Saturday , 25 May 2024
Home Buying Guide 2024 Consumer SSDs Buying Guide

2024 Consumer SSDs Buying Guide

77
Consumer SSD buying guide

In the first three quarters of 2023, influenced by the global storage market’s oversupply and the struggle for survival of domestic Longjiang Storage in China, the price of SSDs in the Chinese market was actually at an abnormally low level. During the 2023 mid-year shopping festival, we saw the price of 2TB domestic PCIe 4.0 SSDs drop to over 400 yuan. Flagship products from established manufacturers like 990 Pro and SN850X also reached historic lows.

However, after September 2023, as the inventory pressure accumulated by major manufacturers during the pandemic eased and the oversupply trend ended, international manufacturers failed in their attempt to defeat Longjiang Storage through dumping. Consequently, major flash memory manufacturers in China began to reduce production and increase prices in unison to maintain their own profits.

Due to the increased shipping prices of flash memory chips upstream, we can see that SSD prices on the consumer end have also risen. There are reports that SSD prices will continue to rise in the coming months, so friends with immediate needs may consider purchasing them directly. Prices are not expected to fall significantly in the short term.

SSD channel pcle 4.0

So, at the beginning of 2024, how should consumer-grade SSDs be purchased? Go through it together with Latest.

PS:

Considering the text is a bit lengthy and contains some rather obscure technical explanations, readers can choose to save it for later and read it at their own pace. For those who are impatient, you can simply scroll to the last section to see the product recommendation list.

Choosing the Corresponding Interface on the Motherboard

    For most people, the most common types of SSDs are 2.5-inch SATA SSDs and M.2 SSDs.

    ZHITAI

    The SATA interface on the motherboard looks like this. We only need to use the SATA data cable included with the motherboard, plug one end into the motherboard interface, and the other end into the corresponding interface on the hard drive body. It’s important to note that 2.5-inch SATA SSDs require additional power, so we need to plug the SATA power cable from the power supply into the drive’s interface.

    ZHITAI SSD detail

    If you intend to buy enterprise-grade 2.5-inch SSDs on e-commerce platforms, pay attention to whether the interface is SATA or U.2.

    ZHITAI SSD U.2 interface

    U.2 interfaces are not compatible with SATA interfaces and, like NVMe M.2 SSDs, use PCIe channels for better performance. However, they generally require adapter cards or cables for use on consumer-grade motherboards.

    ZHITAI SSD M.2 interface

    M.2 SSDs also come in SATA and NVMe protocols. Purchase according to the existing interfaces on your computer. Currently, when buying new hard drives for new builds, it’s generally M.2 NVMe specification.

    M.2 slots on motherboards usually consist of gold finger slots and fixing holes. The most common consumer-grade M.2 SSDs mostly use the 2280 specification, while some new motherboards also support length specifications such as 22110, 2262, 2240, and 2230. Before purchasing, check the motherboard manual for compatibility.

    ZHITAI SSD length

    Planning Capacity and Performance According to Needs

      Ignoring price, if the budget allows, the larger the SSD capacity, the better.

      Currently, in terms of market prices, larger capacities offer better value for money. Additionally, larger capacity SSDs generally have longer theoretical read/write lifespans. SSDs with capacities of 512GB or smaller are generally considered entry-level and may not perform as well as models with capacities of 1TB or higher.

      However, for most users, price is a consideration. Here are some personal recommendations:

      • For users with high performance requirements for the system drive, a 512GB or 1TB cache-enabled drive is suitable. Larger capacity data drives can be paired as needed.
      • For casual gamers or users who only engage in moderate daily activities and don’t require professional productivity software, a single 2TB or 4TB cache-less SSD will suffice.

      Next, let’s talk about performance.

      SSDs using the SATA protocol, including 2.5-inch and M.2 NGFF form factors, have a maximum sequential read/write speed limit of 6Gb/s, which translates to around 500-600MB/s. Since most newer motherboards support NVMe SSDs, SATA SSDs are generally only used in older computers or specific scenarios like NAS.

