With the US still lagging behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to the availability of high-speed Internet, there's still a lot of need for high-capacity external storage. It's also a good idea to have local system backups. A few years ago, your choices were mostly clunky 3.5-inch drive enclosures that needed external power. We've since graduated to sleek 2.5-inch units that get their juice straight from USB 3.0 cables that shuttle bits between the drive and your PC. Today, Samsung is taking it a step further with the Portable T1, which is an external SSD that can operate in the neighborhood of SATA III speeds.
Intel has largely been absent from the high-end SSD market for many years, which has been a real head-scratcher, considering the original X-25M’s dominance back in 2009. That all changes this month with the release of its all-new 730 series SSD. It springs from the loins of its data center SSDs, which use validated NAND and Intel’s enterprise-level controller technology. To emphasize this heritage, Intel isn’t bragging about the drive’s overall speed, but instead notes the drive is rated to handle up to 70GB of writes per day, which is higher than any other SSD on the market by a huge margin. It features capacitors to protect data being written in case of a power outage, which is an unusual but not unprecedented feature on a consumer SSD. Intel also backs the drive with a five-year warranty.
Note: This review was originally featured in the May 2014 issue of the magazine.
Every mobile user who is limited to just one storage bay wants the best of both worlds: SSD speeds with HDD capacities. Both Seagate and WD have a one-drive solution to this problem, with Seagate offering a hybrid 1TB hard drive with an SSD cache for SSD-esque performance, and WD offering a no-compromise 2.5-inch drive with both an SSD and an HDD. These drives are arch rivals, so it’s time to settle the score.
The WD Black2 is an answer to the prayers of mobile users who have just one drive bay but want the speed of an SSD with the capacity of a hard drive. Unlike a hybrid drive, which stores all data on a hard drive but uses a limited amount of flash storage for caching, the WD Black2 features an all-new design whereby a single 2.5-inch enclosure houses both a hard drive and an SSD—two distinct drives that appear to the OS as such, so you can put your OS on the SSD and your data on the hard drive. It’s a brilliant solution that unfortunately gives up a bit of performance in order to conform to the small form factor, but if we had just one storage bay in our notebooks, we’d upgrade to this bad mutha immediately.
The SSD world is a bit stale these days, as we all wait for the industry to move beyond the SATA 6Gb/s interface. Most high-end drives have been able to saturate the bus for a while now, so manufacturers have been looking for ways other than performance to differentiate their products from the competition. Though we awarded the original OCZ Vector the vaunted Kick Ass award, the drive came out of the gate as one of the most expensive SSDs available, and the price never really dropped much over the past year. Sure, it’s smokin’ fast, but $300 for a 256GB SSD is too much, considering its competition is just as fast and less expensive. OCZ has addressed this problem by moving to a smaller, more-efficient process for its NAND, switching from 25nm Intel/Micron IMFT chips to 19nm Toshiba modules. These bits of ToshMLC NAND are popular and have a solid reputation, as shown by their usage in the Corsair Neutron GTX and the Seagate 600 SSDs. OCZ also increased the drive’s write endurance to a torrent-loving 50GB a day, up from 20GB on the original Vector.
The Samsung 840 Pro landed on our Best of the Best list when it was launched in December 2012, and it has remained at the top of the SSD pile ever since, thanks to its blistering speed, impeccable pedigree, and superb software. Shortly after the Pro launched, Samsung debuted a non-Pro drive, named simply “840,” that was designed for those who wanted a less expensive drive with a smaller three-year warranty. This month, Samsung is replacing the regular 840 with the 840 Evo, an all-new drive that slots in below the 840 Pro, thanks to its three-year warranty (the Pro’s is five years) and more reasonable pricing. The Evo is also offered in a full range of capacities, from 120GB all the way up to 1TB, making it the first Samsung SSD available at that size and putting the 1TB Crucial M500 directly in its sights, although the Evo does cost $50 more at $650 MSRP.
