Best value $1-200 SSD drive in Toshiba laptop tablet hybrid

I have a laptop that allows me to swap my DVD drive (which I don't use much) for a second hard drive in RAID. I'm looking at buying a drive in the $100-200 range to complement my existing SATA drive.

It’s high time to purchase a hard-drive. The floods in Thailand have apparently submerged many component makers, causing supplies to shrink which may in turn seriously increase prices. After a few months back OCZ acquired Indilinx for a paltry $32M in OCZ stock, LSI just purchased SandForce for $322 million, but such moves are strategic and more likely to result in price increases rather than decreases (rt-lsi-sf, linked below). Furthermore, this purchase puts to rest the rumours of SandForce controller instability.

Lenovo (the former Thinkpad) is the last to add its voice to the “prices will increase” concerto:

Lenovo, which ranks behind Hewlett-Packard Co in global PC rankings, said it had enough hard disk drive supplies for now, though supply could be tight going forward. "In the near future, we expect to begin seeing supply constraints as a result of this industry-wide problem, a situation that likely will last at least through the end of the year and into the first quarter of 2012, as HDD manufacturers and their suppliers work to recover production capacity."

Western Digital CEO John Coyne blames its quarter revenue fall of 60% on a high concentration of supply chain factories in flooded areas, compared to 40% for the industry overall (cbs-wd):

We suspended production in all of our Thailand facilities from the beginning of last week in order to protect our personnel, and to move as much equipment as possible to locations less likely to incur water damage. At this point, we are thankful that all our employees are safe, and we moved much of the equipment which had been situated on the ground floors to higher floors. Despite the heroic efforts of our team, over the past weekend rising water, which had first penetrated the Bang Pa-in Industrial Park flood defenses, inundated the Company's manufacturing facilities there and submerged the remaining equipment on the ground floors.

Seagate survived the deluge largely unscathed but its failure rates, according to hardware.fr, were higher than WD’s as of December 2010 (I added SSD failure rates as well):

Regular HDDs Failure Rates Solid State Drives (SSDs) Failure Rates
  1. Maxtor 1.04%
  2. Western Digital 1.45%
  3. Seagate 2.13%
  4. Samsung 2.47%
  5. Hitachi 3.39%
  1. Intel 0.59%
  2. Corsair 2.17%
  3. Crucial 2.25%
  4. Kingston 2.39%
  5. OCZ 2.93%

mounting-adapter-bracket-for-SSDIf you want to use an SSD in a regular desktop computer, unless buying one of the very few 3.5” drives such as the OCZ Agility 2 90GB 3.5-in (.com, .ca, .uk, .fr, .de, .it, .es), you will probably need a 2.5" SSD HDD To 3.5" Mounting Adapter Bracket Dock Bay. Don’t restrict your purchase to a drive that comes with it – you can buy it off eBay from China for $7 including S&H, but factor in about 4 weeks. They do come with screws as well and metallic brackets cost as much as plastic ones Peace Sign

Since my purchase would be to complement an existing regular drive, I am looking at a small size and cheapest I can find around $100. This pretty much prices me out of synchronous NAND goodness. After reading numerous reviews, I narrowed down my selection to two drives: Crucial M4 64 GB and OCZ Solid 3 120 GB, considering that the Agility 3 tends to sell out, it is slightly more expensive and the performance plus is negligible, while the Vertex 3 would be overkill until I upgrade to SATA III. Here’s a comparison table:

 

CT064M4SSD2 (CCA)cru

SLD3-25SAT3-120Gocz

Size (GB)

64

120

Interface SATA III (600) SATA III (600)
Maker Crucial OCZ
Depth 2.75” 100 mm
Width 3.95” 69.6 mm
Height 0.37” 9.3 mm
Weight 0.17 lbs 77 g
MTBF (x1M h) 1.2 2
Sustained Sequential Read MB/s (S2) [incomp] 415 500 (280) [185]
Sustained Sequential Write MB/s (S2) [incomp] 95 450 (260) [125]
Seek Time m/s   0.1
EEC Recovery   55 bites (sic) correctable per 512-byte sector (BCH)
Rand 4k Read (IOPS) 40000 20000 (75 MB/s)
Rand 4k Write (IOPS) 20000 20000 (75 MB/s)
Power idle < 65 mW 1.5 W
Power active 0.15 W 2.7 W
Max Shock 1500G 1500G
Mfg Warranty 3 years limited 3 years limited (?)
Price Nwe: 114.99+9.99+16.25=141.23 DC: 149.78-20+0+19.48=169.31-20 (+2.25 ins)
Reviews NE 5/5, 314 NE 4/5, 63

