After looking at the performance of nine SSDs across nine pages of benchmarks, a few favorites have definitely emerged. If you've been following along, you'll know the Corsair Performance 3 Series isn't one of them. Corsair's take on the Marvell 9174 controller stumbled badly in a few of our tests, and it probably won't be on the market for long.
Intel's 510 Series may also be on the way out, if only so Intel can complete its transition to 25-nm NAND. The drive's older flash chips may be responsible for its relatively high $279 asking price, and it's hard to make a case for spending so much on a drive that's no longer a performance leader. At least overall, the 510 Series has been supplanted by Crucial's m4 as the fastest SSD based on the Marvell controller.
The m4's read performance is much improved by its latest firmware. However, that speed boost seems to come at the expense of writes, which are notably slower. The m4's poor write performance in our mammoth DriveBench 2.0 test has me wary about using the drive in write-intensive environments. At the same time, its higher capacity versus the SandForce SSDs has definite appeal for an OS and applications drive—especially considering the fact that the m4 seems to be free of the flakiness that has plagued some members of this year's SSD class. The m4 is pretty affordable, too, at $197 online.
Pricing weighs heavily on our overall recommendations, which is why the Intel 320 Series is difficult to endorse. At $215 online, the drive costs quite a bit more than faster SSDs. The five-year warranty might be worth the extra scratch for some, but keep in mind that the 320 Series really does live in a lower performance bracket than the 6Gbps competition.
Only the SandForce drives are left, and they're split between asynchronous and synchronous camps. The former are cheaper, led by the incredibly affordable Force 3, which can be had for only $166. The Agility 3, which is essentially equivalent on the performance front, costs $13 more . Both drives offer solid all-around performance, and the Force 3's budget price is mighty tempting. However, as we saw in numerous tests, the asynchronous drives can be quite a bit slower than their synchronous counterparts.
Cash-strapped enthusiasts looking for an inexpensive ticket solid-state bliss would do well to consider the Force 3; it's cheaper than the otherwise identical Agility 3 and therefore is TR Recommended. If it were my money, though, I'd probably splurge on one of the faster synchronous drives.
Among those, the Force GT and Vertex 3 share the same $210 street price. While the HyperX has a much nicer case, it's not enough to justify spending $35 more. Whether the synchronous configs from Corsair and OCZ offer better value than the asynchronous Force 3 is debatable, but the fact that they're at times substantially faster is enough to elevate the Force GT and Vertex 3 into Editor's Choice territory.
The otherwise gleaming value propositions offered by our SandForce-based favorites must, of course, contend with the fact that something inside the drives makes them more prone to BSOD errors. That said, solid-state drives in general have been tainted by a rash of firmware issues that have caused data loss, premature bricking, and other problems. I'm not sure any of them can be fully trusted. The potential performance benefits are too tantalizing to pass up now that exceptionally fast drives have hit affordable price points. Consider our recommendations clear—but also cautious.
169 comments — Last by kamikaziechameleon at 1:14 PM on 10/14/11
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