3 new SSDs to boost your laptop's speed

Seagate, Samsung and OCZ have launched new solid-state drives for consumers. We put them to the test to find out which (if any) are winners.

Over the past few months, Seagate, Samsung and OCZ have launched new versions of their 2.5-in. consumer-class internal solid-state drives (SSDs) -- the Seagate 600, the OCZ Vertex 450 and the Samsung 840 Pro Series. Each boasts 500MB/sec. peak performance.

What is notable is that, while Samsung and OCZ had already produced consumer-level SSDs, the Seagate 600 and its higher-end cohort - the 600 Pro for prosumers -- are the company's the first full-fledged consumer SSDs.

The Seagate 600, the Samsung 840 Pro and the OCZ Vertex 450 SSDs (left to right).

The Samsung 840 Pro is the featherweight at 2.4 oz., while the Seagate 600 SSD weighs about 2.7 oz. and the Vertex 450 tips the scales at 2.9 oz. All three of the drives are .27 in. (7mm) high.

The test bed

For the benchmark tests, I used an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion (v10.8.4) with 8GB of RAM and a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor. The computer has a SATA 3.0, 6Gbps internal drive interface; all of the SSDs I tested also use the SATA 3.0 interface. (Many existing laptops still have a 3Gbps SATA 2.0 interface.)

I tested the SSDs using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmarking software for Macs. I also tested each SSD by uploading a 2GB MP4 video.

Lastly, I tested all the drives with multiple boot ups, shutdowns and restarts.

To create a typical work environment on each drive, I used StarTech's Portable eSATA to USB Duplicator Dock to create copies of a fully populated SSD that contained my OS and all my work applications and content, amounting to 180GB of data. In addition, the drives were each used for a day to ensure they were not "fresh" out of the box, which can result in higher performance than a used drive.

Note that the three test SSDs did not have the same capacities. I used the 512GB model of the Samsung 840 Pro Series, the 256GB model of the OCZ Vertex 450 family and the 480GB model of the Seagate 600 SSD lineup. While higher capacity SSDs can have better performance than lower, after fully populating them and using them for a day, I do not believe the benchmark test results were markedly impacted by capacity differences.

Seagate 600 SSD

Seagate has dabbled in the consumer space with hybrid drives that combine a small amount of NAND flash cache with traditional spinning disks in 2.5-in. or 3.5-in. form factors.

Seagate 600 SSD
Seagate 600 SSD

For the Seagate 600, its first consumer SSD, the company chose to use the LM87800 controller from Link A Media Device (LAMD), a company that was recently acquired by memory chip giant Hynix.

The Seagate 600 has a retail price tag of about $110 for a 120GB model, $209 for a 240GB drive and $410 for a 480GB model, the one I tested.

The Seagate 600 uses 19 nanometer (nm) process multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash chips. There are eight NAND channels to the flash chips, which offers a good deal of parallel flash access to I/O channels.

The first time I fired up my Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmarking software and tested the Seagate 600 SSD, I was pleasantly surprised; the drive attained a maximum read performance of 512MB/sec. and 443MB/sec. write speed.

By comparison, Intel's fastest consumer SSD, the 520 Series, recorded a maximum read rate of 456MB/sec. and a write rate of 241MB/sec. Admittedly, that drive is over a year old, but it gives you an idea of how far SSDs have come in just a year.

Next, I tested Seagate's 600 SSD transfer speed using the 2GB MP4 file. It took just 8 seconds, which beat out both other SSDs by two seconds.

The Seagate 600 booted up in 12 seconds and shut down in 25 seconds. Restarts averaged 35 seconds. Again, the Seagate SSD marginally beat out the other SSDs I tested.

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