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Solid State Drive Buyer's Guide

A Criteria Breakdown

Now you’re armed, dangerous, and ready to go shopping. Presumably, the SSD benefits we just reviewed outweigh the technology’s price premium in your mind. As you go combing the aisles, how should you assess your priorities?

First, you need to be honest with yourself in how you plan to use the drive. If it’s going to be the only drive in your system, then you need to weigh performance with capacity. However, many users are increasingly using SSDs as boot drives meant only to house the operating system and applications. All other data, especially the large libraries such as your music and video archives, can get stashed on secondary hard drives. You simply don’t need an SSD’s performance in order to stream a movie or manage your iTunes collection. A relatively small SSD backed by a large HDD might offer the best of all worlds.

We mentioned the Kingston V-Series already as a low-end entry option. Kingston isn’t shy about marketing this line as a consumer-friendly boot drive option, which is why several of its models bundle a copy of Acronis True Image and guide users through copying the contents of an existing primary hard drive onto the new SSD. (Intel is also coming out with a similar package for the X25-M that includes an Apricorn EZ Upgrade kit.) For those of you who really do your homework, you’ll find that “JMicron controller” is one of the most hated phrases in SSD circles. Many of the first wave of consumer SSDs used a microcontroller from JMicron that was, by essentially all relative performance measures, horrible. In the year or so since these SSDs hit the fan, the controller has been updated numerous times and no longer performs as it once did. So if you learn that the Toshiba controller in the V-Series is actually a JMicron in disguise, don’t panic. The old problems have been fixed. Just remember that this applies to Kingston, not necessarily older JMicron-bearing drives still saddled with the buggy firmware.

       

Some users are going to want even more performance than what the modest V-Series can deliver. This is where a close study of those sustained read and write numbers pays off. There are many SSDs competing for the mid-market now, and most of them have become quite decent. One of our favorites in the “best bang for the buck” category is OCZ’s 120GB MLC Vertex at $499. Yeah, $4.16 per gig isn’t cheap, but the Vertex is wicked fast: up to 250 MB/sec reads and 180 MB/sec writes with sustained writes of up to 100 MB/sec. For another $50, you can goose the sustained writes up to 120 MB/sec thanks to the 64MB of 180 MHz on-drive cache, an improvement over the 166 MHz cache on the regular Vertex.