(Guide) Shopping for a budget SSD: What matters most?

Intro

Perhaps you are looking for a cheap SSD to replace your aging HDD.

Or you need a budget SSD for your new system.

But you may not be that tech-savvy, you don’t know which SSD to buy.

Welcome to the first post of Tech-FO! By making it as easy to understand as possible, we gonna look at different cheap SSDs currently available in the market, what actually matters most in these SSDs and hopefully by the end of this, you will get an idea of which SSD you should get for your system.

 

 

For the purpose of this blog, I am only focusing on 120 -128GB SSDs. There are many reasons for this:

  • Of course it’s cheap. These SSDs retail for around 41USD/55SGD and below (pricing may fluctuate).
  • Availability from various manufacturers. You will probably be able to find one similar SSD in your region.
  • This capacity is enough for one OS, with a few ‘heavy’ programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and perhaps a few games.
  • Bulk storage is handled by standard HDD (since you are aiming for a budget system anyway).

With all that said, let's look at a few budget SSDs (in no particular order):

 

 

And here are the specs and pricing of each SSD:

 


Kingston
UV400
Silicon Power
S55
SanDisk
SSD Plus
PNY CS1311
ADATA Premier
SP550
NAND type
TLC
TLC
TLC
TLC
TLC
Sequential Read - Up to MB/s
550

530
550
560
Sequential Write - Up to MB/s
350

400
510
410
Random Read – IOPS
90k


86k
60k
Random Write – IOPS
15k


90k
70k
Endurance rating
50TB




Warranty
3 years
3 years
3 years
3 years
3 years
Pricing USD
37.99USD
36USD
40.75USD
39.99USD
37.99USD
Pricing SGD
51SGD
48SGD
55SGD
54SGD
51SGD
 

Pricing is at the moment of purchase. For an explanation of each of the specification (ie. what is sequential read?), refer to here for a quick guide.

As strange as it may sound, not all manufacturer list out performance specs for their SSDs on their websites. That's why I decided to leave these specs blank even though you can find these number listed somewhere else on the internet (such as Amazon).

Why are these specs not available. In my opinion, this is because:

  • Performance consistency: Perhaps not all drives can hit a certain level of performance and this may be caused by variation of components used in the drive. In order to ship out more drives and save cost, these manufacturer chose not to list out all the specs.
  • Even if they chose to list out the specs, perhaps these numbers are lower compared to competitor (or straight out horrible) and thus may affect sale number.

With all that said, when it come to budget SSDs, these specs serve little to no practical purposes beside letting the consumer know how confident these manufacturers are at the performance of their products.

 

Analysis

So again the question is: Which of these SSDs (or any other chead SSDs) should you buy, what actually matters most?

In order to answer this question, I will now focus on each aspect of the SSD that may affect your purchase decision, those are: performance/cost ratio, durability or endurance, reliability, appearance and bundled software.


Performance / Cost ratio

This may appear to be the most important aspect of buying a budget SSD, but it’s not. In my opinion and experience, once you are looking for a cheap SSD, the performance of SSD is not that important. The reasons are:

  1. With a budget system typical usage, small differences in SSD performance do not affect user experience that much, or at all. Windows boot up time, program startup time etc. are not different enough when different SSDs are used. This can be seen is various SSD reviews around the internet, for example: TheTechReport, HardwareCanucks.
  2. So far, the only situation where any average user can perceive a different is where you perform lot of write to the SSD (copy movies to the SSD). Under this condition, the SSD will quickly run out of fast write portion of the drive, and enter slow write portion (refer here for a quick explanation of why SSD behaves this way). 

    The speed of these SSDs in these slow write portion is shown below.

As you can see from the graph, the sustained speed varies a lot drive by drive. Moreover, 4 out of 5 drives' number is lower than that of a typical HDD (<150MB/s-ish). By this metric, the SanDisk SSD Plus seems to be the indisputable winner here.

However, these performance numbers should not affect typical usage due to the fact that these SSDs are meant to keep your OS and programs and games, they are not meant to store big files like movies, photos and music in a budget system. As such, the chance of continuously write big amount of data into the SSD is actually very low. If you need bulk storage, a secondary HDD should fit the bill fine. HDD is also a lot cheaper based on Price/GB basis.

