So, you want a solid state drive. You’ve read that they’re fast, reliable, and generally make your PC a damn sight faster at just about everything. You’ve heard that everyone benefits: power users never have to wait agonising seconds to start up programs; gamers won’t have to worry about obscenely long level loads; and the average user who plays Farmville and responds to e-mail will never have to bring their PC into a shop complaining that its slow.
But there are a lot of caveats about this technology that you’ve probably never considered. Price is usualy the first one, and to this day is still the main barrier to SSDs being universally adopted. That, and the prices of NAND chips (the non-volatile memory that stores all your precious Windows files and Medabots porn) have surged due to environmental factors affecting the factories and assembly lines in Thailand, China and Japan. Even mechanical drives are feeling the pinch these days, with increasing up to 60%. That said, SSDs continue to drop in price and will eventually become the de facto standard for PCs in the next two to three years.
One other problem not often communicated to buyers is that the drive controllers play a big role in the performance of your SSD. Currently Sandforce SF-2200 and Marvell 9174 controllers are the ones to look at, giving the best performance and reliability while commanding a reasonable price. Other manufacturers like Toshiba and Samsung have made advancements in their cheaper solutions allowing them to price their mainstream drives that much cheaper. Avoid anything from Intel or JMicron’s earlier days if you still want to have a head of hair after six months. If money’s no factor, you’re in for an enjoyable experience whichever SSD you buy. But what about the poorer users?
For a start, lets narrow down what we want our drives to do. Cheaper SSDs are meant to be boot drives, able to hold the Windows files, a few applications that you require, and perhaps a game or two. To this end, we’re only going to be looking at drives up to 120GB in size at less than R1,800. SSD performance actually increased with extra storage available on certain controllers, but we’re aiming for a good Rand/Gigabyte ratio here. Beware of 32GB and smaller drives, as most of you will be on Windows 7 64-bit which alone chews up to 20GB for a fresh install. 40GB will be the minimum we’ll be looking at.
And one more thing. SSDs continue to improve and increase in performance and reliability, eclipsing hard drives in every area possible. A decent SSD used heavily every day will last an average of 5 years before requiring replacement. If there is a hardware problem, the NAND chips will revert to Read-Only mode as a safety measure – you can plug the drive into another PC, back up your data, and replace the drive as if nothing happened. There’s no way a mechanical drive will ever be able to achieve that.
So lets have a look at our options:
At around the R1,100 mark, we’ve got the Kingston SSNow V100 64GB for R1057 and the ADATA 55GB S599 going for R1060. Both offer very different things in the same price range. The Kingston V100 is the larger size drive at 64GB, and is the best-featured drive in this category.The drive controller is likely a Toshiba (no model given), allowing the drive enough oomph at this segment and providing more than acceptable performance. That said, the write speeds are hardly anything to shout about but that’s where the ADATA S599 comes in. Boasting the Sandforce SF1222, the successor of the famous SF1200, the drive’s meager 55GB size is compensated for by the excellent read and write speeds. The performance these drives offer would have been much harder to realise a year ago, and that’s thanks in part to the 32nm NAND chips used. Both drives come with free 2.5″ USB enclosures and 3.5″ brackets for desktops.