      Sata protocol

      NVMe protocol-based M.2 SSDs use PCIe channels. The maximum read speed of a full-speed PCIe 3.0 M.2 SSD can reach around 3500MB/s, while PCIe 4.0 SSDs can reach around 7400MB/s. Although PCIe 5.0 SSDs are faster, they are too hot and expensive, so they are not recommended here.

      Nvme protocol

      Additionally, NVMe SSDs are backward compatible. For example, PCIe 4.0 SSDs can be used in PCIe 3.0 and PCIe 2.0 slots, although their speeds will be limited accordingly.

      Therefore, it is recommended to prioritize PCIe 4.0 SSDs. Even if the motherboard only supports PCIe 3.0 interfaces, PCIe 4.0 drives, although limited in speed, tend to have better temperature performance than native PCIe 3.0 SSDs.

      Furthermore, it’s worth mentioning that for most users, Windows systems cannot fully utilize the maximum speed. The file management mechanism in Windows limits practical usage. For example, using the most common copy-paste method, the actual single-process write speed to a solid-state drive in Windows 10 is typically around 3GB/s. Even with Windows 11, the single-process write speed cannot exceed 4GB/s. This is the upper limit most ordinary users can achieve in practical use. Therefore, even with faster sequential read/write speeds, most users won’t fully utilize them.

      What actually affects computer performance is another performance metric called “random access,” particularly small-grain random access performance represented by 4KB. Scenarios like booting up, opening software, and recognizing image thumbnails are directly affected by this performance metric.

      Although CrystalDiskMark measures Q1T1 4K random read performance based on SLC cache simulated cache-in-buffer, we often use SLC cache-free 4K random read performance in everyday SSD usage scenarios. Nonetheless, regardless of the testing method, the results show that SSDs with SLC cache tend to outperform those without in this aspect.

      RND 4k

      Identifying Flash Memory Chip Types

        Currently, the flash memory chips available in the consumer SSD market mainly come in two types: TLC and QLC. It is recommended to prioritize SSDs with TLC chips as they offer better performance and longevity.

        While QLC SSDs can also be used, there’s generally no noticeable difference for ordinary home users. However, QLC chips are still in the early stages, with limited advantages in data density and cost-effectiveness. Therefore, it’s advisable to wait for further technological advancements.

        Why are TLC chips considered better than QLC chips? This topic may be a bit complex for beginners, so you can skip to the next section if you’re not interested.

        Flash memory chips

        As we know, SSDs mainly use flash memory chips to store data, without any moving mechanical components. Each smallest storage unit in a flash memory chip contains a certain number of electrons, which can be viewed as tiny capacitors or cages containing electrons.

        During use, the controller chip controls the number of electrons in these storage units, adjusting the voltage to identify the 0 and 1 states, thereby reading and writing the required data.

        In essence, each storage unit can be understood as a combination of a capacitor and a voltmeter. During writing, pressure is applied according to the potential table to charge the capacitor. During reading, the data is checked based on the potential table.

        SSD structure

        The difference between TLC and QLC lies in the number of bits stored in each storage unit. TLC stores 3 bits of data per unit, while QLC stores 4 bits.

        Difference between tlc and qlc

        TLC units can store eight different voltage states (000, 001, 010, 011, 100, 101, 110, 111), while QLC units can store sixteen states, requiring 16 voltage signals to represent 16 states.

        The more data bits stored in each unit, the higher the required voltage precision for each bit. This makes charging more difficult during writing, leading to slower write speeds. Similarly, higher precision is required during reading, resulting in slightly slower read speeds. This is the main reason why QLC’s read/write performance is worse than TLC’s.

        So why is QLC’s theoretical write lifespan shorter than that of TLC?

        SSD writing

        When writing to an SSD, the voltage state of the storage unit is constantly changed, causing electrons to shuttle between the storage unit and the outside. This shuttle process wears out the cage itself (the storage medium). When the cage is worn out, it loses its ability to contain electrons, causing the SSD to lose its ability to retain data, commonly referred to as reaching the end of its write lifespan.

