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Dummy's Guide to SSD shopping

 

Tech Satori

Since the motto of this blog is "to simplify tech for general(non techie) people", this time I'll simplify SSD for you. If you ask for PC build advice, they'll say "you must get SSD", or if you're a laptop user looking for tips to make it more snappy, "install SSD" is the first advice you'll hear.

But how do you know which SSD to buy? Most of them just advice you to buy SSD but don't mention which one, or they recommend a top end SSD that completely offsets your budget by a huge margin. So I'll try to give you a simplified general knowledge of SSDs so you can pick the best one according to your budget. This post is basically a compilation of frequently asked questions that are asked by non techie SSD shoppers.


TL;DR

[If you don't care about all the jargons and just want to know the best type of SSD for your use case.] 

All SSD types ranked by performance(the terms used here will be mentioned on online SSD listing).

Gen5 NVME : Coming soon...

Gen4 NVME : Currently the fastest option available. Recommended for professionals. 

M.2 NVME : Value for money for every user.

M.2 SATA and 2.5in SATA : For those who can't spend much


M.2 vs SATA vs Nvme vs PCIe SSD

When you see any SSD listings online, they mention atleast one of these terms. So what they all mean?

M.2 and SATA - Usually when the sellers/manufacturers mention them, they're referring to the connection type. M.2 SSD only connects into M.2 slot, which is only found in somewhat recent motherboards. So you must make sure your motherboard has one. SATA, on the other hand is slightly older type of connector. Basically all motherboards have SATA ports.

M.2 vs SATA - Manufactures/seller may refer them as connector/slot types, but they are much more than that. M.2 is a form factor that can make use of SATA, PCIe and USB interface. SATA on the other hand is the predecessor of these modern PCIe/Nvme devices. The major difference is speed, SATA devices can achieve maximum of 600MB/s whereas fastest M.2 devices are touching 6GB/s sequential write speeds. Key point to note here is that a M.2 SSD can also be SATA SSD, so beware of them. 

NVMe vs PCIe - NVMe is a storage protocol but PCIe is the electrical bus. But all the devices available today uses both, so people often assume they're the same. 


DRAM vs DRAM-less SSD

People say DRAM SSD are better than DRAM-less SSD. While it is true for most cases, modern DRAM-less SSDs like Samsung's 980 series are almost as fast as some common SSDs with DRAM. Samsung's 980 SSDs also challenged the lifespan stereotype "DRAM SSDs last longer" by providing the same 5 year warranty as DRAM SSDs. However, it does not mean that all DRAM-less SSDs are good, specially when you can get a SSD with DRAM at the same price. However, this information is often omitted at online listings, so you may have to refer to manufacturer's site or individual reviewers.


SLC, MLC, TLC, QLC SSDs

SLC(Single Layer Cell) = 1 bit per cell

MLC/2MLC(Multi Layer Cell) = 2 bits per cell

TLC(Triple Layer Cell) = 3 bits per cell

QLC(Quad Layer Cell) = 4 bits per cell

If you use simple calculations then you can see that QLC SSDs can offer largest storage capacities. But these massive drives come with the cost of reliability and speed. Therefore, QLC SSDs are cheapest and SLC are the most expensive. 

Basically, SLC SSDs are only recommended for enterprises where failure tolerance is low. MLC is recommended for servers and professionals video editors/studios. TLC for Gamers and QLC for mass storage for general users. However, SSD manufactures are devising new ways to overcome the differences between these SSD types without raising the cost as much for consumers. For example, QLC SSDs with 3D NAND(Crucial P1), TLC SSD with SLC cache(Samsung 980 Pro), etc. 

Newer SSDs are not that obvious in terms of performance anymore. You might mistake a QLC SSD for a budget friendly TLC SSD these days by performance alone. 


Gen 3 vs Gen 4 SSD

It is basically the speed difference in layman's terms. Gen 3 SSDs can reach max speeds upto 3500MB/s whereas newer Gen 4 SSDs can reach 5000MB/s speeds. But that's another motherboard dependent feature, so make sure your motherboard can support gen 4 before buying


That's all the common questions that basically covers the common jargon(s) associated with SSDs. However, there's one more thing you should be wary of when shopping for SSDs. That is the rated/advertised speeds of an SSD. Manufacturers often use the best figures from their controlled testing. Like "upto 2400MB/s read speed and 1700MB/s write speeds". These are often sequential read/write speeds. The actual sustained speeds you'll get may be much lower. So don't blindly pick something with high numbers, just google the reviews from reputed testers(anandtech, tomshardware, etc) to see where they stand against the competitors. 

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