9 Things You Need to Know Before You Buy an SSD

Used in laptops, desktops, and servers, SSDs serve to make devices faster and more accessible. However, when it comes to choosing the best drive for personal or business use, both the home consumer and the IT professional can make mistakes. SSDs vary greatly in profile, price, performance, technology, and even physical form factor, creating a maze of possibilities. Here are 9 points of attention you should be aware of to avoid losses and headaches after the purchase.

1. Know the ideal format and interface for your equipment

The biggest difficulty when buying an SSD is to navigate through the variety of formats and interfaces available on the market: there are 2.5″ SATA SSDs, but there are also M2 type SSDs. There is also NVMe, which can fit into PCI slots or M2 connectors, which are also used by SATA. All this without considering the physical dimensions of M2 SSDs, which can vary a lot and are a source of confusion, especially for those who buy an SSD for the first time.

All this variety can lead the consumer to buy an SSD that does not work on his computer or that underuses the hardware: using a SATA SSD – which is slower – than an NVMe on a compatible interface, for example.

The same problem can happen when looking for SSDs for servers and data centers. In these scenarios are the EDS type SSDs, besides the cards, and there are also interfaces like SAS, besides the already mentioned SATA and NVMe.

Find out what your computer supports and from there start the search. Some notebooks support M2 and 2.5″ SATA formats at the same time and, in some cases, guarantee NVMe support. The most common, however, is that each manufacturer bets on one or the other: that’s why researching your notebook’s documentation and datasheet is very important.

The same care applies to those who want an SSD inside a desktop. In the case of the desktop PC, the output is to search for the technical data regarding the motherboard on the manufacturer’s website. This way, you find out what can and cannot on your board and then search the market for products.

Anyone looking for server hardware should follow the same path and have a clear idea of what is compatible with the machines available in the company. In the case of the data center, the process of choice tends to be more complex than the simple question of physical fittings and interfaces.

2. Do not underestimate the storage capacity

A common mistake when purchasing SSDs is to underestimate the storage capacity of the device. Because SSDs tend to be more expensive than conventional hard drives, it is common in the pursuit of cost savings for the consumer to sacrifice space to lower the cost.

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A 120 to 128 GB SSD may be enough for the operating system and apps, but it can leave the user who enjoys games and downloads a lot of files handy in no time. Consider investing in larger drives or combining the smaller SSD with a larger hard drive if your computer or notebook allows you to install more than one drive.

3. Avoid using SSD on devices with an older operating system

It is common for users of more runtime PCs to bet on the SSD to gain more performance. The idea is right from a practical point of view. Switching the HDD to an SSD, even a SATA, represents significant performance gains, but this is only true for those running more current operating systems.

The reason for this is that older Windows editions (XP, Vista, and 7) were developed with a greater focus on HDDs. The use of these systems can lead to performance losses and even compromise the life of the SSD if the indexing and other settings are not correctly defined. To avoid headaches, consider investing in a newer system as well.

4. Take advantage of the management tools

Some users buy OEM-type SSDs because of inattention and the search for savings. These units are sold to manufacturers for inclusion in new computers. While there are no performance restrictions, these drives may be incompatible with management tools that facilitate drive maintenance.

By investing in an OEM drive, which is generally cheaper, the consumer gives up end-user-focused software, which is powerful drive management and configuration tool. These apps make it easy to upgrade firmware, pass on useful information about drive health and performance, and enable the configuration of aspects of the SSD.

5. Learn About Types of NAND Technology

Choosing any type of NAND technology in favor of another is not a mistake, but an uninformed choice can generate expenses and headaches. Since SSDs vary greatly in profile and technologies, knowing a little about these differentials helps at the time of purchase.

Drives with NAND type SLC (Single Level Cell) are those that store one bit per cell and usually have very high speed and durability. Because of these characteristics, their use is more common in SSD versions for datacenters and more specific applications. The MLC type allows more than one bit per cell, but are no longer so common. In an ideal scenario, where budget is not a problem, the best choice will always be for SLC and MLC drives, which have great performance and great durability.

