Best SSDs to buy in 2016 : 9 SATA, M.2 and PCI-E SSDs for all budgets

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn

An SSD is the single best and simplest upgrade you can make to any PC or laptop without replacing the processor or graphics card. In this guide, we’ll explain the technology, the choices you’ll have to make and then run through the best nine (three of each type) choices.

WHAT IS AN SSD?

In the very simplest terms, an SSD (solid-state drive) performs exactly the same function as your regular hard disk (or hard drive, if you prefer) but much, much faster. It replaces the mechanical aspects of your hard disk with non-moving transistors. They’re more expensive that hard disks, but the performance benefit they offer is absolutely worth it. Read on for even more detail:

SSDs’ performance advantage is most acutely felt when it comes to access time. This is the time it takes for the drive to move from one bit of data to another. Traditionally, it’s where hard drives struggle the most, since data is stored on a spinning disk with a read head that physically has to move back and forth across the disk to find the data.

PCIE SSDs

With SSDs there’s no such physical movement, and as a result access times are vastly better. For instance, while a hard drive will have an access time of around 15ms, an SSD will take only 0.1ms.

This advantage is reflected in random read and write speeds, which is what makes SSDs feel so quick. While a hard disk will struggle to achieve 1MB/sec random read, a typical SSD will easily hit 20MB/sec. Whether loading Photoshop or a new section of a game, it’s an SSD’s short sharp bursts of data access that make it such a great upgrade.

When it comes to moving large chunks of data – sequential read and writes – an SSD maintains an advantage but not to the same degree. A typical hard drive can hit around 125MB/sec read and write, while a decent SSD will hit 500MB/sec read and write.

In fact, one area that separates the really fast drives from the lesser ones is sequential write speed, with the cheaper drives managing only around 200MB/sec. Meanwhile, the fastest PCI Express and PCI Express M.2 drives can hit 1,500MB/sec read and write.

Samsung Portable SSD T3

You can also buy external USB SSDs, such as the Samsung Portable SSD T3

In this guide, we’ll be exploring three types of SSD: SATA, M.2 and PCI Express. We’ll explain the differences and provide you with the best three in each category that we’ve tested.

SSD TECH EXPLAINED

SSDs are made from small memory chips called NAND – named after the negative-AND logic gates. They’re broadly similar to the silicon used to build RAM, although the chips used in SSDs can store data after a PC is turned off – a crucial difference between SSDs and more volatile memory.

Drives are made from several of these NAND chips in formation. Over the past few years, SSD firms have experimented with precisely what type of memory to use, but they’ve now largely settled with something called multi-level cell, or MLC.

The three drives in this test all use MLC memory, which makes it the clear winner over single-level cell or SLC chips – even though both types of memory have pros and cons. MLC chips are far cheaper than SLC chips, but their denser data arrangement means their lifespan is poorer and write speeds can be worse.

Whichever way you look at it, there’s a trade-off; and firms are working to combat MLC’s weaker points. SSDs now use wear-levelling techniques to ensure that chips deteriorate at the same speed, and redundant areas on SSDs can be used to replace failed cells.

Those future-proofed features all come from the controller, which is another crucial SSD component. These tiny chips manage the flow of data in and out of the SSD, as well as handling consistency and preservation features. In addition, a high-quality control chip goes a long way to determining the speed and reliability of an SSD.

Insde an SSD

This is what an SSD looks like on the inside. Data is stored on the larger ‘NAND’ chips in the centre (image: Samsung)

Controllers are a mixed bag: some are made by the SSD manufacturers themselves – Intel, for example – but some cheaper drives used third-party chips from manufacturers such as Marvell and Phison. No matter the maker, controllers are accompanied by a cache of DDR memory – usually up to 512MB.

What should you look for when buying an SSD?

Your first port of call should be the capacity, since this figure will determine just how much space you’ll have to play with. It’s even more important with SSDs, because most of these drives don’t match hard disks for size versus price.

Most consumer SSDs range between 120GB and 512GB, with pricier drives now available in sizes up to around 1TB. The classic combination of a smaller capacity SSD for loading up with Windows and your games, matched with a large hard drive for all your bulky data such as music, pictures and video, is still likely to be the best option for many users.

