SSD guide: everything you need to know

Solid state drives (SSDs) have made hard drives obsolete as the main component to cover the internal storage of personal computers. All new OEM computers use them, while for older computers they are highly recommended as it is one of the most cost-effective upgrades on a PC. And soon, they will be mandatory to install operating systems like Windows 11.

Its advantages over hard drives are considerable in terms of consumption, heat emission or noise emitted, zero due to the use of NAND flash memories and the absence of moving parts in the mechanical units. In another important section, robustness and resistance, the latest reports confirm its great reliability and long useful life.

Although the above is important, it is in performance where an SSD pulverizes hard drives, with a much higher speed in starting the operating system or applications, in system recovery from sleep modes or in the transfer of data. files internally or to external drives.

Lastly, we should mention that the arrival on the scene of the new M.2 formats connected to the PCIe interface (much smaller in size than those of the SATA interface) have made it possible to lighten weight and take up space, a very important section in equipment where the size is critical as in laptops.

The above serves as an introduction to a key component in any PC that we will review everything a user should know and end with the best current purchase offers.

SSD: technical aspects

Solid-state drives serve the same purpose as a hard drive: to persistently store data and files . In this way and compared to other types of memory such as RAM, the data in an SSD is maintained even if we turn off the computer. By saving data in non-volatile memories, they do not require any type of constant energy supply or batteries to avoid losing the stored data, even in the event of sudden PC blackouts.

How does an SSD work?

There is an important difference between the way an SSD handles data and how a hard drive does. An SSD writes data in chunks called “pages.” This group of pages are grouped into so-called “blocks” and in order to write new data to a busy block the entire block has to be erased first.

To avoid data loss, all information that exists in the block must first be moved elsewhere before deletion. Once the data is moved and the block is erased, only then can it be written. This process is almost instantaneous and has no effect on the user, but requires empty free space to work properly. If there is not enough free space, the process loses efficiency and slows down.

This question is very technical, but it should be known because it affects the capacity when we make the purchase of an SSD. To achieve its maximum efficiency we should leave approximately 20 percent of the unit free. Hence, it is recommended to acquire units with a storage capacity point more than what we really need. For example, the price of a 250 GB model compared to a 500 GB model is usually not excessive and will always be worth it.

Types of memories

The type of NAND flash memory used by these drives is also important, although here the user has little to say as it is a manufacturer’s choice for their production processes. From 2020 onwards, manufacturers have been betting on memories that use QLC (Quad Level Cell). This type of technology increases storage density and lowers costs, allowing models with greater capacity to be offered at lower prices .

On the other hand, as the bits per cell increase , the resistance against previous formats such as TLC (triple level cell), MLC (double level cell) and especially SLC, Single-Layer Cell, which only stores one bit per cell, decreases. cell and that you will no longer see in the consumer market because they are not sold. The vast majority of the offer is already QLC and TLC. In any case, the best manufacturers have increased the guarantee up to 5 years in consumer units, while there are professional models with up to 10 years guarantee.

Controller

Along with memories, it is the most important component of an SSD . It is responsible for the final performance of the unit, for handling the interface, for the number of channels supported, for the RAID level, for error correction, for the management of the NAND flash memory and also for the additional DRAM memory that we will see later. .

There are manufacturers specialized in the production of controllers such as Silicon Motion and Phison that sell them to integrators that do not have their own designs and therefore you will see them in a wide variety of models. The giants of the sector such as WD, Kioxia or Samsung, produce their own drivers for their solutions.

Cache

Almost all solid state drives include additional memory for data cache. This type of memory is faster than the general NAND flash and allows to increase the performance of the drive, but only maintains its performance for the duration of its capacity . The management of this cache memory is carried out by the installed driver and is internal, automatic and efficient. When it is depleted, the help is over until it is refilled.

Depending on the amount installed, a typical user does not usually notice a loss of performance in common tasks. But it can be noticed in more advanced tasks or those that require moving a greater amount of data and that it ends up exhausting the cache. It should be noted that some manufacturers are removing this cache to reduce costs. At the time of purchase, make sure you know if this memory is included or not. It is not essential, but it ends up being a plus to move the most used data.