        QLC units have higher voltage precision, so during long-term writes, the electrons shuttle more frequently, causing greater wear on the storage medium.

        QLC

        Additionally, the physical properties of flash memory chips dictate that they cannot perform overwrites; they can only erase in block units and write in page units.

        QLC page

        If we want to write to a page with existing data, we must first read out the data in the block containing this page, then erase the block, and finally rewrite all the data. This process of move-erase-write amplification increases write amplification and consumes the write lifespan of the flash memory.

        QLC block

        The larger data density of QLC exacerbates write amplification, resulting in a shorter write lifespan compared to TLC.

        Determining the Need for DRAM Cache

          Most users familiar with SSDs have heard of cache and cache-less drives.

          SSD type

          SSDs with independent DRAM cache chips are generally referred to as cache-enabled drives. They offer better random read/write performance and are mostly high-end or flagship products from various manufacturers. Typical examples include the WD P44 Pro, Samsung SN850X, and Samsung 990 Pro. However, these drives generate more heat due to their high performance and are also more expensive.

          Solidigm p44 pro

          In contrast, solutions without DRAM cache are referred to as cache-less drives, such as the WD SN580, Zhi-Tai TiPlus7100, Lexar ARES, Jiguang Yi, and Patriot P7000Z. While the true random read/write performance of cache-less drives is slightly weaker than cache-enabled drives, they offer the advantage of lower prices and significantly reduced heat generation, making them ideal for laptops and mini PCs with limited cooling space.

          Lexar ares

          Cache-less SSDs are generally perceived as sufficient for light to moderate use in consumer scenarios, especially when equipped with SLC cache technology. In practical usage scenarios, the performance difference between cache-enabled and cache-less SSDs is often imperceptible for most users. Moreover, most PCIe 4.0 SSDs from domestic and international brands can achieve sequential read speeds of over 7000MB/s, and SLC-cache-assisted 4K random read speeds of around 90MB/s.

          Traditional and hmb

          Now, if someone asks whether there’s a difference in performance between cache-enabled and cache-less drives, the answer is yes, but it’s not always noticeable in moderate use scenarios. In my actual tests, flagship cache-enabled drives like the WD P44 Pro, Samsung SN850X, and Samsung 990 Pro equipped with external DRAM cache chips achieve real-world random read speeds of over 65MB/s. In comparison, the speeds of most domestic PCIe 4.0 HMB SSDs are generally between 30-40MB/s, while PCIe 4.0 cache-enabled SSDs typically reach speeds of around 55MB/s.

          Furthermore, when using professional testing methods like EZFIO or SNIA SSS-PTS, cache-enabled drives demonstrate slightly better latency performance under high load read/write conditions compared to cache-less drives.

          Understanding Manufacturer Channel Positioning

            Similar to buying household appliances from well-known brands, the SSD market also differentiates between major and minor manufacturers. Generally, major brands have more reliable quality due to their brand endorsement, while minor brands offer better value for money. It’s essential to have an understanding of this and consider your budget and usage needs when making a decision.

            SSD manufacture

            Currently, there are very few manufacturers worldwide that can independently produce flash memory chips. Brands that use chips produced in their own factories are considered original manufacturers. Only a few brands qualify as original manufacturers, including Samsung, Western Digital, SK Hynix (Solidigm), Toshiba (Kioxia), Micron (Crucial), and Changjiang Storage (Zhi-Tai). These brands are recognized as top-tier SSD manufacturers in terms of price, quality, and performance.

            Compared to original manufacturer SSDs, third-party manufacturers offer more cost-effective options. Among them, Chinese SSDs that gained notoriety last year offer excellent value for money. These Chinese SSDs predominantly use wafers from Changjiang Storage, offering significantly lower prices than foreign brands. However, it’s important to note that not all Chinese SSDs are of the same quality; some are better than others.

            The most reliable option is Zhi-Tai, a consumer brand under Changjiang Storage, which exclusively uses high-quality wafers from Changjiang Storage for its products, ensuring top-notch quality.

