Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Best SSDs and HDDs For Your Money: December 2011

source: http://www.hardware-revolution.com/best-ssd-hdd-december-2011/

December 2011 Update:

Samsung 830 Series: Now recommended
In October, Samsung launched their 830 Series SSDs. After waiting a month to see how well they got reviewed and the initial customer reviews, both of which are great, I’m now recommending them in this guide.
They offer performance that’s a tad superior to the Crucial M4, Corsair Force 3 and OCZ Stone/Agility 3 SSDs, below the fastest SSDs based on the 2nd generation SandForce, but Samsung reliability track record is far better than SandForce based SSDs, a notch above Crucial SSDs, second only to Intel’s SSDs outstanding reliability.
For more details about the performance of the Samsung 830 Series SSDs, I invite you to read AnandTech’s review of the Samsung 830 512GB SSD.
OCZ launched their new “OCZ Octane” SSDs:
Based on the Indilinx Everest controller (OCZ acquired Indilinx some time ago), the OCZ Octane SSDs perform well, hanging out with the OCZ Vertex 3 and the Samsung 830 at the top of the performance spectrum, according to this AnandTech review of the OCZ Octane.
I’m not recommending them at the moment, due to the fact that they just came out. Considering that OCZ is currently the worse seller when it comes to reliability, it would be wise in my opinion to wait at least a month to wait for some customer reviews, to see if there are a lot of issues with the OCZ Octane SSDs.
While they aren’t based on the problematic SandForce controllers, it’s still smart to be patient with new SSDs, just in case that they are some early bugs. Better be safe than sorry ;)
If they do well reliability wise, you’ll most likely see me recommend them next month, assuming that they are competitive price wise.
Intel to add TRIM Support for RAID 0:
Great news! The TRIM feature will be enabled for RAID0 setups in Intel’s upcoming RST (Rapid Storage Technology) 11.5 driver.
Quoting from this AnandTech news:
“Intel’s release notes for Rapid Storage Technology (RST) 11.5 Alpha version reveal that they have plans to add TRIM support for RAID 0 arrays in the next version of RST.”
So far, Intel are expected to release the RST 11.5 driver sometime in Q2 2012, so while we won’t get these for a while, this is still an encouraging sign for TRIM support with RAID.
We can only hope that TRIM support for other levels of RAID will be added in the future too. Here’s hoping that AMD will follow up with TRIM support for RAID for their controllers too.
Price cuts on some SSDs, higher prices for other SSDs.
Corsair Force 3 SSDs have been seeing some interesting price cuts, with the Corsair Force 3 120GB now $170 (-$10), the 180GB version now $220 (-$30).
The Samsung 830 Series is also lowering the price for one of my recommendations, the best $110 SSD used to be the Crucial M4 64GB which got replaced by the Samsung 830 Series 64GB, which is $98.
Also note that the Intel 320 Series prices have been going down, with the 300GB model down by nearly $100, at now $530.
Unfortunately, the Crucial M4 256GB went up from $350 last month to $380 this month and the the 512GB model went up from $720 last month to $780 this month. Nonetheless, they remain excellent SSDs that I continue to recommend, due to their great performance and great reliability.
Hard Drive Prices:
As for hard drives, the flooding situation in Thailand has been improving, with some areas that are now clear of water, although a lot of work is left to be done, since some areas are still flooded.
Things are looking good for hard productions though.
According to this Wall Street Journal article:
“W.D. restarted its hard-drive operations in one Bang Pa-in building–which had been submerged in six feet of water–one week ahead of schedule. Western Digital’s other Thailand hard drive facilities at Navanakorn remain under about two feet of water. It is expected to be pumped dry within 10 days, then decontaminated and refurbished. ”
Prices for hard drives seem to have stabilized too. While they remain high compared to a few months ago, you can still score some decent deals if you shop around.
In this guide, I recommend $90 500GB HDDs, a $110 750GB model, 7200rpm starting at $138 and a 2.5TB Western Digital Caviar Green HDD for $138, amongst other recommendations. The hard drives recommendations are right after the solid state drives (SSDs) recommendations.

This article is in three parts:

  1. The Best Solid State Drives (SSDs) For Your Money

  2. The Best Hard Disk Drives (HDDs) For Your Money

  3. RAID 0,1,5 and 10: A quick and easy summary

The Best Hard Drives and SSDs For Your Money?