Note: This review was originally featured in the October 2013 issue of the magazine.
The last time we saw the SanDisk Extreme SSD it wasn’t exactly “extreme.” It was a fine drive and all, and we awarded it a “what a nice boy” verdict of 8 because it was decent, but it didn’t blow off our anti-static leashes or anything. The problem was it was a “me, too” SSD, using 24nm toggle NAND and an LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller, which was all the rage in the ancient SSD era of 2012. Times have changed though, and SandForce isn’t the only game in town anymore. SSD manufacturers are now trying to separate themselves from the pack of wannabes by going with different combinations of controllers and NAND flash, and that’s the tactic SanDisk has employed this time around by changing both the NAND flash and the controller, making the Extreme II SSD an all-new drive.
Note: This review was originally featured in the September 2013 issue of the magazine.
We were always big fans of OCZ’s Barefoot 2–powered Vertex 4 SSDs. Heck, we even ran two of them in the almighty Dream Machine 2012. If that’s not a stamp of approval, we don’t know what is. But the SSD game moves quickly, and you have to keep up or you get left behind, so this month OCZ has put the Vertex 4 out to pasture and ushered in a new drive bearing the moniker Vertex 450. Unlike the Vertex 4, which ran a Marvell-based controller with custom OCZ firmware, this bad boy is juicing via OCZ’s very own Barefoot 3 controller, which we first examined in the Kick Ass–caliber Vector SSD. The Vector is so fast that it currently sits atop the leaderboard of our SSD benchmarks, right next to the equally Kick Ass Samsung 840 Pro, and both drives are as good as it gets in the SSD world. But like Samsung, OCZ needs a drive to appeal to the common folk with a bit less cash in their PayPal accounts, so it’s done what Samsung has done with its vanilla 840 drives and released this midrange SSD with a 3-year warranty to compete at a lower price point than the Vector. These are hotly contested waters, though, so the Vertex 450 has its work cut out for it.
Note: This review was originally featured in the August 2013 issue of the magazine.
A winning package of low price and high performance
The Crucial M500 is the company’s third-generation 6Gb/s SSD, and the successor to the often-praised M4 SSD, which we named the “Best Bang for your Buck” SSD back in December 2012 due to its well-rounded package of decent performance at a great price. In our estimation, the new drive follows suit, though with much-improved write speeds and massively increased capacities at lower prices, thanks to its move to smaller-process NAND flash. Not only does it come in the standard 120GB, 240GB, and the 480GB version you see before you, but it’s also offered in a pants-tightening 1TB version at just $600, making it the only truly affordable 1TB SSD ever offered. Since the terabyte drive was not available at press time, we’re taking a look at the 480GB version, which sports the exact same specs as its big brother.
Note: This review was originally featured in the July 2013 issue of the magazine.
You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. It’s time for a crash course in solid-state drive technology
Solid-state drives are taking the PC world by storm with their silent operation, blazing speeds, and ever-sinking prices, and yet you're hesitant to buy one. Maybe you're afraid of SSDs, or you don't think you know enough to make an educated purchase, or maybe a bad SSD controller took all your data down to Chinatown. Regardless of the reason for your trepidation, every horsepower junkie should be getting in on the SSD action, and to do that you need a little bit of cash and a whole lot of knowledge. Over the next several pages we will attempt to answer all of your SSD-related questions. We'll walk you through all the reasons why you need an SSD first, then break down the terminology so you can talk like an SSD badass at the next LAN party, then show you the parts of an SSD so you know how it all fits together, and we'll wrap it up with a discussion of the software you'll need to monitor and optimize your drive. Though SSDs might seem complicated with their 24nm synchronous MLC Toggle NAND flash and their AHCI-enabled SATA 6Gb/s IOPS gobbledygook, you're about to find out they are not as scary as you thought they were.
Note: This feature was originally featured in the June 2013 issue of the magazine.