Solid State Drive Roundup

Everybody and anybody looking to build a new PC knows that getting an SSD is the way to go.  Compared to their mechanical hard drive brethren, SSDs are absolute beasts performance wise.  Users who make the switch to SSDs will immediately benefit from a long list of things including quick boot times, fast application loading and high file manipulation speeds.

Now that we're a few generations into the SSD product race, it's easy to get confused as to which SSD you should choose, given the wide variety of products that are available.  In the traditional hard drive market, the number of major manufacturers can be counted with your fingers.  But on the SSD front, there are a huge number of brands available.  Not only that, many brands carry multiple SSD product lines.  The main differentiating factors between different SSDs on the market can be attributed to a handful of elements:

  • controller technology
  • memory configuration
  • firmware customization and tweaking
  • levels of customer support

The selection of drives we'll be looking at are Crucial's m4, Kingston's HyperX, OCZ's Vertex 3 and Other World Computing's Mercury Electra 6G.  These drives provide a good representation of the more popular configuration sets of current generation controllers and memory configuration.

Solid State Drive Capacity Controller NAND
Crucial m4 256GB Marvell 88SS9174 25nm synchronous, Micron brand
Kingston HyperX 240GB Sandforce 2281 25nm synchronous, Intel brand
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB Sandforce 2281 25nm synchronous, Intel brand
Other World Computing Mercury Electra 6G 240GB Sandforce 2281 25nm asynchronous, Intel brand

All of the drives that we'll be looking at in this article use NAND with a 25nm die package size, and follow the Open NAND Flash Interface (ONFi) standards.  The main difference of the NAND used in modern SSDs is what version of the ONFi standard is followed.  If asynchronous NAND is used, the ONFi 1.0 specification is in play.  Performance wise, the 1.0 interface is limited to 50MB/s.  ONFi 2.0 on the otherhand is identified when synchronous NAND is used.  This interface is rated up to 133MB/s.  While the increase in speed between the 1.0 and 2.0 standards looks huge at more than double, the applied speed difference isn't as great.  But as we'll see in tests, the 2.0 standard is the winner.

In terms of product differentiation, this results in two major classes of products for modern Sandforce 2281 based SSDs.  OCZ for example has the Agility 3 (ONFi 1.0) and the Vertex 3 (ONFi 2.0).  OWC has the Mercury Electra 6G (ONFi 1.0) and the Mercury Extreme Pro 6G (ONFi 2.0).  Kingston only offers an ONFi 2.0 based product in the HyperX SSD series.  Generally, the ONFi 1.0 based products are cheaper than their ONFi 2.0 based counterparts and the type of memory used ends up being a price differentiator.  With the current generation of SSDs on the market, Sandforce's 2281 controller is the most widely used.

The third class of product we'll be looking at are Marvel 88SS9174 based drives.  Less manufacturers utilize the Marvel controller versus Sandforce's 2xxx series for modern SSDs, but it still has support from major manufacturers.  Crucial's m4 series and it's predecessor, the C300 series, utilize the 88SS9174 controller.

All of the drives in the roundup are same dimensions and fit the 2.5" wide form factor with 9.5mm height, which is the same as the most popular notebook hard drive form factor.  They all utilize the SATA III (backwards compatible) data interface and a standard SATA power connector.  The connectors are in standard location, so the drives should all fit in 2.5" notebook bays and 2.5" hot swap hard drive racks.

Customer and Technical Support

Solid State Drive Warranty Length RMA Shipping Locations Customer & Technical Support Contact Options
Crucial m4 3 years USA Online Tickets, Toll-Free Telephone, Online Forum, Online Chat
Kingston HyperX 3 years Taiwan, UK, USA Online Tickets, Toll-Free Telephone
OCZ Vertex 3 3 years Canada, Taiwan, USA Online Tickets, Toll-Free Telephone, Online Forum
Other World Computing Mercury Electra 6G 3 years USA Online Tickets, Toll-Free Telephone, Online Chat

All of the drives come with a 3 year warranty and the manufacturers offer a wide variety of customer/technical support contact options.  One differentiating factor are the available RMA shipping locations.  International customers of Crucial and OWC who need to return their drives back for service may need to shell out more money for shipping.