Best SSDs in the first quarter of 2018

Original author: Billy Tallis
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There haven’t been many new solid state drives lately, and the deployment of 64-layer 3D-NAND is very leisurely.

The most notable newcomer to SSDs in recent months is the Intel Optane SSD 900p. In almost all respects, this is the fastest SSD on the market, and its price is much lower than that of the Optane SSD DC P4800X, but there is one thing - the high price is 900p, and this still does not make the purchase of this drive a reasonable choice when evaluating the price / price ratio speed.

Above are recommendations on how to make a good choice in each market segment. Some offers are not the cheapest options in their segment, but they are still quality products that cost a little more.

The table below is a brief overview of SSD drives, which, in our opinion, are a good choice for purchasing according to certain criteria in the modern market.

As usual, the indicated prices are relevant only at the time of writing. We cannot predict when and by whom the best discounts will be offered. The given data should be considered as a kind of guide among the best offers on the market. All the drives presented here are the models that we tested, they are of the same capacity or form factor, and in most cases we did not test each capacity and form factor. For information on drives that were not mentioned in this guide, please visit our SSD Bench database.

Mainstream 2.5 "SATA: Samsung 850 EVO, WD Blue 3D / SanDisk Ultra 3D

The largest segment of the consumer SSD market is the 2.5-inch SATA drives, which are used as the only storage device in the system or the main drive where the OS is stored plus most programs and data. This market segment, of course, offers the largest number of options, and for sure every SSD brand has at least one model in this segment.

Currently, the mainstream SATA drive must be at least 240 GB. This is enough for the operating system, everyday applications and data, but there will not be enough space to store a large library of games, movies or photos. Therefore, for this segment, we recommend products that use 3D NAND flash memory. Older models using planar NAND are usually much slower if they use TLC, or much more expensive (and sometimes just hard to reach) if they use MLC.

The Samsung 850 EVO is not the fastest SATA SSD, but it sets the standard for most SATA solid state drives. The SanDisk Ultra 3D and its twin WD Blue 3D NAND are almost as fast as the 850 EVO, and a little cheaper than it. The Crucial MX300 is even cheaper, but sacrifices performance for the price, especially on low-volume drives.

The Intel 545s are still slightly more expensive than most drives in its segment, indicating that Intel and Micron were unable to set up their 64-layer 3D-NANDs on a sufficient scale. Although their prices are close to competitive, we should probably wait a few more months before Intel and Micron can match the prices of other 64L NAND products.

Small and cheap SATA: Crucial BX300

There are users who are only interested in "small" solid state drives. They know that their storage needs are very modest, or simply plan to store the bulk of their data on a mechanical hard drive. As practice shows, buying the cheapest SSDs with free space in the form of a couple of hundreds of GB may not be the best solution in terms of benefits: the price ratio for GB and significantly lower performance (fewer parallel chips) are not encouraging.

This year, the 128 GB capacity class is a thing of the past. This volume is still enough for the operating system and a certain number of applications and documents, but such a disk fills up very quickly when storing games, movies or photos. Our SATA drives with a capacity of 240 GB and higher are not available in ~ 128 GB versions, which requires a separate comparison table. Such a drive is most likely used in an almost full state, which leads to reduced performance.

The choice in this segment is very simple: Crucial BX300. This is the only drive that, with its cheapness, has no serious drawbacks. Thanks to the Micron 3D MLC NAND and the high-quality Silicon Motion SM2258 controller, instead of the cheaper DRAMless, it surpasses conventional budget drives. And its price is only a few dollars higher than for the cheapest TLC SSDs. On larger disks, its price is already less attractive.

NVMe Solid State Drives

The market for consumer solid-state drives NVMe has expanded so much that it can be divided into segments of entry-level and high-end. This separation will become more apparent in the next generation of products, where the lower PCIe 3 x2 SSD controllers will debut, but even now you can notice a noticeable difference between the Intel 600p and Samsung 960 PRO.
Almost all NVMe consumer SSDs use the M.2 2280 form factor, and have many integrated PCIe cards. The heatsinks on many additional cards tend to increase the price without giving a real performance boost, so our recommendation for the NVMe SSD is all M.2 SSDs.