To conclude, with normal typical usage that a budget SSD as well as a budget system are subjected to, performance of a SSD does not matter a lot. Users of these SSDs and systems won't be able to 'feel' much differences between the drives.


Durability or Endurance

Durability or endurance of a SSD most of the time refer to the total amount of data that can be written to a SSD.

Unlike HDD which can be written with infinite amount of data (until the HDD fail of other causes), SSDs performance degrade with the more data written. Manufacturers usually quote number of Terabytes that can be safely written to a SSD before the SSD is considered at risk of losing data or total data corruption.

In practice and real life, these number are usually very conservative. Moreover, with normal usage on a typical system, a SSD will only clock around 1TB write per year. With that rate with a Kingston UV400, given all other usage condition to be perfectly constant, the drive will last for 50+ years.

How about those drives that don't have their endurance specs listed? I guess nobody know for sure when these drives will hit the wall, except for the manufacturers and those unfortunate users who got their drives bricked (due to excessive usage).

To say durability is not that important is completely wrong. However, with no guarantee of when exactly a SSD gonna reach the end of its life, I would say that this aspect of the SSD is less important compared to the next aspect of the SSD.


Reliability

In my opinion, reliability is the most important aspect of any SSD, be it for cheap SSD or ridiculously expensive one. Reliability, in a sense, is the measure of how problems-free the experience using that SSD. This may mean:

  • The SSD is detected every time the system boot up, or wake up from sleep/hibernation.
  • No micro hang or jerk loading up programs or loading up Windows.
  • Does not cause Windows to hang, or Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD).
  • Data contained in the SSD does not corrupt, or go poof (disappear).
  • In a way, does not negatively affect your daily experience using the PC in anyway.

If a SSD is not reliable, even though there is warranty coverage, the trouble of going through SSD replacement and full system re-installation afterwards does not justify the cost and the hassles involved.

But how do you know how reliable a SSD is?

It's a tough question to have a definitive answer. In my experience, we can have a feel of this aspect of SSD based on:

  1. Users review: By looking at users review on various online retailers such as Amazon and Newegg, we can kind of guess how reliable a SSD can be. In this case, the most useful metric that a SSD buyer can use is the percentage of negative review (that's purely related to reliability since negative review can be caused by other factors). Buyer can also look at the total number of reviews to gauge the popularity of the SSD (popularity may infer better reliability).

    A word of caution, the percentage of negative review on any product will not reflect the true defect rate of that product. Usually, the real defect rate is much lower. This is because people will have much higher tendency to give a negative review when a product is not working, compared to a working product that no one will ever care to write a positive review about (sometimes I'm guilty of this).

    With that said, SSD buyer can compare this percentage (albeit it's difficult) to decide on which SSD they should invest on.
     
  2. Brand name: It sounds unscientific, but generally, SSD from Samsung, Intel, Crucial, Kingston and SanDisk are known for their reliability.
    Of course there are always exceptions, that's why reading user reviews is strongly recommended.

Appearance and Bundled software

The look of a SSD is completely subjective to the user. However, more often than not in a budget system, the SSD is often not displayed (non-window side panel or hidden in HDD cage). As such, user should not care much for the appearance.

Regarding bundled softwares, it's always good to have cloning program such as Acronis True Image, which some manufacturers do provide. However, it's not a must since user can acquire similar program on the Internet for free.


Conclusion

To conclude, reliability is the most important aspect of choosing a budget SSD. If you are looking to get one, following is what you should do:

  1. Decide what capacity of SSD do you need, it's probably 128GB or 256GB.
  2. Look up on Amazon or your local PC store for the availability of different models and brands of SSDs.
  3. Look up and compare reviews of those SSD models on Amazon or any other online retailer websites. Try to stay away from those drives that received lot of negative reviews regarding reliability.
  4. For those drives that received favourable reviews, just get the cheapest drive that's available to you.

That's it, I hope this post will help you somehow with your purchase decision. Do give me your feedback or ask any question regarding the content.


Disclosure: The content in this blog come from author's personal experience working with PC component and does not serve as any promotion to any of the SSD or company with name mentioned.
At the time of publishing this blog, the author is an employee of Micron Technology working as SSD Validation Engineer.