Firmware y software

The program that establishes the lowest level logic, better known as the software that physically manages the hardware from its boot until the operating system starts (in this case the controller), is another component of SSD and any electronic product.

It’s not as important as the driver, but it’s a good idea to keep it up to date. Manufacturers usually do this through control software that is loaded into the operating system as an application. In addition to updating firmware, these applications often provide performance tests, drive technical data, and information on operating temperature or estimated lifespan based on Tbytes Written.

Some manufacturers often offer additional software to facilitate data migration from the installed storage drive to the new SSD. The best ones are specialized commercial suite licenses that allow you to migrate your operating system, applications, and data, have tools to create the partitions, and provide backup and recovery features.

Heatsinks

M.2 SSDs connected to a PCIe slot are the most advanced drives as we will see below. They are very small and offer very high performance, but they get very hot . That is why the latest generations include by default or as an option a small metal heatsink that covers the unit and helps keep temperatures under control.

They are not mandatory, but they are recommended as they are useful and very cheap. They can be purchased together with the SSD, although the motherboards (mid-level or higher) usually already include them for the M.2 modules that are available.

Lifespan

We add here the section of robustness and resistance, always important in any electronic product. To say again that one of the great differences between SSDs and hard drives is that they do not have moving parts, which gives them a great advantage in terms of the impossibility of mechanical failure.

In contrast, SSDs are more prone to power failure while the drive is running, leading to data corruption or even total failure. Also, the memory blocks in an SSD have a limited number of write operations.

Fortunately, recent years have greatly improved reliability and as we mentioned above, the latest massive resistance tests confirm that they last longer than a hard drive before it begins to fail. In addition, all SSDs include additional free memory cells so that when the others fail, they do not lose capacity, reallocating the damaged sectors.

SSD formats

These units are marketed in various standardized formats and interfaces that all users should know when facing their purchase for extensions or replacements of hard disks. We review them.

2.5 inches

It is a standardized format that is also used by smaller hard drives. It is the most widespread and versatile because you will find it on any desktop computer and on almost all laptops. In a PC tower you can mount any of these models in the 2.5″ bays and also in the 3.5″ ones with an adapter, while in laptops they vary according to their thickness of 9.5 mm and 7 mm the most thin and often used in ultraportables or convertibles.

M.2

Much more modern and smaller in size than the previous one, it is marketed in several variants, although the most widespread is the one called ‘2280’, which measures only 80 x 22 and 3.5 mm, smaller than a RAM memory module. It is the format that is prevailing in the industry and the recommended one to use on motherboards that support it , both for size and performance when using the PCI-Express interface that we will see below. Another variant is mSATA, even smaller than the previous one (50.8 mm x 29.85 mm x 4.5 mm), but much less widespread.

cards

A third format that we can find in this case exclusively for desktop computers is the card type inserted directly into a PCIe slot on the motherboard. This format includes the units that mount their chips directly on the card or if it is used as accessories to be able to mount the previous M.2 on boards that do not have a specialized connector. They are just as fast as M.2 when using PCIe, but are usually somewhat more expensive and their offer is much lower than M.2. There is less and less supply and we would really only recommend them when our board does not have M.2 connectors available.

Interfaces de SSD

Related to the previous section, but very different, all buyers of these units must know the interfaces supported by their equipment or what is the same, the connection bus to which they are going to connect the SSD . Basically there are two:

SATA

Serial Advanced Technology Attachment ). It is a tremendously widespread bus since it has been with us since 2003 and is supported by 100% of the PCs sold in the last 15 years. Tremendously versatile, it is used only by 2.5-inch drives since the few M.2 that were marketed years ago for this port have practically disappeared.

Not all SSDs offer the same performance since they depend on the memory used and especially on its controller, but practically all SATAs reach data transfer speeds of 500 MB/s, between double and triple that of a hard drive , although less fast than the ones we will see next. They are the cheapest SSDs in cost per GB, although new releases are being reduced compared to PCIe. They can be mounted very easily on laptops and desktops with adapters.

PCIe

More modern and much faster than SATA, PCI-Express has become the main local bus of PCs and the tendency is that it will end up being the only one once all the existing legacy components for SATA are pushed aside. It is used both for internal connection in the integrated circuits of the motherboards (chipsets) and to connect external cards punctured in the corresponding slots.