            Next are SSDs from major Chinese manufacturers. These companies often have the capability to encapsulate wafers independently, allowing them to use the best quality chips in their products. Examples include Jiahe Jiawei (Light Wei) and Jiangbolong (Lexar), which offer products with excellent quality.

            Lastly, there are other SSD manufacturers who either lack the capability to directly purchase wafers from Changjiang Storage or can only purchase chips from intermediaries, resulting in varying chip quality.

            2024 SSD Recommendation List

            After testing more than a dozen SSDs, I have a concept: when choosing an SSD, it’s not necessary to blindly spend more money. It’s better to consider your actual needs and budget.

            For users with sufficient budget who pursue performance and productivity, expensive flagship SSDs with cache can be considered for installing operating systems and professional productivity software. In fact, going straight to Optane or enterprise-grade SSDs from leading companies is the better choice for such needs.

            For ordinary home users and gamers, domestically produced SSDs without cache are more suitable. After all, SSD performance cannot be fully utilized under light to moderate usage intensity, such as game loading tasks, where there is no difference between SSDs with or without cache.

            Most of the SSDs listed in the recommendation list have been tested by me, and the tested SSDs will come with a curve chart of full-disk writing for reference. Based on this, I have also added recommendations for PCIe 3.0 SSD models to the list, although the selection is not extensive.

            PCIe 4.0 Flagship SSDs with Cache

            Western digital SN850X

            Western Digital SN850X

              • Sequential Read Speed: 7300 MB/s
              • Sequential Write Speed: 6300 MB/s
              • 4K Random Read: 800K IOPS
              • 4K Random Write: 1100K IOPS
              • Endurance (1TB): 600TBW
              • Warranty: Five years

              The Western Digital SN850X is one of the flagship consumer SSDs. It has a slight advantage in game loading speed compared to the competing products from Samsung and SK Hynix (though hardly noticeable), deserving its reputation as a high-quality SSD.

              WDC sn850x performance

              However, due to its older controller, it tends to generate significant heat during use. It’s advisable to purchase a heat pipe heatsink for better thermal management. If the airflow in the chassis is poor, the included heatsink with the SN850X may not handle the heat under full load.

              Samsung 990 Pro

              990 Pro
                • Sequential Read Speed: 7450 MB/s
                • Sequential Write Speed: 6900 MB/s
                • 4K Random Read: 1200K IOPS
                • 4K Random Write: 1550K IOPS
                • Endurance (1TB): 600TBW
                • Warranty: Five years

                Samsung’s SSD products in recent years have been under scrutiny, with some issues reported. The 990 Pro has faced concerns like the 0E error and abnormal health degradation. Although Samsung claims to have addressed these issues, some users may still feel unsure about its reliability, which might be one of the reasons Samsung finally lowered its prices during the Double 11 sales event.

                Samsung990 pro performance

                The good news is that Samsung launched the 4TB version of the 990 Pro before Double 11. While it’s priced at 2499 yuan, it’s the only single-sided product among the flagship 4TB SSDs with cache, catering to those with specific requirements.

                Solidigm P44 Pro (SK Hynix P41)

                SK P41
                  • Sequential Read Speed: 7000 MB/s
                  • Sequential Write Speed: 6500 MB/s
                  • 4K Random Read: 1400K IOPS
                  • 4K Random Write: 1300K IOPS
                  • Endurance (1TB): 750TBW
                  • Warranty: Five years

                  In October 2020, SK Hynix signed an agreement to acquire Intel’s NAND and SSD business. On December 30, 2021, SK Hynix established an independently operated subsidiary called Solidigm. Inheriting the technological advantages of its parent company, the P44 Pro, as Solidigm’s flagship, offers strong performance. However, there have been rumors about its inherited risk of leakage from the SK Hynix P41, raising concerns about stability.

                  Solidigm p44 pro performance

                  Additionally, both the P44 Pro and its rebranded version, the P41, have small SLC Cache spaces. The cache space is only a few tens of GB when empty and less than 10GB when full. The SLC Cache recycling scheme triggers passively after reaching capacity, potentially leading to cache stalls during use.

