NAND Flash Industry in 2019 Has Huge Variables

Back in 1Q18, some companies such as Samsung, Toshiba, Micron and so on have a 40% profit margin on NAND chips, but prices began to fall sharply after the first quarter, according to a report from Mari Technology Information co., ltd published on February 16, 2019.

It’s estimated that prices in NAND flash fell by at least 50% in 1H18. According to analysts, prices will fall by 30% annually in the future until the next round of price increases.

The NAND market in 2018 has changed from prosperity to depression, a trend that will continue this year. However, the variables in flash memory market in 2019 are not just price reduction because new technologies, new products and the addition of Chinese manufacturers will bring great changes to this market.
Insufficient demand inevitably leads to price reduction
A key reason for the sharp price reduction in 2018 was the mass production of 64-tier 3D NAND flash. The transition from 32/48-tier to 64-tier reduced the cost of NAND flash memory to 8 cents/GB compared with the 21 cents of previous 2D NAND flash/GB, making it possible for NAND to reduce cost.

Under the pressure of oversupply, NAND flash market has been adjusted several times in the past few years. The market began to decline during 2015 and 2016 while in 2017 the market began to rise again. However, the situation did not continue as expected. When large factories competed to strengthen investment scale and supported new capacity of 3D NAND flash, market demand grew slowly, which also accelerated the price reduction of NAND flash in 2018 in the world.

Affected by the bottleneck of technology and yield, the improvement rate of 3D NAND yield in 2018 is not as smooth as expected. As a result, secondary products are sold in circulation, further interfering with market prices. As for terminal applications, the client SSD market is the first to bear the brunt.

The giants repay their debts for the good they once had
The hard days are not over yet. The price of NAND flash is expected to drop another 50% this year. NAND and SSD manufacturers will pay off the debt for the previous two years.

Recently, Western Digital’s financial reports have shown that the price reduction of NAND flash has a great impact on it. Its revenue and profit of this quarter declined Y/Y. Although NAND flash capacity shipments increased by 28%, the price of NAND flash fell by 16%, resulting in a sharp decline of gross interest rate. The HDD business is more serious since the shipment is 34.1 million, declined 8.1 million year-on-year.

The price reduction of NAND flash will also affect the earnings of Micron, SK Hynix, Samsung and Toshiba. However, Samsung, Micron and SK Hynix have the support of DRAM memory with high price, so their earnings will not be as bad as WD. In order to reduce the impact, WD and Micron are reducing NAND flash capacity investment to reduce NAND supply and alleviate market expectations of price reduction.
64-tier and 96-tier 3D NAND Flash have different destinies
This year will be the first year of the explosion of the 96-tier 3D NAND flash. After 64-tier stack, major manufacturers began to mass-produce 96-tier stack 3D flash in 2Q18. Samsung announced the fifth generation of NAND flash (one of 3D NAND flash) in early July. V NAND flash took the lead in supporting Toggle DDR 4.0 interface, with transmission speed reaching 1.4Gb/s, 40% higher than 64-tier V NAND flash. Its working voltage is reduced from 1.8V to 1.2V, and the writing speed is the fastest at present with only 500μs, which is 30% higher than the previous generation.

In addition, the fifth generation of NAND flash has also been optimized in manufacturing process. The manufacturing efficiency has increased by 30% and advanced technology reduces the height of each unit by 20%, which reduces the interference among units and improves the efficiency of data processing.

Micron, Intel, Toshiba, WD and SK Hynix have also announced their own 96-tier 3D NAND flash scheme, among which, WD and Toshiba use a new generation of BiCS4 technology in 96-tier 3D flash. Core capacity of their QLC is up to 1.33Tb, 33% higher than the industry standard. Toshiba has developed 16-core single chip flash. Only a flash has a capacity of 2.66TB.

Emergence of domestic manufacturers changes global markets
When the global semiconductor market in 2018 reached $150 billion, of which NAND flash exceeded $57 billion, China consumed 32% of the global capacity, which means that the country has become the major global market. In order to get rid of the dependence of long-term external procurement, the independent development of domestic memory chips has become an urgent task.

