11-28-12 - SSD Buying Guide

Have done a bunch of reading over the past 24 hours and updating my old posts on SSD's :

cbloom's definitive SSD buying guide :

recommended :

Intel's whatever (currently the 520, but actually the old X25-M is still just fine; the S3700 stuff looks promising for the future)

not recommended :

Everything else.

The whole issue of flash degradation and moving blocks and such is a total red herring. SSD's are not failing because of the theoretical lifetime of flash memory, they are failing because the non-Intel drives are just broken. It's pretty simple, don't buy them.

The other issue I really don't care about is speed. They're all super fast. If they all actually worked then maybe I would care which was fastest, but since the non-Intel ones are just broken, the question of speed is irrelevant. The hardware review sites are all pretty awful with their endless benchmarking and complete missing of the actual issues. And even my ancient X25-M is plenty fast enough.

I think it's tempting to just go for the enterprise-grade stuff (Intel 710 at the moment). Saving money on storage doesn't make any sense to me, and all the speed measurement stuff just makes me yawn. (Intel 720 looks promising for the future). It's not quite as clear cut as ECC RAM (which is obviously worth it), but I suspect that spending another few $hundred to not worry about drive failure is worth it.

Oh, also brief googling indicates various versions of Mac OS don't support various SSD's correctly. I would just avoid SSD's on Mac unless you are very confident about getting this right. (best practice is probably just avoiding Mac altogether, but YMMV and various other acronyms)


Jonathan said...

This information is correct.

I know several people who complain that SSDs constantly fail. When you ask them about what drives they were using they are never Intel.

On the other hand every Intel drive I have (and all the others at our company) are still going strong.

We have a fairly early 60gb Intel SSD in one of our build machines that was second hand from my desktop about 1.5 years ago.

This machine is doing constant churn on the drive. New assets are constantly rebuilt, every night it deletes everything and does a full rebuild and we also do full rebuilds for every release that we deploy to production.

The data set of things it downloads is about 20gb.

The other day I used a SMART tool to read the "wear indicator" that is supposed to tell you what percentage of the lifetime through SSD writes of the drive you are. The number starts at 100 and goes down. The drive was still at 93.

Jeff Roberts said...

Recent Intels are just as bad (any drive using the Sandforce controllers *will* fail). The OCZ Vertex 4 went to a new controller, and works fine.

This would be a shocking scandal in any other industry, but the tech press are complete gadget/number whores.

And, btw, even more scandalous - assuming you have 8 GB or more of system memory to cache into, there is absolutely no performance difference with an SSD, except for booting the system. And who cares about booting the system?

The *only* time I would ever use an SSD in future machines is in a laptop, because they use less power. In a desktop, they should never, ever, be used.

Dangerous at any speed.


cbloom said...


"Recent Intels are just as bad"

My research indicates that Intel did their own validation and firmware for the Sandforce controller and their failure rate is 5-10X lower than other manufacturers on the same chipset.

Also, even if the Vertex4 is supposedly fixed, why would you ever by a drive ever again from a company that does no validation? It's weird to me that consumers have such short memories.

"assuming you have 8 GB or more of system memory to cache into, there is absolutely no performance difference with an SSD"

I don't find this to be true for me in practice. For me it's a paradigm shift in the feel of the computer to be able to CD to a new dir and get the contents instantly, or to run an app I haven't run in this session and it just pops up. I'm sure the actual time difference is small, but it's sort of like 60 fps vs 30 fps gaming for me, it suddenly feels so much better.

I love SSDs, they're the only upgrade to computers that have improved my actual experience of computing since we got LCD monitors. (mouse wheel might be in the running)

sylvain-v said...

When buying a SSD, get away from OCZ: failure rate in 1st year is 7.03%, with several models between 9 and 16%, which is unacceptable.
Corsair is at 2.9%, Intel at 1.73% and Crucial at 0.82%.

Other brands are random values: sometimes very good (latest Patriot, most Samsung...), sometimes very very bad (most older Patriots, all the first ssd with JMicron controllers...).

First gen Intel were using a nice Intel controller. Then Intel switched to using JM/Marwell/Sandforce/whatever. The very last Intel SSD got back to using Intel controllers just a few month ago.

I had three SSD: Mtron Mobi 3500 in 2008, still working, sold after 2.5 years of nice performances; a cheap and crappy Patriot PS-100, unreliable performances (actually acceptable under Linux; under Windows perfs were good at first, then it started having lags/freezes), and the current one, a cheap and nice Patriot Inferno, very good (the best so far).

Aaron said...

These days hard drives are pretty spectacularly unreliable also. Even a 1 in 100 chance of failure in the first year is spectacularly horrid.

If you're not always backing up you're pretty much gonna have a bad time.

Tom Seddon said...

I'm using the Intel Smart Response SSD caching thing on my desktop PC (which has 16GB RAM). This made stuff usefully snappier, generally; assuming a full SSD would be quicker still, I'm not sure I buy the "no performance difference" suggestion, though I admit it's not night vs day.

And when the SSD fucks up (it's an OCZ Vertex3), what with it only being a cache, I'm hopeful that I won't lose too much :)

(Boot times are vastly quicker. Not even Kaspersky can slow it down. I rebooted my PC about 10 times the day I set it up, just to marvel at it. I bet the improved boot times have saved me at least 5 minutes per week.)

Tom Seddon said...

More boot speed silliness - the Momentus XT hybrid drive apparently tries extra-hard to waste cache space on files used during boot up.

See, e.g., http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/11/29/gen_2_momentus_xt/.

Yuri said...

The Samsung 830 also has a pretty good reputation regarding reliability. It's not SandForce to boot.

Per Vognsen said...

I bought an SSD for my most recent home machine. We'll see if I can come to regret it. In any case, I only keep the OS and frequently used programs on it. My data, source code and home directory are all on a secondary magnetic drive.

jsaul said...

Samsung 830 works decently, using it right now in my 17" Mac (it gets plenty of exercise). Apple uses its internals for the Apple-branded SSD.

Use this script to enable TRIM for it (and other SSDs).

Promit's Ventspace said...

I'm optimistic about the Samsung 830/840 (which Apple uses) and the Crucial m4 (which had one BSOD level bug already fixed). OCZ's drives to date have been the quickest way to destroy your files, as have all the other non-Intel Sandforce drives.

OCZ claims that the 4th gen drives, made after they bought Indilinx, should be much better. I don't believe them.

old rants