By that, I mean the drives that offer the best performance and/or most capacity at a given price. Why would you want that, you ask?
Because you want the best bang for the buck, the best possible drive for your hard-earned money and the highest performance and capacity possible!
If you have the time…
Reading SSD and HDD reviews is a lot of fun. However, most of us don’t have the time to do the research and just want to know the best option for our budget.
Keep in mind:
I’ll use this opportunity to remind you that this article is only a guideline for the prices I’ve seen as of December 2nd. You’re wasting money if you’re not looking for the best deals when you purchase a SSD/HDD.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you read this list:
  • This list is based on the best U.S. prices from NewEgg and/or Amazon. Prices and availability change everyday. I can’t keep up with accurate pricing everyday, but I can suggest to you great drives that you won’t regret buying at the price ranges that I list.
  • All prices are based on new drives prices, no used or open box drives are listed; they might be a good deal but come with trade offs such as limited return policy, limited warranty, etc.

The Best Solid State Drives (SSDs) For Your Money:

Who are SSDs for?
SSDs are for you if don’t mind paying more for:
  • Much faster OS boot, Shutdown, Sleep and Hibernation
  • Much faster program and game loading, meaning that you don’t have to wait as long for your program or your game to load.
A quick recap on what a SSD is:
You know those flash chips that are used in USB sticks and SD cards? A SSD is basically several of those chips working in parallel with a controller to bring you higher speed.
There are many advantages to a SSD compared to a traditional spinning mechanical hard drive, such as:
  1. No noise because of no moving parts.
  2. Less heat emission compared to hard drivess.
  3. Lower power consumption and, as a result, longer battery life for laptops
  4. Much more resistant to shock and vibration
  5. Much lower latency (in the 0.07ms compared to 7-9ms).
  6. Higher transfer rates for reading (Up to 555 MB/s+) and writing files.
SSD vs two hard drives in RAID 0:
Two Samsung F3 1TB hard drives can reach sequential reads of close to 300MB/s, which is higher than the 285MB/s of a 1st generation SandForce SSD, such as the Corsair Force, or OCZ Agility/Vertex 2. So that must mean that two hard drives in RAID 0 are just as good/fast as a SSD, right?
No, not even close. See, sequential reads are best cases scenarios, like when you’re copying a file from one hard drive to another (Assuming that you’re not bottlenecked by a USB 2.0 connection here). In that best-scenario case, two HDDs in RAID 0 can match a SSD speed.
However, in real-life, what matters the most are random 4K reads, which represents typical OS loading, program loading, game/game level loading. In those cases, a SSD can easily be fifty times as fast as a single Velociraptor HDD, considered by most as the fastest consumer HDD, scoring 52.1MB/s Random 4K Reads for a Vertex 2 SSD, vs 0.7MB/s for the Velociraptor, according to AnandTech.
Needless to say, even with two Samsung f3 1TB in RAID 0, the figure for the HDDs wouldn’t increase much beyond 1.5-2.0MB/s at best.
That is why two hard drives can seem like a match for a single SSD on paper (due to often advertised sequential transfer rates) and why they really are not match for a SSD in real-life situations (due to the more real-life usefulness of 4K random reads/writes).

What about those reports of SSD slowing down over time?

They are true, but let me clarify this quickly for you: SSD are similar to hard drives in the way that they delete files: They don’t. They simply flag the files as deleted.
What’s the problem with that? With a hard drive, when you want to use the space occupied by the previous file, the hard drive would simply overwrite it. In the case of a SSD, it needs to erase the file prior to writing again.
Until recently, SSDs would delete the file right before writing the new one. Needless to say, this slows down write operations a lot, especially as your SSD gets filled up and you need to erase pretty much any previously deleted file to write new data.
TRIM
TRIM changed that though. What TRIM does is erase the file right away, allowing you to write at full speed without waiting to erase previously used space.
All the recommended SSDs in this guide support TRIM.
Now, to use TRIM, you need a OS that supports it, such as Windows 7, Mac OS X and some variants of Linux being the only ones as far as I know. You also need a SSD that supports TRIM obviously.
If you want to learn more about SSDs and TRIM, I highly recommend The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs article from Anandtech, a very complete and detailed article on SSD, a must read in my opinion. Also from AnandTech, The SSD Relapse: Understanding and Choosing the Best SSD is another must read if you want to learn more about SSDs.
TRIM with RAID:
From AnandTech:
“For months now you all have been asking me to tackle the topic of RAIDing SSDs. I’ve been cautious about doing so for a number of reasons:
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.”
So in short:
You can use two or more SSDs in RAID, you just need to pick the right SSDs. My recommendation would be use either one of these, in this order:
  1. A SandForce based SSD, such as Corsair Force/Force 3/Force GT series or OCZ Vertex 2/3/Agility 2/3.
  2. Toshiba controller based SSDs (Mostly some Kingston models).
  3. 2nd generation Intel SSDs
You can use other SSDs for RAID, but I wouldn’t recommend it, since performance will degrade over time, slowing down the SSDs to a crawl which is not something that you’d want when you pay for two or more SSDs.
SSDs and reliability:
Marc Prieur has been around writing about PC hardware for nearly fifteen years on hardware.fr. In October 2011, he updated some very interesting numbers on his website: failure rates of various PC components, according to a French etailer.
The failure rates are based on parts sold between October 1st 2010 and April 1st 2011, for returns before October 2011, so it represents 6 months to one year of usage. The statistics per brand are based on a sample of at least 500 sales.
Among the components were SSDs (and HDDs whose numbers will be presented in the HDD section) and the numbers for SSDs are below:
  1. Intel 0.1%
  2. Crucial 0.8%
  3. Corsair 2.9%
  4. OCZ 4.2%
As you can see, Intel SSDs currently are the most reliable SSDs on the market according to Hardware.fr. NewEgg customers reviews would seem to indicate so as well, seeing as very few of them are rated 1 egg and very few of them are about an Intel SSD that has failed.
Unfortunately, Samsung SSDs aren’t in that chart, but based on the previous track record, I’d place them in 2nd place, after Intel.
In the top 8 of the least reliable SSDs, we have the:
- 9,14% OCZ Vertex 2 240 GB
- 8,61% OCZ Agility 2 120 GB
- 7,27% OCZ Agility 2 40 GB
- 6,20% OCZ Agility 2 60 GB
- 5,83% Corsair Force 80 GB
- 5,31% OCZ Agility 2 90 GB
- 5,31% OCZ Vertex 2 100 GB
- 5,04% OCZ Agility 2 3.5″ 120 GB
In other words, OCZ Agility 2 and Vertex 2 are the worst series when it comes to reliability.
Do note that although these numbers don’t paint the complete picture of world wide failure rates, they still give us a good idea of what to expect.