However, prices are falling now to the point where one 512GB drive might be affordable and still provide sufficient space.

Also bear in mind that the stated capacity of an SSD won’t be available once it’s installed; formatted capacity will be reduced, as is the case with all forms of storage.

Another consideration is the endurance rating, which is a useful guide to how long the SSD will last. If you’re buying for a home or gaming PC, virtually all consumer drives will last for years. If your new SSD is for a PC, where huge amounts of data will be repeatedly written to the drive (a video-editing machine, for example, where you’ll be loading the files onto the drive for editing then removing them again), then look for a higher rating.

Other attributes are also worth a look if you’re buying for the office. Many SSDs come with encryption and error protection that can help protect vital data. These features significantly increase cost, though, so if they’re not required then stick to the budget options.

WHAT IS A SATA SSD?

SATA SSDs are the most common type of SSD, and probably the ones with which you’re most familiar. They use the SATA 3 standard – also known as SATA 6Gbps – and connect to your motherboard using the same SATA cables as your standard hard disk. This limits their overall speed, but for most people SATA SSDs provide the best bang-for-buck performance, and are always the cheapest option.

Best SSD Group Test

The form factor is worth investigation: the vast majority of SATA-based drives are of the 2.5in variety and the majority now adhere to the slimmer 7mm design. However, a few drives – especially older models – adopt the chunkier 9.5mm blueprint. This is unlikely to have an impact on most desktop PCs, but it could mean a drive might not fit inside certain laptops.

Pay attention to what comes in the box, too. Some SSDs don’t come with any extras, but others come with spacers, screws and even kits to adapt them to larger PC drive bays.

Once your drive is installed, first check for any available firmware updates. These can fix bugs and improve performance and reliability, but often can’t be done without loss of any data you’ve already copied over.

HOW IS THAT DIFFERENT TO A PCI EXPRESS SSD?

These drives exploit the huge bandwidth provided by PCI Express slots to deliver speeds several times quicker than any SATA-based drive. That makes them enormously tempting for anyone with a need for speed: gamers can load the latest titles faster; work applications boot with added speed; and any PC can benefit from lightning-fast loading times.

The speed of PCI Express SSDs isn’t down to the use of faster memory chips; the PCI bandwidth means that silicon can be accessed far more rapidly.

The older SATA interface was designed for slower hard disks and was then retro-fitted to work with SSDs, so it’s no surprise that the burgeoning SSD market has outgrown this archaic connection. SATA connectors are comparatively simple, with a relatively low-bandwidth ceiling.

Intel SSD

PCI Express works differently. Each PCI connector is constructed from a number of lanes, each with its own bandwidth for data transfer in both directions. All PCI-based SSDs use connectors with four lanes, which means eight lanes of data flowing back and forward – so there’s ample bandwidth for any SSD drive; far more than a single SATA connector can provide.

It also helps that most motherboards and PCIe SSDs now use the third iteration of PCI Express, because this more modern standard stretches its lead even further over SATA. PCIe drives also benefit from NVMe – a new interface that’s specifically designed for SSDs that connect using PCIe. It’s a standardised option that brings speed and reliability improvements to the fore.

On paper, then, PCI connectors are far more capable and versatile than SATA ports – and the raw numbers do a great job of demonstrating just how much extra bandwidth is available.

A PCI Express 3.0 connector with four lanes can deliver bandwidth of 1GB/sec per lane per direction – so a PCI Express 3.0 4x connector can deliver a maximum bandwidth of 8GB/sec. That’s a far cry from SATA, which tops out at 600MB/sec.

It’s worth bearing in mind that these figures for PCIe SSDs are largely theoretical, because the chips themselves can’t saturate that 4GB/sec throughput figure. But it means there’s more than enough bandwidth for any current SSD and ample headroom for future drives.

The numbers make PCI Express the clear winner – and there are other reasons too why it’s about to supercede SATA. The older connector requires a huge amount of engineering to move beyond single-lane transfers, to the point where a new connector would be required. And if that’s the case, just move to PCI Express – it’s already on most motherboards.

Look beyond the different connector, and the hardware that underpins PCI-based SSDs is the same as SATA-based drives.