For home computers, TLC, which allows three bits per cell, has taken up space as the most common reference, even on more expensive drives. Because this type of drive retains more information in less physical space, these SSDs are of higher capacity and still offer good results in terms of speed and durability.

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Finally, QLC is the densest option – here it’s four bits per cell – and is the most used technology on input drives. It offers lower performance and durability, but in return allows 2 and 4-TB drives to be more affordable.

For those who want to delve deeper into these issues, there are also considerations regarding the number of layers of modules on each chip that makes up the SSD.

6. Consider the life promised by the manufacturer

SSDs are also subject to wear and tear and can fail over time. Although the situation today is much better than it was a decade ago – a new SSD should last 10 years or more with peace of mind – the concern with durability is important and can go unnoticed by many people.

There are gradations in terms of lifespan that vary from product to product and also usually have an impact on price. In general, manufacturers estimate quantities of Terabytes Written (TBW), or “Device Writes Per Day” (DWPD) until the drive enters a point where failure can occur. A 1,200 TBW disk, for example, may begin to fail after 1,200 terabytes recorded over years of use.

The question, however, is decisive for those looking for server drives. In these types of SSDs, some considerations contribute to durability, such as the type of NAND (SLC drives, as already explained, are the most durable), in addition to other metrics, such as MTBF (mean time between failures): a minimum point considered in commercial SSDs is 1 million MTBF hours, which would result in something like a failure every fourteen years.

The mistake for IT professionals looking for drives of this type is not knowing how to choose the drive according to need. There are high durability SSDs for servers which, however, would be an incorrect (and costly) investment for an application where data would rarely be written to disk, only read frequently, for example.

The reverse is also true: a server that will write information constantly equipped with high-speed but relatively low durability SSDs is a recipe for chaos and huge expenses in the future.

7. Keep in mind the importance of the controller

Every SSD offers a type of internal controller – something like the “processor” of the drive – responsible for all drive functionality. This chip controls how the disk works, writes, erases, and reads data, and interacts with the rest of the system. It also has functions to rationalize the use of the drive as a way to mitigate wear and tear.

This concern is more important for data centers, since a high-performance controller, associated with a first-class SSD, can have positive effects in terms of durability, performance, and even power consumption.

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8. Assess the level of error control and data protection

No matter how advanced and well-configured the server is, there are always risks of inconsistency and errors in data recording and reading, especially in systems exposed to high demand and a large volume of simultaneous users and accesses. That’s why enterprise hardware, such as SSDs and memory, has technologies that mitigate and correct these types of errors. Besides reliability, security is also fundamental for use in servers, ensuring some margin of protection via hardware for data, making the task of invaders more difficult.

Different models and manufacturers of SSDs (and their respective controllers) have different features to prevent the spread of errors in writing and reading data, either by errors in software, hardware, or even by fluctuations in the electrical power feeding the datacenter. It is essential that before purchasing the SSD, the robustness of these resources is carefully evaluated in view of the usage scenarios that each application foresees for the hardware.

9. Use the Benchmarks

In commercial applications, such as the company server, an error is to judge only the theoretical performance of the drive from what the manufacturer and vendor promise. It is also wrong to research products with only general ideas and notions of how they will be used, without ever performing real tests to attest to the drive’s quality and fitness for business.

The best strategy is to seek understanding with sales representatives and get samples of the hardware. Thus, it is possible to test and generate representative loads of the worst scenarios, such as requisition overloads at crucial moments for the company – the type of traffic from a Black Friday to a store, for example.

The benchmark not only allows you to observe the overall performance of the drive in real use but can also provide other relevant subsidies in the search for the ideal product. Issues such as power consumption and error correction factors can also be measured in type tests.

For those who wish to use an SSD on their home computer or laptop, finding a drive exclusively for testing is not feasible. In this case, consult the Internet, read articles and reviews about the model you are interested in, browse specialized forums, and search for similar references. If you want to run games, use the experience of other PC players with the desired model to form a judgment about the product before setting up the purchase.

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