You might think you’re a person. Wrong. Like each and every one of us, you are a brand. So says Stephen Colbert and who am I to argue? I haven’t quite finalised the specifics for the impending launch of my own one-of-a-kind curated Lairdstyle offering, but in the meantime, I do have a serious point to make about brands. When it comes to SSDs, brands matter. Especially cheap SSDs. This week, I’ll not only explain why but also give you an easy option for a stoopid-cheap SSD that’s actually rather good. I even bought one myself. With my own money. I know, right? So, if you need a cheap SSD for your gaming rig, read on.
The whole brands/branding/lifestyle/whatever thing is, obviously, vomitworthy and crass. That’s a given. But it doesn’t mean the notion of branding is always worthless. When it comes to SSDs, experience tells me certain brands have consistently delivered better drives.
That’s why I bought a cheap SSD on a Black Friday whim in November. It was a drive I knew nothing about bar its price, capacity and brand. £40 delivered. 240GB. Sandisk. Sold!
I didn’t actually get around to using it properly until recent weeks. But what I have discovered confirms my brand-centric attitude to SSDs. It’s a surprisingly good SSD. In fact, in subjective terms, you’d probably struggle to differentiate it from a premium-priced SATA SSD and it’s as good as you’ll ever need for a general purpose or gaming PC.
That last point is probably critical. I’m perhaps guilty at times of having my head turned by the simple spectacle of big numbers when it comes SSDs. The sudden five-fold jump in peak performance brought by the latest PCI Express SSDs has a certain wow factor. But arguably a decent SATA SSD is all you need for the aforementioned general purpose or gaming PC.
Anyway, there are of course several good SSD brands. It’s not just Sandisk that makes the gooduns. But we’ll come to that in a moment. Right now, the obvious question is why SSD quality should align with brands when the components inside SSDs are generally pretty generic.
In other words, there are lots of SSD brands but very few outfits that make the critical hardware that goes into them, including flash memory and controller chipsets. In that context, you’d expect most drives to be much of a muchness.
Is this just a little too jaunty an angle?
That they’re not reflects a few issues. For starters, you can still cut corners or fluff up the specs using generic hardware. You know, things like not making optimal use of memory channels, stingy provisioning of spare memory or using some cheap cache to provide fancy but momentary headline speeds that aren’t sustainable in real-world usage.
The other issue is what you might call validation. An SSD maker can take some generic memory and an off-the-shelf controller chipset. It can even use the firmware supplied by the chipset maker. And you’ll have a drive that looks decent on paper and basically works.
But in terms of things like performance consistency and longevity, the devil is in the detail. And as a broad rule of thumb, the bigger, more established brands have more rigorous fine tuning and validation procedures. They might still take that generic firmware but they’ll tweak it and polish out the rough patches.
Anyway, I’ve been sniffing around a large number of drives recently and for the most part the results have been pretty predictable. The cheap drives from brands with those rigorous procedures in place are very efficient.
It’s often quite difficult to capture what that means in an objective metric that isn’t just another arbitrary benchmark. But there’s is one measure that often sorts the good cheap drives from the relative rotters. Simply copy a large amount of data onto the drive in one go.
With the patchier drives, what you’ll tend to find is that the copy process zips along at several hundred MB/s initially and then degrades to a much lower sustainable transfer speed. You can see this in the Windows grab clearly here:
But my cheap Sandisk SSD just keeps on trucking:
To be sure, it’s not quite as quick as something like a pricier Samsung 850 Pro drive. It might be as much as 20 per cent slower than the 850 for sustained data copying. But here’s the thing: it’s two three times faster than the other cheap drives I’ve been mucking about with recently, the ones that suffer that sustained transfer fall off.
So with all that in mind, what are the good brands of which I speak? At risk of causing a comments fire storm, they are in no order whatsoever Intel, Crucial, Samsung, Sandisk and Plextor. There is some subjectivity built into that list.
Moreover, not all drives from those brands have been winners. Samsung has had some conspicuous issues with its Evo branded drives, though it has usually reacted fairly swiftly to address those issues. Intel had made some real clangers, too. The Crucial BX200 I looked at the other day was also a bit disappointing, for instance.
Likewise, it’s not true to say that Kingston, Corsair, Mushkin, Toshiba, OCZ, Western Digital and, well, whoever, make nothing but stinkers. On the whole, they mostly make good drives. But I’ve got to nail my colours to the mast and I have to go with my own experience, not second-hand opinions.
And so, right now, if you want a decent but dirt cheap drive, buy a Sandisk SSD PLUS. Current pricing is a little above my Black Friday bargain. But the 240GB version is, in the context of solid-stage storage, not all that far off being free at about £50 / $60. And for once I can at least say I have put my own, very small amount, of money where my mouth is.
The one and only SDD I have ever paid for…