Updating the SSD firmware

To get the latest bug fixes and the best performance.
Before you start using your SSD, I strongly urge you to update the SSD’s firmware to get the latest bug fixes and the best performance. Make sure to read the instructions available on each update page, in order to understand how to properly update the firmware.
If you have questions regarding firmware updates, contact the manufacturer or visit their support forums. If a drive isn’t listed here, it’s either because I am unaware of a recent firmware release or because the drive does not need a firmware update (i.e. it ships with the latest one).
  • Crucial M4: FW0009 Firmware (fixes a few bugs, increases performance) is available here. See this great AnandTech article for a review of that firmware.
  • Intel 320: Latest firmware (which fixes the infamous 8MB bug) is available here.
  • OCZ Vertex 3, Vertex 3 Max IOPS, Agility 3, Solid 3, Revodrive 3 and Revodrive 3 X2: Firmware 2.15, which fixes the infamous BSOD bug, is available here. TechReport took a quick look at it as well as the results from it and so far, it would appear that things have improved quite a bit!
  • Corsair Force 3 and Force GT: The latest 1.3.3 firmware is available here.

Best SSD for up to $70:

Patriot Torqx 2 PT232GS25SSDR 2.5" 32GB SATA II Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)Patriot Torqx 2 2.5″ 32GB SATA II SSD

$53.99 after the Mail-in Rebate
  • Price: $69
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 32GB / 29.80GiB
  • Price per GiB: $2.32/GiB
  • Controller: Phison PS PS3105-S5
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 270MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 230MB/s
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Unknown at this time.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? No.
Replacing the OCZ Vertex 30GB SSD, the Patriot Torqx 2 2.5″ 32GB offers 2GB more, 40MB/s faster sequential reads and 95MB/s faster sequential writes, for only $5 more than the OCZ Vertex 30GB.
If you’re looking for a SSD to upgrade an older machine, or simply to host the OS along with a few important applications/games, at a minimum cost, this is my recommendation.
It’s not the best or largest SSD, but for $69, it’s a great choice to give a second life to an older machine or laptop that doesn’t need much capacity, or as a boot drive that hosts the OS along with a few important applications/games.
Be assured that despite its low price, this drive is still reliable and does have TRIM support. It does not includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter, so if you want to use it in a desktop, make sure that either your case supports 2.5″ drives or get a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket, such as the $5- Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5″ SSD / HDD Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay adapter.

Best SSD for $85:

40GB Ssd DriveCorsair Force 2.5″ 40GB SATA II SSD

  • Price: $85
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 40GB / 37.25GiB
  • Price per GiB: $2.28/GiB
  • Controller: SandForce 1st generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 280MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 270MB/s
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? No.
Previously, 40GB SSDs were priced too close to $100, making it hard to recommend them when spending just a tad more would result in a larger capacity SSD.
However, with the Corsair Force 40GB at $85, I have no problem recommending this SSD.
Based on the SandForce first generation controller, it offers great performance for its price.
It does not includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter, so if you want to use it in a desktop, make sure that either your case supports 2.5″ drives or get a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket, such as the $5- Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5″ SSD / HDD Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay adapter.