The change in interface leads to aesthetic differences between PCI and SATA SSDs. Older drives were hamstrung by their 2.5in form factor, with many drives arriving in bland metal cases.

The PCI Express cards now used for SSDs allow firms a little more creative freedom, although few seem to have exploited this to any significant degree yet. Intel’s drive is a bland metal box, and Kingston’s expansion card shows off the M.2 drive at the heart of the predator. Zotac’s SSD is the best I’ve seen so far – its metal shroud is decorated with neat oval cut-outs.

The emergence of PCIe SSDs has also given rise to a selection of accessories. It’s now possible to buy PCI Express cards with M.2 ports on-board, which means those M.2 drives can be adapted to fit into a PCIe 4x slot.

Buying an adapter card won’t make the M.2 drive any faster, but it remains an option if you have a motherboard that doesn’t have an M.2 connector, or would like to move to a board without one. An adapter card can be used to deploy a lightning-fast drive such as the Samsung 950 Pro, even if you don’t have an NVMe-enabled M.2 port.

Many PCI Express SSDs also arrive with a half-height blanker that replaces the full-size piece of metal at the end of the drive. It’s a crucial part if any PCIe SSD is going to be installed into a smaller enclosure.

Most of these drives plug and play without much fuss, but there are a couple of points worth bearing in mind when running NVMe hardware. Not all motherboards properly support booting from NVMe drives, so check if you’d like a PCIe SSD to be your main drive. Check drivers, too – Microsoft’s operating systems from Windows 8.1 forward have pre-installed NVMe drivers, but some firms provide better proprietary software.

WHAT ABOUT M.2?

The M.2 standard replaces the mSATA connections that had previously found favour in Ultrabooks, laptops and even some desktop PC motherboards. The new M.2 specification is far more versatile, as modules can support a wider variety of hardware: Wi-Fi cards, NFC add-in modules, satnav cards and, of course, SSDs are all popular.

Cards that use this interface can be different sizes too: full-length 80mm boards are most frequently used for storage, while squat 42mm cards usually contain wireless chips. That means they can fit in the tiniest of spaces and laptops – and that they’re always smaller than traditional SSDs.

Samsung 950 Pro M.2 256MB and 512MB SSD

The M.2 interface is versatile because it supports three interfaces: PCI Express 3.0, SATA 3.0 and USB 3.0. That PCI interface is important, because it unlocks far faster speeds than any SATA drive can manage – and it’s further bolstered by NVMe, which is a new interface specifically designed for SSDs, bringing a large boost in performance.

How to use an M.2 SSD

Installing an M.2 SSD is easy, as simple as slotting the drive into the connector and attaching one screw. However, getting to the drive on a laptop can be more complicated and it’s important to make sure a new drive is compatible with existing hardware.

For a desktop PC, you’ll need a motherboard with either Intel’s Z97 or X99 chipset – but even then, there could be restrictions. The Intel Z97 chipset – which is used on mainstream motherboards with the LGA 1150 socket – reserves only two PCI lanes for M.2 drives, which means that bandwidth tops out at 1GB/sec.

That’s ample for M.2 drives based on SATA, since they won’t get near that figure, but it’s enough to bottleneck PCI-based drives. Only a few motherboards have got around this problem, but they do so by borrowing PCI lanes from elsewhere, which means some PCI slots don’t work to their full potential – in particular, dual-graphics is less viable.

The best way to ensure the full PCI M.2 experience right now is to use a PC with an Intel X99 chipset. That means an LGA 2011-v3 processor and an expensive Haswell-E part, with prices ranging from £260/$390 for the i7-5820K to a whopping £690/$1,035 for the i7-5960X.

That’s a lot of money to spend, but it does mean that you’ll be able to use the fastest PCI-based M.2 SSDs, since the X99 chipset gives the drives four PCI lanes with enough bandwidth to avoid bottlenecking any current M.2 SSDs.

Many laptops – especially gaming notebooks – are now deploying M.2 drives, and larger models often come with spare slots for future upgrades. Laptop chipsets don’t have as many PCI lanes as their desktop counterparts, though, so check a model before buying; it’s no good investing in an expensive drive that can’t run at its full speed.

