In general, there is no question of whether or not you should get a solid state drive or a traditional magnetic hard drive for your primary boot and application drive. Any of the solid state drives in this review would be easy to recommend in this situation. But when comparing the SSDs amongst themselves, differences become a bit more apparent.
One factor that wasn't mentioned yet in this article is the perceived reliability and stability of the popular SSD controllers. For a while since the Sandforce 2281 controller made its splash in the SSD market, there were issues which caused random 'blue screens of death' (BSODs). This was especially troublesome for an early to market drive like the Vertex 3. But as firmwares matured, it seems like the BSOD issues with Sandforce 2281 based drives are now a thing of the past.
For drives using the Marvell 88SS9174 controller, there were no real crashing issues like those that affected Sandforce 2281 based drives. Specifically for the m4, there was one issue that caused crashing after 5184 power on hours, but Crucial quickly released a new firmware that fixed the problem. In general, it seems like the Marvell 88SS9174 has a better reputation with respect to stability, and this leads to drives like Crucial's m4 being a popular choice for SSD adopters.
As discussed at the beginning of this article, there are three major classes of current generation SSDs that are widely available for purchase now: those using the Marvell 88SS9174 controller, the Sandforce 2281 controllers paired with asynchronous NAND, and the Sandforce 2281 controller paired with synchronous NAND.
Performance wise, it's clear that the current kings are the drives based on the Sandforce 2281 controller and synchronous NAND. Kingston's HyperX and OCZ's Vertex 3 240GB solid state drives that we tested in this article fall under this category.
The drives using the Marvell 88SS9174 and those with the Sandforce 2281 paired with asynchronous NAND follow behind the current king. These two other classes share blows. While the Sandforce 2281 and asynchronous NAND powered OWC Mercury Electra 6G dominated when compressible data was being handled, the Crucial m4 with it's Marvell 88SS9174 easily came up on top in other situations. And when they weren't trading blows, there were many times when the Mercury Electra 6G and m4 were level with each other.
What divides the market and plays a big part decision making process of many consumers is price. Because the drives using the Sandforce 2281 and synchronous NAND are the performance kings (and because ONFi 2.0 NAND is expensive), this class of SSD can demand a higher price. Looking at major online retailers in Canada, these drives are approximately 15% more expensive than drives like the Mercury Electra 6G and the m4.
If you want good performance and want to spend a reasonable amount of money, you can't go wrong with OWC's Mercury Electra 6G. When dealing with incompressible data, it was easily able to be among the top of the pack. Keep in mind that OWC also offers the Mercury Extreme Pro, which combines Sandforce's 2281 controller with synchronous (ONFi 2.0) NAND.
Crucial's m4 was also able to rank among the top for many tests. It exhibited consistent performance regardless if data was compressible or not, and if you want a non-Sandforce based drive, it's one of the best options available.
If you want a top of the line SSD, Kingston's HyperX and OCZ's Vertex 3 are very good choices. With their almost identical levels of top level performance, they both earn our Editor's Choice award.
Editor's Note: We will be looking at these drives from a notebook upgrade perspective in an upcoming article. The reason why we didn't take a look at garbage collection algorithm performance in this article is also because we'll be looking at it in the future article (as the article will focus on Mac OS X, which doesn't officially support TRIM for third party SSDs).