The winner for me is clearly the OCZ Solid 3 drive. (I got fried in the past with non-available items from low-cost retailers such as this one so I’d rather be safe than sorry.) Though limited to 20,000 IOPS for 4k Random Write (Aligned), as opposed to 85,000 for the Vertex 3 and 50,000 for the Agility 3 line-up, this should be sufficient for anything by Workstation or Server type of workloads. The one major advantage of the Crucial M4 drive is its incredibly low power consumption which is important with a notebook. Here’s what TechRadar had to say on August 22 (tr-best6, below):

Crucially the Crucial M4 is the closest in performance terms to the awesome OCZ Vertex 3 and comes with a hefty saving and slightly larger capacity. It stands second in the real-world transfer and installation tests and isn't too far off the pace in the rest, coming top of the Marvell class of drives.

Yet that is dwarfed by its limited size and relatively high $/GB (not to mention possible lack of TRIM support – I did not see it mentioned in product literature) compared to the S3 which has been aggressively discounted. Although the M4 is sold with a bonus cloning kit and USB dongle, I do not have much use for those anyways – I have my Thermaltake BlacX USB SATA docking station and for cloning I use Clonezilla. Even if OCZ will not honor their MIR (which happens quite often, apparently), this is still a good buy. The minus for the OCZ drive is that it doesn’t have as many 5-star reviews as the Crucial on any site that collects such reviews (Amazon, Newegg) and also I suspect my laptop has only a SATA-II controller which means I won’t be able to take advantage of the amazing speeds right away. Then again, I plan an upgrade soon, and with TRIM this drive shouldn’t drop in performance so quickly. Said AnandTech in March 2009 (anand-intel):

1) There is currently no way to pass the TRIM instruction to a drive that is a member of a RAID array. Intel’s latest RAID drivers allow you to TRIM non-member RAID disks, but not a SSD in a RAID array.

2) Giving up TRIM support means that you need a fairly resilient SSD, one whose performance will not degrade tremendously over time. On the bright side, with the exception of the newer SandForce controllers, I’m not sure we’ve seen a controller as resilient as Intel’s.

Things have definitely change since then, but this may still be a problem with older SSDs. Other winning devices for other price ranges seem to be first and foremost those based on the SF-2200 (such as 2281) and even Marvell 9174 controller. But speed may come at a serious tradeoff (tr-best6):

Longevity is another key issue and looking even more critical with 25nm MLC NAND memory. Where 34nm NAND was rated at 10,000 write-erase cycles, the best latest 25nm chips are claimed to be good for half that figure. Some are rated at just 3,000. While that doesn't sound like a lot, the combination of redundant cells with advanced wear levelling algorithms means heavily used SSDs should last for at least five years.

This is a critical issue as a high proportion of complaints seems to suggest that the SF-2200 controller is severely flawed and unreliable. My hope is that this was due to buggy stock firmware and flashing the drive before using it should resolve this problem. Furthermore, reviews on retailer sites are very likely negatively biased – i.e., someone with a negative experience is more likely to post a review than someone with a positive experience. If reliability and longevity is important to you, get an Intel drive – they have a 5-year warranty as opposed to the 3-year warranty of SSD drives.

others

So here are the other “best value” SSD drives, linked to Amazon and CDN$ pricing info as of writing:

If you are willing to spend more than $200 or if price is not something you generally worry about, here’s what to look for (increasing price order, hover over links):

  1. OCZ Agility 3 240GB (.com, .ca, .uk, .fr, .de, .it, .es)
  2. Fastest: OCZ Vertex 3 240GB (.com, .ca, .uk, .fr, .de, .it, .es)
  3. Most reliable: Intel 510 Series 250GB (.com, .ca, .uk, .fr, .de, .it, .es)
  4. Crucial m4 512GB (.com, .ca, .uk, .fr, .de, .it, .es)
  5. OCZ Vertex 3 480GB (.com, .ca, .uk, .fr, .de, .it, .es)

The SandForce controller has a significant performance drop when benchmarking incompressible files, while the 9174 performs best at capacities beyond 200GB. Of this pack, Vertex 3 performs best, but its cost took it out of my purview.

ahci

Finally, I suspect that the reason why Crucial M4 had so many positive reviews as opposed to OCZ is that the stock firmware was less buggy. It makes sense to update the drive firmware even before installing the OS, with a bootable disk, using the following support resources: ocz-win, ocz-linux, (see also ABC, SSD, WinToolbox, FAQ, encryption).

