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SSD Buyer’s Guide 2021- How to Choose the Right SSD?

Hey! Are you tired of searching about the right buying guide to pick the right SSD for you? Well, this article is going to cover everything you need to know before choosing any SSD for your system.

Whether you want to upgrade your system with an SSD or want to purchase a new laptop or desktop, this article will help everyone.

So, let’s understand why SSDs are good to buy in 2020 and how you should find the right one for you.

The storage capacity is an important part of any digital device. Mostly computers and laptops run on storage in the form of the traditional hard disk drive.

There are many pros and cons to this form of storage but because of a lack of a strong substitute, almost every computer and laptop being manufactured supports HDD.

Thankfully after research and development in technology, there is a reliable successor to hard drives. The solid-state drive has taken the technological world by storm as it overcomes most of the shortcomings of HDD. It’s faster than hard drives by huge margins and consumes less power as well. 

What is SSD? 

Before I get started on my buying guide for the best SSD, it’s important to understand what SSD is and how they work. Solid-state drives were invented almost 30 years back from today and store data in integrated circuits using flash memory. SSDs don’t have any rotating parts like hard disks and are therefore more compact in size. 

The data on an SSD is stored in the semiconductor cells present on the circuit. The number of bits stored per cell can range from one bit to four bits. Based on this one can find Single-Level cell, Multi-Level cell, Triple-Level cell, and Quad-Level cell SSDs that have different properties. 

Today there are multiple varieties of SSD available in the market with different capacities and functions. Below are the two primary variants of SSD you can choose for your device.

Worldwide Interest in SSDs over time (Graph)

increasing trend of SSD worldwide over time
Source: Google Trends

Types of SSD

  1. SATA SSD

These are the first generation of SSD and one of the most common types of SSD used in laptops. Serial Advanced Technology Attachment or SATA is cheaper compared to the other SSDs available. You can either choose a large-sized (2.5 Inches) SATA SSD or a smaller mSATA SSD as per your choice.

SATA SSD IMage
SATA SSD IMage
  1. M.2 SATA SSD

There are no differences between the SATA SSD and M.2 SATA if we talk about the speed and other performance elements. However, the size of M.2 is reduce because of its small form factor. The price is slightly more.

SATA M.2 SSD Image
SATA M.2 SSD Image
  1. M.2 NVMe SSD

Non-Volatile Memory Express is another protocol interface built for SSD. This SSD variant is much faster than SATA and is usually suitable for devices that operate with large data transfer.

M.2 NVMe SSD Image
M.2 NVMe SSD Image

M.2 SATA vs M.2 NVME- Which one should you buy?

4. AIC SSD

The Add-in-Card is a form factor that helps in plugging in an SSD to the device. This variant is quicker than both SATA and NVMe SSDs. But it can only be used if your device doesn’t have a graphics card installed.

AIC SSD Image
AIC SSD Image

Different types of connectors used for SSD Connections

The connectors of your SSD also play a crucial role in the functioning of an SSD. The three basic connectors available currently found in most SSDs:

SATA M.2 and NVMe M.2 Connector configuration image
SATA M.2 and NVMe M.2 Connector configuration image
  1. M.2 connector: This connector supports both the SATA as well as the NVMe SSD of different lengths and capacities.
  1. PCIe connector: The PCIe connectors also support both the variants of SSD, SATA, and NVMe.
  1. U.2 connectors: This connector type however only supports the NVMe SSD. 

SSD Form Factor

The next important aspect of an SSD is its form factor. This simply represents the size of the SSD. In the beginning, SSD was made as to the same dimensions as that of a hard drive disk to easily replace them without any trouble. Here are three main form factors of SSD to be found:

  1. 2.5 inch SSD: This is the standard size SSD that replicates the size of a mechanical hard drive.
2.5 inch SSD form factor image
SATA 2.5 Form Factor Image
  1. M.2 SSD: SSD with this form factor has a width of 22 mm with its length varying from 40 mms to 110 mms. This will be evident on the drive with the serial number 2240 or 2280. This SSD is also compared to a gum stick because of the similar shape.
all m.2 form factor sizes
M.2 Form Factor Image
  1. mSATA SSD: SSDs of this form factor are almost one-eighth the size of the 2.5-inch SSD. These drives are ultra-thin and can be directly plugged into the motherboard. The dimensions of this lie at 30 mm in width and 60 mm in length. 
msata ssd form factor image
mSATA Form Factor Image

Why is an SSD better than Hard Disk drive?

