Best SSDs For The Money: January 2012

Welcome to the year's first SSD recommendations. We updated our list to reflect recent price drops on second-gen SandForce-based hardware. There are several good deals in the budget range. Prices are falling, so we're letting you know!

Detailed solid-state drive specifications and reviews are great—that is, if you have the time to do the research. However, at the end of the day, what an enthusiast needs is the best SSD within a certain budget.

So, if you don’t have the time to read the benchmarks, or if you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to pick the right drive, then fear not. We at Tom’s Hardware have come to your aid with a simple list of the best SSD offered for the money.

January Updates

Last year, the performance potential of SATA 6Gb/s was almost completely realized by solid-state storage technology, just two years after the third-gen spec was finalized. Compare that to a 1.5 Gb/s SATA link, which the fastest mechanical hard drives are only just able to saturate eight years later. OCZ was the first vendor to release an SSD based on SandForce's second-gen controller.Crucial followed up with its m4, and Samsung ended the high-speed race with its 830 series. Each drive family is capable of delivering blistering sequential transfers in excess of 500 MB/s.

What can we expect from SATA-based SSDs in 2012? Naturally, there's not a whole lot of room left to push drives employing the current-generation interface to higher transfer rates. So, we expect to see the next major battle fought on pricing. You still pay at least £1.25/GB or so for mainstream solid-state storage today, and many industry experts are looking to £1/GB or less before SSDs see their next big adoption push. Advancements in manufacturing, such as IMFT's recent 20 nm announcement, should help facilitate making higher capacities much more affordable in the next 12 months.

The "limitation" of SATA 6Gb/s isn't going to hold back vendors who want to push performance even harder, though. PCI Express-based drives will become increasingly prevalent as well this year, as the most inventive companies explore the possibilities of third-gen links to push unprecedented throughput in enterprise environments.

And although we've anticipated consolidation in the SSD space for some time now, you can still look forward to new products making the competitive landscape more interesting. OCZ showed us its upcoming Everest 2 controller at this year's CES, for example, and told us to expect the drive in the middle of 2012. Building on the architecture we first reviewed in OCZ Octane 512 GB SSD Review: Meet Indilinx's Everest Controller, Everest 2 tentatively promises 550 MB/s and 90 000 random write IOPS. We'll see how that pans out.

Some Notes About Our Recommendations

A few simple guidelines to keep in mind when reading this list:

  • If you don't need to copy gigabytes of data quickly or load games in the blink of an eye, then there's nothing wrong with sticking with a mechanical hard drive. This list is intended for people who want the performance/responsiveness that SSDs offer, and operate on a specific budget. Now that Intel's Z68 Express chipset is available, the idea of SSD-based caching could come into play for more entry-level enthusiasts, too.
  • There are several criteria we use to rank SSDs. We try to evenly weigh performance and capacity at each price point and recommend what we believe to the best drive based on our own experiences, along with information garnered from other sites. Some people may only be concerned with performance, but that ignores the ever-present capacity issue that mobile users face ever-presently. Even on the desktop, other variables have to be considered.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. Our picks will be valid the month of publication, but we can't extend our choices very far beyond that time frame. SSD pricing is especially competitive, and a £10 difference can be the reason why one SSD makes the list, while another does not. As you shop, use our list as a guide, but always double-check for yourself.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S./UK prices from online retailers. In other countries or at retail stores, your mileage will most certainly vary.
  • These are new SSD prices. No used or open-box offers are in the list; they might represent a good deal, but it’s outside the scope of what we’re trying to do.
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