Cheap SSDs? It’s All About The Brand

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…

From this site

51 Comments

  1. Guestachio says:

    I’m guessing you’ve omitted where it’s available for £35 for on purpose.. PC Part Picker is saying £56 is the cheapest 240gb right now.

    • Guestachio says:

      for for for..

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      That’s it. You’ve done it. I’ve officially gone mad! It was Amazon and I didn’t link it because such deals are so very ephemeral and now I look and it’s £53 and I am baffled.

      I must have been looking at the 120GB version. My memory clearly says it was the 240GB version, but my memory is clearly wrong. Like I said, quite mad.

      Anyway, thanks for the price check. Have tweaked the text.

  2. Jediben says:

    Samsung EVO. Nothing else.

    • gunny1993 says:

      Hopefully not the ones that had a firmware issue that caused their performance to plummet after 5 mins… Can’t remember if they fixed that

      • Sakkura says:

        A few months, that is.

        They only made a workaround that lets you essentially reset the performance to proper levels. It will eventually decay again, and there is no way to permanently fix that. It’s just a physics issue Samsung ran into with 2D TLC NAND.

      • Buggery says:

        There’s a wee utility you can run and it fixes the performance issues on the 840 series. Things get slow: just run it again! Not bad considering that the drives are far from costly.

        • Caiman says:

          Which utility is that? I upgraded the driver and ran the optimisation tool that Samsung suggested we use, and all was great… for a little while. But now it’s gotten ridiculous again. I dare not shut the laptop down at the moment because it takes so long to boot Windows I’m worried it never will. (though I suspect some of this is down to my other HDD on D: starting to get a bit flaky)

      • Solidstate89 says:

        The 840 EVO yes, but not the 840 Pro, and not anything in the 850 series, Pro, EVO, or otherwise.

        Their 3D V-Nand has been pretty much flawless so far.

  3. edna says:

    Interesting. For £35 I could justify finally put my whole system disk on it and not be constantly fighting to keep below the 125GB I’m working within at the moment. But as Guestachio says, I can’t see it for less than £50 at the moment (£53 on Scan). Any hints, Jeremy?

  4. gunny1993 says:

    Got a 500 gb one of those for 100 quid on ebuyer and have seen seen 1tb ones go for 150… DAMN good deal in any money, I will get a pcie add in card with nvme when I actualy have a mobo that supports it

  5. uh20 says:

    got a $45 SDD from some obscure brand and it works magically. All I remember ia that their logo is blue.

  6. mattevansc3 says:

    It’s anecdotal but I had no end of issues with Sandisk. My first SSD was a 120GB model that was never recognised by the motherboard. RMA’d it, and the replacement booted up once, then disappeared from the BIOS, the second and last replacement was as bad as the original drive. These were all sealed new units. Eventually gave up and got my money back. Using a 250GB Crucial model instead and never had a problem with it.

    Also the test isn’t 100% fair and really could do with a bit more explanation. Depending on the size of the drive you get a cache between 10GB to 20GB. If that cache is over filled by a single file then yes performance will drop off but how often are you going to be doing that with an SSD? Even a game download is made up of multiple files that can be queued without over filling the cache. If you do have a large file you aren’t going to be moving it much, it’ll be written the once and the rest if the time it’ll be read and that’s where you get the main SSD benefit.

    • Jeremy Laird says:

      The test isn’t meant to be fair or comprehensive. If I am testing drives (and as it happens I did fully test that drive), then there’s a full suite I’ll go through.

      In fact, in the context of this post it isn’t even a ‘test’, per se. It’s an illustration of just one way that cutting corners can have a real world impact. It’s something that’s easy to demonstrate and easy to understand.

      It’s not meant to prove on its own that the drive in question is perfect or better in every way than the alternatives.

      • Sakkura says:

        The Sandisk SSD Plus does cut some corners though. It uses a DRAM-less SM2246xt controller, meaning it’s more closely related to Sandisk’s USB flash drives than “proper” SSDs (to be fair, Sandisk does offer some of the very best USB flash drives).

        • Jeremy Laird says:

          Where did I say the drive cut no corners?

          • Sakkura says:

            Where did I say you said that?

            Just worth pointing out that corner-cutting applies to the SSD Plus too, for any prospective buyers who might be reading.

          • gunny1993 says:

            “The Sandisk SSD Plus does cut some corners though.”

