There can be Only Three
With the field down to just five very good drives, we can start to break everything down with the ultra fine details. Our list of the top five Best Bang for your Buck SSD's is as follows:
SanDisk Ultra Plus 256GB
Samsung 840 250GB
Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 240GB
Seagate 600 Series 240GB
Corsair Neutron 256GB
All five of these drives perform well in one way or another and all come in at less than $200 at the time of writing - prices taken from Newegg on 5/16/13.
The Best Bang for your Buck - Overall
The best overall value is the Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 240GB. We've used LSI SandForce SF-2281 controllers paired with synchronous NAND for a long time. When it comes to day to day use and performance while the drive is populated with a lot of data, this combination is very hard to beat.
When you put data on your drive, SSD's slow and the more data your drive has, the slower it gets. The LSI SandForce architecture compresses data that is compressible and that means the NAND flash doesn't have as much data saved to the flash. If you only have one device, be it a notebook or desktop, and want the best overall performance, the Mushkin Chronos Deluxe is my pick if your budget is $200 or less. At $184.99, this drive costs less than most of the products in this article today.
The Best Bang for your Buck - Desktop
Seagate 600 SSD 240GB and Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 240GB share the Best Bang for the Buck Desktop Award. We already covered the Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 240GB so let's discuss the Seagate 600 SSD 240GB.
If you want to maintain performance in a desktop with the Seagate 600 SSD 240GB, you will want to purchase other Seagate products, like HDD's to keep your infrequently accessed data on. The Seagate 600 is a very fast SSD, but it slows quite a bit when the drive is half-full and beyond. FOB or Fresh Out of Box performance is incredibly fast, faster than any other drive in this capacity size under $200. To keep that performance though, you need to offload your media files to another drive and try to keep 120GB or less on the 600 SSD.
The Best Bang for your Buck - Notebook
The Best Bang for your Buck notebook drive goes to the Samsung 840 250GB. In a notebook you run C-States, some notebooks don't even give you the opportunity to turn them off. C-States limit throughput in order to conserve power. In our testing with C-States enabled, the fastest SSD and the Samsung 840 performance comparison is much lower than you might imagine. What puts the 840 over the top for notebooks and ultrabooks is its near class leading battery life performance. Add on the 7mm package that fits many ultrabooks and the clear winner here is the 840.
Over time though, the TLC NAND will start to use more power in order to keep the voltage in the gates. We've yet to hear anyone complain about this, but we have a drive wearing down for an eventual test towards the end of its life.
Mainstream or budget SSD's no longer mean poor performance at a low price. For years we had Jmicron and Toshiba controllers that often weren't much better than mechanical HDD's in this category. The performance of these products kept us from even reporting on those products. Truth be told, some manufacturers even told us back in those days that they simply wouldn't sample their budget offerings because they knew we would rip them apart like a hungry wolf after a lonely lamb.
Last year, OCZ made a massive push at the mainstream market with Vertex 3 and real performance finally appeared in the mainstream market. Oddly enough, OCZ wasn't on this list at all, but their push to bring performance down in price opened the door for others to follow. Drives from that era with SF-2281 and 25nm NAND are getting increasingly difficult to find, but Mushkin managed to keep the Chronos Deluxe around when others have already moved to 20nm and lower performance.
New products based on new controllers are starting to tip up in the mainstream market, too. Samsung's tri-core controller is a beast with MLC NAND, 840 Pro. With TLC NAND, the write performance takes a massive hit, but still delivers very good battery life. The LAMD controller found in the Corsair Neutron and Seagate 600 SSD gives the least amount of battery life and produces quite a bit of heat. The LAMD controller also suffers from more performance degradation when the flash fills, so you need to keep your long-term data on a separate drive.
So far I've covered a lot of topics, but I never stated why I chose the 256GB class to make my picks for the best bang for the buck article. With the move to 19nm and 20nm, 128GB class drives are taking a large hit to performance. At the same time, our installed software is growing. Windows 8, Office, Photoshop and everything else under just keeps growing. An installation of Windows 8 without turning recovery features off doesn't leave a lot of room for other software. At this point, I can't recommend a 128GB SSD for a modern computer.
As mentioned, we based the decision on both performance and available space. We all like our media files, be them movies or music. When you start piling up media on 19nm and 20nm flash, the performance isn't all that great... and you can't put a lot of that data on a 128GB SSD because the bloated OS is taking up a massive amount of that space now.