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What's the Best SSD? 5 Drives Tested

If you haven’t yet replaced your notebook’s old-fashioned mechanical hard drive with a speedy solid state drive, you’re in luck. Even as performance continues to improve, the cost of a 240 to 256GB drive has dropped into the affordable sub-$350 range. In fact, some models now cost as little as $239. There has never been a better time to dramatically improve your notebook’s performance by upgrading to SSD.

To see which drive offers you the most performance for your money, we rounded up five 2.5-inch SSDs that support the high-speed SATA III (6 Gb/s) interface and tested them on a quad-core HP Pavilion dv7 notebook test-bed. The control was a 500GB 7,200-rpm Hitachi hard drive.

The Contenders

Intel SSD 520 (240GB)

Instead of a proprietary Intel chip, the SSD 520 uses the popular SandForce SF-2281 controller, but adds in Intel’s custom-optimized firmware for improved performance and reliability. Speedy 25nm synchronous NAND flash, which promises faster performance than toggle or asynchronous NAND, holds the data.

SanDisk Extreme (240GB)

Like most other SSDs in this class, the Extreme is powered by a SandForce SF-2281 controller, but combines that with 24nm SanDisk toggle NAND memory. Because the NAND memory is manufactured by SanDisk, the company can force prices down while still offering strong performance.

Patriot Pyro SE  (240GB)

The Pyro SE also uses the very-popular SandForce SF-2281 controller, but combines it with blazing-fast 25nm synchronous NAND Flash memory.

Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)

Unquestionably the best-looking drive in our roundup, the HyperX has more going for it than just a chrome and bright blue chassis. Inside the drive is the nearly-ubiquitous SandForce SF-2281 controller and speedy 25nm synchronous NAND flash from Intel.

Samsung 830 Series (256GB)

The winner of our previous SSD showdown, Samsung’s 830 series offers impressive multitasking performance because of a proprietary triple-core controller. It sports an attractive brushed-metal case and an optional upgrade kit that makes it easy to copy files from your old drive.

The Controls

To get an idea of what to expect we also compared the four SATA III drives to the Samsung 470 series, a SATA II SSD which won our previous SSD roundup, and to a 500GB 7,200 rpm hard drive.

Synthetic Tests

To get an idea of each drive’s maximum capability, we ran two synthetic tests. The PCMark Vantage HDD suite performs a series of common storage workloads, including video editing and adding music to Windows Media Player, then assigns a score where higher is better. CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1 measures read and write speeds using a 1000MB file that’s stored in three different block sizes.

CrystalDiskMark sequential performance

DriveSeq. Read (MBps)Seq. Write (MBps)Sequential Average
Samsung 830 Series (256GB) 473.8408.1441.0
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)477.2299.4300.3
 Intel SSD 520 (240GB) 481.4289.4385.4
SanDisk Extreme (240GB)479.3275.3377.3
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)402.7190.6336.7
 Hitach 7,200 rpm HDD100.6104.5102.6

This test measures pure read and write throughput under optimal conditions, where the file is one large block. Patriot’s Pyro SE had the fastest read time by a narrow margin, but its low write rate brought down its average. The Intel and SanDisk drives both provided solid performance, but only the Samsung 830 Series managed to achieve a write speed above 400 MBps, which gives it the best combination of sequential read and write times.

Winner: Samsung 830 Series

CrystalDiskMark 512KB blocks

Drive512KB Read (MBps)512KB Write (MBps)512KB Average
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB) 397.4298347.7
SanDisk Extreme (240GB)410.1269.6343.9
 Intel SSD 520 (240GB)380.4271.4325.9
Samsung 830 Series (256GB)308.7269.8289.3
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)420.7130.1279.4
 Hitach 7,200 rpm HDD38.249.543.9

Most of the time, we’re not writing one huge contiguous file, but lots of pieces of data. The 512KB block test more closely simulates this common situation. When writing smaller 512KB chunks, the Patriot Pyro SE again had the fastest read speed, though its sub-200 MBps write speed slowed it down. Because of its blazing-fast writes, the Kingston HyperX SH100S3 proved superior at this block size.