Best SSD for ~$100:

Samsung Electronics 64 GB SATA 6.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch 830 Series Solid State Drive with Desktop Kit and Batman Arkham City MZ-7PC064D/AMSamsung 830 Series 64GB SATA III SSD

  • Price: $98
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 64GB / 59.60GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.64/GiB
  • Controller: Samsung
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 520 MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 160MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 16,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, but poor long-term performance, not recommended for RAID
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? No.
Replacing the Crucial M4, the Samsung 830 series offers slightly better performance, slightly better reliability at a lower cost ($98 vs $110).
Capacity is the same as before.
Short of Intel’s SSDs, which are lagging behind the competition when it comes to competitive pricing, the Samsung SSDs are some of the most reliable SSDs currently available on the market. They are also some of the fastest available SSDs currently available, making them very balanced.
It does not includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter, so if you want to use it in a desktop, make sure that either your case supports 2.5″ drives or get a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket, such as the $5- Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5″ SSD / HDD Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay adapter.

Best SSD for ~$150:

Corsair Force 3 90 GB SATA III/6G SATA 6.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive - CSSD-F90GB3-BKCorsair Force 3 2.5″ 90GB SATA III SSD

  • Price: $150
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 90GB / 83.82GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.79/GiB
  • Controller: SandForce 2nd Generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 550MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 500MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 85,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? Yes
Replacing the OCZ Agility 2 90GB, the Corsair Force 3 90GB offers greatly improved performance, as well as improved reliability.
With 90GB (83.82GiB under Windows) at $150, this is a fairly decent choice for a gaming PC, to host Windows and a few of your favorite games without being too restrained by storage space.
If 90GB isn’t enough for you, keep reading, I recommend SSDs with larger capacities below.
Slower but most reliable alternative:
If reliability ranks #1 on your list of priority when upgrading to a SSD, I then recommend the $149 – Intel 320 Series 2.5″ 80GB SATA II SSD. While it offers 10GB less and lower performance than the Corsair SSD above, it’s still much faster than any hard drive and Intel SSDs are unmatched when it comes to reliability.

Best SSD for ~$170:

Corsair 120 GB Force Series 3 SATA III 6Gb/s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive - CSSD-F120GB3A-BKCorsair Force 3 2.5″ 120GB SATA III SSD

  • Price: $170
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 120GB / 111.76GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.52/GiB
  • Controller: SandForce 2nd Generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 550MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 510MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 85,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? Yes
This is a new addition to this guide.
With 120GB (111.76GiB under Windows), this is a better choice for a gaming PC, to host Windows and most of your favorite games without running of space.
If 120GB isn’t enough for you, keep reading, I recommend SSDs with larger capacities below.

Best SSD for ~$220:

Corsair 180 GB Force Series 3 SATA III 6Gb/s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive - CSSD-F180GB3-BKCorsair Force 3 2.5″ 180GB SATA III SSD

  • Price: $220
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 180GB / 167.63GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.31/GiB
  • Controller: SandForce 2nd Generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 550 MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 520 MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 85,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? Yes
Now $30 less than last month, at $220 compared to $250 back in November, now making it $1.31 per GiB.
Replacing the Corsair Force GT 120GB, the Corsair Force 3 180GB offers very similar performance, with a 50% larger capacity, at 180GB vs 120GB.
With 180GB and at $220, this is a great choice for a Gaming PC, to host Windows and most, if not all of your favorite games without running of space.
More reliable, but lower capacity alternative:
$210 – SAMSUNG 830 Series 2.5″ 128GB SATA III SSD – Offering comparable performance but a lower capacity at 128GB, the link is my recommendation if reliability is your #1 priority. The Samsung 830 series of SSDs are amongst the most reliable SSDs currently available on the market, with a track record comparable to Intel’s.
They are also some of the fastest available SSDs currently available, offering performance slightly better than the Corsair Force 3/Agiltiy 3 and Crucial M4 SSDs, making the Samsung 830 series is great choice that offers both performance and reliability.
It doesn’t include a 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter, so if your case doesn’t support 2.5″ drives, make sure to get a 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter. It does include a SATA to USB adapter though, making it ideal if you want to upgrade your laptop’s hard drive.