                  However, Solidigm’s P44 Pro and its rebranded sibling SK Hynix P41 (not to be confused with Solidigm P41 Plus, a QLC drive) offer significantly better value for money, with only minor firmware differences between them. The P41 is nearly 200 yuan cheaper at times and has become a popular choice for SSD buyers, putting pressure on the TiPlus7100 from Zhi-Tai.

                  PCIe 4.0 Cacheless SSDs

                  Zhi-Tai TiPlus7100

                  ZHITAI TIPlus 7100
                    • Sequential Read Speed: 7000 MB/s
                    • Sequential Write Speed: 6000 MB/s
                    • 4K Random Read: 900K IOPS
                    • 4K Random Write: 800K IOPS
                    • Endurance (1TB): 600TBW
                    • Warranty: Five years

                    Based on current user feedback, TiPlus7100 is the most stable product in Zhi-Tai’s lineup. Other models like TiPlus5000, TiPro700, and Ti600 have some minor flaws. TiPlus7100 not only boasts high-quality chips and a solid foundation but also performs better than most 2TB capacity third-party Chinese SSDs in real-world performance.

                    ZHITAI TiPlus 7100 performance

                    Despite the high price of Zhi-Tai’s SSDs, which surpasses others, even competing with some flagship SSDs with cache, it’s still worth recommending due to its outstanding performance.

                    Lexar ARES

                    Ares
                      • Sequential Read Speed: 7400 MB/s
                      • Sequential Write Speed: 6500 MB/s
                      • 4K Random Read: 1000K IOPS
                      • 4K Random Write: 900K IOPS
                      • Endurance (1TB): 1000TBW
                      • Warranty: Five years
                      TxBench performance

                      Lexar, backed by Jiangbolong, is one of China’s major storage manufacturers. With a strategic partnership with Changjiang Storage, Lexar has the capability to purchase wafers directly and encapsulate them independently. The firmware tuning of Lexar ARES is relatively aggressive among domestically produced SSDs, maximizing performance. However, the idle temperature of this SSD is slightly higher than that of other cacheless Chinese SSDs. When adding a heatsink, it’s recommended to raise the main control position by about 0.5mm to ensure proper contact with the thermal pad.

                      Gloway

                      Gloway

                        Sequential Read Speed: 7450 MB/s
                        Sequential Write Speed: 6500 MB/s
                        Endurance (1TB): 600TBW
                        Warranty: Five years

                        Similar to Lexar, Gloway relies on Jiahelightwei, a major Chinese storage manufacturer, and their strategic partnership with Changjiang Storage. The Yi SSD utilizes wafers directly purchased from Changjiang Storage, encapsulated by Taiji, making it one of the best-quality non-original factory products.

                        Gloway performance

                        The 4TB version of the Yi SSD emphasizes three advantages: Taiji encapsulated chips, high cost-effectiveness, and a white PCB for aesthetic appeal. However, there was an incident during the Double 11 sales event where some units had their PCB boards changed to green, causing some controversy. Although the chips remained Taiji encapsulated, it’s advisable for potential buyers interested in the white PCB to confirm the color and chip information with customer service before making a purchase.

                        Fortunately, the SSD’s price is the lowest among non-original factory

                        products, highlighting its cost-effectiveness, and Taiji encapsulated chips are worth considering.

                        Acer Predator GM7

                        Preoator
                          • Sequential Read Speed: 7200 MB/s
                          • Sequential Write Speed: 6300 MB/s
                          • 4K Random Read: 990K IOPS
                          • 4K Random Write: 997K IOPS
                          • Endurance (1TB): 600TBW
                          • Warranty: Five years
                          Acer gm7 performance

                          Acer Predator is operated by authorized Baiwei, another major domestic storage manufacturer. Baiwei also has the capability to purchase wafers and encapsulate them independently. Rumors suggest that Baiwei is one of Zhi-Tai’s OEM factories, assembling SSDs using original chips and PCBs. Therefore, the GM7 can be considered a brother of TiPlus7100.