The drawbacks of M.2 SSDs

Support for M.2 drives on Intel boards is restricted to recent, high-end hardware, but it’s still a better picture than AMD. The new storage standard isn’t supported natively by AMD, so motherboard manufacturers have to reroute PCI or SATA lanes from elsewhere in order to offer M.2 sockets – and, even then, they usually only get two lanes rather than four.

Most Intel and AMD hardware involves compromise unless you drop plenty of cash – and that’s not going to change in the immediate future. AMD hasn’t announced future plans involving M.2, but we’d bet that superior support is included in its future chipsets. Intel’s Skylake platform and its Z170 chipset will support up to four M.2 interfaces, but it isn’t scheduled to appear until the autumn.

If you have an older machine, or a motherboard that doesn’t support fast M.2 drives, then there’s hope for you yet since PCI cards can be used to add M.2 support for older machines. Some of these can be bought as standalone products, but others – such as the Kingston HyperX Predator drive we’ve reviewed in this group – arrive with cards in the box.

HOW WE TEST SSDS

Benchmark applications AS SSD and CrystalDiskMark run each drive through a variety of tests. Their sequential read and write routines test the raw file-copying pace of each drive, while a variety of random read and write tests demonstrate how responsive the drive is to the more random use a drive is put through during day to day use – the “snappy” feel of an SSD is all about its random read access performance.

ATTO’s benchmark also tests the read and write pace of each drive, but it uses an even larger variety of file sizes, which adds further detail to the picture of how each SSD will perform.

All the prices used here are accurate at the time of writing.

Crucial MX200 2250GB

SATA: CRUCIAL MX200 500GB

Key features

  • Improved speed in most tests over previous generation
  • Different form factors available
  • Barely any pricier than the cheapest SSDs

This is the follow-up to the MX100, which heralded the current era of cheap, slick SSDs from Crucial. It’s packed with Micron-made memory chips, like the first drive, which is no surprise – after all, Micron owns Crucial.

There’s been little innovation when designing the MX200. It has the same Marvell controller and 16nm NAND from the older drive, with performance boosts delivered by improved caching rather than updated components.

The MX200’s 80TB endurance rating is improved, and encryption is included too. The three-year warranty is a standard offering.

The caching helps the MX200 improve on its predecessor, with a marginal speed boost in sequential read tests and a monster jump of almost 150MB/sec in the file write benchmark. Inconsistency followed in small-file tests, though, where it either matched the older drive or surprisingly fell behind.

Improved performance in the ATTO file tests saw the MX200 adept at almost every file size, although it fell behind again in the long-term Iometer test – here, it was one of the poorest in the group.

Identical hardware to the previous drive means the MX200 couldn’t deliver huge improvements over the MX100, but it’s still a cut above the cheapest SSDs on the market. If you want a good all-rounder and don’t want to stoop to even cheaper products, this is worth consideration.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £119/$178 | Amazon.com from $139

At the time of review, the Crucial MX200 500GB was available for £120/$180.

Samsung 850 Evo

SATA: SAMSUNG 850 EVO 250GB

Key features

  • Consistently fast read and write speeds
  • Reasonable warranty length
  • Cheaper than high-end Samsung drives

This is another current-generation Samsung drive and, as such, it also uses the 3D V-NAND technology that helped to lift the 850 Pro above the competition. The 850 Evo is cheaper, because it uses TLC (triple-level cell) rather than MLC memory – a design that saves cash but reduces performance and endurance.

Despite that, the 850 Evo wasn’t far behind the 850 Pro in many benchmarks. Its 510MB/sec and 499MB/sec sequential read and write scores are only 17MB/sec and 3MB/sec behind the pricier Samsung, and it traded blows with the 850 Pro in small-file tests – it was faster when reading and slower when writing.

The 850 Evo proved adept with small-file tests in the ATTO benchmarks, but fell behind in larger tests, and then fell into the middle-ground in Iometer – unable to best the 850 Pro, but still further ahead of many drives at similar prices.

The Evo’s five-year warranty is among the most generous we’ve seen, even if it’s unable to match the mighty ten-year deal that Samsung includes with the 850 Pro. There are no extras in the box, though, so bear that in mind when you buy.