            The use of ‘though’ implies that you are contradicting a previous statement.

          • SanguineAngel says:

            Depends how you read it. When I read it, it was simply as an extension of the discussion rather than a counterpoint to anything in particular.

      • mattevansc3 says:

        Sorry, just there’s been a trend in BX200 reviews whereby the reviewer specifically adds a 20GB+ zip/rar file to the mix because they know it can’t handle it yet have never used such a large file in tests on other SSDs.

        You go on the deal websites and you’ve got people quoting those specific tests as a reason not to buy it because a mechanical HDD outperforms it.

  7. vahnn says:

    Samsung 850s for life. Or until the 950s come down a bit.

  8. Dirk says:

    I bought a 256GB Sandisk Ultra Plus three years ago. Got another one for my laptop a little later. Damn good drives, ludicrously fast and still working fine to this day.

  9. Sakkura says:

    Sorry, but the Sandisk SSD Plus is a poor buy these days. It’s far slower than even their own Sandisk Ultra II.

    If you must buy a cheap SSD, the Adata SP550 is a better option. Cheaper and faster.

    If you want brand name, there’s the Sandisk Ultra II and Crucial MX200, both only a little slower than the Samsung 850 Evo (to the point where you’d rarely notice a difference in practice).

    Or if you’re patient, maybe wait a few weeks for the Crucial MX300 to launch and potentially start a new price war. For the first time, Samsung will face serious competition on 3D NAND.

    • PenguinJim says:

      Yeah, with the 480GB Sandisk Plus at £85 and the 480GB Sandisk Ultra II at £90 (regular sale prices for those two nowadays), I’d definitely recommend picking up the Ultra II. A shame Jeremy seems to have completely overlooked them.

      The MX200 is a harder sell at £110, IMO.

  10. Bing_oh says:

    Alot of reliable reviewers put Sandisk as comparable to the Samsungs.

  11. badmothergamer says:

    I’ve purchased 6 Sandisk SSD drives in the past few years (including two “Plus” drives) and had zero issues. The only non-Sandisk drive I purchased had to be RMA’d after 6 weeks so I’ve stuck with Sandisk.

    They are cheap, and while not the fastest, I’m still so appreciative of the performance jump from HDD to SSD that spending 2x as much for a 10-20% performance gain is in no way worth it to me at this point.

  12. urbanraccoon says:

    That angle is absurd and has no place on a serious pro-fessional video gaming website such as this

  13. GurtTractor says:

    For some real good bang for the buck I highly recommend the Sandisk Ultra II 480GB which is £89.99 on Novatech currently (I think it’s been five quids cheaper on Ebuyer at times). It’s faster than the SSD Plus, and is probably a good middle ground between the cheap models and the more expensive Samsung 850 drives.

  14. celticdr says:

    At the risk of starting a comments war can you pretty please list the best SSD companies in order Jeremy?

    I’m in the market for an SSD and I’m super paranoid about it going kaput like my 3yro Seagate 3TB HDD did last year… although my understanding is that SSDs are less likely to fail, correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Thurgret says:

      It seems, as a rule, to be best to avoid buying any HDD above 1TB in size – they just get unreliable. And I gather that Seagate isn’t very good to begin with.

      To start off the comment war, I’m having a very good time with an Intel SSD.

      • iainl says:

        Reading around suggests that it’s specifically the 3TB ones to be most wary of, and that Seagate are the most unreliable of the 3TB drives. Which is a bit worrying for me when my backup NAS is a 3TB Seagate.

        At some point, I’m going to have to look into whether you can just rip the drive out and replace it, or whether I should go to something a bit more sturdy with a full server.

    • Sakkura says:

      Intel, Samsung, Sandisk, and Crucial are probably the big four. OCZ used to be a bit iffy, but since Toshiba bought them they’ve put a lot of effort into improving reliability.

      Kingston has run a bit of a scam with their V300, first releasing with fast flash memory, then switching to slower stuff later, after reviews were all done.

      • fish99 says:

        Agree with all of that. I had two V300s and they were pretty slow – 175/125, definitely a bit of a con the way they switched chips.

        I’ve owned Intel, Crucial, OCZ (the new Toshiba ones), Kingston, Toshiba and never had any reliability issues with any of them (touch wood).

  15. tixylix says:

    My iMac hits 1800MBps, could get nowhere near on Windows even with pice cards, they never do advertised speeds.

