Choosing the Best SSD: A Guide to Going Solid State

I still remember my first SSD — a 64GB Transcend model I installed in my aging Acer laptop. It transformed it — boot times halved, programs opened instantly. It was a great upgrade. For under $100, my computer felt brand new.

A little over a year later, I bought an actual new computer. I considered installing the SSD, but the new laptop was already damn fast. I had doubts. The new computer ran Windows 7 which took up a bit more space. I wavered on whether 64GB was enough or if I should buy something bigger. The new laptop’s 300GB HDD felt luxurious. I wondered if it would be worth all the installation time I’d end up committing on a weekend. In the end, I sold the old computer along with its SSD and decided to stick it out with the spinning disk drive. That lasted a bit over a year.

Now I’m back where I was years ago. I’d like a bit more zip, but I don’t want to spring for a new laptop. I want a new SSD, so I started reading around. Of course, everybody’s an expert on the web, and the volume of information is overwhelming. Paralysis almost overwhelmed me, but I persevered. In the end, I concluded that only three things actually matter when choosing an SSD: the size, the size, and the interface.

Two sizes? Yes. But let’s tackle these in reverse order.

The Interface: SATA I vs. SATA II vs. SATA III

Solid-state drives are fast. How fast they perform depends largely on their interface. SATA III is faster than SATA II which is faster than SATA I. After that, the nerds start splitting hairs. One SATA III drive may be marginally faster than another SATA III drive, but they’re both faster than all SATA II solid-state drives and they’re both screamingly faster than every spinning hard drive. Why’s this matter? Well, if you’re aiming to install your solid-state drive into an older laptop, be sure to check what interface your laptop supports. You can connect an SATA III drive to an older SATA II-compatible computer, but you won’t get SATA III speeds. Your computer will only be as fast as your weakest link, so if your motherboard maxes out at SATA II, it doesn’t make much sense to splurge on the fasted SATA III drive around.

My advice if your computer doesn’t support SATA III? Get a reasonably priced SATA III drive unless you find an awesome deal on an SATA II drive. If you get a new computer and still want to use the drive, you’ll get a bump in performance automatically (because your new computer will support SATA III), but don’t worry about getting the fastest model around. It’s just not worth it. If you put your SATA II drive in a new SATA III-compatible laptop, it’ll be as fast as it always was.

The performance boost of switching to an SSD from a spinning disk is insane. The performance difference between different models using the same interface is minuscule in comparison. Don’t worry about it.

The (Physical) Size

This one is easy: Always buy a low profile model unless you find a can’t-resist price on a taller model. Laptops continue to shrink, and 7mm SSDs are the only way to go if you want to be sure it’ll fit in your next computer. Skip the taller, 9mm ones.

The (Storage) Size

This is the big one. Get a big one. Don’t just look at absolute price, look at price per gigabyte too. That 100GB model that’s $10 cheaper than the 120GB model might be tempting. But 20GB is a lot of space (and it only costs $0.50 per GB in this situation to have it). For perspective, 20GB is probably more space than your smartphone has on board. Windows 8 takes up more space than Windows 7. Whatever is next will likely take up even more. If you really want an SSD that you can use for a number of years, get a big one to ensure you don’t just fill it up.

How big? That depends. If you don’t take photos or download digital music, you really don’t need much space at all (the top-of-the-line Chromebook, the Pixel, only offers a maximum of 64GB). But if you do save your photos and music locally, I recommend you at least get above 100GB and seriously consider going above 200GB.


I like Samsung’s 840 Series SSDs. They support SATA III, they’re slim, and their price per gigabyte is almost impossible to beat. Buy the 120GB model for $99 ($0.83 per GB) or splurge for the 250GB model for $170 ($0.68 per GB).

Pulled the trigger? Awesome. You’re going to love your SSD. While you’re waiting for you package, check out LifeHacker’s Complete Guide to Solid-State Drives.

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