There is another variable in the NAND market in 2019. Although it is still a rudimentary, it is most likely to reshape the market structure of memory chips. That is, YMTC in China will produce large-scale 3D NAND flash in 2019, competing with Samsung, Toshiba, Micron and other international NAND manufacturers.

32-tier 3D NAND flash of YMTC has been successfully released and entered small-scale production. However, the 32-tier stacking process is not competitive. Recently, YMTC’s 64-tier NAND samples with Xtacking architecture have been sent to relevant supply chains for testing.

If the schedule is in line with expectations, production will be expected as soon as the 3Q19. At that time, there will be an opportunity to turn a loss into a profit.

In addition, YMTC also plans to skip from 96-tier 3D NAND to 128-tier 3D NAND in 2020. With the upgrading of production technology and the planned production capacity of 300,000 to 450,000 pieces, there will be an opportunity for the firm to grab about 10% of global market share in the future.

At the same time, UNIS promotes construction progress in other cities, for example Nanjing and Chengdu factories successively enters the construction stage by the end of 2018. A total of $26.87 billion will be invested in three major production bases to produce 3D NAND chips. On the other hand, UNIS desires to cooperate with Intel to develop NAND flash technology at full speed. 

It is only a matter of time for domestic manufacturers to enter the NAND flash market. Although it is still in the test stage in 2019, it is still necessary to solve the problem of yield after increasing output gradually. In the process of technological transformation, whether the products with unqualified yield will affect the market order will be worth observing.

Industrial variables are huge in this year
It’s reported that NAND flash price will fall 10% to 15% in the first quarter of 2019. In response, in the latest report analysts at foreign Citibank maintained neutral frequencies on Micron’s shares, but lowered Micron’s revenue and earnings expectations for 2019 for the reason the overall memory market in 2019 will face a major price reduction.

Due to overcapacity and increasing inventory, NAND flash and DRAM are expected to have a price reduction in 2019. NAND flash prices will fall 45%, and DRAM prices will fall 30%.Moreover, such a price cut will not see the bottom line until 2Q19, suggesting that the price reduction this year will last at least two quarters.

On the supply side, the yield of 64-tier 3D NAND flash has reached a mature stage. Coupled with the input of new production capacity, even if the production time of 96-tier 3D NAND flash is delayed, it still cannot withstand the increasing output of 64-tier 3D NAND flash. Unlike memory products can be used in cache, flash is the main storage device for various electronic products. The price reduction is often accompanied by an increase of carrying capacity.

Demand-side growth is not keeping pace with output growth, so the whole industry will continue to oversupply until the end of 2019.

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India’s Mfine raises $17.2M for its digital healthcare service

Mfine, an India-based startup aiming to broaden access to doctors and healthcare using the internet, has pulled in a $17.2 million Series B funding round for growth.

The company is led by four co-founders from Myntra,  the fashion commerce startup acquired by Flipkart in 2014. They include CEO Prasad Kompalli and Ashutosh Lawania who started the business in 2017 and were later joined by Ajit Narayanan and Arjun Choudhary, Myntra’s former CTO and head of growth, respectively.

The round is led by Japan’s SBI Investment with participation from sibling fund SBI Ven Capital and another Japanese investor Beenext. Existing Mfine backers Stellaris Venture Partners and Prime Venture Partners  also returned to follow on. Mfine has now raised nearly $23 million to date.

“In India, at a macro-level, good doctors are far and few and distributed very unevenly,” Kompalli said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We asked ‘Can we build a platform that is a very large hospital on the cloud?’, that’s the fundamental premise.”

There’s already plenty of money in Indian health tech platforms — Practo,  for one, has raised over $180 million from investors like Tencent — but Mfine differentiates itself with a focus on partnerships with hospitals and clinics, while others have offered more daily health communities that include remote sessions with doctors and healthcare professionals who are recruited independently of their day job.

“We are entering a different phase of what is called health tech… the problems that are going to be solved will be much deeper in nature,” Kompalli said in an interview with TechCrunch.

