They may be expensive, but solid-state drives provide greater performance and reliability than conventional hard disks. We take a look at some of the latest SSDs that promise to give your Mac a boost.

There’s a saying in the computer industry that you can never have too much hard disk space. Fortunately, the cost of hard disk storage has fallen dramatically in recent years and it’s now quite common for both home and business users to have several terabytes of storage plugged into their Macs and PCs. 

Yet the biggest advance in storage technology at the moment is the arrival of expensive solid-state drives (SSDs) that offer relatively modest amounts of storage. Apple’s entry-level MacBook Air comes equipped with just 64GB of solid-state storage, and the brand new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display includes just 128GB despite its thumping £1400 price tag.

However, solid-state technology does bring quite tangible benefits – especially for mobile computing. Solid-state drives contain no moving parts, so they’re smaller, lighter and faster than conventional hard disk drives. That lack of moving parts also makes them more power-efficient and less prone to wear and tear. 

All that makes solid-state drives ideal for use with a MacBook laptop, but their speed makes them useful for desktop computers too, especially for tasks such as video-editing that involve extremely large file sizes. And, of course, that speed also makes them good candidates for use with Apple’s high-speed Thunderbolt interface.

Of course, we’ve been using solid-state memory for years now – in the form of compact little Flash memory sticks. And, in fact, Apple still tends to refer to ‘Flash storage’ in the specs for the MacBook range, rather than referring to solid-state storage. However, Flash memory was originally designed to provide low-cost storage for devices such as digital cameras. In contrast, modern solid-state drives are specifically designed for intensive daily use in computers, which is one reason why they’re so expensive.

Thankfully, prices are now starting to come down, so we’ve rounded up a few of the more affordable drives that are currently available. We tested their performance with Aja System Test, which uses large video files to assess sustained write and read times, and also used a separate 5GB batch of smaller files as well, since transfer speeds can vary a lot depending on the size of the files involved.

The drives we rounded up come in all shapes and sizes, and vary significantly in terms of both price and performance, so take a look to see which of these new solid-state drives meets your needs.

Devices Featured

Elgato Thunderbolt SSD

Elgato’s Thunderbolt SSD is solidly built and performs well. However, it’s also the most expensive drive in this group by a large margin, costing almost £240 for 120GB storage. Read this review here

Kingston Data Traveller Hyper X 3.0

Some people might question the inclusion of a humble memory stick in this review, as Flash memory devices often use cheaper, slower memory chips than more expensive SSD drives. However, the 64GB version of the Hyper X 3.0 tested here is the same size as the SSD drive included with the entry-level MacBook Air so it’s certainly worth considering as an affordable back-up option for a MacBook that has an internal SSD drive. Read this review here

LaCie Rugged USB 3 

LaCie’s Rugged drives are popular with many Mac users, and this latest model adds a solid-state drive and Thunderbolt interface to the range. The drive’s full name is actually ‘Rugged USB 3 Thunderbolt Series’ as it is equipped with both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt interfaces. That’s a sensible move, as it allows you to use the drive with older Macs and PCs that don’t have Thunderbolt. Read this review here

Verbatim External SSD

It may be one of the slower solid-state drives reviewed here, but the External SSD from Verbatim is also one of the cheapest and most portable. Read this review here

Conclusion

There’s a clear split in this group between the two USB 3.0 drives from Kingston and Verbatim, and the two Thunderbolt drives from Elgato and LaCie – although, of course, LaCie keeps a foot in both camps by including both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt on its Rugged drive.

As you’d expect, the USB 3.0 drives are slower than their Thunderbolt rivals, but they’re also much cheaper, with both the Kingston Hyper X 3.0 and Verbatim External SSD coming in at less than £90. In performance terms the Hyper X has a slight edge over the External SSD, and we also like its sturdy, pocket-sized memory stick design. However, the Verbatim External SSD provides 128GB of storage for £89, compared to 64GB for about £83 with the Hyper X, so if you’re simply looking for a fast, affordable back-up device then the External SSD provides very good value for money.

Things are a little more complicated on the Thunderbolt side of the fence. The LaCie Rugged and Elgato Thunderbolt SSD both provide impressive performance that will appeal to professional users in fields such as video-editing. They’re also very solidly built in order to cope with the rigours of outdoor photo or video shoots. When copying large video files with Aja System Test, the Thunderbolt SSD does have a narrow lead over the Rugged drive, but that slight edge doesn’t justify its much higher price – £239.95, compared to £169.99 for the Rugged drive. And when it came to copying smaller files the Rugged drive was the clear winner by quite a large margin, making it the best all-round performer – especially when you bear in mind that performance with its USB 3.0 interface is also very strong.

The Rugged drive’s twin interfaces give it another advantage over its rivals, as they allow you to use it with older Macs and PCs that don’t have a Thunderbolt interface. LaCie also scores some bonus points by being the only company to include any bundled software with its drive. The partitioning utility isn’t essential, but its encryption software will be useful for people who work outdoors a lot and want to keep their important files safe from prying eyes. It’s that combination of competitive price, bundled software, and strong all-round performance with both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 interfaces that makes the LaCie Rugged our Editor’s Choice.