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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?

What-is-SSD
Image Credit: Nine Shaari via Flickr

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 How To Optimize SSD Speed & Performance How To Optimize SSD Speed & Performance Although Solid State Drives can deliver break-neck computing speeds, most users don’t know a nasty secret - your drive might not be properly configured. The reason is that SSDs don’t come optimized out of the... Read More , as well as greater reliability. SSDs also offer serious performance boosts for tasks such as web hosting 3 Benefits of SSD Web Hosting 3 Benefits of SSD Web Hosting Solid state drives have dropped in price and the performance benefits to desktop users are immediately obvious to anyone who owns one: your computer will fly. But does this translate into benefits to a website... Read More 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.

SSD Pros

  • Increased performance.
  • Better reliability.
  • Faster.

SSD Cons

  • Higher price per GB.

PCIe vs. SATA

SSDs have one of two interfaces: PCIe and SATA. Determining which variety of SSD is best PCIe vs. SATA: Which Type of SSD Is Best for You? PCIe vs. SATA: Which Type of SSD Is Best for You? When buying a new SSD, you have a choice between SATA and PCIe. But what's the difference? Just because one is "better" doesn't mean it's the right one for you. Read More 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 What Is An Ultrabook & Can It Succeed? [Technology Explained] What Is An Ultrabook & Can It Succeed? [Technology Explained] Remember when the word laptop described virtually every mobile computer on the market? The choices were certainly easier back then (because there was simply less choice available), but today there’s a far wider variety including... Read More .

SSDs Are About to Skyrocket in Cost: Should You Upgrade in 2017? 20140222025552M

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.

SATA

  • More common interface and form factor.
  • Lower price per GB.
  • Higher read/write speed than HDD.
  • Slower read/write speed than PCIe.

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 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD 5 Things You Should Consider When Buying An SSD The world of home computing is moving towards solid state drives for storage. Should you buy one? Read More 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 PCIe vs. SATA: Which Type of SSD Is Best for You? PCIe vs. SATA: Which Type of SSD Is Best for You? When buying a new SSD, you have a choice between SATA and PCIe. But what's the difference? Just because one is "better" doesn't mean it's the right one for you. Read More . Laptop users might need a M.2 PCIe SSD. Start by identifying your hard drive interface.

Samsung 850 Evo

samsung-850-evo

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 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.

Pros

  • 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).

Cons

  • Samsung Magician software only compatible with Windows.
  • RAPID mode only available with Samsung Magician.

Crucial MX300

Crucial MX300 275GB SATA 2.5 Inch Internal Solid State Drive - CT275MX300SSD1 Crucial MX300 275GB SATA 2.5 Inch Internal Solid State Drive - CT275MX300SSD1 Sequential Read MB/s1 530 / Sequential Write MB/s1 500 Buy Now At Amazon $92.99

Crucial-mx300

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.

Pros

  • Affordable.
  • Storage options from 275 GB to 2 TB.
  • 3D NAND.
  • Dynamic Write acceleration.
  • SATA (broad compatibility).

Cons

  • Better performing SSDs available.

MyDigitalSSD BPX

MyDigitalSSD BPX 80mm (2280) M.2 PCI Express 3.0 x4 (PCIe Gen3 x4) NVMe MLC SSD (120GB) MyDigitalSSD BPX 80mm (2280) M.2 PCI Express 3.0 x4 (PCIe Gen3 x4) NVMe MLC SSD (120GB) BPX | 80mm (2280) M.2 NGFF | PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD | PHISON E7 Controller Buy Now At Amazon $69.99

MyDigitalSSD-BPX

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.

Pros

  • PCIe.
  • 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).

Cons

  • 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 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD 3 Top Tips To Maintain Performance & Extend The Life Of Your SSD For years, standard hard drives have been the speed limiting factor in overall system responsiveness. While hard drive size, RAM capacity, and CPU speed have grown almost exponentially, the spinning speed of a hard drive,... Read More .

If you’re still unconvinced, try dispelling some of those SSD myths The Absolute Worst SSD Myth That You Shouldn't Believe The Absolute Worst SSD Myth That You Shouldn't Believe This SSD myth sounds scary but hasn't been true in a long time. Do you still believe it? Read More 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?

Image Credit: Hadrian via Shutterstock

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  1. Kent Berry
    June 14, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    "We’ve seen year-over-year drops in SSD prices." Say WHAT?!?! Where do you shop? I've been watching Fry's Electronics for several years, but also sometimes Newegg, and sometimes Amazon (which isn't necessarily easy to search best price for products that have wide range of capacity), and prices have more or less stayed about the same for a few years. I finally decided to search the web to try to find out why the SSD market has all but ignored Moore's Law.

  2. MaX
    March 24, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    The best drive is a SSD drive. Mechanical rotational disks are obsolete. Once you try SSD, you never go back. Check out the gold standard: Samsung Portable SSD T3. It is so amazing that it remains cold while booting Mac and working from it all day long. Really incredible!

  3. Grcoeeg
    January 30, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    I went with the Crucial and by around 8 months it was fried, it was really really fast and I love it, I was using it strictly with Zorin 9 Core in an old Dell e1505, after coming back from Suspend it would hang up, I would kill the laptop with the power button and have it reboot, for some reason after several dozen or so of these it locked up and died. I don't know why or what, but I am done with SSD's. I have old hard drives that are 8 to 10 years old still working, I have dual booted these dozens of times with dozens of Linux/Ubuntu distro's and they keep working. Now I would rather take a little more time with boot ups, but know it will last. My experience was not not a good one with SSD's.

  4. Dave Lasky
    January 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Well the article was simply pointing out due to rise in popularity of ssd, there will be a shortage of the memory that it uses. The old supply and demand formula comes into play. I believe there may be a lag, no pun intended, of production of memory. Thus inflicting a temporary spike in prices. But I don't see current inventory of ssd's selling out prior to the memory production coming up to speed. Therefore there should not be a DOOMSDAY of price increase. I would estimate a 10 percent bump until things come up to speed. Ssd's are inherentley pricey, so if you are in the market for a ssd you can afford the premium I'm sure.

  5. Aaron Stoner
    January 17, 2017 at 9:17 am

    So what is this? A hype building article for SSDs? Price won't skyrocket anymore than the price of HDDs have when they were the ONLY mainstream storage solution.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 25, 2017 at 11:47 am

      Didn't HDDs jump up quite a bit in price after the Western Digital factory in Thailand got flooded? IIRC, prices increased by around 50%. WD got the factory back up but prices continued to go up.

  6. Joe O.
    January 17, 2017 at 3:28 am

    SSD Pros
    Increased performance.
    Better reliability.
    Faster.

    SSD Cons
    Higher price per GB.
    * The more Read/Write speeds you do - it may fail even faster. More reasons why you shouldnt Raid an Solid State.

    Fixed.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 25, 2017 at 11:46 am

      RAID0 on an SSD that doesn't use compression spreads writes across both disks.

  7. Jason Honingford
    January 16, 2017 at 10:33 pm

    Prices are not going to skyrocket, but we won't see the downward trend in prices we were hoping to see.

    • Kannon Yamada
      January 25, 2017 at 11:44 am

      That's exactly the problem. We're seeing SSD prices today that are pretty much the same that they were two years ago. That's unusual.