MORE OR LESS MAINSTREAM
When it comes to value SSDs, there’s such a thing as false economy. A cheap drive from an unknown brand looks great on paper, with plenty of capacity and appealing performance numbers. But therein lies danger.
Engineering a flash-based SSD that delivers good long-term performance and reliability is no simple task. It requires deft integration of multiple components and quality coding of the drive’s firmware. Specifically, one of the major challenges includes effective garbage collection that mitigates the inherent loss of performance over time as NAND blocks fill with data. For that you need a quality controller chip and good firmware algorithms. Bigger brands can invest in such technologies and share the cost over a wide range of products.
Another problem for cheap drives involves the related issues of overprovisioning and cache memory. Over-provisioning of memory allows a drive to maintain capacity even as wear causes cells to fail. It also allows a chunk of memory to operate in faster single-level cell mode. The very cheapest drives typically offer limited over-provisioning for wear and to act as SLC cache. While we’re talking cache, cheap drives often also omit a DRAM cache, which will further impact their performance.
With all that in mind, what do we recommend? In the 2.5-inch SATA market, we would go for the Crucial MX500. It’s a little more expensive than its BX500 sibling, but it’s properly configured with both DRAM and dynamic SLC cache. Expect to pay about $50 for a 250GB drive and $80 for the 500GB version. 1TB is yours for around $150.
As for a mainstream M.2 NVMe option, we elect the Samsung PM961. It’s a bare-bones OEM version of the popular 960 Evo, complete with the same TLC NAND, Polaris controller, and DDR3 DRAM. 256GB variants currently start at around $65. It’s a lot of SSD for the money.
Crucial’s MX500 is the obviousSATA option.