What's the magic price point for SSDs?

What's the magic price point for SSDs?

Summary: Ever since Anand Lal Shimpi described using SSD drives as the single most noticeable upgrade you can do to your computer, I've been looking for the right price point to follow his example and make the SSD move. But at what price?

TOPICS: Intel, Hardware, Reviews

Ever since Anand Lal Shimpi described using SSD drives as the single most noticeable upgrade you can do to your computer, I've been looking for the right price point to follow his example and make the SSD move.

(Credit: Antec)

It's not that I'm dissatisfied with the performance of my main desktop computer at home. After all, I've just upgraded the CPU from a 2.0GHz (overclocked to 2.66GHz) E4400 Intel Core 2 Duo to a 3GHz Q9650 quad-core. The machine already had 4GB of RAM, an Nvidia Geforce 8800GTS 320MB, several terabytes of hard disk space, and a Thermalright Ultra 120 heatsink.

All of this only just fits in an Antec P182 case, which keeps the whole deal fairly silent. And, of course, there's the obligatory 22-inch monitor, which may shortly be joined by a 17-inch auxiliary.

But like any PC enthusiast, I'm always looking for the next thing to upgrade, and Anand's comments piqued my interest. AnandTech's analysis has shown that SSD drives are at least comparable on most benchmarks to traditional hard disks, except the read latency, where they are ahead by an order of magnitude.

It's this factor that can put SSDs out in front when it comes to the speed of loading large applications like computer games, operating systems (even virtualised ones) and video and photo editing tools, all of which I use on a regular basis.

But a casual search of an Australian online PC parts retailer (my favourite is Aus PC-Market) reveals the price is still too high compared with a traditional magnetic hard disk; at least in my opinion. For example, if you want the cream of the SSD crop, a 160GB Intel X25-M, you're gonna be forking out in excess of $1100. That's a lot of peanuts to increase the speed of loading your apps.

In comparison, you can get a 150GB Western Digital Velociraptor (considered the king of speedy hard disks) for over $250. Hell, you could buy two, speed them up by placing them in a RAID array, and you'd still come out ahead by more than half compared to Intel's SSD option.

Of course, you can go down the pile a bit ... Aus PC-Market's list bottoms out at the 32GB PQI disk at $156.20, which isn't going to get you anywhere near the performance of the Intel, but is obviously much more affordable.

But, my colleague, reviews editor Craig Simms, has demonstrated to me in the ZDNet.com.au bunker that there are risks of buying a low-quality SSD drive — jittering when carrying out basic operating system tasks being one of the more annoying problems. I should note we haven't directly tested the PQI mentioned above.

If Intel brought down its prices by half, I'd have to say I would seriously look at buying one of its top of the line SSDs, but that's unlikely to happen. In the meantime, I'm left wondering at what price level I should take the plunge. Or should I try another brand? Which one?

Topics: Intel, Hardware, Reviews

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  • prices are way too high

    i believe ocz and corsair make pretty decent ssd's as well, and possibly at a lower price point
  • Intel Postville, 30% price drop.

    Intel just slashed their prices by 30%~ due application of 32nm chips.
  • You underestimate how huge the SSD difference is

    The random read latency on an SSD (especially the Intel SSD) is not "an order of magnitude" faster than a conventional HDD. It is more than 2 orders of magnitude. 90*�¼s* access time on the Intel X-25M vs. 15-20*ms* on a good HDD (you can't just go by the avg. seek times manufacturers advertise, have to add in half a rotation time also). That is literally 166-222X faster!!! It is even 3x faster than the Velociraptor on *SEQUENTIAL* reads. The only situation where a conventional disk (or an array of conventional disks for that matter) competes is in sequential writes. You could get 10 Velociraptors for more than twice the price of the SSD and put them in RAID 0 and it would still be dramatically slower.
  • Corsair P256 at $945

    Much better than the others for a Samsung drive (you get both Corsair and Samsung model and serial numbers on them).

    These are fast, with much better IO OPS for small random writes (though I run all my SSDs at 64KB sectors anyway). Most others are based upon the poor jMicron chips (great majority) or the Indilynx. The OCZ Vertex uses the latter and have been most aggressive about getting good performance out of them.

    However, I would rather have gone for Corsair (Samsung) if they then had had the P Series (Performance) in smaller sizes than 256GB (actually only 244GB - where 1 GB = 10^9, not 2^30). In addition to two 256GB Corsairs (for audio samples), we went for a 120GB and a 60GB Vertex for the OS and data drives in our computers.

    Besides the increased speed of OS and application startup, it is the total absense of HDD noise that is great. You don't realise how much noise HDDs make (spinning and heads) until it's GONE!! Also, they are so cool to run, plus they do not need to be shock mounted. My four WD Raptors were putting out 40W previously, requiring their own dedicated 120mm fan.

    With SSDs, there are some tweaks that will enable them to work better. See OCZs forums for what can work (for all SSDs). If possible, initially partition them under Win 7, as it aligns them properly for SSDs - by far the easiest way.

    If you are going to get SSDs, consider getting one or more of the dual 2.5" holders than fit into a 3.5" floppy bay, for about $55-$70 each. With AHCI enabled on the computer (check the web for the registry tweak that allows BIOSs already set to use SATA drives in IDE mode to be almost instantly set for AHCI), these allow drives to be hot ejected. If you have ever broken the SATA data connector on a HDD, you would prefer it happen to a $50 cage, than a $900+ SSD, with its possible lost data. I store the SSDs I don't need to use in a waterproof and fireproof case (bought from Officeworks for $70).
  • Very true

    Very true!

  • GSkill 128GB cheap upgrade totally worth it.

    I got a 128gb gskill falcon SSD and have never looked back. My productivity has increased dramatically cos I use photoshop, illustrator, dreamweaver all together and load times for these are exceptionally quick ( < 7secs).
    It cost me around $450 from a online store cheapmemory.com.au.
    I would recommend an SSD upgrade as it make all the difference imo.
  • Awesome feedback

    Thanks for the feedback; glad to hear it's been such a good experience. I've been hearing mixed reviews.

    I've got some GSkill RAM at home that is a solid performer.


  • SSD's

    Ok, but I had to laugh at this article. Why doe the heatsink rate a mention? Really?
  • My heatsink isn't generic!

    Because it proves he's an "enthusiast"?

    There's a very good thread entitled "the current state of SSD's" on whirlpool, which many people who have purchased all brands of SSD have contributed to. The best budget options are 64GB drives with Indilinx "barefoot" controllers and they cost $240AUD to $280AUD. The best drives out there are the Intel G2 34nm flash line, but at the moment they're like rocking horse poo (hard to find), and you pay a premium tag for the extra 20GB the 80gb model has over the Indilinx controlled drives. Can be found for ~$380 delivered on ebay according to legend.