In the case of SSDs, they have dedicated connectors on the motherboards, the M.2 mentioned above, and support the NVMe protocol that makes the unit bootable, allows for high performance, reduces the overload of I/O components and the CPUs. Among the few drawbacks compared to SATA models is the one we mentioned above, that PCIs get hotter. They are also more expensive in price per GB.

The most widespread units connect to the PCIe 3.0 interface and offer speeds of around 3,000 MB/s in sequential reads, while version 4.0 (the most recommended right now) raises data transfer rates above 7,000 Mbytes per second. The next generation that will connect to the PCIe 5.0 standard is on the way , but there are no drives on the consumer market yet.

M.2 PCIe and one SATA installed on the same board

SSD Offer (September 2022)

Although the new Gen5 drives are on the way, they will only be able to take advantage of the latest Intel and AMD platforms. In addition, we are in a very good time to buy any type of product based on NAND flash memory because prices have fallen quite a bit in recent months, between 30-35% in the last quarter according to TrendForce analysts .

Not all of this discount is transferred to the final product, but the truth is that you will find very good prices and a wide range both from the big manufacturers (Kioxia, WD, Samsung, Kingston…) and from integrators that use the memories of the previous ones (Corsair , Crucial, ADATA…).

Since our last guide, the supply of PCIe drives has increased to the detriment of those that connect to SATA, although there is anything you look for to upgrade desktops, laptops or other uses such as external storage or to use as cache in models such as NAS. We leave you with a selection of the best current offers, separating them by connection interface and some more representative external ones.

PCIe

– WD_BLACK SN850X . It uses Kioxia TLC 3D NAND memories and its own controller to take full advantage of the PCIe 4.0 interface and offer 7,300 MB/s in sequential reading and more than one million IOPS in reading, which places it among the fastest in the sector. With a five-year warranty and a very high TBW lifespan, it is available in capacities of 1, 2 and 4 Tbytes from 182 euros. In case you are interested, you can review the analysis we carried out on the SN850.

– Samsung 980 PRO . Another of the greats in the sector. It has TLC memories and Elpis controller (both from the firm) and reaches 7,000 Mbytes per second in readings connected to PCIe Gen4. It includes a large amount of cache (512 MB LPDDR4) and has a 5-year warranty. It is sold in capacities of 1 and 2 Tbytes from 163 euros. We also had the opportunity to analyze it in this post . And if you want the SSD 980 (not Pro) you have the 1 TB version for only 103 euros.

– Corsair MP600 PRO XT . Another of the group of the fastest: 7,100 MB/s and 6,800 MB/s in sequential reading and writing. It stands out in the cooling section since it mounts a spectacular memory sink as standard. It has a five-year warranty and lifetime resistance because the Tbytes written will not be able to reach them in normal use. It is sold in capacities of 1, 2 and 4 Tbytes from 165 euros. Alternatively, you can buy the 1TB Corsair MP600 for €137.

– Crucial P5 Plus . A step below the previous ones, but cheaper, it mounts in-house memories (Micron TLC) and offers speeds of 6,600 MB/s in sequential readings and remarkable writing speeds: 5,000 MB/s. The 500 GB model is priced at only 78 euros, although the most attractive currently for price is the 1 TB for 116 euros.

– GIGABYTE AORUS NVMe . Another good Gen4 with Toshiba memories and Phison controller with 5000 MB/s and a high conductivity LAIRD thermal pad to reinforce heat dissipation. With a five-year warranty, the 1 TB version is priced at 165 euros.

– KIOXIA EXCERIA . A good sample of PCIe Gen3 for those who don’t have Gen4 cards yet. It has reliable Toshiba memories and a performance of 1,700 MB / s, more than enough for the mid-range. Very cheap, the 500 Gbyte version is available for only 53 euros, while you can buy the 1 TB Kioxia Exceria G2 for 87 euros.

–Kingston NV2 . We close the sample with another Gen4, but different from the previous ones, since it uses a single-sided design that only places chips on one side of the SSD and reduces its thickness, consumption and heat generation. It lowers the performance of the interface to 3,000 / 1,300 Mbytes per second, but it is ideal for the user who does not need as much and ideal for mounting on laptops. It is sold in capacities of 250, 500, 1000 and 2000 Gbytes and is the cheapest you will find in Gen4: from 46 euros.

