Best SSD: 9 of the top SSDs on test

We find out which is the best SSD for your money

Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB

£191 LAMD Controller

COrsair Neutron GTX

Send that mousy old SandForce controller back to the brothel, then have the lovely new LAMD controller oiled and brought up to my chambers. So said the head of Corsair. Or at least, it's the sort of thing the head of Corsair might have said if he were some sort of debauched medieval robber baron.

All of which seems rather tangential to the subject of SSD controllers. And it is, except for one thing: Corsair has tired of using SandForce for its highest performing drives. It had no choice really, if it wanted to keep somewhere near the cutting edge, because the SandForce SF-2281 is looking rather, well, used.

In its place, and liberally lubricated, comes the LAMD LM87800. Not brilliant branding, although the LAMD bit stands for Link A Media Device, which is a bit of a mouthful itself.

Read the full Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB review

Crucial M500 480GB

£285 Marvell controller

Crucial M500 480GB

A 480GB SSD with one of the best controller chipsets in Christendom? Made by one of the biggest brands in computer memory? For well under £300? Don't bother with supper and a movie, we've slipped into something more comfortable already.

But hang on, maybe we should play a little harder to get. After all, SSDs are perhaps the most mercurial of all PC components. The specs and claimed performance numbers never tell the full story, and that's just for the initial experience. The long term reliability is even trickier. So, let's recap.

The M500 is a 480GB drive from our old friends at Crucial. Crucial, of course, is the consumer brand name for Micron, one of the biggest memory chip makers on the planet. Indeed, Micron and Intel have teamed up to make memory chips together. It's a major player.

Read the full Crucial M500 480GB review

Intel 520 480GB

£391 Sandforce controller

Intel 520 480GB

Back when the very notion of a solid-state drive was sexy and new, Intel's opening gambit, the X25-M, cast all asunder. It was the best SSD money could buy, albeit for a metric tonne of money. Fast forward a mere four and a half years and everything has changed.

In that time, we learned that the performance of Intel's early SSDs fell off a cliff with sustained use. Then we learned that the TRIM command helped prevent the build-up that turned those early SSDs into stuttering wrecks. We also learned that making a great SSD controller is no mean feat.

In fact, it's so hard Intel threw in the towel, at least temporarily, and shoehorned the smash-hit SandForce SF-2281 into the 520 Series SSD.

Read the full Intel 520 480GB review

OCZ Vertex 450 256GB

£197 Indilinx controller

OCZ Vertex 450 256GB

Samsung and its 840 Pro are the unassailable overlords of SSDdom, so say hello to the Winston Smith of solid state storage. A gin-soaked basket case destined to have its face eaten off by rats, you muse? Er, no. Let's start again.

The point is that the OCZ Vertex 450 is a beacon of hope and courage in the face of almost totalitarian power. In financial terms, OCZ is but a rounding error on Samsung's balance sheet, so we doff our entire wardrobe to it for bringing this competitive SSD to market.

This is no simple re-badge job. Nor does OCZ simply half-inch components from other companies' shelves. Well, it does have to take memory chips from the open market. For the record, OCZ uses Micron's 20nm MLC NAND.

Read the full OCZ Vertex 450 256GB review

Samsung 840 Pro 512GB

£379 Samsung controller

Samsung 840 Pro 512GB

Right, we want to make one thing extremely clear from the get go: we absolutely welcome our new Samsung overlords. You hear that, Samsung? Whether it's components like memory chips, processors and LCD panels or retail clobber like phones and TVs, Samsung is assimilating everything.

In that context, two things are immediately apparent. The first is that you'd better not be in the bad books when the People's Republic of Samsung comes into force, as seems to be inevitable. The second is that it should really come as no surprise that Samsung makes damn fine SSDs.

For starters, Samsung makes its own flash memory. It's the snazzy 21nm Toggle NAND sort, so it's basically about as speedy as it currently comes. Samsung also makes its own controller chipsets, and as far as anyone can tell, those are about as good as it gets too.

Sandisk Extreme II 240GB

£175 Marvell controller

Sandisk Extreme II 240GB

Pinch a controller chipset off the shelf, bung some memory chips onto a PCB and you're in the SSD business. That's what it felt like for a while, what with everyone jumping on the SandForce bandwagon, and the fact that SandForce controllers come with ready-cooked firmware and few options to stand out.

At least, that was true until Intel came along with its own take on SandForce SSDs, but even then, the performance profile was all very familiar. We suspect Intel's tweaks to the SandForce firmware focused on reliability.

