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Posted on June 28th, 2010 by Mike Jennings

Why cheap SSDs just aren’t worth the cash

SSDvsHDDSSDs are the future. That’s what we’ve been told, anyway, by the companies who make them, the journalists who churn out breath-taking benchmark results, and enthusiasts who swap anecdotal stories of boot times being cut in half by the mere presence of Flash-based memory.

That’s all well and good if you’ve shelled out hundreds on the latest high-end model, but my recent tests have suggested that cheaper solid-state disks aren’t worth the PCB they’re printed on.

I’ve not long finished the 6-core PC Labs test for the upcoming issue and, with a strict £666 exc VAT budget imposed, I was surprised to see one system turn up with an SSD in tow. Granted, it wasn’t the flashiest drive – a 32GB Integral drive that retails for around £70 exc VAT – but it still promised improved boot times and a generally snappier operating system.

Our benchmark results, though, told a different story. When we ran our suite of application tests with the SSD-equipped system, it scored 1.98; similarly-equipped systems in the test scored from 2.16 to 2.24. This piqued my interest, so I cloned the SSD onto a mechanical hard disk – in this case one of three Seagate Barracuda 7200.12 discs that we use in our test rigs – and re-ran the benchmarks. The resulting score of 2.14 suggests that the SSD is hindering, rather than helping, this particular PC.

A lot of buzzwords surround the technical side of SSDs, but a quick investigation revealed that the MLC chips used by Integral or the lack of TRIM support weren’t to blame. In fact, the sluggish performance can be attributed to one of the only parts in the drive that isn’t manufactured by Integral at all – the controller.SSD

The JMF602 is made by Jmicron, a Taiwanese chip manufacturer, and has been used by Transcend, PNY and OCZ, although the latter has now switched to a more reliable controller. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Jmicron controller is still used in budget SSDs like the Super Talent MasterDrive, which was one of the worst-performing products in our recent SSD Labs test.

It’s cheap but, thanks to a host of problems, hardly cheerful. The major issue is a lack of cache: the JMF602’s 16KB pales in comparison to the 256KB used in Intel’s PC29AS21A controller. It’s during intense activity – such as our benchmarks – that this cache quickly fills up, creating a bottleneck that prevents other files being accessed.

It’s tempting to buy a budget SSD for an instant, affordable performance boost, but our tests have shown that drives like the £70 exc VAT Integral are a false economy. That cash, spent more wisely, could buy you an Intel X-25V, which was the second-fastest SSD in our Labs, or a mechanical hard disk. It’s clear that not all SSDs are equal – and that it’s important to do your research before investing.

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13 Responses to “ Why cheap SSDs just aren’t worth the cash ”

  1. Chris Says:
    June 28th, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Interesting. Thanx.

     
  2. Lomskij Says:
    June 29th, 2010 at 9:37 am

    I’ve just checked and indeed you can get an Intel X25-V for the same price… Looks like SSD’s are getting affordable :-)

     
  3. stokegabriel Says:
    June 30th, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Seems that with SSDs, the bigger the drive, the better the general performance. Interestingly there are now several (transcend for one) super fast CF cards now appearing with SLC chips in them, has to be the way forward.

     
  4. stokegabriel Says:
    June 30th, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    Quote from PCPro SSD labs test.

    “Intel X25-V, barely faster than a conventional hard disk at reading large files, and when it came to sequential writes it’s actually slower.”

    The Intel X25-M is the only blisteringly fast SSD that that I have heard about, and that really costs, DON’T confuse it with the X25-V which it would seem is best to avoid.

     
  5. Zing Says:
    July 8th, 2010 at 10:40 am

    This article is outdated and being recirculated over and over. As time passes “cheap” SSD’s are not only becoming worth it, but the the major deciding factor is actually starting to be size. This article made sense 2 years ago, maybe a year ago, but not today.

    Yes, I know that speed is most important thing, but older SSD’s were horrifically slow and slower than HD’s. We are now getting to the point where mid priced SSD’s that are priced lower are already double the speed of most hard drives. For example the new PNY 128GB that’s released in June 2010 has read speeds of over 220MB/sec and write speeds around 150 to 180MB/sec. Yet only cost $225. While the Intel is faster, at this point, it’s only some faster. Most people won’t want to pay $400 for a 128GB drive.

