however, the BX200 and MX200 are very similar and both come with Crucial’s Storage Executive, which provides for easy firmware updating, SMART monitoring, and secure-wiping the drive.

Verdict: More expensive, faster, version of the BX200 with 20GB more space to boot.

Price: $275
From: Crucial

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Intel SSD 535 240GB

Intel SSD 535Intel is, of course, renowned for making solid SSDs that prioritise reliability, but also cost a premium. However, the 535 240GB comes in at $0.66/GB — still the joint most expensive in our roundup, but below our $0.70/GB target.

In terms of performance, the 535 shows its pedigree, but doesn’t quite keep up with most of the drives in this test.

While its read speeds are excellent across the board in Crystal DiskMark, it doesn’t keep up in write performance, peaking at around 260MB/s for sequential and 4k threaded writing, compared to most of the other drives in this test, which hit between 400 and 500MB/s in write speeds.

As noted in the introduction, while reliability is an important consideration, it’s also very hard to quantify, but if you put stock in the Intel brand, then the 535 is among its more affordable SSDs.

Verdict: Intel pedigree but middle of the road performance and value.

Price: $159
From: Intel

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Kingston HyperX Savage 240GB

kingston hyperx savage 240With a moniker like Savage, we’d expect a blistering fast experience from this drive, and it mostly lives up to this expectation — coming in just behind the Samsung 850 Evo, Crucial MX200 and OCZ Vector 180 drives.

However, it’s considerably cheaper than Crucial’s top-performing MX200, and a tad more expensive (give or take what price you can find) to Samsung’s 850 Evo.

Peak throughput according to Crystal DiskMark is exemplary, with a super-fast 560MB/s read and 540MB/s write.

Of note with the HyperX Savage 240GB and its 480GB brother is a heavy and solid build to the drive, not to mention perhaps the sleekest looking SSDs in our test — mostly moot for those who install them never to be seen again, but may appeal to system builders who like showing off the innards.

Verdict: It sits on the upper-end of the 240GB drives on test, beaten only by the Samsung 850 Evo in the 240GB category.

Price: $149
From: Kingston

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

Kingston HyperX Savage 480GB

kingston hyperx savage 480Having two sizes of the HyperX Savage makes a good basis for comparison.

Is there a difference in performance between two sizes of one drive model? The answer is yes, though it’s quite small here.

In fact, according to the PCMark 8 storage results, it’s slightly slower by a small margin, though in the maximum throughput tests with Crystal DiskMark, the 240GB and 480GB drives performed identically, which the exception that 4k threaded writes were slower on the 480GB, and which likely explains the lower PCMark 8 score too.

At $279, it’s more expensive than Crucial’s MX200 while coming behind it for performance.

With both drives, Kingston provides its SSD Toolbox software, which is quite basic, giving access to SMART data but not much else. HyperX Savage drivers, however, also come with an Acronis TrueImage licence for imaging and backing-up hard drives.

Verdict: Excellent performance but a little less cost-effective than the competition.

Price: $279
From: Kingston

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

OCZ Arc 100 240GB

ocz arc100 240OCZ’s ARC 100 240GB is the cheapest 240GB drive among the SSDs we looked at here.

Like the Crucial BX200 and its Trion siblings, its cost per gigabyte comes in at exactly 50c/GB. It also performs almost identically to the BX200 in PCMark 8 with a score of 4,903, while its maximum throughput, according to Crystal DiskMark, was a little lower hitting 480MB/s read and 425MB/s write.

However, its 4k threaded score held up well, coming in again very close to the BX200. Indeed, among the 240GB drives, it’s bested only by the Kingston HyperX Savage and Samsung 850 Evo.

Compared to its Trion 100 240GB brother with its identical price, you get a little more bang for your buck with the Arc 100.

Verdict: Good performance and an excellent price make it the top scorer in our SSD value index.

Price: $119
From: OCZ

Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

OCZ Trion 100 240GB

ocz trion100 240Sharing pride of place as the equal cheapest drive in our roundup, the OCZ Trion 100 240GB is brother to
the Arc 100 240GB and, while the difference is small, the ARC actually outperformed it in our PCMark 8 test, despite OCZ listing the Trion as the faster drive.

