Solid state drives (SSDs) are the standard for fast storage. You might not know that SSDs utilize flash memory, or NAND, the same storage technology in smartphones and flash drives.
We’ve seen year-over-year drops in SSD prices. But a shortage of NAND in 2017 will boost SSD prices. So is it a good idea to buy a flash drive now or later? And what should you buy?
What Is an SSD?
An SSD stores information in microchips. This method of flash-based storage eschews moving parts unlike traditional hard disk drives (HDDs). An HDD employs a mechanical arm that reads and writes information on a storage platter. An SSD’s lack of moving parts decreases latency and improves read speeds.
In consumer flash memory, there are three different varieties of NAND:
- MLC (Multi-Level Cell) NAND. MLC NAND performs better and offers better endurance compared to TLC memory.
- TLC (Triple-Level Cell) NAND. TLC NAND is slower and more fragile than MLC NAND. TLC write endurance hovers around 1,000 power/erase cycles — which isn’t very good.
- 3D NAND, the latest flash cell storage technology. There are both TLC and MLC variations of 3D NAND. 3D-NAND varies by layer density. Currently, Samsung 3D NAND (they refer to it as V-NAND) rules the roost in terms of layer density and performance. The only other competitor in the 3D NAND marketplace is IMFT’s 3D NAND, which is not quite on par with Samsung’s technology. However, compared to MLC and TLC planar (or flat) NAND, 3D NAND is leagues better in terms of endurance.
What Is NAND?
NAND is basically silicon capable of storing data. It’s completely different from platter-based HDDs.
Unfortunately, there’s a current NAND crisis. Because of increased demand, the price of SSDs is poised to leap. As Tom’s Hardware reports, in Q4 of 2016 MLC SSDs skyrocketed in price. SSDs bumped up as much as 9 percent. Ironically, SSD prices are their own worst enemy. As prices plummeted, the price to storage ratio inched closer to that of their HDD counterparts. Shortening the price gap upped the incentive to opt for an SSD.
Mobile device popularity further contributed to the NAND shortage. Flash storage like microSD and SD cards use NAND. Most mobile devices like phones and tablets include built-in flash storage. Several popular devices including the iPhone lack expandable storage. Therefore users often select a device with lots of built-in storage. This can go up to 128 GB or higher.
Should I Buy SSDs?
Whether you’re buying a new PC or replacing a drive, you should absolutely contemplate an SSD upgrade. Benefits include increased speed and performance, as well as greater reliability. SSDs also offer serious performance boosts for tasks such as web hosting that are highly data-driven.
Yet even without the NAND crisis, SSD price per GB remains higher than HDD counterparts. If you truly require a hefty amount of storage, you may be better off with a platter drive. However, there are hybrid drives available which combine the benefits of SSDs with HDDs (we refer to these as SSHDs). Moreover, most desktop cases and even some laptops support multiple drive bays. If you benefit from multiple drive bays, you can use an SSD for mission critical information such as an operating system, and HDD for mass storage.
- Increased performance.
- Better reliability.
- Higher price per GB.
PCIe vs. SATA
SSDs have one of two interfaces: PCIe and SATA. Determining which variety of SSD is best for you varies. But sometimes you don’t have a choice. For instance, newer MacBook Pros utilize PCIe storage which compared to SATA interface drives is more costly. SATA drives cost less yet are more common. Typically SATA SSDs come in a 2.5-inch form factor which should fit inside most laptops and all desktops. You may need an adapter for some devices, but a 2.5-inch SATA SSD is widely compatible. PCIe drives come in two kinds of interfaces: M.2 or PCIe. An M.2 connector is a slim version of the PCIe connector common to Ultrabooks.
Why are PCIe SSDs so expensive? It’s all about performance. The PCIe connection type links more directly to the motherboard. Add-on cards like GPUs use a PCIe interface because of its low latency. Thus, PCIe boasts a significantly higher theoretical transfer speed of almost 16 GB/s. That’s up to 25 times faster than SATA 3.0. However, real-world PCIe performance clocks in just around 4 GB/s. Enterprise-grade PCIe SSDs may provide better transfer speeds albeit at an inflated price.
PCIe is undeniably faster than SATA. You probably won’t notice a performance difference though unless you’re transferring massive files. Opt for a SATA SSD if you have a choice. This yields a better price to storage ratio and almost equal noticeable performance to PCIe SSDs.
- More common interface and form factor.
- Lower price per GB.
- Higher read/write speed than HDD.