These days, of course, the customer chipset of choice is none other than the Marvell 9187. The difference is, you have to bring your own firmware to the party - Marvell doesn't supply one. That mainly means two things.

Seagate 600 480GB

£358 LAMD Controller

Seagate 600 480GB

Scary thing, solid-state storage. At least, it is if your bread has been historically buttered by traditional magnetic hard drives, as it has for Seagate. Yup, SSDs are a pretty epic problem on every level for old school hard drive makers.

Their technical expertise in designing and engineering magnetic platters counts for nought. Ditto their investment in manufacturing facilities. In fact, SSDs may as well be graphics cards for all the tech they share with magnetic drives, which is to say almost none.

So we don't entirely blame Seagate for crashing the SSD party so late with the 600 series - its first drive aimed at consumers. Seagate would probably argue that it's only recently that punters have been buying SSDs in numbers worth worrying about. And it's been making SSDs for servers for a while, so it's not entering the market short on experience.

Read the full Seagate 600 480GB review

Toshiba Q Series 256GB

£201 Toshiba controller

Toshiba Q Series 256GB

Curse Henry F Phillips and his self-centring screws. Sure, the simple Phillips-head screw was a key enabler of mass production and thus the industrial revolution, but super-small Phillips-head screws can be awfully fiddly. On this occasion, a quartet of the blighters got in the way of us cracking open the shiny new Toshiba Q Series 256GB.

It's the first we've seen of the thing and unfortunately Tosh isn't hugely forthcoming with some of the key specs. A teeny screwdriver in my man hands though and we're in. And what's inside is rather interesting.

Inevitably Toshiba is using its own 19nm Toggle MLC NAND chips, but the actual controller silicon is from Marvell, but with a Tosh twist. All of which bodes well for performance. And, after all, what actually matters is the drive's performance in the real world, not its quoted, on-paper hypothetical speed.

Read the full Toshiba Q Series 256GB review

Transcend SSD720 512GB

£417 Sandforce controller

Transcend SSD720 512GB

Transcend. Never heard of it? Actually, it's been in the memory game for longer than most, and was one of the very first outfi ts to flog solid state drives aimed at punters with PCs rather than just to big business. Indeed, dig a little deeper and you'll find that the gubbins inside the Transcend SSD720 series is pretty familiar. Perhaps a little too familiar.

The controller chipset is none other than ye olde SandForce SF-2281. Of course, you might think it's a bit rich to talk about the SF-2281 as though it's some desiccated spinster at death's door. It wasn't all that long ago we were hailing it as the greatest advance in solid-state technology since some chap in a lab coat sacrificed his personal hygiene to develop a better alternative to the vacuum tube.

Read the full Transcend SSD720 512GB review

How we tested

We're approaching the end of an era. That applies both to this crop of SSDs and our testing. The result is a set of benchmark scores that, for the most part, are very tightly grouped.

Part of the problem is the SATA interface. All these drives are, at least in part, restricted by the 6Gbps limitation of the current SATA interface. PCI Express-derived drives are on the way, of course, so we have a rough idea of what the future looks like for interfaces.

Part of it is generational. Only recently have random access and IOPS performance really been viewed as critical, and that takes times to work through the development process. We expect the next year or two will see some major progress when it comes to random access.

The final part is our testing. The simple fact is that these latest drives have caught up with our benchmarks. The file decompression and game installation tests are clearly limited, at least in part, by other parts of the platform. We'll be looking very closely at introducing some new tests that really sort the best from the rest.

In the meantime, this is one of the closest group tests in PC Format's history. There are no duds here, but once you take into account pricing and extras like the warranty, one or two drives certainly stand out.

Benchmarks

Zip file decompression
ZIP: Seconds: Quicker is better

AData XPG SX900 512GB: 23
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 23
Crucial M500 480GB: 23
Intel 520 480GB: 24
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB: 23
Samsung 840 PRO 512GB: 24
Sandisk Extreme II 240GB: 23
Seagate 600 480GB: 23
Transcend SSD720 512GB: 24
Toshiba Q Series 256GB: 22

4K random read performance (incompressible)
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

AData XPG SX900 512GB: 23
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 23
Crucial M500 480GB: 21
Intel 520 480GB: 24
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB: 19
Samsung 840 PRO 512GB: 26
Sandisk Extreme II 240GB: 23
Seagate 600 480GB: 22
Transcend SSD720 512GB: 20
Toshiba Q Series 256GB: 18