Best SSD for $300:

Corsair Force GT 180 GB SATA III/6G SATA 6.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive - CSSD-F180GBGT-BKCorsair Force GT 180GB 2.5″ SATA III SSD

  • Price: $305
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 180GB / 167.63GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.82/GiB
  • Controller: SandForce Second Generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 555MB/sec
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 520MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 85,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top-notch
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? Yes.
Replacing the OCZ Agility 2 180GB SSD, the Corsair Force GT 180GB offers superior performance as well as superior reliability, for a similar price, making it very easy to recommend it over the OCZ Agility 2.
Based on the same Sandforce 2nd generation controller as the OCZ Vertex 3. I went with the Corsair Force GT 180GB instead of the Vertex 3 180GB due to Corsair’s better reliability and better customer support.
Compared to the Corsair Force 3, the Corsair Force GT uses the same SandForce 2nd generation controller, yet is a notch faster as it makes use of synchronous NAND flash vs slightly slower and less expensive asynchronous NAND flash memory.
Gain more performance from two drives in RAID0:
Want more performance? If you want the best of both worlds, that is high performance, high capacity and compatibility with the majority of recent motherboards, opt for two Corsair Force 3 2.5″ 90GB SATA III SSD in RAID 0. You’ll get sequential read speeds of up to 1100MB/s, sequential write speeds up to 1000MB/s and 180GB of storage capacity, for $300. The downside? If either SSD fails, you’ll lose your data. We have a section on RAID and backups toward the end of the article.
Lower performance but higher capacity alternative:$310 – Corsair Force 240GB 2.5″ SATA II SSD – The Corsair Force 240GB SSD is based on the first generation SandForce controller and offers sequential access speeds of up to 280MB/s for reads and up to 270MB/s for writes.
Simply put, it offers lower performance than the Corsair Force GT 180GB above, but higher capacity at 240GB vs 180GB for the Force GT. Keep in mind that the lower performance is compared to the high-performance Corsair Force GT SSD. The Corsair Force 240GB is still wayyy faster than a hard drive, thanks to much lower access times and much lower latency.
Prices are similar too, with the Corsair Force 240GB at $310 (Only $1.39 per GiB) and the Corsair Force GT 180GB at $300, so pick whichever one of the two, depending on if you prefer absolute performance with lower capacity, or great performance with higher capacity.

Best SSD for $380:

Crucial 256GB m4 SSD 2.5" SATA III CT256M4SSD2Crucial M4 256GB 2.5″ SATA III SSD

  • Price: $380
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 256GB / 238.41GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.59/GiB
  • Controller: Marvell
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 500MB/sec
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 260MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 50,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, but poor long-term performance, not recommended for RAID
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? No
Short of Intel’s SSDs, which are lagging behind the competition when it comes to competitive pricing and the Samsung SSDs, the Crucial M4 series of SSDs are some the most reliable SSDs currently available on the market. They are also some of the fastest available SSDs currently available, making them very balanced, especially when you consider their price.
It does not includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter, so if you want to use it in a desktop, make sure that either your case supports 2.5″ drives or get a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket, such as the $5- Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5″ SSD / HDD Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay adapter.
Slightly faster alternative with slightly better reliability:
The $423 – Samsung 830 Series 256 GB 2.5″ SATA III SSD offers slightly better performance than the Crucial M4 and Samsung reliability track record is comparable to Intel’s, the best when it comes to SSD reliability.
It’s currently in short supply, so I wouldn’t be surprised if its price goes up or down during the month. It comes with a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter and Norton Ghost 15.
Gain more performance from two drives in RAID0:
Want more performance? If you want the best of both worlds, that is high performance, high capacity and compatibility with the majority of recent motherboards, opt for two Corsair Force 3 2.5″ 120GB SATA III SSD in RAID 0. You’ll get sequential read speeds of up to 1100MB/s, sequential write speeds up to 1020MB/s and 240GB of storage capacity, for $350. The downside? If either SSD fails, you’ll lose your data and with Corsair SSDs not being the best when it comes to reliability, this is more of a bleeding-edge solution. We have a section on RAID and backups toward the end of the article.

Best SSD for $400:

Corsair Force Series GT CSSD-F240GBGT-BK 2.5" 240GB SATA III MLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)Corsair Force GT 240GB 2.5″ SATA III SSD