The 850 Evo strikes a fantastic balance between price and performance – slower than the 850 Pro, of course, but much more affordable. If you want a rapid SSD and would rather not compromise with a budget drive, this is the best mid-range alternative.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £72.99/$109 | Amazon.com from $92

At the time of review, the Samsung 850 Evo 250GB was available for £81/$121.

SATA: Samsung 850 Pro 512GB

SATA: SAMSUNG 850 PRO 512GB

Key features

  • Incredible benchmark performance
  • Mighty capacity
  • Great endurance rating and warranty

Samsung’s current flagship SSD reaps the rewards of the firm controlling every stage of its production.

It’s the fastest SATA drive we’ve seen in the sequential write benchmark and its small-file read pace hasn’t been beaten by any other SSD in this group. In 4K-64 tests it’s similarly dominant, and it’s the only recent drive to go beyond 500MB/sec in both of CrystalDiskMark’s sequential read and write runs.

In the all-round ATTO test the 850 Pro led in most benchmarks, and its Iometer long-term test result of 7,826 was the best we’ve seen by a significant margin.

The 850 Pro’s ten-year warranty is also longer than the deals offered with rival drives, and its 7mm body is smart and slick. It also benefits from a fantastic endurance rating of 150TB – thanks, in part, to Samsung’s revised 3D V-NAND system, which deploys transistors in an arrangement that reduces wear.

The only black mark is the lack of extras in the box, but this isn’t a big deal when the 850 Pro is so good in every other department. If you want the fastest drive around, and money is no object, then this is the best option.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £175/$262 | Amazon.com from $221

At the time of review, the Samsung 850 Pro 512GB was available for £176/$264.

Crucial MX200 M.2

M.2: CRUCIAL MX200 250GB

Key features

  • The cheapest M.2 drive in this group
  • Consistent, decent speed
  • Identical to larger MX200 SSD

Crucial has cornered the budget SSD market over the past 18 months – in much the same way Samsung has nailed the high-end arena – and it’s now turned its attention to the growing M.2 segment with a slimmed-down version of its popular MX200.

It’s identical to the 2.5in version of the MX200, which means a Marvell controller and 16nm NAND alongside caching technology that aims to store frequently accessed files in order to boost performance.

That specification results in solid, if unspectacular, performance. A sequential read speed of 522MB/sec isn’t far off the 600MB/sec limit of the SATA bus, and its sequential write pace of 478MB/sec isn’t far behind the best SATA drives. Both of those results are virtually identical to the full-size MX200 drive.

The MX200 maintained that performance in the CrystalDiskMark tests, and it proved consistent in the ATTO benchmarks: its read speed quickly ascended beyond 500MB/sec and topped out at 561MB/sec across several different file sizes, and its write pace also got beyond 500MB/sec in several different tests.

The MX200’s small-file performance isn’t as good, with middling results across the board. However, its consistency elsewhere, combined with a price of just £84/$126 for the 250GB sample reviewed here, make it the cheapest M.2 SSD we’ve seen – and, therefore, it’s our budget recommendation.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £71.99/$108 | Amazon.com from $119

At the time of review the Crucial MX200 was available for £84126.

Samsung 850 Evo mSATA and m.2

M.2: SAMSUNG 850 EVO M.2 250GB

Key features

  • Mimics 2.5in drive with 3D V-NAND
  • Competitive price
  • Consistent, fast performance

The tiny Flash chips and controllers used in modern SSDs mean it’s easy enough for manufacturers to shrink their drives down to M.2, and that’s exactly what Samsung has done to build the 850 Evo 250GB.

This results in a specification that’s based around Samsung’s 3D V-NAND, which stacks layers of memory vertically in order to ease pressures on smaller manufacturing processes elsewhere. It also has a dual-core controller with low-power tweaks designed for M.2 operation.

Samsung’s 3D V-NAND has proved effective in the past, and it performed reliably here. Its sequential read and write scores of 512MB/sec and 497MB/sec trade blows with the Crucial MX200, and its sequential 4K-64 pace speed of 374MB/sec saw the Samsung pull ahead of its closest rival.

The Samsung proved more consistent in ATTO: its 8KB read and write speeds of 434MB/sec and 398MB/sec are both better than the MX200, even though the 850 Evo’s top read speed of 547MB/sec was a little behind.