Winner: Kingston HyperX SH100S3

CrystalDiskMark 4K tests

Drive4K Read (MBps)4K Write (MBps)4K OD32 Read (MBps)4K OD32 Write (MBps)Average
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)19.4646.81234.9262.5140.9
 SanDisk Extreme (240GB)20.545.4215234.5130.9
 Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB) 27.9547.51106.6251.0120.5
Samsung 830 Series (256GB)19.448.9252.995.5104.2
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)25.4216.23129.963.9550.9
Hitachi 7,200 rpm0.

Today’s desktop operating systems read and write in small 4K blocks more often than 512K or larger chunks. CrystalDiskMark tests both the drive’s ability to read and write 4K blocks in a single thread and in a 32-operation command queue. A strong transfer rate at high-queue depth should translate into better

multitasking performance. Though the Kingston HyperX SH100S3 performed the best in the single-threaded scenario, the Intel SSD 520 outperformed it when using the command queue.

Winner: Intel SSD 520

PCMark Vantage HDD suite

DrivePCMark Vantage Score
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)45,271
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)44,701
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)37,510
Samsung 830 Series (256GB)41,203
SanDisk Extreme (240GB)43,844
Hitachi 7,200 rpm4,282

Futuremark’s benchmark suite measures storage drive performance by performing a number of tasks, including editing photos and transcoding video, then assigning a score. A higher number is better. The Intel SSD 520’s score of 45,271 narrowly edged out the Kingston HyperX SH100S3 by 520 points. The SanDisk Extreme and Samsung 830 Series also offered strong scores above 40,000 points, but the Patriot Pyro SE clearly trailed the field with its mark of 37,518.

Winner: Intel SSD 520

Boot Times, File Copy, and Zip Tests

The user experience matters as much or more than what a traditional benchmark can tell you. That’s why we also devised some real-world tests to help replicate how these drives might impact your laptop computing experience. For instance, how long you sit waiting for a PC to boot is valuable, as is the time spent copying files from one file to another, and time spent opening and closing applications.

Boot Times

DriveBoot Time (seconds)
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)14.0
Samsung 830 Series (256GB)15.0
SanDisk Extreme (240GB) 15.0
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)16.0
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)17.7
Hitachi 7,200 rpm56.3

To see how quickly each drive could boot into Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit), we used BootRacer, a program that measures startup time, and took the average of three runs. Though the difference between the fastest and slowest booting SSD was only 3.7 seconds, the Patriot Pyro SE clearly led the field, taking just 14 seconds to boot compared with 15 seconds each for the Samsung 830 Series and SanDisk Extreme, 16 seconds for the Kingston HyperX SH100S3 and 17.7 seconds for the Intel SSD 520. The 7,200 rpm hard drive took more than three times as long.

Winner: Patriot Pyro SE

File Copy Tests

DriveMulti-File Copy Time (sec)Single File Copy Time (sec)
Samsung 830 Series (256GB) 25.313.0
SanDisk Extreme (240GB) 31.09.7
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)31.017.3
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)31.317.7
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)33.310.0
Hitachi 7,200 rpm137.071.7

To simulate an important real-world workload, we timed both single and multifile copies. For the multifile test, we copied 4.97GB of mixed media files (photos, videos, audio files, documents) from one folder to another while, for the single file test, we duplicated a single 3.1GB file. The Samsung 830 Series maintains its status as the fastest multifile copying SSD we’ve tested. However, the SanDisk Extreme bested it by a wide margin on single file copy time. The Kingston HyperX SH100S3 and Intel SSD 520 returned similar multifile and single file times while the Patriot Pyro SE finished a couple of seconds behind them.

Winner: Samsung 830 Series

Zip and Unzip Tests (minutes)

DriveZip Time (mm:ss)Unzip Time (mm:ss)Average (mm:ss)
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)3:102:172:27
SanDisk Extreme (240GB)2:422:292:31
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)2:462:312:34
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)3:152:242:34
Samsung 830 Series (256GB) 3:242:232:35
Hitach 7,200 rpm HDD3:253:323:31

Whether you’re creating a new zip file or extracting the contents of an existing archive, the process of dealing with zip files taxes the storage drive even more than a standard file copy because it involves even more simultaneous reading and writing. To test the drives’ ability to handle archive files, we compressed 4.97GB of files into a single zip file and then extracted files from that file into a new folder. The Intel SSD 520 unzipped faster than any of the other drives, though its zip time was noticeably slower than the SanDisk Extreme and Patriot Pyro SE. However, when both times are averaged together, Intel’s drive leads this category by a narrow margin.

