How to Choose the Hight SSD? The Expensive Ones are Useless, The Cheapest Ones are Bad

They are not processors or graphics cards. SSDs are the computer component that improves its performance at the fastest rate by far....

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How to Choose the Dight SSD? The Expensive Ones are Useless, The Cheapest Ones are Bad

They are not processors or graphics cards. SSDs are the computer component that improves its performance at the fastest rate by far. But we may surprise you: the pursuit of the highest speed does not always bring such a fundamental improvement.

We at Computer started testing SSDs in 2010, when this initially untrustworthy technology began to appear in computers. At that time, the largest disk offered a capacity of 256 GB and cost twenty thousand. The price of a megabyte hovered around the 80 CZK mark.

Over time, we know that it is SSDs that, hand in hand with multi-core processors. Fundamentally speed up any work with a computer. For example, an eight-year-old laptop. If it is equipped with a good processor and at least 4 GB of RAM, will come alive incredibly after replacing the HDD with an SSD. Even today, it will serve for office work or accounting without the user tearing out his gray hair.

At the same time, few technologies significantly improve their parameters year after year. Manufacturers were able to overwhelm each new communication interface with performance in three years at the latest. And this applies even now to the latest drives with the PCIe 4.0 interface. The theoretical maximum of which lies at the limit of 8 GB/s in both directions. Only two generations of drives were enough for manufacturers: the first offered read speeds of up to 5 GB/s, the second generation is already leaning against the ceiling.

In this article, we advise you on how to choose the right SSD. On the following sheet, we will focus on the previously most widespread 2.5″ format and the SATA interface.

Back to the past

Before we get to the current storages, let’s take a look back at the most widespread 2.5″ format and the SATA interface for many years.

These SSDs are frankly completely uninteresting from the point of view of technology. The SATA 6 Gb/s interface with a maximum speed of around 550 MB/s saturated SSDs already in 2012. Since then, of course, other parameters have improved, especially work with small files has accelerated. However, the speeds of sequential reading and writing did not grow for nine long years and will not grow again.

These drives also cease to be attractive in terms of price and capacity, the differences against cheaper NVMe drives are reduced to a minimum.

These SSDs remain the choice for those who want a super-cheap office computer with small storage where performance is sufficient. The second case is older laptops, where replacing the old mechanical disk with an SSD makes a lot of sense. And not only from the point of view of speed. But also of service life – eight-year-old disks in notebooks are happy to leave.

Deciding which 2.5″ SSD to choose boils down to the choice of memory type rather than the precise selection of the controller and other features. After all, many manufacturers no longer even state the type of controller, and more and more often they don’t even bother to state the type of memory used.

The advice when choosing such a disk is simple: choose models from manufacturers proven over many years. Who consistently state all parameters and offer, for example, a longer warranty. You should also prefer TLC memory for these disks.

If the manufacturer offers a disk from the lowest price category and does not indicate the memory type. It can be rightly assumed that it is a QLC. As part of the SATA interface, these disks will not be significantly slower, especially in reading, but the shorter lifespan can be a problem. And the two or three hundreds saved against a higher-quality model are not savings in the right place.

Fast models: PCIe 3.0 or 4.0?

With modern M.2 slot SSDs with PCIe 3.0 and 4.0 interfaces, the situation is much more interesting. Taking a look at our big test. You will find that the current high-end models have once again saturated the capacity of the PCIe 4.0 interface. But it is still not a matter of course on all boards: at AMD. You will find PCIe 4.0 in the X570, B550 and newer chipsets. The cheap A520 and older generations only offer PCIe 3.0, on the contrary. The latest series of chipsets support PCIe 5.0.

With Intel, the situation is more complicated: the Z590 and B560 chipsets (plus only the Z490 from the previous generation) support PCIe 4.0. While the cheapest H510 has PCIe 4.0 only for the graphics card slot. The M.2 slot is PCIe 3.0 only. The condition is, of course, a connection with an Intel processor of the Rocket Lake series. The latest series of chipsets already support PCIe 5.0

After all, even laptop manufacturers offer PCIe 4.0 drives only in more expensive configurations. Although marketing departments are racing to push PCIe 4.0. It’s clear that PCIe 3.0 SSDs will be around for a while.

The current trend is to release cheaper PCIe 4.0 SSDs that outperform PCie 3.0 and usually stop at a sequential read speed of 5 GB/s. A look at the tables reveals that cheap PCIe 4.0 SSDs already compete with better PCIe 3.0 SSDs in price. While previously the basic PCIe 4.0 SSD excelled over the high-quality PCIe 3.0 only in sequential reading speed. The current models are faster in all respects.

QLC type memories appear in the cheapest PCIe 4.0 SSDs. Some manufacturers do not brag about the type of memory here either, which, together with the low price and low stated durability, are indications to use these memories. The price difference in the capacity of 1 TB is not so significant against the competition. However, in higher capacities, yes, and it is true that for the price of a top PCIe 4.0 1TB SSD with TLC. You can reach for a PCIe 3.0 2TB disk with QLC. If such a disk will be used more for reading than for frequent writing of a large amount of data, it may not be a bad choice. A typical example is again players who install a new game once a month.

The high-end PCIe 4.0 can handle really rough handling, i.e. writing large amounts of data before the cells wear out. Even in the case of TLC memory chips. Manufacturing technology is still improving and the so-called 3D/V-NAND structures have made it possible to stay with larger transistor manufacturing technology that can withstand a higher number of rewrites.