Digging into the Crystal DiskMark results, however, we see the Trion scoring a very respectable 540MB/s read and 500MB/s write compared to the Arc’s 480MB/s read and 425MB/s write.

This goes to show that peak throughout doesn’t necessarily translate to real-world performance, the type of which PCMark 8 measures, but if peak throughput is important to you, then the Trion is the better of the two.

At $0.50/GB it comes out as one of the better drives for the SSD value index, despite the fact it came last in our PCMark 8 storage results.

Verdict: Not the fastest, but it’s up there in terms of bang for buck vs performance.

Price: $119
From: OCZ

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

OCZ Trion 100 480GB

ocz trion100 480Another great comparison of the same drive model with two different sizes.

Here we see the 480GB version of the Trion 100 outstrip its smaller brother by a small margin in the PCMark 8 storage rankings.

This is displayed in the Crystal DiskMark scores as well, where the 480GB model reached the same peak read score of around 540MB/s but upped the write speed to 530MB/s. This was reflected in the 4k queued write tests too, where the 480GB model was approximately 100MB/s faster.

Among the 480GB and larger drives, it comes in at $0.50/GB, matching the Crucial BX200 at the same price point. However, it’s outperformed by the BX200, making the Trion 100 480GB model the slowest 480GB in our test.

Verdict: As with the other OCZ drives, the 480GB scores well in the SSD value index, but the BX200 is a better buy.

Price: $239
From: OCZ

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

OCZ Vector 180 480GB

ocz vector180 480As the most expensive drive in our roundup by a fair margin, and with a cost per gigabyte of $0.66 on par with the Intel 535, we’d expect top-of-the-range performance and, here, the Vector 180 does not disappoint.

Though bested by both the Samsung 850 Evo and Crucial BX200 in the PCMark 8 storage results, it’s nonetheless a fast drive, with peak throughput in Crystal DiskMark of 550MB/s read and 530MB/s write.

It also had the highest threaded 4k scores, beaten only by the Samsung 850 Evo.

This would be a good drive to recommend if not for the price, which places it last in our bang-for-buck ranking by performance per cost per gigabyte.

Beyond this, it’s otherwise a good all-rounder… if you don’t mind paying the price premium for OCZ’s flagship drive.

Verdict: Fast, expensive. The Crucial MX200 and Samsung 850 EVO offer better value.

Price: $319
From: OCZ

Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Samsung 850 EVO 250GB

samsung 850 evoSamsung, like Intel, has made a name for itself in the SSD market with consistently high-performing SSDs that don’t always cost the Earth.

The 850 EVO, the little brother of the 850 Pro, comes in with a tasty $139 price tag while topping the performance ratings in the PCMark 8 storage results for our roundup.

Its Crystal DiskMark scores topped 530MB/s read and 510MB/s write, a little behind some of the other drives, but it sported the fastest 4k threaded scores.

At 250GB, it also tempts with 10GB more space compared to the other drives in its category of 240GB, though it would still help to over-provision it for regular use.

While not the cheapest cost per gigabyte, the performance pushes it into the top five of our bang-for-buck rating, making it easy to recommend as it’s only $20 more expensive than the cheapest drives in our test while being the fastest.

Verdict: Samsung hits the target squarely for an affordable SSD that also screams speed.

Price: $139
From: Samsung

Rating: 5 stars out of 5

SanDisk Ultra II 240GB

sandisk ultra ii 240Sandisk make good products, but in this roundup, the Ultra II 240GB wasn’t much of a standout, being second cheapest among its peers, while coming second last in performance too.

This wouldn’t be so bad, but its higher cost means you can get more efficient cost-per-gigabyte options with the other drives in our test.

It did, however, feature good Crystal DiskMark storage scores of 530MB/s peak read and 510MB/s write and threaded 4k results on par with most of the other drives — this just didn’t translate as well in the real-world PCMark 8 tests.

It’s worth noting that, even though it’s near the bottom of our results, the difference between it and the top-scoring Samsung 850 EVO is just 120 points, showing that any SSD is a huge performance upgrade for a machine.

Verdict: Not a bad drive but the OCZ Arc is both faster and cheaper, and the Samsung 850 Evo is only $10 more (give or take your price shopping).

Price: $129
From: SanDisk

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5