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Is now the right time to buy an SSD?

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Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Various

The stars are aligned

One of the most frequent questions we get at PC Perspective is some derivative of "is now the time to buy or should I wait?"  If you listen to the PC Perspective Podcast or This Week in Computer Hardware you'll know that I usually err on the side of purchasing now. Why should you hold yourself back on the enjoyment of technology unless something DRAMATIC is just over the horizon.

This week I got another such email that prompted me to do some thinking.  After just returning from CES 2014 in Las Vegas, I think its fair to say that we didn't hear anything concrete about upcoming SSD plans that would really be considered monumental.  Sure, we saw plenty of PCIe SSDs as well as some M.2 options, but little for PC enthusiasts or even users that are looking to replace the hard drives in their PlayStation 4. Our team thinks that now is about as good of a time to buy an SSD as you will get.

And while you are always going to see price drops on commodity goods like flash storage, the prices on some of our favorite SSDs are at a low that we haven't witnessed without the rebates and flash deals of Black Friday / Cyber Monday.  Let's take a look at a few:

Note: It should go without saying that all of these price discussions are as of this writing and could change...

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Samsung 840 EVO 1TB SSD (Red: Amazon, Yellow: Newegg) - Graph courtesy HoverHound

The flagship SSD from the Samsung 840 EVO series SSDs, also the personal favorite of Allyn and most of the rest of the PC Perspective team, is near its all-time low in price at just $529 for a 1TB capacity.  That is a cost per GB of just $0.529; no rebates, no gimmicks.  

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Samsung 840 EVO 500GB SSD (Red: Amazon, Yellow: Newegg) - Graph courtesy HoverHound

Likely the most popularly purchased of the EVO series is the 500GB model that is currently selling on Amazon for $309, or $0.618/GB.  Obviously that is a higher mark than the 1TB hits but as you'll see in our tables below, in general, the higher capacity you purchase at the better value per GB you are going to find.  

There are other capacities of the Samsung 840 EVO starting at 120GB, going to 250GB, and even a 750GB, all are included in the pricing table below.  Depending on your budget and your need for the best perceived value, you can make a decision on your own.

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Let's not forget the other options on the market; Samsung may be the strongest player today but companies like Intel, OCZ and Corsair continue to have a strong presence.  The second best selling series of SSD during the holidays was the Intel 530 series of drives that utilize the LSI SandForce SF2281 controller.  How do they stack up price-wise?

Continue reading our analysis to determine if this is the best time to buy an SSD!!

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Intel 530 Series 240GB SSD (Red: Amazon, Yellow: Newegg) - Graph courtesy HoverHound

Clearly the cost per GB of the Intel drives is going to be a lot higher than the Samsung EVO drives we listed above.  Here the 240GB model is selling for $199 on Amazon, putting the value amount at $0.829/GB.  That is 25% higher than the price of the 500GB Samsung EVO and 36% higher than the 1TB EVO.  Intel definitely sells its products based on quality and reliability but all indications on Newegg.com and Amazon.com reviews is that Samsung's latest offerings are quite good.  

There is a 480GB model of the Intel 530 Series available on Amazon.com but for $549 it's cost per GB hits $1.14/GB.  

Corsair's Neutron and Neutron GTX lines of SSD have done pretty well recently too, with the GTX model coming in a bit faster and with a slightly higher price.  

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Corsair Neutron 256GB SSD (Red: Amazon, Yellow: Newegg) - Graph courtesy HoverHound

Clearly the pricing on the Corsair SSD has been fairly steady, even through the holiday months.  Priced at $199 for the 256GB model on Amazon, that equates to a value rating of $0.77/GB, splitting the difference essentially between the Samsung 840 EVO and Intel 530.  The 128GB option from Corsair's Neutron line sells for $119 on Amazon, or $0.92/GB.

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Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB SSD (Red: Amazon, Yellow: Newegg) - Graph courtesy HoverHound

The Neutron GTX series has seen more price variance but still remains higher than its slightly slower brother.  Coming in at $214 for the 240GB option on Amazon, the value rating of $0.891/GB puts it right on the same vector as the Intel 530 Series 240GB.  

Speaking of vectors, OCZ has some solid options available in the Vector line as well as the Vertex line that we have included in the table below.

During this post I really only target the price on SSDs that we feel are speedy and reliable without diving too deeply into the specifics of performance comparisons.  The Samsung 840 EVO, for example, suffers a bit in the write speed with the caching options it uses but is more than enough of a workhorse for any user or scenario we can think of.  SSDs today are just about "fast enough" and, though there is definitely room for improvement and innovation in 2014, I am quite happy with the state we are in.