This is also why TBW data (Total Bytes Written – the volume of written data) above the 1,000 TB limit for the 1 TB version appear on disks today. But you still have to keep in mind that this is a “voluntary” information from the manufacturer, which, moreover, cannot be measured objectively. Therefore, you do not have to decide between two discs based only on this data.

The equipment of SSDs is very similar, but still there are things that it makes sense to watch out for.

SSD equipment and heating

In the case of SSD, there is basically no equipment to talk about. The cheapest disks tend to be so-called DRAM-less, i.e. without buffer memory. More precisely, the small buffer memory is directly in the controller, and the SSD uses the computer’s operating memory. This has an impact on performance. However, as we verified in our large test, the manufacturers coped well with the absence of memory and in practice the differences are not significant.

The so-called But DRAM-less SSDs should be avoided by PlayStation 5 owners who want to expand their capacity. Since this system does not allow the SSD to reserve a piece of RAM, the performance loss is more significant. But again, this is not a parameter that manufacturers would brag about, it needs to be honed, for example, for our big test.

You should be interested in encryption support. If you encrypt the data on the disks (and you typically should on a business laptop or computer with sensitive data), prefer disks that support hardware encryption. Encryption can be activated even on disks without hardware support. But this is subsequently performed by the processor and there is a loss of performance – even if only negligible on modern processors.

However, with the most modern fast PCIe 4.0 SSDs, you must strictly pay attention to good cooling. Most fast drives are already equipped with a passive cooler from the factory. And if not, you should purchase and install one. Fast disks have their place closest to the processor, where they can be blown by the processor fan (if you don’t have a water cooler).

The problem can occur in cramped laptops. Here, the pursuit of the highest speed may not pay off, as an overheated disk will usually reduce its speed. Unfortunately, manufacturers rarely indicate disk consumption.

Speed ​​matters

You won’t find many parameters with SSDs, and manufacturers especially boast about sequential read and write speeds. Our tests show that they reach these values ​​without any problems, so they can be a guide in the selection. If the drive uses the same type of memories, there is no reason not to choose a faster drive for the same or slightly higher price.

If you delve into the table from the big SSD test in Computer 7/22, you will find that the disks faster in sequential work. With exceptions, work faster even with small files, which is an even more important parameter for normal use. Of course, it is always better to choose an SSD based on reviews and tests. But if there is nothing else, the indicated sequential speeds will help as a basic guide to the choice and convenience of the drive.

For users who have to continuously write tens of gigabytes of data, an important parameter is the size of the SLC cache and the writing speed after it is exhausted. As a reminder: If a memory cell behaves as SLC (two voltage states), writing to it is much faster than TLC (8 voltage states). Or even QLC (16 voltage states) memory. Think of it like a water container: pouring empty/full is much faster than accurately measuring one of the 16 water levels.

Some high-end drives can write at full speed to the entire capacity of the disk. Most can write tens or low hundreds of gigabytes of data before slowing down. You can reach this limit, for example, only when copying a hundred gigabyte game from an SSD to another SSD. Alternatively, video creators who bring half a terabyte of raw data from filming and need to save it for processing.

Therefore, 99% of users will not experience any slowdown at all in case of an empty new disk. But remember that the capacity of the SLC cache decreases with the degree of filling.

We don’t stop, we keep accelerating!

If we wrote at the beginning that only two generations of drives were enough for manufacturers to overwhelm PCIe 4.0. Then know that the situation will be even merrier with the PCIe 5.0 interface that is just coming: PCIe 5.0 will double the transfer capacity again. So the theoretical maximum is 16 GB/s. And look, Marvell and Phison are already reporting that they have controllers ready to offer read speeds of up to 14GB/s. PCIe 5.0 will be an obsolete interface on release day!

However, the pursuit of maximum speeds is not so important in the case of SSD. Current operating systems, programs, and even games often cannot use the potential of the fastest disks.

Older SATA drives are still used in extremely cheap office sets, or when reviving an old laptop. On the contrary, the cheap high-capacity versions are a good choice for players who demand a faster start of uneaten games.

SSD in the PCIe 3.0 version is optimal in terms of price and performance. Starting the system, programs or loading games will be even faster against SATA. The cheapest models with QLC make sense only in 2 TB capacity and only as a secondary non-system drive, typically games.

PCIe in the fastest version 4.0 will be appreciated by creators, photographers and especially filmmakers who need to transfer tens of gigabytes of data. But they also have to remember that in order to use the maximum writing speed, they must also have fast source media. Due to the high load, we recommend not to skimp and choose more expensive discs with a longer stated life.

SSD for game consoles

The latest generations of game consoles chose a different strategy: Microsoft followed the path of a proprietary solution. And so there is currently only one Seagate Storage Expansion Card on the market, with a capacity of 1 TB at a relatively high price of CZK 5,800.

Sony chose a better way. It made available a standard M.2 slot, in which any SSD with PCIe 4.0 can theoretically be inserted.

Sony released a brief table of required parameters, and with the exception of a modern interface. They should offer a reading speed of at least 5.5 GB/s. However, according to the experience of our and other players, the PS5 will also “try” a significantly slower, and therefore cheaper SSD. Without a significant impact on the speed of starting games or recording positions. But as we have already mentioned, it is better to avoid DRAM-less models.

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