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How to buy the best SSD for your PC

It’s not a PC without one

Solid State Drives are a necessity now. Once you’ve used an SSD, you simply cannot go back to using hard drives for your boot drive because they’re simply that slow in comparison. However, even in the realm of SSDs, there are way too many SKUs that can provide anything from the hard drive like performance to really fast blazing speeds that will make you question your reality. So which one should you be going for?

One of the fastest

What to consider

  • Form factor – SSDs come in different form factors but the two main form factors would be 2.5-inch SATA (Serial ATA) or NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor). The former is compatible with any SATA port that you might find in your PC and is not capable of really impressive speeds since the SATA interconnect has a speed limit of 600 MBps. NGFF, on the other hand, is the newer form factor that is available in a number of physical sizes and with different electrical characteristics. The third and not so popular form factor is that of PCIe SSDs. Before NGFF was a thing, those SSDs which wanted more bandwidth than what the SATA ports could provide had to use the PCIe slots. Now within NGFF, there are different sizes as well. The variation in with the height which comes in 30mm, 42mm, 60mm, 80mm and 110mm.
  • Protocol – Now you can either use SATA or NVMe as the protocol for transferring data to and from your SSD. The former is limited to 600 MBps while the latter can go all the way up to 32 GBps based on which standard we are looking at. If the stark difference in speeds hasn’t made your jaw hit the floor, then we don’t know what will. However, the key thing to consider while buying an SSD is what protocol your SSD supports and what protocol your motherboard supports. There’s no point installing a higher-performing SSD if it can’t realise its full potential. Some NVMe slots on the motherboard will only support x2 PCIe lanes which means they are inherently slower than slots with x4 PCIe lanes. Moreover, since we are looking at PCIe lanes, they could be shared with one of the PCIe slots. Which means if you have a graphics card or any other add-in card installed in one of the slots, then your x4 PCIe NVMe slot might get downgraded to an x2 slot and you will not get the desired speeds on the SSD.
An old SandForce controller on the left
  • Controller – The heart of your SSD is the controller. It’s what decides how the SSD interacts with your PC and how the different NAND chips are utilised on the SSD’s PCB. Some controllers have their own separate memory and don’t have to use an external RAM chip which is what’s commonly found in cheap SSDs. This ends up with a reduced overall performance. Whereas, in higher-end SSDs, you will find the controller and memory being separate. Think of it like CPUs where a CPU with an IGP isn’t the best bet for gaming, similarly an SSD controller with internal memory isn’t the best bet for you.
  • Firmware – Even if you have a good controller on the SSD, things won’t always go the right way for you. That’s because the controller is just one half of the heart of your SSD, the other is the firmware which runs on it. Bad firmware can mess up your read-write cycles or even cause a decay in performance over time. So before you buy your new SSD, just check news articles to see if it has any firmware issues.
Random access numbers are more important
  • Latency – An often ignored aspect about SSDs is the latency. A hard drive takes about 15-18 milliseconds to access a data block while an SSD can perform the same action in 0.03 seconds. However, this is dependant on the controller, the number of NAND chips and the firmware. The lower the SSD’s latency, the faster it can move data around. Low-latency drives are what give your PC a snappier performance.
  • IOPS – This parameter tells us how a drive handles I/O requests from the OS. Different files within your OS or applications behave differently. Smaller files are what the OS tends to use frequently while larger files are what the browser might use when you are streaming videos. How all of these files move to your SSD is determined by the controller’s IOPS capability. The higher the IOPS it can handle the better your SSD will be.
  • Conditioned throughput – All speeds mentioned in the retail packaging and marketing material for SSDs are the out of box speeds i.e. what you get when you use the SSD straight out of the packaging. This should tell you that these speeds are not going to be consistent at all once you have installed everything and have been using the SSD for a month or so. This state where the speeds come down to a consistent level is termed as the conditioned state and very few reviewers perform these kinds of tests. An SSD has to be exercised 24×7 for a few days to achieve a conditioned state which is why benchmarking SSDs takes more time than other hardware. Always check what the SSD’s steady-state performance will be before going in for one.

What not to consider

  • Fancy lighting – Yes, the menace of RGB has made its way into the realm of SSDs as well. COMPUTEX 2016 was where the first RGB SSD prototypes started surfacing and now we’ve even seen the same enter the retail market.
Looks good, doesn’t affect performance
  • Out of box throughput – As mentioned previously, never trust the values mentioned on the packaging of SSDs. They’re always the highest speeds that can be achieved on an SSD and you’ll only experience that for a very short period after you purchase them.

The best place to get it

  • Mumbai – Lamington Road
  • Kolkata – Chandni Chowk
  • Bangalore – SP Road
  • Delhi – Nehru Place
  • Pan-India – Amazon / Flipkart

Mithun Mohandas

While not dishing out lethal doses of sarcasm, this curious creature can often be found tinkering with tech, playing vidya' games or exploring the darkest corners of the Internets. #PCMasterRace