Now that you know what a Solid-state drive is and the popular types of SSDs available, let us understand why one must pick an SSD over a hard drive. Here are the top 4 advantages that SSD has over the traditional storage disks. 

  1. SSDs are much faster than Hard drives: One of the most important flaws of the hard drives is the long time it takes to process data in the drive. But since SSD makes use of flash memory, the processing time is cut down by huge margins. SSD is significantly faster than and will give the system uses a faster and better experience.
  1. SSD consumes less power: As SSD doesn’t have spinning or moving parts, the consumption of power in an SSD is low compared to hard drives. This makes SSD noise-free and faster in their performance. So by switching to an SSD you will not only save your time but also save energy with less power usage.
  1. SSD is more resistant to damage: SSD comes in a sleek and compact build that is more resistant to breakage. As you might know, a hard drive has a rotating arm that is movable that can be damaged quite easily. An SSD on the other hand is safer and is also better resistant to damage from water. 
  1. SSD generates less heat and noise: By employing flash memory for storing and accessing data on an SSD, there is no generation of heat or noise. This is generally the case with a mechanical hard drive that gets heated upon continuous usage and produces a loud noise from the spinning of the arm on the hard drive. 

How to choose the right SSD?

 I am sure that after going through all the above information you are thinking of upgrading to an SSD and replacing the old and noisy hard drive on your desktops and laptops. But you still might be confused about which SSD to choose, how much capacity you need, and which variant is most suitable for you. 

Well, worry no more as I am going to walk you through all the steps of finding an SSD for you that is best matched for your needs. Here are some of the questions you should ask yourself before buying an SSD as they will make an impact on whether or not the SSD is suitable for you. 

  1. What slots are available on your motherboard? 

This is the primary question that anyone desirous of switching to an SSDmust check. Not every motherboard supports all the different kinds of SSD. So, check your motherboard first and analyze which SSD will it support, and then narrow down your choices from there.

To check it, just visit the Crucial Advisor page and search for your system. It will give you information on which technology your motherboard support i.e. SATA or NVMe. Also, you can download CPU-Z for precise information on the available PCIe version of your motherboard.

NVMe Slot
NVMe Slot
PCIe Slot

Note 1: If your motherboard has M.2 NVMe PCIe support, it is best to buy an NVMe SSD because it will give you a much better speed. If your motherboard can’t support the NVMe (PCIe) speed, it is a waste of money to buy an NVMe SSD.

Note 2: If your motherboard has a PCIe v3.1 slot, any NVMe SSD will be able to give you the speed of up to 4GB/s or 4000MB/s.

motherboard bus specs on CPU Z
  1. Do you need an SSD for storing data or running the OS?

By answering this question you can decide if you really need an SSD or are better off without one. If your aim is to move all the programs on your device to the SSD for faster performance, then SSD is the right choice for you. However, if you are considering SSD for long-term external data storage, we advise you to stick to an HDD.

Note: If your goal is to install your OS on an NVMe SSD, make sure to check if your BIOS has an option to set an NVMe or PCIe drive as your OS drive. If no option is available, you will have to keep your NVMe SSD as a normal storage drive. In that case, it is better to purchase a much cheaper M.2 SATA or SATA 2.5 drive instead of a costly NVMe drive.

  1. What amount of space do you need? 

By now you must know that SSD offers a lot less storage space than a hard disk drive. The maximum amount of storage of an SSD doesn’t exceed 4 or 6 GB. So if you are someone that needs huge free storage space on your device, be ready to spend loads of money. Or you can combine SSD and hard disk drive to increase the space with faster processing. 

  1. Why do you want to upgrade to an SSD? 

It’s a known fact that an SSD is much faster than a hard drive. But if you are upgrading a device that doesn’t experience high data transfer or run apps that need high cache, or has games with graphics, then there will not be a noticeable difference in the performance of your device. SSD will improve the performance of your laptop but if you are not utilising the full potential of it would be a waste of money. 

Now that you have decided that you want an SSD for your device, here are the options available to you based on different properties and functions. I have categorized SSDs into different categories based on various important criteria. Go through each one carefully as they will help you find the best SSD for you. 

  1. Do you want to install it inside your PC or use externally?

As you have read above that this technology has grown so much in a very small time frame. We are not able to store Terabytes of data inside time chips. So, if you do not want to indulge in any physical installation by opening up your laptop or desktop, there is another solution for you.

