After the success of its SF-1200 (1222) controller, virtually every SSD maker was eager to climb aboard the SandForce express. That bandwagon continued trucking through last year, as the second-gen SF-2200 (2281) powered many of 2011's noteworthy flash drives -- OCZ's Vertex 3 among them. Even Kingston, which previously used Toshiba chips, adopted SandForce's SF-2200 starting with last year's HyperX line.

With so many drives using the same parts, shopping for an SSD was tough last summer. At the time, the HyperX and Vertex 3 offered virtually identical performance for the same price. Although the market is still dominated by SandForce-based drives, things are getting interesting as, among other changes, OCZ has finally begun utilizing its own Indilinx controllers and SandForce was acquired by LSI in January for $370 million.

It's unclear when SandForce's next controllers will arrive, but in the meantime, companies seem to be making the most of its second-gen chips. Kingston, for instance, has released a pair of new SF-2281-based drives said to emphasize speed and affordability: the HyperX 3K and the SSDNow V+200. The former is aimed at enthusuasts and uses synchronous memory, while the latter uses cheaper asynchronous memory.

Both drives reduce cost by using 25nm Intel memory with only 3,000 program/erase cycles. The number of program/erase cycles a memory block can handle determines how long it will last before it can no longer store data. For example, Intel's 50nm MLC NAND flash memory was rated for 10,000 cycles. This was reduced to 5,000 cycles when moving to the 34nm process and at 25nm, it has been cut further to 3,000-5,000 p/e cycles.

With technologies such as wear leveling and garbage collection, one p/e cycle on a 100GB drive equates to about 10GB of data writes. Assuming you average 10GB of writes per day, a 100GB 3,000 p/e drive will last over eight years, while a 5,000 p/e drive will last about five years longer. As you'll likely upgrade your SSD long before then, opting for a 3,000 p/e unit should be an easy way to save cash without sacrificing performance...

Kingston HyperX 3K 240GB

The HyperX 3K series is still aimed at enthusiasts, with the 90GB, 120GB and 240GB models touting the same 555MB/s read and 510MB/s write performance as found on the original HyperX. The 480GB drive is slightly slower with reads and writes of 540MB/s and 450MB/s. The drive measures 69.85 x 100 x 9.5mm, weighs 97 grams, and consumes 2.05 watts when writing data, 1.60 watts when reading and just 0.455 watts at idle.

The HyperX 3K range comes loaded with 25nm Intel MLC NAND flash memory rated for 3000 p/e cycles. Our review sample featured sixteen 16GB NAND ICs for a total capacity of 256GB, but it's marketed as 240GB because 16GB is reserved for data parity (8GB for RAISE), garbage collection, and block replacement. Once formatted in Windows, 240GB drops to 224GiB, so you lose roughly 7% from the GB to GiB conversion.

With a retail value of $280 ($290 with an upgrade kit), the HyperX 3K 240GB costs $1.16 per gigabyte -- a bargain by SSD standards. By comparison, the standard HyperX 240GB drive costs around $330 or $1.37 per gigabyte.

Kingston says the 240GB version has a Total Bytes Written (TBW) rating of 153.6TB. To hit that in three years, you'd have to write 140GB of data per day, which simply isn't going to happen. Even with the 90GB HyperX 3K, you'd have to write 52GB of data per day to reach the 57.6TB TBW rating. Assuming you only average 10GB of writes a day, the 90GB HyperX 3K should last up to 15 years based on Kingston's calculations.

In any case, if the HyperX 3K dies of natural causes, in this case p/e cycles, it should last longer than you need it to. The HyperX 3K is backed by a three-year warranty, which is fairly common among the competition.