Series Capacity Cost/GB Price
Samsung 840 EVO 120 GB $0.75/GB $90 - Amazon
  250 GB $0.67/GB $169 - Amazon
  500 GB $0.61/GB $309 - Amazon
  750 GB $0.54/GB $409 - Amazon
  1000 GB $0.52/GB $529 - Amazon
Samsung 840 Pro 128 GB $1.00/GB $129 - Amazon
  256 GB $0.87/GB $225 - Amazon
  512 GB $0.77/GB $399 - Amazon
Intel 530 Series 120 GB $0.91/GB $110 - Amazon
  180 GB $0.72/GB $131 - Amazon
  240 GB $0.82/GB $199 - Amazon
  480 GB $1.14/GB $549 - Amazon
Series Capacity Cost/GB Price
Corsair Neutron Series 64 GB $1.46/GB $94 - Amazon
  128 GB $0.92/GB $119 - Amazon
  256 GB $0.77/GB $199 - Amazon
Corsair Neutron GTX Series 120 GB $0.99/GB $119 - Amazon
  240 GB $0.89/GB $214 - Amazon
  480 GB $0.83/GB $399 - Amazon
OCZ Vertex 450 Series 128 GB $1.00/GB $129 - Amazon
  256 GB $0.83/GB $214 - Amazon
  512 GB $0.85/GB $440 - Amazon
Series Capacity Cost/GB Price
OCZ Vector 128 GB $0.92/GB $118 - Amazon
  256 GB $1.15/GB $295 - Amazon
  512 GB NA NA
Crucial M500 Series 120 GB $0.71/GB $86 - Amazon
  240 GB $0.62/GB $149 - Amazon
  480 GB $0.60/GB $289 - Amazon
  960 GB $0.52/GB $502 - Amazon

You can take away quite a bit form this table, starting with the surprising Crucial M500 series.  Another very popular option during holiday sales, the 960GB model matches the cost per GB of the 1TB Samsung EVO.  Allyn was quick to note that the Crucial M500 has much slower write performance than the Samsung EVO.  It's also clear that the M500 and the Samsung EVO are on a different playing field when it comes to value in the SSD market. The Intel 530 Series, the Samsung 840 Pro and the even Corsair's Neutron are priced a clear step higher.  We could (and do) put the OCZ Vector and Vertex 450 in same window.

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Consider this collection of information then.  We see no big SSD launches in the immediate time frame that will address the lower price of the market segment.  Changes to the interface with M.2 and PCIe are not going to shift units away from the SATA interface used by the largest portion of buyers.  Prices are at a consistent low point but without new competition I don't see the EVO or M500 lines dropping much more.  

So are we 100% sure this is the best time in recent memory to buy a new solid state drive?  I can't claim that but I think the entire team is about as confident as we can be that buyers of these units today will not be regretting their decision any time soon.

January 12, 2014 | 01:25 PM - Posted by pdjblum

I have been using an ssd for all my boxes os's since eWiz quietly starting offering the first samsung drives years ago. And I bought a couple of the 830 pro 256gb for steam drives. But I still cannot justify paying $500 for a 1TB ssd storage drive when I can buy a 1TB wd Blue for $60 or a 2TB wd Red for $95. And I don't think $.50 is cheap for drives with relatively crappy tlc such as that used in the EVO I believe. Instead of really dropping the price to reflect the tlc, they are offering marginal products with huge margins. I think many of us cannot afford these luxury items. For me at least, $.25/GB for mlc will be when I am willing to pay the premium over hdd's for storage drives.

January 12, 2014 | 03:17 PM - Posted by Penterax (not verified)

I understand your concerns about TLC, and the drive will likely wear out before an MLC drive, but we are talking about many years of high daily usage before it happens:

http://techreport.com/review/25889/the-ssd-endurance-experiment-500tb-up...

Certainly if you are talking pure storage an SSD is hard to justify, I agree, but I wouldn't hesitate buying an 840 EVO for a boot drive if I was willing to sacrifice a rather small a amount of performance (compared to a top of the line MLC SSD). $500 is a lot of money, but I'm finding a minimum size boot drive for me to be around 500GB and would seriously consider a 1 TB drive that costs around %400 less than other options. :)

January 12, 2014 | 03:02 PM - Posted by brisa117

People don't realize what a difference SSDs make until you get one, live with it for a while and then have to go back to a HDD. It's genuinely painful.

I still think the sweet spot is the ~250GB SSD + a storage HDD for media. SSDs aren't cheap, but at this point I would sacrifice other performance for including a SSD in any build. They're a must-have.

January 12, 2014 | 06:26 PM - Posted by Mandrake

I consider SSDs to be an absolute necessity in builds today. My personal rig has a 500GB Samsung 840, I'd never go back to a traditional hard disk for my OS and games. For storage I've got a couple of 4TB Seagate drives. It wouldn't make any sense to use SSDs for storage at this point. HDDs are still much, much more cost effective for simple archival and storage needs.