Portable/External SSDs are also available in the market. They can easily be connected to your computer and smartphones as well. You can install any software or an entire OS on these portable SSDs.

SSD based on the storage memory

One must decide between the four storage memory options based on storage per cell. They are as below:

  1. Quad-Level Cell SSD: These store four bits of data in one cell and are thereby a little slower compared to the other types of SSD. On the other hand, these drives have more space and are also less expensive compared to single-level cell SSD.
  2. Triple-Level Cell SSD: The TLC SSD stores three bits of data in a single cell of the circuit. These are slightly faster than QLC SSDs but still much behind MLC and SLC SSDs in processing speed. 
  3. Mono-Level Cell SSD: The Mono-Level Cell SSD stores two bits of data for every single cell. This means that the speed of these is twice as fast as the QLC SSD but they have half the storage in comparison.
  4. Single-Level Cell SSD: The fastest type of SSD based on its storage memory is the Single-Level Cell SSD. As only one bit of data is stored in a cell the processing is very fast. These are also the most expensive SSD compared to the above three types. 

Note: QLC SSDs should be avoided these days because there are more chances of wear in them because of more cells loaded inside a single cell. Especially if you want to use it for heavy writing tasks such as frequent copy-pasting, you should go for anything rather than a QLC.

SSD based on the layering of NAND

Another important distinction between SSDs is based on the layering or stacking of the flash. Here are the different NAND flash available in SSDs:

  1. Single-layer NAND: This is the pattern used in the first generation SSD where each planar was laid individually. SSD with this pattern is rare these days as they have less storage.
  2. Multi-Layer NAND: Most SSD found in the market these days fall into this category. As per this method, the cells are placed on top of each other in a stack. 96 Layers to 128 Layer NAND are suitable for most devices. 

SSD based on capacity

Another decision important factor is the capacity of the SSD. Here are some of the most commonly found storage capacities available:

  1. 128 GB: This is the lowest storage SSD that can be found. It’s most suitable for devices with minimum usage due to the lack of much space. This is not usable for people that run high-intensity apps or transfer massive amounts of data on a daily basis. 
  2. 256 GB: SSD with 256 GB is suitable for devices having light everyday usage. This means that you can comfortably run all apps on your laptop but can’t possibly play games especially the ones with high graphics on your device. 
  3. 512 GB: The 512 GB SSD is suitable for laptops with high data transfer on a home level. So apart from everyday usage, you can also play graphics-based games, edit photos, etc. without facing any shortage of data. 
  4. 1 TB: This capacity SSD is best for professional gamers and small enterprises with average data usage. With 1 TB you can easily stream videos or play games or edit videos and pictures without worrying about a shortage of space. 
  5. 2 TB: The 2 TB storage SSDs are suitable for professionals. Whether you are a medium-sized business with high data usage or developer, this capacity of storage will ensure that you will not run out of free space. 
  6. 4 GB and above: SSD with 4 TB or more storage space are extremely expensive and a little hard to find by. This is best suited for large business enterprises because of the huge space available that will facilitate smooth operations and data transfers. 

SSD based on the life of the drive

The lifespan of an SSD generally dependent on the storage memory of the drive and the number of rewrites allowable. 

  1. SSD with lower per cell storage: In SSD with the SLC or MLC memory storage, the cells are less prone to wearing out as data is not constantly being erased to store new data. This means the life of these SSDs will be longer than TLC AND QLC SSDs.
  2. SSD with Higher per cell storage: SSDs with higher bit storage per cell will be erased three or four times causing them to wear out faster. The life of these will be shorter than the former two alternatives.
  3. SSD with lower endurance: SSDs that have fewer write cycles will fill up faster and after reaching the prescribed limit will only process ‘read only’ commands. It goes without saying the lower the number of rewrites like 3000 TBW, the shorter the life.
  4. SSD with higher endurance: Similarly, the higher the limit of the permitted rewrites an SSD has the longer it will allow you to both read and write on the drive. Write cycles of up to 10000 times will significantly increase the lifespan of the SSD.

The conclusion that can be drawn here is that drives with less bit storage per cell and higher endurance are best as they will have a longer life. On average, SSDs have a lifespan between 8 to 10 years. 

