Solid-state drives: 10 questions, 10 solid answers

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4. I have about 500GB worth of data and don't want to buy such a large SSD. What are the alternatives?

Get a cheaper SSD (64GB-128GB) and put Windows and your most important programs on that disk. SanDisk, for example, offers 64GB (about $60) and 128GB ($85) models respectively. Then use a 500GB-1TB hard disk drive as a pure storage disk. If you're thinking about upgrading your laptop, it might be worth switching out the optical drive and using the bay for a traditional HDD.

Make sure that your primary SSD has enough disk space. Again, I recommend 64GB at the very least. Windows 7 and 8 consume about 20GB of disk space: There's the Windows folder (5GB-8GB depending on which flavor you use, 32- or 64-bit), the hibernation file, the user folder and of course the programs folder. It's not uncommon to have a base Windows installation and some programs quickly exceeding the 40GB limit. And you'll want at least 10GB-20GB for additional temporary data or page files for these programs.

5. Which SSD should I get? What's the difference between all chipsets?

First of all, you can't really go wrong with any of the current generation SSDs. Even the slowest SSD you'll find today is at least 10 times faster than regular hard disk drives in the sequential and random read/write department. There are, however, differences among the major SSD chipsets that you need to be aware of:

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SandForce: Most of today's solid-state drives are based on the popular SandForce chipset. It offers the most advanced compression technique on the market and thus achieves fantastic SATA 6G speeds, varying between 250Mbps-350Mbps in sequential reads/writes. It offers top speed and is currently one of the most solid SSD chipsets on the market. Note: OCZ uses a specially branded SandForce controller that they call "Indilinx".

Marvell: Currently only the Plextor M3 uses the Marvell controller, which is manufactured and supplied by Toshiba. While this controller offers an average sequential read rate of about 400Mbps, random read/write operations suffer a bit (barely over 100Mbps in our tests).

SanDisk: SanDisk uses its very own controller, which also offers a fantastic read performance (around 350Mbps-400Mbps), but a rather lackluster random write speed (270Mbps) when compared to competitors. Even though that's still multiple times the performance of mechanical disks, you may notice a bit of a lag when launching multiple applications or running several hard disk intense operations. But what SanDisk lacks in the random read department, it more than makes up for with a much lower power consumption. It usually consumes about 1.5 watts while all other chipsets peak at 2.5 watts. If you care about battery life in your laptop, SanDisk is the way to go.

A word of caution: Even though many SSDs are based on the same chipsets and offer similar performance, I wouldn't necessarily pick the cheapest manufacturer. While brand names such as OCZ offer frequent firmware updates, no-name brands may take longer to release updates (or won't release any updates at all) for their disks -- and that can be quite a problem if you're suffering from sudden BSoDs or read/write failures with your sparkling new solid-state drive. Plus, well-known manufacturers offer better support.

That cautionary note aside, all current-gen SSDs based on the above mentioned chipsets offer plenty of performance. While benchmarks indicate some differences, it's rarely noticeable in even the typical IT pro's day-to-day activities. Unless you require constant raw output, you can't really go wrong with SandForce or Marvell. Due to its lower power consumption, I'd personally go for the SanDisk controller in the mobile space.

6. I'd love to make the jump to an SSD but my PC or laptop lacks the proper SATA 6G interface. Will I run into performance problems?

Typically you won't notice a massive difference when connecting a modern SSD to your older SATA II connector, which offers 300 Mbps (SSDs barely reach higher levels). If you really need maximum throughput, I'd go for a SATA 6G adapter. But be careful: if you're connecting such adapters to your PCIe connector, you'll often need to fiddle with BIOS settings or won't achieve maximum performance.

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