                          Hikvision C4000

                          Hiksemi c4000
                            • Sequential Read Speed: 7450 MB/s
                            • Sequential Write Speed: 6600 MB/s
                            • 4K Random Read: 860K IOPS
                            • 4K Random Write: 670K IOPS
                            • Endurance (1TB): 1800TBW
                            • Warranty: Five years

                            Although Hikvision had a black history of swapping chips during the C2000 and C2000 Pro era, with Changjiang Storage’s domestic chips, this problem no longer exists. Currently, almost all cacheless SSDs produced in China use a combination of Lianyun controllers and Changjiang Storage wafers. Hikvision’s parent company, Hikvision, is a major shareholder of Lianyun, ensuring quality control in terms of controllers.

                            Zhi-Tai’s flagship product, TiPlus7100, also uses Lianyun’s MAP1602 controller and has a good cooperative relationship with Changjiang Storage, like Hikvision.

                            The chips used in Hikvision C4000/CC700 are packaged by Hongxin Microelectronics, in which Changjiang Storage holds a 50.94% stake. They are produced by the same packaging factory as Changjiang Storage’s original chips, demonstrating high quality.

                            PCIe 3.0 SSDs

                            SK Hynix GOLD P31

                            SK gold p31
                              • Sequential Read Speed: 3500 MB/s
                              • Sequential Write Speed: 3200 MB/s
                              • 4K Random Read: 570K IOPS
                              • 4K Random Write: 600K IOPS
                              • Endurance (1TB): 750TBW
                              • Warranty: Five years

                              For those seeking performance, SK Hynix’s P31, one of the strongest PCIe 3.0 SSDs available, is suitable for use as a system disk.

                              However, high performance also means high heat generation. If used in a laptop, proper cooling measures must be taken. Additionally, there are rumors that this SSD, like the P41, adopts a passive-triggered SLC Cache recycling mechanism, which may occasionally cause stutters.

                              Zhi-Tai PC005

                              ZHITAI PC005
                                • Sequential Read Speed: 3500 MB/s
                                • Sequential Write Speed: 2900 MB/s
                                • 4K Random Read: 330K IOPS
                                • 4K Random Write: 360K IOPS
                                • Endurance (1TB): 600TBW
                                • Warranty: Five years
                                PC005 performance

                                PC005 was the first consumer-grade PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSD launched by Zhi-Tai. To ensure reliability, it adopts an independent DRAM cache scheme, fixed SLC Cache strategy, and relatively conservative temperature wall. It represents a cautious and stable image, making it the most stable product in Zhi-Tai’s lineup. Although it’s labeled with an endurance of 600TBW, many users have reported normal operation even after writing over 3000TB, making it essentially an enterprise-grade SSD dressed in consumer-grade clothing. The early batches of this SSD were rumored to have used enterprise-grade chips for added reliability.

                                PC005 gb

                                If upgrading an old computer with a PCIe 3.0 SSD and stability is a top priority over performance, then this is the one to choose—it’s practically foolproof. The only drawback might be that its maximum capacity is limited to 1TB.

                                Related Articles

                                China semiconductor industry

                                Mainland China’s Semiconductor Capacity to Surpass South Korea and Taiwan, Becoming the World’s Largest

                                According to Latest reports, the construction of new wafer fabs worldwide has...

                                Musk nueralink

                                Musk’s Brain-Machine Company’s First Human Test Subject’s Brain Device Malfunctions

                                The path to Musk’s “symbiosis of man and machine” is not without...

                                International Energy Agency

                                IEA: Batteries Are Changing the Game for Achieving Climate and Energy Goals

                                While renewable energy (generation) itself has become cheaper than coal and gas-fired...

                                Brain computer interface

                                Zhejiang University Makes Mind-Controlled Chinese Character Writing a Reality

                                On April 23, Zhejiang University‘s Brain-Machine Interface Team unveiled their latest research...