SSD based on Transfer speed

The speed of SSD is dependent on the variant as well as the connector. Here are some of the top write speeds of the different kinds of connectors commonly found in the market:

  1. Transfer speed of SATA: The maximum theoretical speed of a SATA 3.0 SSD lies around 600 megabytes per second. This makes this type of SSDs perfect for laptops with everyday internet usage. 
  2. Transfer speed of PCIe: The speed of the SSDs that are supported with the PCIe interface can transfer data at a speed of up to 3900 megabytes per second. Therefore such SSDs are perfect for professionals and enterprises.
  3. Transfer speed of U.2: These are the latest connectors available in the market and have a higher speed compared to the above two. The maximum speed of the U.2 interface can range up to 8 gigabytes per second. 

SSD based on the amount of DRAM

The amount of DRAM cache in an SSD also plays an important role in the faster performance of the device. Here’s how cache on your SSD matters:

  1. SSD with Low DRAM Cache: For SSD with low DRAM Cache the speed of data transfer declines quickly because of the lack of a larger cache. This decline is more prominent in high data transactions. So for devices that deal with high data transfers daily SSD with Low DRAM Cache can slow down your operations. 
  2. SSD with High DRAM Cache: SSDs that have a high DRAM Cache offers a higher speed bump for smaller data transfers. In the case of larger data transfers, the high speed is maintained until the cache is full and then a decline in speed is observed. This will reduce your final time of the data transfer. 

SSD storage retention when powered

When SSD has not powered the retention capacity of the data stored varies under different conditions. Here’s the classification of SSD based on their retention ability:

  1. Retention power of client SSDs: According to a study, SSD used by regular consumers when left without power can store the data for a year before it starts to lose its ability. This period is applicable on an average temperature of 30 degrees.
  2. Retention power of enterprise SSDs: Similarly the retention period of SSD used in enterprises is shorter than those of client used SSD. At an average temperature between 25 to 40 degrees the period of data retention lies at 20 weeks. 

After you have gone through all the above criteria, you have pretty much decided which SSD is most suitable for you. However, there are few extra things that you must also keep in mind before making your final decision. Here are some of the crucial factors that will have an impact on your decision on which SSD to buy.

How to find the right SSD for your computer upgrade?

  1. Cost of the SSD: 

Your final decision will be determined by how much amount you are willing to spend on an SSD. An SSD with low storage will be less expensive than the ones with high storage space. 

Similarly, a Single-Level cell SSD being very fast will also cost more than triple-level or quad-level cell SSDs. Likewise, SATA SSDs are also cheaper than NVMe SSD as they have a lesser data transfer speed.

  1. Endurance or rewrites per drive:

Sadly SSD comes with a limited life span that is determined by the number of rewrites of data per cell. The allowed number of rewrites can be found on the SSD and can either be expressed in Terabyte Written (TBW) or per drive writes per day (DWPD).

The range generally rewrites between 4000 to 10000 TBW. However, now SSD has an over-provisioning feature that can extend the life of your SSD by transferring your data from worn-off cells to new cells. 

  1. Power consumption: 

Power consumption is not an important factor for computers and desktops but when it comes to portable devices. As we already mentioned the power consumption of SSD is significantly less than a hard drive. 

So if you are considering upgrading to an SSD for your laptop or tablet then you will get a double advantage by doing so. Not only will it make your device faster with lesser processing time but also extend the battery life of your device.  

  1. Data storage of your device: 

SSD will without a doubt increase the speed and performance of your laptops and other devices. But if you don’t use any application or program that needs high storage space or transfer high data files on a regular basis then you will need to keep that in mind. 

That’s why the usage of your device and the limit of data being transferred will also play a role in deciding which SSD is best for you. So if you have an average data usage then a costly SSD with high capacity would go waste and you should stick to a drive with medium storage. 

Conclusion:

I am sure that after reading all the above information now you know everything related to SSD. This information will guide you in buying the best SSD for you. Even though an SSD is a huge blessing for your device, it’s important to remember that it’s better to choose a less pricey alternative than picking a highly expensive SSD and not utilizing it fully. 

This article has listed all the important factors that need consideration when buying an SSD. An SSD is an important component for the better functioning of your device and that’s why you need to make a sound decision that you will not regret later. 

For a budget-friendly and faster experience, I would recommend the hard drive and SSD combination. SSD can be installed on your computer and laptop for running the apps and programs on your device and the hard drive for storing all your personal data.