Mfine makes its money as a digital extension of its healthcare partners, essentially. That means it takes a cut of spending from consumers. The company claims to work with over 500 doctors from 100 ‘top’ hospitals, while there’s a big focus on tech. In particular, it says that an AI-powered ‘virtual doctor’ can help in areas that include summarising diagnostic reports, narrowing down symptoms, providing care advice and helping with preventative care. There are also other services, including medicine delivery from partner pharmacies.

To date, Mfine said that its platform has helped with over 100,000 consultations across 800 towns in India during the last 15 months. It claims it is seeing around 20,000 consultations per month. Beyond helping increase the utilization of GPs — Mfine claims it can boost their productivity 3/4X — the service can also help hospitals and centers increase their revenue, a precious commodity for many.

Going forward, Kompalli said that the company is increasing its efforts with corporate companies, where it can help cover employee healthcare needs, and developing its insurance-style subscription service. Over the coming few years, that channel should account for around half of all revenue, he added.

A more immediate goal is to expand its offline work beyond Hyderabad and Bangalore, the two cities where it currently is.

“This round is a real endorsement from global investors that the model is working,” he added.

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Microsoft discounts consumer Office 365 by 30% under ‘Home Use Program’

The changes cut the price of an annual subscription for Office 365 Home to $69.99 and for Office 365 Personal, $48.99.

Microsoft now offers discounts of 30% on consumer-grade Office 365 subscriptions to employees of companies with “Home Use Program” agreements.

The savings reduced Office 365 Home subscription to $69.99 yearly, and Office 365 Personal to $48.99.

Home Use Program (HUP) is one of the benefits provided by Software Assurance (SA), in turn either included with some Office licensing categories or optional with others. Although SA may be best known for granting upgrade rights to the next version of a “perpetual” license – such as Office 2019 – it also is included with some subscription-based licensing of, for instance, Office 365 or its more inclusive big sister, Microsoft 365.

HUP has long offered employees of eligible organizations discounts on perpetual Office licenses, those purchased with one-time payments that grant the user rights to run the software as long as desired, even theoretically in perpetuity. The offer of Office 365 Home and Office 365 Personal, however, is new.

Reports in February said that the consumer subscriptions would soon come to HUP; it’s unclear when Office 365 Home and Personal were first offered to HUP participants.

Office 365 subscriptions acquired via HUP will simply extend existing Home and Personal plans the employee may already have. Notably, once purchased at discount, all future renewals will also be at the lower price, even if the buyer no longer works for the organization.

Perpetual license products – Office Professional Plus 2019 for Windows 10 and Office Home & Business 2019 for Mac (macOS) – may also be available to a customer with HUP rights. The prices for these packages quoted to Computerworld‘s staffers – the publication’s parent company, IDG, has HUP rights – displayed even steeper discounts than for Office 365: Office Professional Plus 2019, which lists for $559, was just $19.04, while Office Home & Business 2019 for Mac was only $14.99 (retail price, $249.99). However, Microsoft made it clear that the one-PC-per-license deals were obsolete and likely to be retired from HUP.

“Microsoft is updating the Home Use Program to offer discounts on the latest and most up to date products, such as Office 365,” the company wrote in an item on a FAQ list.

The Redmond, Wash. firm also trumpeted the value of Office 365 Home or Personal, and thus HUP, even though many organizations provide Microsoft’s productivity applications through corporate Office 365 subscriptions. Those at-work plans allow workers to install Office’s apps on multiple devices, including PCs or Macs used at home.

That generosity doesn’t invalidate HUP, Microsoft argued. “The Office license assigned to you by your employer is for your use only,” Microsoft said elsewhere in the FAQ. “This applies whether you access Office from a device at your home or a device provided by your employer. Whereas if you purchase Office 365 Home through the Home Use Program, it can be used by your family.”

Office 365 Home lets up to six family members install and use the Office applications on their devices; each receives 1TB of OneDrive storage space.