The 850 Evo hit the lead in Iometer with a final result of 5,202 IOPS: superior than the Crucial and also better than Plextor’s PCI-based drive.

It isn’t able to match PCI-based M.2 SSDs for overall speed, but it’s better than the Crucial MX200 in plenty of tests and more consistent across the board. It’s a little pricier, but we’d be willing to pay extra for its improved consistency.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £73/$109 | Amazon.com from $99.99

At the time of review the Samsung 850 Evo M.2 was available for £84/$126

Samsung 950 Pro M.2 256MB and 512MB SSD

M.2: SAMSUNG 950 PRO M.2 SSD 512GB

Read full M.2: Samsung 950 Pro M.2 SSD 512GB review

Key features

  • Blistering benchmark speed
  • High capacity
  • Expensive, but still cheaper than some rivals

Samsung has long led the way with the speed, innovation and value of its traditional SSDs, and this good form continues with its latest drive. It’s one of only two in this group to use the full speed on offer from M.2’s PCI interface. However, it doesn’t use the 3D V-NAND found in Samsung’s larger SSDs; instead, it has 19nm MLC NAND that we’re used to seeing in a wider range of products.

It has boot support, which is an improvement over this drive’s predecessor, and it’s available in 128GB and 256GB versions alongside the 512GB model we’ve tested here.

The SM951 returned blistering benchmark results. Its sequential read and write results of 1,947MB/sec and 1,504MB/sec are many times better than traditional SSDs, and its 4K-64 speeds of 685MB/sec and 368MB/sec are decent – still ahead of rivals, but not by much.

Its breadth of performance was highlighted in ATTO: its 8KB read and write speeds of 830MB/sec and 791MB/sec exceed those of any other M.2 drive, with those figures only improving when working with larger chunks of data. With 8MB files, the Samsung’s read and write results of 2,253MB/sec and 1,594MB/sec are class-leading.

In our final benchmark, Iometer, the Samsung topped out at 7,193 IOPS – not surprisingly, much improved on the competition.

There’s no denying the benchmark-breaking speed of Samsung’s latest SSD but, equally, there’s no denying the price – and the need for an high-end motherboard or a PCI add-in card to get the most out of this drive.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £244/$366 | Amazon.com from $317.99

At the time of review the Samsung 950 Pro M.2 512GB was available for £255/$382.

KingstonHyperX Predator

PCI-E: KINGSTON HYPERX PREDATOR 480GB

Key features

  • Cheapest drive in test
  • Uses existing M.2 drive
  • Sluggish compared to rivals

Kingston’s HyperX Predator is the most affordable PCI Express SSD in this group, but the reasons for this become immediately obvious when the drive is removed from the box.

Intel and Zotac’s offerings are dedicated PCIe boards, but the Predator is simply an M.2 SSD that’s been slotted into a good-looking adapter board and put into a box.

Kingston’s drive also uses the older PCIe 2.0 interface. That looks a little archaic when compared to the beefier PCIe 3.0 hardware included in rivals, however there remains ample bandwidth on-board to handle the Predator’s pace. It also means this drive is compatible with older systems.

The Predator has a dual-core Marvell controller and MLC NAND made by Toshiba, and it includes DDR3 cache alongside custom firmware. That’s good, although the Predator’s lifespan of one million hours is more mediocre – half as much as the Zotac.

The Predator didn’t blow us away in the benchmarks, either. Its AS SSD sequential read and write speeds of 1,426MB/sec and 923MB/sec are great – far better than any SATA drive – but they’re also a long way behind the Intel and Zotac parts. It’s the same in CrystalDiskMark, where the Kingston is a few hundred megabytes behind its PCIe rivals.

The Predator’s middling pace across the board is highlighted by ATTO. It starts off reasonably well, keeping up with the competition, by its peak read and write speeds of 1,556MB/sec and 963MB/sec are around half as quick as other drives.

It doesn’t have the pure pace, then, but it’s also tricky to recommend this drive as a budget choice. It’s affordable, yes, but the Zotac is barely any more expensive and it’s far quicker.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £276/$414 | Amazon.com from $299.99

At the time of review, the Kingston HyperX Predator 480GB was available for £276/$414.