SATA

– KIOXIA Exceria . The new brand of what used to be Toshiba Memory, they mount in-house memories and data transfer of up to 555 Mbytes in sequential reading. The 1 Tbyte version is priced at 105 euros and offers other capacities such as the very cheap 240 GB.

– W. D. Green . The world’s leading manufacturer of hard drives has a wide range of SSDs, such as this model with sequential read speeds of up to 560 MB/s, which is also optimized to reduce consumption and mounts super-reliable SLC memories. The 500 GB drive is priced at 48 euros.

– Samsung SSD 870 EVO . Surely the best-selling among the 2.5″ SATA. It mounts memories and its own controller and reaches the maximum performance that SATA allows with sequential speeds of 560/530 MB / s. It offers capacities from 250 GB to 4 Tbytes of capacity from 45 euros, although the most interesting version right now is the 500 GB version for 64 euros.

– Crucial MX500 . In a 2.5″ format, it mounts Micron memories and offers sequential reads/writes up to 560/510 MB and random reads/writes up to 95/90 K. They have a 5-year warranty and offer capacities from 250 GB to 4 Tbytes of capacity. Cheap, they start at 43 euros and currently the most interesting in terms of capacity/price is 1 Tbyte for 90 euros.

–Kingston SKC600B . Mounts Toshiba memories and Silicon Motion controller for 550 / 520 Mbytes per second in sequential reading / writing. It stands out for its compatibility with comprehensive security packages to safeguard data, XTS-AES compatible self-encryption based on 256-bit hardware, and TCG Opal 2.0 security management solutions. With a five-year warranty, it offers capacities from 256 GB to 2 TB with prices starting at 41 euros. Analysis here .

– SanDiskPlus . Another of the most representative of the 2.5″ SATA, mounts its own memories for a performance of 535 MB/s in reading, although in writing it falls a little to 450 MB/s. Its price makes up for it since the 1 TB version costs 89 euros. It offers other capacities from 240 GB for 42 euros.

External SSD

The advantages of SSD that internal drives show have also been transferred to external solutions and although with less offer, we also find interesting solutions that can be carried in a pocket anywhere, generally connected by a port as widespread as USB or can be used for increase the storage of products such as consoles. Some of the best deals:

– SanDisk External SSD . Small size, robust and highly mobile. The company offers standard units at 520 Mbytes per second, the Extreme (1000 MB/s) and the Pro that offer 2,000 MB/sec. They offer all kinds of capacities from 75 euros, although the ideal is the 1 TB Extreme for 138 euros .

– WD_BLACK P50 . Specially designed for gamers on consoles and PCs who need additional storage for their games. Its performance is very high up to 2,000 MB/s in sequential reading. It has an attractive and sturdy case and is sold in capacities from 500 Gbytes to 4 Tbytes. The 1 TB version is priced at 218 euros.

– Crucial X6 . A portable SSD that reaches 800 MB/s connected to a USB 3.2 port. It works with consoles or PCs and is sold in capacities of 500 GB and 1, 2 and 4 Tbytes from only 69 euros.

–Samsung T7 . Small size, low weight (higher endurance option with the Shield series) and with speeds of 1,050 Mbytes per second. It is available in various capacities, the 1 Tbyte for 99 euros and the 1 TB Shield resistant version for 130 euros.

–Kingston XS2000 . Another external SSD that can be carried anywhere in a pocket and plugs into a USB Type-C port. IP55 certified for resistance to water, dust and shock, it offers very high performance with data transfer of 2,000 Mbytes per second in both sequential reading and writing. You have the 500 GB version for 111 euros, although the most interesting is the 1 TB version for 148 euros.

Hopefully this SSD Guide has been useful to you. The above is just a selection of everything you can find. You can find the offers and many more at our leading retailers :

 

by Abdullah Sam
I’m a teacher, researcher and writer. I write about study subjects to improve the learning of college and university students. I write top Quality study notes Mostly, Tech, Games, Education, And Solutions/Tips and Tricks. I am a person who helps students to acquire knowledge, competence or virtue.

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