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Solid State Drive Buyer's Guide

Breakdown, Continued

We’re guessing that a lot of mainstream buyers can wrap their heads around a $150 or $200 SSD, maybe even $300, but $500 is starting to stretch the limits of budgets and reason. If we break those hours saved down into cost-per-hour, suddenly we’re looking at white collar wages. At this level, you have to be looking at application performance and it’s time to start examining IOPS performance. When you read benchmark-driven SSD reviews, input/output operations per second (IOPS) figure heavily because this is where SSDs most dramatically show their differences. It’s also the metric that enterprises use when assessing server performance.

As mentioned already, though, IOPS as a measure of performance may not be applicable to most consumers (gamers possibly excepted). The more pertinent factor in the $500 category may be TRIM support along with total capacity. TRIM compatibility is going to provide that big jump in write performance, and the 160GB capacity level is where many laptop owners stuck with having only one internal drive may have to turn. The latest 34 nm-based 80GB Intel X25-M is expected to settle around a $250 price tag going into the holidays, and that does support TRIM. The question is whether 80GB will be enough capacity for some buyers. Also note that both X25-M generations top out at 70 MB/sec on sequential writes. The Vertex and its ilk measure in the 100 to 120 MB/sec range.

There are plenty of other SSD options. OCZ, for example, makes its Z-Drive line, which plants 250GB to 1TB of storage on a conventional PCI Express card but is priced well beyond mainstream. The company also has its Colossus series of 3.5" SSDs, due to land in North America this month with price points under $3 per gigabyte. In both cases, though, these are still new and relatively niche entries. Today, the 2.5" form factor dominates the SSD market for PCs. If you’re installing into a desktop system, you may need to either pay for a 2.5"-to-3.5" adapter carrier or else look for a retail bundle featuring a drive with a carrier. We don’t recommend duct taping the drive to the inside of your case...although it would probably work, too.

The bottom line is that SSD pricing has now come down so far—especially thanks to Intel’s massive price drops with the G2 release—that the drives are within reach of practically anyone. The base-level bed of benefits SSD delivers make the technology almost irresistible, if only as a low-capacity boot drive. You’ll need to juggle the factors of storage space, various performance specs, TRIM compatibility, controller quality, and pricing in order to narrow down the field and find the drive that’s right for you, but the incentives are now worth the effort of studious shopping. Once you make the solid state jump, you’ll never go back. It’s that good.