    Notice that it’s now 128GB, NOT 32GB, or 64GB. Over the summer and going into 4th quarter you can expect a swarm of new SSD’s that will all continue to drop in price and give the Intel X25 etc a run for it’s money. By then the “top end” will have even higher bench marks. But the point is, there a lot of SSD’s that are far faster than HD’s will come out and for a lot less than the Intel. Watch and see. All Intel can do is make an even faster one and then up that price. But people will still see the value in an SSD that makes their HD’s look slow.

    And I’m glad. I’ve waited years for this. Cheaper 256GB drives are next.

     
  6. Zing Says:
    July 8th, 2010 at 11:10 am

    By the way, the strange thing is that, less than a month ago the PNY was $357 on Amazon. So I guess it too falls into the category of spending hundreds on a latest model. But the sudden and fast price drop down to $225 makes me think there are even more unknown SSD’s lurking in the shadows, and ready to pop out.

    And I’ve already seen little hints that some cheaper 64GB and 128GB are about to come out. And when technology falls in price, the rest of the company’s follow. It always happens that way.

    Speaking of one drive, there is a sandforce of some sort, that lacks a cache, yet the drive that is about to appear will be very fast and cheap too. Due to the quality of the nand, the cache wasn’t needed. But cache could have made it better. Again, the point is things are changing fast. By Christmas, we should have several new goodies to look at.

     
  7. Zing Says:
    July 8th, 2010 at 11:12 am

    The PNY was announced around June 16th, so I’m not sure when they dropped the price, but

    http://www.cdrlabs.com/News/pny-launches-high-speed-optima-solid-state-drives.html

     
  8. l3v1ck Says:
    July 12th, 2010 at 1:37 am

    How out of date are your blogs?
    the 602 has been well known for ober a year and a half for being pants. It’s direct replacement has been out for a while as have many better controllers from other manufacturers.
    The Bit-Tech link you posted is well over a year old too. Try this newer one.
    http://www.bit-tech.net/hardware/storage/2010/07/08/ssd-buyers-guide/1

     
  9. Pete Says:
    August 18th, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    so, would it be smart to say, buy cheap SSD as said, and use a RAID controller?

     
  10. anon Says:
    April 19th, 2011 at 11:34 am

    LOL. Would the writer of this article put money on his information? I have bench marked the living hell out of my comp with multiple drives and there is no comparison to regular hd’s and SSD’s. Heck, my V.Raptor doesn’t even come close in terms of sheer performance and speed. The only thing the V.Raptor has going for it is size, but being the RPM speed, it’s reliability is crap compared to a regular hd, which further makes SSD’s stand out in the crowd.

    I’m using a 40 gig intel SSD in most of my comps now, not just because they are reliable, but for the cost. I have no need to run my large SSD’s for anything other than server drives, in which that is what they are used for.

    Once SATA3 kicks into full force, expect speeds to really kick up there.

    What’s even better is I/O SSD’s from OCZ and TI are becoming even cheaper and your starting to see speeds in the 500’s now. Try that with a normal hd.

    Only thing I say stay away from is the hybrid drives. Those IMO are just a way for companies to make more money off you and offer little performance gains. It’s basically emulated cache.

     
  11. Ryan Says:
    June 13th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    Sorry, but I only trust write-ups on the blogs of smart people who actually work in this field instead of just writing about it. Tech journos are notoriously clueless when it comes to benchmarking and you are certainly no exception.

     
  12. pete Says:
    September 6th, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    thanks for this. I was jsut about to buy a cheap drive! I’ll do a little more research.

    thanks again
    :)

     
  13. Bob Says:
    April 9th, 2014 at 9:25 am

    Personally I’m a big fan of the Crucial M500 having installed it on a four systems (laptops and desktops), I opted for a lower capacity and then gave myself some extra storage and flexibility by adding mini USB drives to my laptop when I needed more space, see here: http://bobmckay.com/i-t-support/get-cheap-ssd-hard-drive/

     

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