Shopping for a New SSD

As I’ve blogged before my primary machine is an Ultrabook which has served me really well over the past year. The only problem was that it shipped with only a 128GB SSD. For the most part this hasn’t bothered me and if I wanted to I can probably continue to get by. That’s all thanks to the magic of cloud computing and the ubiquity of cheap data storage, processing power, and content delivery networks. However, I still consider myself a power user when it comes to computing and I’ve decided that the cost of doubling my storage space is more than offset by the peace of mind that comes with it. This also gives me the opportunity to finally have a native Linux installation instead of relying on VM’s and the cloud to get my fix.

Anyway, the thing I love most about shopping for computer hardware is that there  isn’t as much marketing fluff to decipher compared to other products. The trade-off is that you have to know what you’re looking for. On the upside I relish the idea of learning about these intricacies. To start off, I took apart my computer to remind myself what this SSD looked like and the connector that went with it. It was a Kingston 2x64GB SSD, 50mm wide, and connected to an m-SATA(mini) port. CrystalDiskInfo reveals more info about the SSD’s features such as APM, NCQ, TRIM, and DevSleep from its SMART statistics. Some Googling reveals that it’s also configured for RAID0 and that the port supports SATA-III. RAID0 provides a small performance boost by distributing data over two separate drives, but offers no data redundancy. It doesn’t look like setting it up on a new SSD for this machine is a simple process and probably not worth the performance gain. All m-SATA drives are SATA-III and thus have a peak 6GB/s transfer rate.

I then turned to differentiating factors between drives and it turns out there aren’t too many other than price/size/reliability/support. This article is a pretty good overview of what to look for in SSD. From what I’ve read speed is only a very small factor for SSDs because the difference is often imperceptible for user applications. Price is a function of size/reliability and I’ve budgeted <$200 for this project. I’m really only looking at drives in the 256GB range which will comfortably host two operating systems, supporting applications, and whatever files/media I may want to store locally. That leaves reliability and support which are primarily functions of the vendor.  Reliability is worth noting with regards to SLC, MLC, and TLC which basically boil down to how many bits are stored per NAND cell (1, 2, and 3 respectively). This basically trades off cost for data reliability and will increase your number of read/write cycles before failure. MLC should be fine for my purposes, because I don’t read/write huge chunks of data frequently in my work. TLC is probably fine too given sophisticated wear leveling algorithms and free cells available to the controller, but these drives don’t seem to be overly available from reputable vendors. I end the discussion with vendor support which is basically the sum of general reputability and warranty terms which is summed up pretty nicely by this post.

I hate to leave my decision to such simple terms as price/vendor, but the reality is these products are all nearly identical. My choice ended up being the Crucial M550 drive listed on Amazon for $105 (0.41/GB).  It should be coming in soon and I hope to write a post on getting dual-boot working on this machine.

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