Silicon Power S55 SSD is a hard bargain

The Silicon Power S55 SSD frequently goes on sale and is usually the cheapest SSD you’ll find. But is it a bargain? I dug into it to find out.

Silicon Power S55 SSD first impressions look good

Silicon Power S55 SSD
Silicon Power has been making low-cost SSDs for a few years. The Silicon Power S55 SSD is a low-cost but high-compromise drive. Image Credit: Jacek Halicki/Wikimedia Commons 

When you look at the promotional material for the Silicon Power S55 SSD, it sounds really good. It boasts of a two-level cache including DRAM and SLC and an advanced controller. But when you dig into it, it’s sporting a Silicon Motion SM2258XT controller. The Silicon Motion SM2258XT doesn’t support DRAM.

Silicon Power doesn’t get any extra points for truth in advertising with this SSD.

But the price is right. The 120 GB version often goes on sale for around $35, and I saw the 480 GB version on sale twice in the last month for $90. At 19 cents per gig, that’s getting into the price range of the used SSDs I frequently write about. But in this case, you get a newer, more modern design and a three-year warranty. It has SATA 6 support and its sequential transfer rates of 550 MB/s reads and 450 MB/s writes place it in the SATA 6 class. Its best-case scenario is a good 50 percent higher than a five-year-old used drive you can get for the same price.

So what’s the catch?

Silicon Power S55 SSD weaknesses

The major problem with the Silicon Power S55 SSD is that when you fill the drive up, random write performance falls to the floor. I mean back to levels that make you think to yourself, “1985 called. It wants its hard drive back.”

This is the same problem that early Jmicron-based SSDs had about a decade ago. I had a Jmicron-based drive, and the way it works is the machine trucks along just fine, then all of a sudden, with little warning, it just comes to a dead stop for a second or two or five. Then it resumes like nothing happened. It doesn’t crash or anything. It just grinds to a halt for a few seconds that can feel like an eternity.

It’s the equivalent of a conventional platter drive thrashing, but it feels weird with an SSD. With a platter drive it’s like driving 35 miles an hour and then hitting traffic and grinding along. With an SSD, it’s like flying at a few hundred miles per hour and then coming to a dead stop, then quickly resuming the old speed.

I’ve seen it happen even with good SSDs, but it’s rare on a good one. I’m talking once or twice a year, and on a 128-gig drive that I’ve been using for several years.

The way you avoid the hard stuttering on a Silicon Power S55 SSD is by trying not to fill the drive. Buy a higher-capacity version if you can afford it, and try to leave 50-100 GB free. The problem with that is that if you’re not going to use 25 percent of the capacity, you’re no longer paying 18 cents per gig. Now you’re paying 24 cents per gig. The big name-brand drives typically cost about 25 cents per gig and give more consistent all-around performance, better peak performance, and often a better warranty.

I’d rather have a Crucial or a Samsung drive at that price.

When the Silicon Power S55 SSD might be OK

For upgrading an older machine, a Silicon Power S55 SSD will usually be faster than whatever hard drive is in it. It will probably also be more reliable. The conventional wisdom is that any SSD is an improvement over any platter hard drive. That’s usually true, but we’ll get back to that in a minute. The price makes it a tempting upgrade for a $100 gaming PC.

For a low-end PC, like one that typically gets used for social media and word processing and e-mail, it may be OK, but there are better alternatives. For heavier use, there are definitely better alternatives. So let’s get to the $100 question.

Would I ever buy a Silicon Power S55 SSD?

I have a nice Samsung SSD in the laptop I use as my main computer. I’d like to put a second, larger SSD in its optical bay to use for data storage. I don’t need a ton of capacity for that. Certainly 480 GB would do. I want something faster and more reliable than a hard drive. For that use case, a Silicon Power S55 SSD seems up to the task since I won’t be booting off it, won’t be running programs off it, and won’t be writing data to it very often.

But I can get a better drive for $10 more. So let’s talk about that.

Alternatives to the Silicon Power S55 SSD

There are two drives that you can usually find for $10 more than the Silicon Power S55 SSD:

These drives don’t take nearly the performance hit with random I/O that the Silicon Power drives do. At their worst, they perform like the hard drives from the late 1990s. But that’s at their worst. At their worst, they’re about 10 times faster than the Silicon Power drives. Silicon Power uses the cheapest controller Silicon Motion makes. Team and Addlink use a slightly more expensive controller. Their drives cost a few dollars more to buy because they cost a little more to make.

But that 10 percent premium translates into 10x better performance when you need it most. I think that’s a reasonable tradeoff.

The Silicon Power S55 is tempting, but I think you can do better. It still means settling for a little-known brand, and none of these drives perform with the likes of Samsung or Crucial or Intel. But if you need a drive on a budget, at least you have options. And the numbers say they’ll do all right.

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