Another important adjustment is turning on AHCI, which should be done in the BIOS, if your system supports it, before installing Windows. If that is not an option, you can also do it post install, as follows:

  1. run regedit as Admin (run as.., search for regedit, right click then choose “as Admin”)
  2. navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetservices, in the left pane click msahci, in the right-hand pane right-click Start then click Modify
  3. In the window that opens, change the value to 0 (zero) and click OK.
  4. Reboot then go straight into BIOS and enable AHCI; Windows will finish installing the drivers by itself

Alternatively, you may download the .reg file below. You might also want to update to a newer driver on the Microsoft site.

My motherboard does not seem to have it, so I’ll probably have to turn it on after upgrading my computer.

According to user reports, enabling AHCI will increase performance only in RAID environments.

conclusion

I have already ordered my Solid3 and hopefully the order will be soon fulfilled. Here’s StorageReview’s conclusion, after comparing the drive with its Agility and Vertex cousins:

Performance is limited compared to the Agility 3 or Vertex 3, but in our real-world traces it still only trailed by 6.5-19.5% depending on the situation. A "budget" drive hanging with the fastest drives on the market is hard to overlook.

Given the internals of the OCZ Solid 3, it’s not a huge surprise we saw the strong performance that we did. It includes the same tried and true SF-2200 processor and a full-bandwidth 16-chip NAND configuration, with the only thing holding it back being a firmware limiter. In many ways you could argue that the jump to the Agility 3 could be worth it for a set of people, but if saving money is paramount, many people probably wouldn't notice the real world performance difference. For shoppers looking for the budget SSD with the most bang for their buck, OCZ really offers one heck of a deal with the Solid 3.

Pros

  • Very strong performance on a "budget" SSD
  • Not a huge performance drop in some areas compared to Vertex 3
  • Lowest priced SF-2200 SSD

Cons

  • Depending on current sale price, might be worth buying Agility 3 instead.
  • [Here’s davepermen on the notebookreview.com forum (sr-f page3): ]

    the problem is, a big chunk of ocz/sandforce users DO have issues. unlike for other ssds or even hdds. and THAT matters. not those without problems. those with. and there are much more of those with ocz/sandforce.
    and the second thing, and this is why it gets personal, is: ocz cheats on their customers in all ways they can. denying replacements, deleting posts in their forii when asking for help, etc. just read up on ocz and anandtech in the elder days. their behaviour is absolutely ridiculous and not the way you can trust on.
    if i buy something i want to be able to a) trust the device, and b) trust the manufacturer in case of an issue.
    both not really possible in case of ocz/sandforce.

Bottom Line

The OCZ Solid 3 rounds out a lineup of SSDs where OCZ offers something for everyone. The Solid 3 truly is "everyman's SSD" - offering an aggressive price point starting at just $120 that easily laps the other budget-SSD offerings currently available. While not the fastest SSD around, that's not the point - the Solid 3 offers up class-leading performance at a price that's cheaper than even prior generation SandForce offerings.

Solid 3 reviews: sr, sr-f, th, nr, dd, pcmag

Sources / More info: hw-rev, ahci-ms, ocz-dc, pcper, tr-best6, intel-2010, m400-ssd, m4-w7-ssd, reb8-ocz, clonezilla.org, anand-ssd, anand-relapse, rt-lsi-sf, ibn-lenovo, cbs-wd, anand-OCZ-indi, anand-v3-trim, hf-SSD-AFR, ariyako-ahci-reg, ariyako-ahci, ms-ahci, 7forums-ahci, 7ftut-ahci, w7-ahci-hipm-dipm, 7f-dipm-reg, 7f-0dipm-reg, technet-ahci

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