Even on a budget build I'd include a small ~60GB SSD and use Intel RST with a 2TB HDD.

January 13, 2014 | 12:41 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm still running Velociraptor RAID - what's the point of fast storage if it's too small to store anything?

I've used other systems that had SSDs, and they don't feel any faster/more responsive than mine other than in boot time, which is irrelevant on a desktop unless you spend the entire day restarting.

January 13, 2014 | 02:22 AM - Posted by Branthog

After using 128gb and 256gb SSDs for the last few years, I upgraded to a couple 500gb 840 EVO drives in the last couple months and have been very happy with them.

I'll have to see how they (and my other Samsungs, like the 830) hold up over time to determine if maybe I should have made another brand choice, but they do have great firmware and a great user interface for their utility. Better, that utility does a lot more than you'd expect (it's actually worth installing).

My complaint with Samsung, however, is that their warranty is misleading (and that may be the case for other manufacturers, too). For instance, they claim a three year warranty. Unfortunately, that isn't the extent of it. The fine print says "three years OR until total bites written has been exceeded". It then tells you to read the product documents (and gives a URL) for Samsung SSDs to get specific details on what the total-bites-written limit is. The document contains no such details.

So, your drive is warranted for three years . . . unless you write too much data. But like a Comcast data cap, you have no idea what that limit is. I've seen statements that it is 72tb for a 256gb drive and double for a 512gb one, but . . . who knows?!

I also think the price of SSDs remains prohibitive. At least, logically. While I remember paying $100 for a one gigabyte drive in the late 90s and I remember my first rig having a whopping 10mb MFM drive, I also am more accustomed to buying several terabytes for a hundred bucks with SATA drives. It's very hard to go from a nickel or less per gigabyte to closer to a dollar. For any significant amount of storage, at least. That makes the drive - a formerly cheap component for your system - suddenly a much larger fraction of your budget. It's a mental hurdle difficult for people to get over.

I hope a significant breakthrough is coming that makes a real difference. Unless you're using them as a scratch disk or a dump-drive for streaming video, they're pretty reliable it appears . . . but that price point has gotta change.

January 13, 2014 | 08:05 AM - Posted by SteveUK (not verified)

Pull the trigger and get an SSD if only to boot your computer, and use your web browser and email. This is what I have done and even on sata 2 the ssd is 4X faster than the HD which doesn't sound much but feels much more responsive and snappy, and when I upgrade next I'll get another speed bump when the ssd uses its full sata3 speed.. The computer startup and shutdown are noticeably faster, but just in case I use acronis to backup my ssd to my old HD once a week in case I get a ssd failure / data lose. The final bonus of course is after a few minutes my WD blue HD spins down and although it is a quiet drive, silence is golden. :)

January 13, 2014 | 10:15 AM - Posted by ReadeB (not verified)

Thanks Ryan.

Just picked up a Samsung 840 EVO 512GB

Waiting for the Christmas dust to clear to pull the trigger.

January 16, 2014 | 07:17 AM - Posted by BBMan (not verified)

Jeez. Once upon a time I remember shelling out nearly $200 for a 27GB hard drive and knowing I got a deal.

Yeah, it's more expensive than spin-ups, but the performance difference is well worth the price and it wasn't all that long ago you would have paid $200 for not much SSD either.

It's your $$$ and HDs will do, but this is the future today and at 50-60 cents/GB. If you can afford it- I wouldn't miss it.

January 20, 2014 | 07:53 AM - Posted by drbaltazar (not verified)

I had a ssd ! And sadly it couldn't touch ram so when ddr4system are mainstream ,I ll hope ms create a way for user to use ram instead of hard drive . like a cache but bigger , example 8 GB of ram cache so you are on a map . windows cache said info in ram . (a LA ramdisk) yep you would loose everything if you close computer . why not use AMD ramdisk some might ask .no offer ce to AMD but os maker know how to optimize for their os . so a code done by ms for a given task ends up almost always better because ms now a day hate unneeded redundancy thanks ms so everything g end up smoother ! How you think I can play tsw or never winter with 14 to 40 ms of latency lol

March 15, 2014 | 03:12 PM - Posted by Rob (not verified)

Ryan: "is now the time to buy or should I wait?"

Buy when you need and wait when you can.

It is when you can not wait to buy that you buy what you did not need, instead of waiting.

Example: I can not wait to buy a MB with HSA and a CPU (not APU); but wait I must, so I can not buy.

I fixed my 'Computer Craving' by buying an HTC One Cellphone. Now I have a new (and purposefully purchased) toy to enjoy.

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