How to Equip Your PC With SSD for About $200

A lot of solid-state disk (SSD) drive reviews and features have been circulating around the Internet lately, and I've noticed that the speeds of those products are increasing remarkably, even as manufacturers use more multilevel cell (MLC) NAND flash memory in their products, which is innately slower than single-level cell (SLC) NAND.

The I/O boost in a few of those MLC-based SSD drives, which can be attributed to better firmware and the use of multiple NAND chips with a parallel multichannel architecture, now rivals or beats traditional hard disk drives. But one problem remains a barrier in mass adoption of SSD in desktops and laptops: price.

Today, most consumer-grade SSDs from leading vendors cost from $2 to $3.45 per gigabyte, while traditional hard disk drives cost about 38 cents per gigabyte, according to iSuppli Corp. and research firm Gartner Inc. So you'll be paying a high premium to get a little advantage in random reads and power consumption. For example, Samsung Electronics Co. , offers a 64GB SSD with a SATA II interface for a cool $750. Intel Corp. just released its screaming fast, 80GB, X25 SSD drive priced at $595.

But the average user -- myself included -- just isn't going to bite at those high-priced drives. So I spent some time calling various vendors and cruising the Web for SSD drives that retail for around $200 and that offer what I consider the minimum capacity required to run applications on a laptop or PC: 64GB. In order to keep this simple, I chose to only look at 2.5-in. SATA interface drives that can be used in laptops or PCs.

Patriot Memory's Drive

First up is Patriot Memory's 64GB Warp v.2 drive (Model PE64GS25SSDR), which is priced at $230 retail. I quickly found the drive for $169 after a $50 rebate on Newegg.com. The drive has a zippy 170MB/sec. random read and a 100MB/sec. sequential write speed.

By comparison, Seagate Technology LLC 's Momentus 7200.2 2.5-in. hard disk drive has an average read speed of 69.5MB/sec. and a burst read rate of 214MB/sec. Unfortunately, Seagate does not release the sustained write rate on this drive. In another comparison, Computerworld tested Lexar Media Inc.'s Crucial 2.5-in. 64GB SSD drive (Model CT64GBFAA0US). That drive has an average random read rate of 100MB/sec. and a sustained sequential write rate of 35MB/sec. The drive retails for $699.99 -- so it's out of the running.

According to Meng Jay Choo, marketing manager at Patriot Memory, his company's low SSD drive prices can be attributed to 25 years in the flash memory business with plenty of high-volume suppliers. Choo's comments were echoed by other vendor's managers, including one at Transcend Information Inc.

Transcend's Drive

Transcend sells its 64GB SATA drive (Model TS64GSSD25S-M) for $194 retail . The throughput stats are markedly slower than Patriot's, with a read speed of 117MB/sec. and a sequential write speed of 43MB/sec. But consumers can expect to see speed increase and prices plummet over the next couple of months, said Clarence Chan, general manager at Transcend, which gets its flash chips from Samsung.

"Flash chips are in oversupply," he said. "We are also looking to lower prices so that more people will try to use solid-state disk."

According to Gartner analyst Joseph Unsworth , we're just not going to see 128GB of SSD for $200 until 2010, but if you're not willing to wait, here are some more possibilities.

Super Talent's Drive

Super Talent Technology Corp.'s SSD drive offers a few gigabytes less than the latter models, but it has respectable I/O speeds. The MasterDrive DX 2.5-in. 60GB SSD Drive (Model FTD60GK25H) retails for $249. I found it on Newegg.com for $186 after a $40 rebate. The drive has a sequential read rate of 120MB/sec. and a sequential write rate of 100MB/sec.

Super Talent also just released its next-generation SSD , which has up to a 170MB/sec. read and a 130MB/sec. sequential write speed. The only price it's listing now is $419 for the 128GB model, but you can safely bet that the 64GB model will be about half that price.

OCZ's Drive

OCZ Technology Group Inc.'s Core Series 2.5" 64GB SSD (Model OCZSSD2-1C64G) was right up there as one of the two cheapest drives I could find online. While it retails for $269, Newegg.com had it listed at $169 with a whopping $100 rebate. The Core Series SSD has an OK sequential read rate of 100MB/sec. and a sequential write rate of 80MB/sec.

This drive had a number of bad reviews online regarding reliability, so caveat emptor. But, this was also among the lower cost drives with the large rebate, so it may be worth investigating.

While investigating internal SSD drives, I came across a rather unique method of adding flash memory to your PC that you may want to give a try -- the Addonics CompactFlash Adapter.

Addonic's Flash Adapter

Addonics Technologies Inc. offers two versions of its CompactFlash Adapter, a single-card adapter and a dual-card adapter. The interesting thing about these adapters is that you can upgrade on the fly by adding higher-capacity compact flash cards. For example, about the highest-capacity compact flash card you'll find today is 16GB. Using a dual adapter, you could achieve 32GB of capacity in your PC. "For the ordinary user running Windows Vista or XP, where you'll be storing a lot of data on the hard drive, you may find this not enough capacity for you," acknowledged Bill Kwong, president of Addonics. "The advantage we have is that the customer can buy whatever media is available and make their own solid-state disk drive."

However, Kwong notes, if you're an ultralight notebook user or you're converting an old notebook to run specific applications but not for storing a lot data on the drive, this adapter may be the way you want to go. It creates a lightweight alternative to a hard disk drive, and it does consume less battery life than a traditional drive, though the advantages may be negligible, because a monitor and CPU use far more power as a percentage of overall use.

Kwong also said that Addonics plans to come out with a six-slot adapter in the next 30 to 60 days, which will up the ante considerably, but it also ups the price. CF cards range wildly in price up to $200, but I found an A-Data 16GB card sells for $34.99.

Retail prices for the CompactFlash Adapter are quite reasonable: A single slot with SATA interface is $31.99. A dual-slot SATA adapter, which can also mirror data between cards for added security, costs $79.99.

So doing the math -- if you purchased an Addonics dual adapter along with two 16GB cards at $35 each, you've got a 32GB SSD disk for $140. Not great, considering you can purchase many 32GB SSDs online for about the same price or less, but hey, it's another way to go, and it does offer some data redundancy.

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