    • Nosada says:

      Random Apple hyping is random.

      Please do tell how mysterious Apple magic somehow makes SSD’s faster in a Mac than a Windows PC? Top tip: there is nothing different in the inside of a Mac than the inside of a PC. They use the same chipsets with the same controllers over the same standards that Windows PC use. The idea that Windows itself makes disk operations notably slower is completely and utterly laughable.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      How exactly is an iMac achieving a 14Gbps transfer rate when SATA currently tops out at 6Gbps?

      • Nosada says:

        The 2015 iMac uses an nvme SSD, so those speeds are not unrealistic. But he seems to want to imply that it is faster because it’s a Mac. It isn’t, it’s faster because a consortium of SSD and motherboard makers sat down to create the new standard to succeed SATA/AHCI and came up with M.2/nvme. Unless I’m reading the specs wrong, it’s not even a full sized M.2 SSD but a 24GB cache disk in front of a regular SATA SSD.

        A quick price check shows me Apple asks $240 for an upgrade from 256 to 512GB. A full sized 512GB M.2/nvme SSD, which will be faster as it is the ENTIRE disk that can maintain M.2 speeds, comes to $230.

        • arkhanist says:

          Depends if you go for a ‘fusion’ drive or pure SSD. Fusion is the smaller cache + mechanical, SSD is PCIe storage. Last I checked, they weren’t actually M.2 but their own similar but proprietary PCIe standard.

          Nippy, yes, but about the same performance as an M.2 drive – and more expensive to boot.

          Yes, my boss likes to force Apple gear when he can because he thinks it’s ‘made better’ than windows PCs. While literally comparing to PCs that cost less than half as much. That said, bang-for-buck on apple (comparing like for like) isn’t actually too bad until you start adding on the extras/upgrades, at which point it’s eyewatering. We just ordered a single iMac that cost more than twice what it would cost to upgrade an entire student lab trolley of laptops to samsung SSDs & better wifi card. Sorry kids, management needs the new shiny!

          Speaking of; we’ve bought a ton of sandisk ‘ultra’ SSDs for various PC upgrades across site where we could; cheap, solid, pretty fast; no failures yet. We did have some mushkin issues when we trialled a couple. Older crucials seem to be going OK, but sandisk were cheaper so we switched :)

    • Solidstate89 says:

      With an M.2 or PCI-e? Yes you could you moron.

  16. melnificent says:

    I have an OCZ arc 100. Within a month it had 4 bad sectors that necessitated a full format and reinstall of windows.
    In the year since then it’s never got worse. But I always expect it to fully fail.

  17. obscured021 says:

    I have 2 Mx200 500GB drives, one as a boot drive for win7 and the other has the games I am currently playing. (I did try Raid 0 and for win boot times and game load times it made zero difference, but the synth benches did almost double in speed)

    I only got them on Monday and for free too :) I get 450w and 500r from both of them, it’s reduced the loading times in the Witcher3 and Fallout4 to only a few seconds on fast travel, I get no game play hitching in Arma 3 which was an issue before for me.

    My clone of my 3 year old win7 install boots in under 20sec to a usable desktop, that use to take almost 5mins! I was pretty late getting on the SSD train but I am not getting of anytime soon.

    • Sakkura says:

      Yeah, (2-way) RAID0 doubles sequential transfer speed but does little to improve the random and mixed IO that actually has more of an effect on real-world performance.

  18. Bishop149 says:

    Given that any SSD (even a crap one) is going to be orders of magnitude faster / better than a traditional spinning platter HDD, this kind of thing is really only relevant when directly comparing SSDs on the edges of their performance.

    If your interest is simply upgrading from HDD to SSD then the answer is: Yes you should, spend whatever you want.

  19. Whelp says:

    I’ve been using that one for a while now, not disappointed. And it was cheap as dirt.

  20. stumanuk42 says:

    ive used a couple fo crucial drives, ive only had issue with one of them, and that wasnt the drive but a dud SATA cable which i supplied, however there customer service and technical people where excellent at tracking down the problem at 2330 on a friday night, so i dont know if there drives are “better” than anyone elses but you would be hard pressed to get better manufacturer support.

  21. Nereus says:

    Crucial occasionally does refurb sales on their drives – since there’s no moving parts, I was willing to give a refurb drive a go. My 240GB M4 is going strong a year and a half later, all for approximately $50 USD. Works beautifully for improving boot speeds and for gaming.