Winner: Intel SSD 520

Application Opens and Multitasking 

Single Application Open Tests 

DriveAdobe Reader (sec)Excel (sec)Firefox (sec)Photoshop (sec)Word (sec)Average Open (sec)
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)
SanDisk Extreme (240GB)
(Samsung 830 Series (256GB)
Hitachi 7,200 rpm7.

Every second you spend waiting for your programs to launch is another second of productivity you give away. To find out how quickly each SSD can start applications, we tested open times on five popular applications. We used Adobe Reader X to open a 500-page document, Excel 2010 to open a 6.5MB spreadsheet filled with 65,000 names and addresses, Firefox 7 to open a blank page, Photoshop CS6 beta (64-bit) to open a 400MB TIF file and Word 2010 to open a blank document. With leading open rates on all individual applications except Firefox, the Patriot Pyro SE lead the field by a narrow margin of just 0.2 seconds over the Intel SSD 520 and Kingston HyperX SH100S3. Even the Samsung 830 series is only 0.4 seconds behind.

Winner: Patriot Pyro SE

Multitasking: App Opens Under Stress

DriveAdobe Reader (sec)Excel (sec)Firefox (sec)Photoshop (sec)Word (sec)Average Open (sec)
Samsung 830 Series (256GB)
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)
SanDisk Extreme (240GB)
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)
Hitachi 7,200 rpm92.022.64.3324.93.59.6

Opening a single application is one thing, but opening that application while performing another storage-intensive task is much more taxing. To see how well the SSDs handle multitasking situations, we opened each program while zipping 4.97GB of files in the background. While all the SSDs opened applications quickly under stress, the Samsung 830 series led the pack by a narrow 0.2-second margin. However, on the all-important Photoshop test, the Patriot Pyro SE was just a little bit faster. The Intel SSD 520, SanDisk Extreme and Kingston HyperX were all separated by just a few tenths of a second.

Winner: Samsung 830 Series


Picking an overall winner for this round-up is a difficult task, because most of the drives won at least one round and the results were extremely close in most cases. In order to rank the drives' overall performance, we looked at how they placed in each of the nine rounds then took the average place for each. 

In the end, computer users are the real winners here, because any of the five SATA III SSDs we reviewed here would make an excellent upgrade for your notebook. Intel's SSD 520 had the highest average place on our tests, but other drives one particularly rounds that may be more important to you and still others offer more value for the money.

1st Place: Intel SSD 520

The overall leading performer is the Intel SSD 520, which won three rounds and had the highest average place (2.4) of any drive in our round-up. Because the drive features Intel’s custom firmware, speedy NAND Flash memory and powerful software package, it’s the strongest choice in a crowded field of fast drives.

2nd Place: SanDisk Extreme

The SanDisk Extreme provides the best value because it costs less than any other drive, yet achieved an average place on all our tests, coming in second or third in most categories, though leading none.

3rd Place: Kingston HyperX SH100S3

Easily the best looking drive in our roundup, the blue and chrome colored HyperX SH100S3 did really well on synthetic transfer tests, but wasn't quite as strong on app opens and multitasking. Still, this drive provided strong performance throughout our tests. It's also available with a very attractive upgrade kit that comes with a metallic blue portable screwdriver and a USB enclosure you can use to turn your old drive into an external storage device.

4th Place: Samsung 830 Series

Though it didn't win or place high in as many rounds as the first three drives, the 830 Series remains an incredibly compelling choice, because it dominated on three key tests: the multitasking test, the file copy test and the synthetic file transfer test. For many users, the first two of those tests may be more important than any of the other performance indicators. Samsung also makes the 830 series available  with convenient laptop or desktop upgrade kits that include all the cloning software and connectors you need.

5th Place: Patriot Pyro SE

The Pyro SE didn't do as well as the other drives on tests which involved writing files, but it was actually the fastest reader as it won the boot test, aced the file open and placed second in multitasking. For some, these tests may be more important than the others.

Drive Placement by Round

DriveSequential Performance512K4KPCMark VantageBoot TimesFile CopyZip / UnzipApp OpensMultitaskingAverage Place
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)3311441232.4
SanDisk Extreme (240GB)4223222442.8
Kingston HyperX SH100S3 (240GB)2132334352.9
Samsung 830 Series (256GB)1444215513
Patriot Pyro SE (240GB)5555153123.6
Hitachi 7,200 rpm6666566665.9