The latest generation of 64-layer 3D-NAND has not yet hit the NVMe SSD market. Samsung seems unlikely to provide a replacement for its 960 PRO and 960 EVO by the end of the year. Toshiba XG5 is stingy with information about what 3D NAND can offer, and the retail version has not been announced. Western Digital / SanDisk also did not introduce any consumer PCIe SSDs using 3D NAND. There is a 64-layer 3D-NAND from Intel, available for the consumer market in the form of a single SATA drive, but otherwise the technology is still aimed at the corporate SSD market.

The controllers for the NVMe SSD also have a few changes. Marvell announced a non-critical update to its 88SS1093 controller earlier this year, but it has not yet been applied to any of the supplied products. Silicon Motion's new generation of NVMe controllers was announced at the Flash Memory Summit, and it seems that although they can offer much-needed performance improvements over the current SM2260 controller, the product is still a few months away from release. Drives using the Phison entry-level E8 controller are likely to appear as soon as the Toshiba 64L 3D NAND becomes a widely available product. Their new high-performance controller E12 will be released later.

High-quality NVMe: Samsung 960 EVO and Samsung 960 PRO

The Intel Optane SSD 900p raises the bar for high-performance SSDs, but this speed is very expensive. The 900p gigabyte price is more than twice as expensive as the fastest flash-based SSD. In almost all cases, a larger Samsung 960 drive, which is only slightly inferior in speed, would be the best choice. The performance advantage of the 960 PRO over the 960 EVO of the same capacity is impressive, but it is unlikely to justify the additional cost of choosing a drive for real use.

This high level of performance is unlikely to be achieved with a 256 GB drive: the 250GB 960 EVO is much slower than its larger counterparts, and the 256GB 960 PRO simply does not exist. The closest alternative is the 256 GB OEM SM961, available from some retailers, but without the warranty and support that Samsung's official retailers receive.

Entry-level NVMe: MyDigitalSSD BPX, Intel 600p

Drives using PCIe x2 controllers or the NVMe memory buffer function have not yet reached the retail market, so the entry-level NVMe is mainly determined by using TLC NAND or planar MLC. These drives mainly fall into two categories: those that use the Phison E7 controller with Toshiba 15 nm MLC, or those that use the Silicon Motion SM2260 controller with Intel / Micron 3D NAND. There are a few exceptions when drives using the Marvell controller offer entry-level products.

MyDigitalSSD BPX, as usual, is one of the cheapest Phison E7 drives, and the firmware version 2.1 that comes with it is a good choice for a real working machine. BPX is currently the cheapest 120 GB NVMe drive. Leading the way in performance, the 1TB Intel 600p is second to none. Yes, it's the slowest NVMe drive, but it's still faster than any SSATA SSD on light workloads, and it's only slightly more expensive than the best SATA SSDs like the Samsung 850 EVO. In the 256 GB class, the Samsung 960 EVO is one of the cheapest and fastest options, but for heavier workloads, the Phison MLC drive might be the best choice.

(Please note that the above performance data for Patriot Hellfire should be indicative of MyDigitalSSD BPX and any other Phison E7 drive with firmware 2.1).

M.2 SATA: Crucial MX300 and WD Blue 3D

On M.2 laptops, SATA almost completely replaced mSATA. Several laptops use shorter M.2 2242 or 2260 sizes, but most support lengths up to 80 mm. There are far fewer M.2 SATA options compared to 2.5 ”SATA, but most modern SATA drives are also available in M.2 versions. Currently, there are almost no premium products for the M.2 versions of these drives, so the recommendations here are almost the same as for the 2.5-inch drives: among the large-capacity drives, the affordable price and low power consumption of the Crucial MX300 make it the best choice. On small volumes, for a higher WD Blue 3D performance, it makes sense to pay a little more.

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