$50 off with promo code HARDOCP1130B ends 12/6
  • Price: $410
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 240GB / 223.49GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.83/GiB
  • Controller: Sandforce 2nd generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: 555MB/sec
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 525MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 85,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top-notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? No.
Replacing the OCZ Agility 3 240GB SSD, the Corsair Force GT 240GB offers superior performance as well as superior reliability, for a similar price, making it very easy to recommend it over the OCZ Agility 3.
Based on the same Sandforce 2nd generation controller as the OCZ Vertex 3. I went with the Corsair Force GT 240GB instead of the Vertex 3 240GB due to Corsair’s better reliability and better customer support.
Compared to the Corsair Force 3, the Corsair Force GT uses the same SandForce 2nd generation controller, yet is a notch faster as it makes use of synchronous NAND flash vs slightly slower and less expensive asynchronous NAND flash memory.
Compared to the Crucial M4 256GB recommended for $380, the Corsair Force GT 240GB offers performance that’s a notch higher but at the cost of slightly lower capacity and slightly lower reliability.
Gain more performance from two drives in RAID0:
Want more performance? If you want the best of both worlds, that is high performance, high capacity and compatibility with the majority of recent motherboards, opt for two Corsair Force 3 180GB SATA 6Gb/s SSD in RAID 0. You’ll get sequential read speeds of up to 1100MB/s, sequential write speeds up to 1040MB/s and 360GB of storage capacity, for $440.
The downside? If either SSD fails, you’ll lose your data and with Corsair SSDs not being the best when it comes to reliability, this is more of a bleeding-edge solution. We have a section on RAID and backups toward the end of the article.

Best SSD for ~$500:

Intel 320 Series 300 GB SATA 3.0 Gb-s 2.5-Inch Solid-State DriveIntel 320 Series 300GB SATA II SSD

  • Price: $530
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 300GB / ~279.5GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.90/GiB
  • Controller: Intel
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 270 MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 205 MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 23,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? Yes
Following a nearly $100 price drop, the Intel 320 Series 300GB SSD is replacing the two Corsair Force 3 180GB in RAID 0.
The Intel 320 Series 300GB offers lower performance than the two Corsair Force 3 180GB in RAID 0, but also much higher reliability, with Intel SSDs being #1 when it comes to the lowest failure rate for SSDs.
Mind you, while you get lower performance than the two Corsair Force 3 180GB in RAID 0, the Intel 320 Series 300GB has no problem outperforming any hard drive available on the market and still offers excellent performance.

Best SSD for $780:

Crucial 512 GB m4 2.5-Inch Solid State Drive SATA 6Gb/s CT512M4SSD2Crucial M4 512GB SATA III SSD

  • Price: $780
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 512GB / 476.83GiB
  • Price per GiB: $1.64/GiB
  • Controller: Marvell
  • Sequential Access – Read: 500MB/sec
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 260MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 50,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Yes
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, but poor long-term performance, not recommended for RAID
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? No.
Short of Intel’s SSDs, which are lagging behind the competition when it comes to competitive pricing and the Samsung SSDs, the Crucial M4 series of SSDs are some the most reliable SSDs currently available on the market. They are also some of the fastest available SSDs currently available, making them very balanced, especially when you consider their price.
It does not includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter, so if you want to use it in a desktop, make sure that either your case supports 2.5″ drives or get a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket, such as the $5- Rosewill RX-C200P 2.5″ SSD / HDD Mounting Kit for 3.5″ Drive Bay adapter.
Slightly faster alternative with slightly better reliability:
The $850 – Samsung 830 Series 512 GB 2.5″ SATA III SSD offers slightly better performance than the Crucial M4 and Samsung reliability track record is comparable to Intel’s, the best when it comes to SSD reliability.
It’s currently in short supply, so I wouldn’t be surprised if its price goes up or down during the month. It comes with a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter and Norton Ghost 15.

Best SSD for ~$1700:

OCZ Technology Revo Drive 3 X2 Series 480 GB   PCI Express 8 GB-s Slim - RVD3X2-FHPX4-480GOCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 480GB PCI-Express 2.0 4x SSD

  • Price: $1660
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 480GB / 447.02GiB
  • Price per GiB: $3.71/GiB
  • Controller: 4 x Sandforce 2nd generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 1500MB/s
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 1250MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 230,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Nope, due to internal RAID.
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top-notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? N/A: PCI-Express card.
From AnandTech preview:
“For the majority of users the RevoDrive 3 X2 is simply overkill. I even demonstrated in some of our IO bound tests that you’re bottlenecked by the workload before you’re limited by the hardware. That being said, if you have the right workload – I’ve already shown that you can push nearly 1.5GB/s of data through the card and hit random IOPS numbers of over 180K (~756MB/s in our QD32 test)…”
Simply put, this solution isn’t for the average gamer, it is more targeted to Workstation users, who work with heavy workloads, such as HD+ videos, big databases, etc.