4K random write performance (incompressible)
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

AData XPG SX900 512GB: 18
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 50
Crucial M500 480GB: 54
Intel 520 480GB: 19
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB: 54
Samsung 840 PRO 512GB: 51
Sandisk Extreme II 240GB: 54
Seagate 600 480GB: 44
Transcend SSD720 512GB: 18
Toshiba Q Series 256GB: 45

Sequential read performance (incompressible)
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

AData XPG SX900 512GB: 505
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 503
Crucial M500 480GB: 492
Intel 520 480GB: 499
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB: 504
Samsung 840 PRO 512GB: 520
Sandisk Extreme II 240GB: 515
Seagate 600 480GB: 508
Transcend SSD720 512GB: 502
Toshiba Q Series 256GB: 514

Sequential read performance (compressible)
ATTO: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

AData XPG SX900 512GB: 551
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 556
Crucial M500 480GB: 539
Intel 520 480GB: 545
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB: 551
Samsung 840 PRO 512GB: 561
Sandisk Extreme II 240GB: 555
Seagate 600 480GB: 554
Transcend SSD720 512GB: 538
Toshiba Q Series 256GB: 552

Sequential write performance (incompressible)
AS SSD: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

AData XPG SX900 512GB: 298
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 470
Crucial M500 480GB: 414
Intel 520 480GB: 218
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB: 497
Samsung 840 PRO 512GB: 500
Sandisk Extreme II 240GB: 468
Seagate 600 480GB: 437
Transcend SSD720 512GB: 259
Toshiba Q Series 256GB: 469

Sequential write performance (compressible)
ATTO: Megabytes per second: Higher is better

AData XPG SX900 512GB: 519
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 506
Crucial M500 480GB: 432
Intel 520 480GB: 475
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB: 534
Samsung 840 PRO 512GB: 535
Sandisk Extreme II 240GB: 518
Seagate 600 480GB: 473
Transcend SSD720 512GB: 465
Toshiba Q Series 256GB: 519

And the winner is… Crucial M500 480GB

Crucial M500 480GB

We're wheeling out the electron microscope this month, because never before have we had such a closely matched contest. Things are about to get positively forensic.

That said, we do actually have a clear winner in this group test. There's also an obvious group of also-rans, but just below the top rung it's a six-way tie for second place. Remarkable. Of course, the cruel fact is that somebody has to lose, and it says a lot about the way solid state technology changes that the easiest group of drives to exclude from the final reckoning are the SandForce-controlled trio.

Eighteen months ago, you stuck a SandForce controller into your SSD, chucked it out onto the market and you sat back waiting for the cash to roll in. Today, SSD technology has moved on and ye olde SF-2281 ain't the controller it used to be. It's therefore the Transcend SSD720 512GB that's first for the chop. It's definitely not a bad drive by most metrics, but it's painfully pricey for an SSD based on increasingly uncompetitive SandForce technology. Goodbyeee, therefore.

The dubious honour of penultimate placing goes to the Intel 520 480GB. Again we're talking SandForce efforts and, like the Transcend, while it remains a good product, the simple fact is that you can do better these days. That said, if you're really worried about reliability, the Intel 520 remains worth a look.

As for the ADATA, it's a nice drive at a decent price. Unfortunately there are better SSDs that are clearly superior, so it's also a goner.

Next up is that six-way tie. You can make an argument for each and every one of these drives being a best buy. We certainly like the Samsung 840 Pro as a money-no-object purchase. The OCZ Vertex 450 is an extremely impressive effort from a smaller independent outfit, and it's super quick by some metrics.

We also like what Corsair has done with its mix of components for the Neutron GTX, and the Link A Media Device controller plus Toggle NAND is a nice package. Then there's Toshiba's Q Series, which is an intriguing all rounder that tops our real-world application tests, albeit by a margin that's probably within testing errors. Meanwhile the SanDisk Extreme II and Seagate 600 give you a handy choice between two of the best customer chipsets currently on the market. Marvell or Link A Media - the choice is yours.

But in the end, the spoils of victory can only go to one drive, and it's Crucial's M500. It's not the fastest drive overall, but it's near enough that it doesn't actually matter. We very much doubt any other drive on test this month would feel tangibly faster inside your PC. Factor in seriously aggressive pricing, a reassuring brand name and enough capacity for all but the biggest games library, and it's a done deal.