Zotac Sonix 480GB

PCI-E: ZOTAC SONIX 480GB

Key features

  • Lighting-fast speeds
  • Reasonable mid-range price
  • Highest endurance rating

Zotac’s drive is the best-looking product in this trio of SSDs, thanks to it metal exterior and smart cluster of cut-outs.

It’s just as impressive under the hood. The 15nm MLC NAND used to build this drive has a tighter manufacturing process than Intel’s 20nm memory, and it’s bolstered by a 512MB DDR3 cache. It’s all controlled by a multi-core chip from third-party firm Phison.

That tempting specification is reinforced by a two million hour endurance rating. That’s twice as much as the Kingston and 800,000 more hours than the Intel could manage.

It’s a great performer, too. Its AS SSD sequential read result of 2,412MB/sec inched ahead of the Intel, and its write speed of 1,298MB/sec came in second place by a tiny margin. It continued to lead the way in most of the small-file benchmarks, and then topped the table with a CrystalDiskMark read speed of 1,745MB/sec.

It fell behind the Intel again when writing, but its speed of 1,253MB/sec remains excellent – only 25MB/sec behind the Intel drive.

Zotac’s drive bolstered its performance in the ATTO test. Its top read speed of 3,056MB/sec is the fastest out of this group’s trio of drives, and its write speed of 2,276MB/sec is similarly dominant. The Zotac was consistent, too, quickly hitting those top-tier results and maintaining them across several different file sizes.

The final benchmark, Iometer, saw the Sonix SSD rampage through at 8,085MB/sec – another class-leading result.

Zotac’s drive doesn’t beat the Intel in every test, then, but it’s the winner across most of the benchmarks – and its affordable price makes it the best option if you’re after a lightning-quick SSD. Intel’s drive can’t quite keep up, but it remains a great option for larger capacities.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £343/$514 | Amazon.com from $369.99

At time of review the PCI-E: Zotac Sonix 480GB was available fro £379.99/$570.

Intel 750 series

PCI-E: INTEL 750 SERIES 1.2TB

Key features

  • Vast storage capacity
  • Consistent speeds
  • Unable to match Zotac’s pace

Intel’s 750 Series is the most expensive drive in this group, but there’s good reason for its huge £762/$1,143 price. This SSD doesn’t just pack high-end gear inside – it also has a mighty 1.2TB capacity.

The vast 1.2TB capacity translates to 1.09TB of usable space. That’s huge, and more akin to the kind of space I’m used to seeing from hard disks.

The drive impresses beyond its huge size, too. Intel has used 20nm MLC NAND to form the 750 Series, and Intel has used 32 chips of varying sizes. They equate to 1.37TB of space, which means 18.8% of the drive is given to redundancy areas – a boon for protecting the drive.

The 750 Series SSD comes with an endurance rating of 1.2 million hours. That’s reasonable, but it’s unable to match the Zotac’s rating of two million hours.

The two drives are closer in benchmarks. The Intel’s AS SSD sequential read speed of 2,364MB/sec is less than 100MB/sec behind the Zotac, and the Intel’s write pace of 1,342MB/sec is a little quicker than its main rival. There was barely a gap between the SSDs in the 4K-64 queue depth tests, and those results were mirrored in CrystalDiskMark – the Intel was a little slower when reading but often a tad faster in write tests.

Intel’s drive accelerated to a top ATTO read speed of 2,495MB/sec, which is stunning – but Zotac’s drive was just a tad faster, topping out at 3,056MB/sec. And the Intel’s Iometer result of 6,934MB/sec is excellent, but a tad slower than the Zotac.

Overall, then, the Intel 750 Series is only a little slower than the Zotac drive – but even when it does fall back, it’s never far behind. It’s still ridiculously fast, and its huge capacity makes it a genuine hard disk replacement. It’s expensive, but it justifies the cost with huge size and well-balanced performance.

Buy Now at Amazon.co.uk from £713/$1,069 | Amazon.com from $1,149.99

At the time of review the Intel 750 Series 1.2TB was available for £763/$1,144.

(trustedreviews.com, http://goo.gl/lN6DaN)

Comments

comments

Share on FacebookShare on Google+Pin on PinterestShare on StumbleUponTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedIn