Cheap SSD drives: Where to buy them

Cheap SSD drives are relative. I fully expect platter-based hard drives to be cheaper than SSDs until 2021 or perhaps 2025. But there is a way to buy cheap SSD drives without sacrificing a ton of quality. Here’s how.

I’m a notorious miser but I’m also a tech enthusiast. The number of applications and windows I keep open frightens people. Over the years I’ve refined the secrets of running my computers harder than most people while spending a lot less on computers than most people. It’s a tricky balancing act. Using the cheapest SSD worth having is one of my best secrets. Of course, that means you have to find cheap SSD drives first.

Buy used

cheap ssd drives
The best way to buy cheap SSD drives is to buy used drives that are likely to have come from off-lease corporate PCs.

Used SSD drives are relatively plentiful on Ebay. Look specifically for Intel, Micron, and Samsung SSDs. These drives have two things going for them. They are reliable, because the companies who make them also make their own chips. That means they get first pick, where smaller brands have to settle for the leftovers. The highest-grade chips, which will be the fastest performing and most reliable, end up in companies’ own drives.

The second thing these drives have going for them is they end up in business-grade computers. Many companies replace their computers on a three-year cycle, as soon as the manufacturer’s warranty is up. Then the SSDs from these machines frequently end up on the secondary market.

I routinely buy off-lease corporate equipment. I save a lot of money that way, and I generally have less trouble with it than I do with consumer-grade equipment.

But won’t I give up life expectancy with used cheap SSD drives?

The realistic life expectancy on an SSD is somewhere around 10 years, so these drives have plenty of life left in them. The difference between buying a used SSD versus buying a used car is you don’t get to see the odometer. That said, I’ve never had a problem with buying used SSDs and I have plenty of regular readers who do this as well. They haven’t had any problems either.

Chances are any first-tier SSD you buy will be obsolete before it stops working. That’s been my experience since I started buying SSDs in 2010.

How to check the life expectancy of cheap SSD drives

There are commercial tools, such as SSDlife, to predict your SSD drive’s life expectancy. Your SSD manufacturer usually has a tool that gives you an estimated life expectancy along with allowing you to update the drive’s firmware. Samsung, Intel, and Micron all have comparable tools.

Upgrading the firmware is always a very good idea, since buggy SSD firmware can definitely lead to problems. In some cases you have to download an ISO file and then burn it to a DVD or USB stick and boot the computer from that in order to update the drive. That’s always one of the first things I do when I get a used SSD.

How to get really cheap SSD drives: Buy broken

Broken SSDs tend to sell very quickly because they are easy to fix via the power cycle method or the oven trick. But if your timing is really good, you can save by buying a broken drive. Just be aware lots of other people will be looking too.

Buying cheap SSD drives on sale

The drawback with buying used SSD drives typically is capacity. There just aren’t a lot of top-capacity SSDs in the secondary channel because they’re in the PCs the companies just bought.

The best way to get the really high capacities cheaply is to wait for the holidays. People are more likely to embark on computer upgrades over a three-day weekend, or as a Christmas present, so they tend to go on sale on or near the six or so major holidays that nearly every company gives their employees, and during big shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

SSDs are popular with enthusiasts so the usual suspects, like Newegg and Amazon, tend to put them on sale during those times.

Getting by on a lower capacity SSD

One of the problems with cheap SSD drives is they tend to have a lower capacity than you want. We all want $1,000 worth of capacity and we want to pay $12 for it. Since that’s not going to happen any time soon, here are my tricks for saving space so you can get by with a lower capacity drive than you think.

First, if you’re running Windows 10, enable its operating system compression. Next, compress files that tend to be highly compressible. Finally, remember that Microsoft Office has been using compression in its native file formats since Office 2007. If you don’t save your Office documents in the newer formats that end in “x” (such as .docx, xlsx, pptx, etc.), start. The files save space on your SSD and they also are much easier to e-mail.

If you have a lot of files in the old format, Microsoft provides a tool to convert files into the newer compressed XML-based format.

Why did SSD prices go up in 2017?

All around, 2017 was a bad year for SSDs. The problem was capacity. Manufacturing capacity, that is. There just weren’t enough chips to exceed demand in 2017, and that held prices higher. The same thing happens with regular computer memory too. The overall trend is downward, but with occasional spikes and plateaus.

Spikes in prices always result in adjustments to meet demand. Intel, Micron and Samsung all exist to make money, and not having enough chips to meet demand means leaving money on the table. Extreme overproduction is a problem, but we’re still a few years away from that being likely to happen.

And historically speaking, hitting certain price points tends to trigger new demand. Each time a new capacity milestone falls below the $300, $200, or $100 mark, we can expect demand to increase. This cat-and-mouse game of supply and demand is one of the things SSD manufacturers factor in as they make their long-term plans.

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