Best SSD for $3200:

OCZ Technology Revo Drive 3 X2 Series 960GB   PCI Express 8 GB-s Slim - RVD3X2-FHPX4-960GOCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 960GB PCI-Express 2.0 4x SSD

  • Price: $3200
  • Capacity / Capacity under Windows: 960GB / 894.05GiB
  • Price per GiB: $3.58/GiB
  • Controller: 4 x Sandforce 2nd generation
  • Sequential Access – Read: Up to 1500MB/sec
  • Sequential Access – Write: Up to 1300MB/s
  • 4k Random Write (Aligned): 230,000 IOPS
  • TRIM support: Nope, due to internal RAID.
  • Garbage collection (i.e no TRIM, for RAID)? Yes, top-notch.
  • Includes a 2.5″ to 3.5″ bracket adapter? N/A: PCI-Express card.
Same as the previous recommendation, simply with twice the storage capacity.

The Best Hard Drives For Your Money

While SSDs are much faster than hard drives, hard drives continue to offer much larger capacities and a much lower price per GB, which is ideal if you want a lot of storage space, but don’t have a few hundred dollars (or a few thousands…) to drop on SSDs.
Seagate new Barracuda hard drives:
In November, Seagate launched their latest Barracuda line-up of hard drives, featuring higher density, with 1TB per platter.
Performance wise, they simply dominate the competition, as you can see here in this HardwareCanucks review.
Reliability wise, Seagate is second only to Samsung, so I have no problem recommending those hard drives as you’ll see below.

SATA II 3.0Gb/s vs SATA III 6.0Gb/s: No performance difference for hard drives!

SATA 3.0 Gb/s (SATA II) and SATA 6.0Gb/s (SATA III) refer to the speed of the connection between the drive and the motherboard.
However, the best hard drives reach about 210MB/s (or 1.68Gb/s) in best scenarios. SATA 3.0Gb/s is plenty enough to handle that and for hard drives, SATA 6.0Gb/s does not offer any performance advantage, since the hard drives can’t even max out a SATA II 3.0Gb/s connection.
Only SSDs take advantage of SATA 6.0Gb/s due to their higher transfer rates.
In other words, if you take two otherwise identical hard drives, the SATA III model will not be faster than the SATA II model. SATA III for hard drives is just a marketing scheme ;)
Hard Drive Failure Rates:
Also from Marc Prieur, of hardware.fr, here are the hard drives failures rates according to a French e-tailer as of October 2011:
  1. Samsung 1.5%
  2. Seagate 1.8% (1.6% if you take out the 7200.12 160GB)
  3. Western Digital 2.0%
  4. Hitachi 3.0%
The failure rates are based on parts sold between October 1st 2010 and April 1st 2011, for returns before October 2011, so it represents 6 months to one year of usage. The statistics per brand are based on a sample of at least 500 sales.
Do note that although these numbers don’t paint the complete picture of world wide failure rates, but they are still an interesting sample to look at.

Important Note:

Major flooding in Thailand resulting in limited availability and higher prices for hard drives:
If you were not aware of this yet, there has been a horrible flooding in Thailand, which has resulted in:
A- a horrible human tragedy. My thoughts are with the people of Thailand.
B- Western Digital and Seagate (who now pretty much owns Samsung hard drive division) been forced to cut down their production of hard drives due to either factories or suppliers of hard drive parts that were affected by the flooding. The flooding is not expected to go away from several weeks, so it will take many months for the situation to go back to normal.
The result of this is lower availability and higher prices for hard drives compared to a few months ago.
This situation is expected to last for several months, although I’m starting to see some encouraging news and some better deals than last months. Mind you, it will probably take at least a year before we see prices return to the prices we had a few months ago.
Pick a drive based on availability and prices:
So while I have hard drive recommendations, they could go out of stock or up in price just a few hours after I publish this update, so I’m actually recommending a variety of hard drives.
Do yourself a favor: Compare prices when you’re ready to buy your hard drive and buy the best deal that’s available.
Reliability
Reliability wise, the Samsung F3 tops the chart, followed closely by the Seagate Barracuda and then the Western Digital Caviar Black is right behind them. The Hitachi drives are the least reliable, with a 3% return rate, all according to an article by Hardware.fr.
All hard drives and all SSDs are prone to failure though, which is why you should Have a Backup System that you can rely on!
Performance
Performance wise, the Western Digital Caviar Black and the Samsung F3 trade blows at the top, followed by the Seagate Barracuda and the Hitachi drive in last place. Keep in mind that the performance difference between each hard drive isn’t significant enough to make a perceivable impact.

The Best Hard Drives For Your Money:

Prices as of December 2nd 2:00PM EST:
The recommended Best Hard Drives For Your Money are in Bold
Alternatives are in Italic

RAID 0,1,5 and 10: A quick and easy summary

I’ve been asked by a few of you to explain RAID and the different modes in simple terms. In short, RAID consists of combining two or more hard drives (Or SSDs) to improve performance and/or reliability.
While there are other modes than 0, 1, 5 and 10 (1+0), these are the main ones that usually come integrated on motherboards (Not all motherboards support RAID) , so they are the modes that most of you have access to, hence why I’ll focus on these. Let’s get started!

