Best SSDs For The Money: August 2011

We've added more SSDs to our database and observed a number of significant price changes in the past month. As a result, this months recommendations undergo a notable revamp. And to those of you waiting for a hierarchy table at the end, it's here!

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.

August Updates:

Wow, what a month. A couple of weeks ago, we published Investigation: Is Your SSD More Reliable Than A Hard Drive? This turned out to be one of our most popular storage articles.

There's no debating whether SSDs offer blistering performance. That doesn't really matter if you can't trust the device holding that important information. When you read about Corsair's Force 3 recall, OCZ's firmware updates to prevent BSODs, Crucial's link power management issues, and Intel's SSD 320 that loses capacity after a power failure, all within a two-month period, you have to acknowledge that we're dealing with a technology that's simply a lot newer (and consequently less mature) than mechanical storage.

The idea has always been that fewer moving parts translate to greater reliability, but that's not supported by research from NAND experts or failure rates in the field. Based on all the information we have so far, it appears that SSD failure rates model those of hard drives.

Of course, our study largely ignores two other issues that were brought up in the comments section: shock resistance and write endurance. We consider these to be separate from media reliability, which was our primary focus. Shock resistance is a form of durability, and when it comes to mobile devices, there is no comparison. SSDs are vastly superior when it comes to reliable operation in extreme environments. That's why solid-state technology is used by space and aircraft. So, if you have a notebook, SSDs are an excellent way to introduce a performance boost and provide a little security against accidental drops. As for write endurance, we showed why it shouldn't be your top concern. Just look back to the first page of the reliability story if you missed it.

In the end, our investigation shouldn't deter you from adopting solid-state technology; we're still bullish on SSDs overall. For those who want to take that first step, we highly recommend reading Crucial's m4 SSD Tested At 64, 128, 256, And 512 GB and Second-Gen SandForce: Seven 120 GB SSDs Rounded Up. To sum them up, the 120/128 GB capacity point continues to be what we consider a sweet spot, where you get the best performance without overspending. That's why Crucial's 128 GB m4 and OCZ's 120 GB Vertex 3 took our 2011 Recommended Buy awards.

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. And 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 conundrum that we often encounter when trying to balance SSD price with the other variables. If you have a mobile system, you can usually only have one drive installed. On a desktop system, you want room for your operating system and your more performance-sensitive apps. That's why we have to consider the major weight of capacity, too.
  • Prices and availability change on a daily basis. Our picks will be valid the month of publication, but we can't make guarantees beyond that. SSD pricing is especially competitive, and a £10 difference can be the reason why one SSD makes the list, while another does not. While you are shopping, use our list as a guide, but always double-check for yourself.
  • The list is based on some of the best U.S. 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.

Editor's note: This piece has been localised for the UK market.

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