- Slower read/write speed than PCIe.
- Less common interface and form factor.
- Higher price per GB.
- Around 15.76GB/s theoretical transfer speed.
- Real-world consumer-grade transfer speed around 3.94 GB/s.
Which SSDs Should I Buy?
Considerations when buying an SSD vary from price to storage capacity. But depending on your machine, you may require a very specific kind of SSD. For example, you may need a PCIe SSD if you’re using a Mac. Whereas general PC users may have a choice of SATA or PCIe. Laptop users might need a M.2 PCIe SSD. Start by identifying your hard drive interface.
The Samsung 850 Evo SATA III SSD remains one of the most popular SSDs. Storage options range from 250 GB to 4 TB. The 850 Evo features a speedy 6 GB/s transfer, 540 MB/s read, and 520 MB/s write speed. CNET noted the Evo’s superb price, performance, and storage combination.
Samsung’s 850 Evo features a performance-enhancing RAPID mode. Enabling RAPID mode however requires Windows. Linux and Mac users are therefore unable to take advantage of its boost. Nevertheless, the Samsung 850 Evo yields performance close to its 850 Pro sibling at a reasonable price. The 850 Pro offers 3D vertical NAND flash with up to 2 times the speed of normal flash. Samsung’s premium 850 also costs almost twice as much per GB as the Evo.
Since you probably won’t notice a difference unless you’re a hardcore gamer or constantly transferring massive files, the Samsung 850 Evo is your best bet.
- 250 GB to 4 TB storage options.
- 540 MB/s and 520 MB/s respective read/write speeds.
- 6 GB/s transfer speed.
- Excellent balance of storage, speed, and afforadbility.
- 3D flash memory.
- SATA (broad compatibility).
- Samsung Magician software only compatible with Windows.
- RAPID mode only available with Samsung Magician.
The Crucial MX300 is an affordable, high-performing SSD. Storage options start at 275 GB and top out at 2 TB. Sequential read/write speeds are 530 MB/s and 510 MB/s respectively. The MX300 benefits from Micron’s (IMFT) 3D NAND technology and Dynamic Write acceleration that fosters faster file transfers.
CNET reviewers found the slightly pricier 850 Evo boasts better performance. The MX300 compensates for its reduced performance with its low price and 3D flash memory. If you value encryption, write endurance, and security, the MX300 is a great budget SSD solution.
- Storage options from 275 GB to 2 TB.
- 3D NAND.
- Dynamic Write acceleration.
- SATA (broad compatibility).
- Better performing SSDs available.
PCIe undeniably provides better performance than SATA SSDs. With that performance bump comes a price increase as well. The MyDigitalSSD BPX lends the performance of an NVMe SSD but with the price of a SATA drive. For just slightly more per GB than SATA SSDs, you can snag a MyDigitalSSD BPX drive. Storage options start at 120 GB and go up to 480 GB.
The PCIe BPX comes in an M.2 form factor and is even double-sided for extra compatibility. According to Tom’s Guide benchmarks, the BPX may not be the fastest NVMe SSD, but it’s certainly not the slowest. MyDigitalSSD’s BPX is uncompromising in its value, performance, and storage. The Samsung 960 Pro series PCIe NVMe line does yield better performance, but at a much higher cost.
For those curious, MyDigitalSSD received an A grade from FakeSpot.
- M.2 form factor.
- 120 GB to 480 GB storage options.
- Read/write speeds of 2.6 GB/s and 1.3 GB/s respectively.
- Beat higher-end NVMe SSDs in some benchmarks.
- MLC flash memory (rather than TLC).
- Better performing SSDs available.
Are SSDs Worth Upgrading to Now?
It’s a great idea to upgrade to an SSD before the NAND crisis fully hits. Depending on form factor, you can score a high-performance SSD without breaking the bank. Even budget SSDs offer much better reliability and speed than HDDs. Unless you absolutely need a high-end SSD, I suggest sticking to budget-oriented SSDs like the 850 Evo, MX300, and BPX. But if you can afford a 960 Pro or other upper-tier SSD and often transfer huge files, by all means grab one. But ensure that you’re maintaining high performance and a long lifespan for your SSD with these tips.
If you’re still unconvinced, try dispelling some of those SSD myths that you really need to stop believing. No matter which SSD you choose it’s bound to yield a big performance increase over your current platter drive. A low-end SSD will offer noticeably enhanced read/write speeds and transfer speeds.
Have you upgraded to an SSD or do you plan to? Which are your favorite SSDs available?
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