An important note on using RAID for data loss protection:

Hard drives and SSDs do fail and RAID is not perfect. Sometimes, multiple drives will fail at once (Due to a faulty power supply, power surge, etc.). RAID has limits and is not a 100% fool proof solution for data backup.
It should only be used as one of many steps to protect your data, along with a Backup System that you can rely on!
Note:
In most cases, with motherboard’s integrated RAID controller, you must set up RAID within the BIOS and/or disk manager (i.e. Intel Matrix) prior to installing the OS. Consult your motherboard manual for details on how to set up RAID.
An example of how data is distributed with a RAID 0 array.

RAID 0:

Using a minimum of two drives and as many as you can install (3,4,5,6,etc.), the data is spread across all the drives, basically combining their read and write performance into one ultra-fast array.
The easiest and cheapest option to improve performance, you keep 100% of the combined drives capacity, but if any drive fails, you lose all data.

Important:
The more drives that you have in your RAID 0 array, the more likely it is to fail. You also get diminishing returns as you add more and more drives:
  • Two drives, get a theoretical 100% I/O performance gain but double risk of failure.
  • Three drives, get a theoretical 50% further performance gain but triple risk of failure.
  • Four drives, get a theoretical 25% further performance gain but quadruple risk of failure.
  • Five drives, get a theoretical 20% further performance gain and so on…
So you’ll want to avoid putting critical data that you can’t afford to lose on a RAID 0 array or at the very least, you’ll want to back it up somewhere else as well, since this is the least reliable solution, even less than a single drive.
An example of how data is distributed using RAID 1

RAID 1:

Using two drives, the second drive is a live backup of the first one, being an exact copy of it.
You lose a bit of write speed compared to a single drive (due to the overhead of copying the same data in real-time to two different drives), do gain read performance (Since the OS can read from both the drives) but you only get the capacity of one of the two drives (Two 1TB drives in RAID 1 =1TB total capacity).
The main pro is that you get a higher level of redundancy/reliability, compared to a single drive.
If one drive fails you do not lose data, you are still able to use the PC, but you will need to replace the drive and rebuild the RAID array before regaining redundancy and data loss protection from RAID 1.
An example of how data is distributed with a RAID 5 array.

RAID 5:

Requires a minimum of three drives. Unlike RAID 1 where data is identical on every drive, with RAID 5, data is spread across the drives, with parity bits spread across the drives in a way that if one drive fails, the RAID array will continue to function without any apparent change, other than some performance loss.
However, like with RAID 1, if you lose a drive, you’ll need to replace it before regaining redundancy and data loss protection from RAID 5.

RAID 1 vs RAID 5:
Both RAID 1 (mirroring or duplexing) or RAID 5 (striping with parity) offer good data redundancy should a single drive in a RAID array fail. The major difference however can be found in the system performance between RAID 1 and RAID 5.
RAID 5 experiences more heavy write overhead because of the additional parity data that has to be created and is then written to the disk array. RAID 1 does not experience this overhead.
Read performance, on the other hand, is usually better with a RAID 5 setup. This gets even better if your RAID 5 array has more than 3 disk.
RAID 5 read performance increases with more drives in an array because the more drives there are, the more read/write heads there are, and RAID 5 arrays have the awesome ability to read simultaneously from all the drives at the same time.
RAID 1 only has two drives by nature and is therefore limited in the number of read/write heads.
So in short, if all you want is decent redundancy and don’t care that much about performance, RAID 1 will be just fine. If you want more read performance (For faster applications launch, faster OS and game loading) and capacity (since RAID 1 is limited to two drives in most cases and more would be somewhat pointless), RAID 5 is the best out of the two.

RAID 10 (1+0):

However, if you want top notch performance and redundancy, RAID 1+0 (or 10, same thing) is the way to go. Basically, it’s a combination of RAID 1 redundancy with RAID 0 performance.
While RAID 1+0 is possible with two drives, four drives is preferable if you want the performance benefits.

Conclusion

What’s coming next?
Intel replacement to the 510 series:
Intel 510 series replacement, codename “Cherryville” was announced by Intel and is expected to be launch some time this month. They will be 6Gb/s SSDs and according to Intel, they will be the fastest SSDs available on the market. If that is true and if they are just as reliable as other Intel SSDs, these will be great news for us! For more information about this, I refer you to this AnandTech article.

LSI acquisition of Sandforce:
Sandforce, the company behind the well known SandForce controllers featured in OCZ and Corsair, amongst many, SSDs, is in the process of being acquired by LSI, a company well known in the enterprise storage space. Hopefully this will help SandForce with validation and will improve Sandforce SSDs reliability.

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