More information about HUP – and instructions on how to determine eligibility – can be found on this website.

Office 365 subscription
Microsoft’s now steering eligible customers to consumer-grade Office 365 subscriptions under its Home Use Program benefit, and away from perpetual licenses of Office.
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LG G Watch W100 Repair (SMART WATCH)

LG G WATCH Stuck on boot screen now is fully working order we successfully Repaired LG SMART WATCH.

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Pure Storage Airi Goes HyperScale at GTC 2019

Pure Storage Airi Goes HyperScale at GTC 2019

NEW-PRODUCT NEWS ANALYSIS: Even the most technically astute engineers likely don’t have the skills to get an AI-ready system up and running quickly. The majority of organizations looking to embark on AI should look to an engineered system to de-risk the deployment.

This week at the NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference (GTC), flash storage vendor Pure Storage announced an extension to its engineered systems for artificial intelligence. For those not familiar with the term, an engineered system is a turnkey solution that brings together all the technology components required to run a certain workload.

The first example of this was the vBlock system introduced by VCE, a joint venture between VMware, Cisco Systems and EMC. It included all the necessary storage, networking infrastructure, servers and software to stand up a private cloud and took deployment times from weeks or even months to just a few days.

During the past decade, compute platforms have become increasingly disaggregated as companies desired the freedom to pick and choose which storage, network or server vendor to use. Putting the components together for low performance workloads is fairly easy. Cobbling together the right piece parts for high-performance ones, such as private cloud and AI is very difficult–particularly in the area of tuning the software and hardware to run optimally together. Engineered systems are validated designs that are tested and tuned for a particular application.

Airi Comes in Three Versions

Pure’s platform is known as Airi, which was announced at GTC 2019 and uses NVIDIA DGX servers, Arista network infrastructure and Pure Storage Flashblades. There are currently three versions of Airi that range from 2 PFlops of performance to 4 PFlops and 119 TB of flash to 374 TB. All three versions of Airi are single chassis systems. The new ones announced at GTC are multi-chassis systems where multiple Airis can be daisy chained together to create a single, larger logical unit.

Both can accommodate up to 30×17 TB blades. One version uses up to 9 NVIDIA DGX-1 systems for a total compute capacity of 9 Pflops. The other can be loaded up with up to 3 NVIDIA DGX-2 systems for a total processing capability of 6 Pflops per unit. The new units use Mellanox’s (recently acquired by NVIDIA) 100 Gig low-latency Ethernet.

The use of Mellanox Ethernet may seem strange, because it’s the market leader in Infiniband, which often is used to interconnect servers. Its low-latency Ethernet has performance characteristics that are closed to Infiniband, and scaling out Ethernet is simpler with it. The new Airi systems can be scaled out to 64 racks with a leaf-spine network for a massive amount of AI capacity.

The leaf-spine network architecture is the best network topology for multi-chassis, because it offers consistent performance, high bandwidth, rapid scale and high availability. Companies can use the new Airi systems to start small with a single chassis and then scale out as required.

AI-Optimized Version of Engineered-System Flashstack

Also, at GTC 19, Pure Storage announced an AI-optimized version of Flashstack, which is its engineered system using Cisco UCS servers and Nexus data center switches. The new Flashstack for AI uses the Cisco UCS C480 M5 ML AI servers that is optimized for deep learning. The server contains up to eight NVIDIA Tesla V100 GPUs that use the NVLink interconnect to make the eight processors work like a single, massive GPU. Flashstack uses Cisco’s 100 Gig Nexus storage and Pure’s Flashblade system.

The company does have other Flashstack systems, but those were not optimized. Currently the system can’t be set up in multi-chassis configuration the way Airi can, but that’s likely coming in the not-too-distant future.

Cisco and Pure have a strong partnership and offer a unique way of simplifying the entire data pipeline for AI. Cisco has a wide range of servers for every step in the AI cycle. The UCS C220 is ideal for data collection, and the UCS C240 is optimal for the clean and transform phase. As the graphic shows, a single Flashblade data hub can share the entire data set across the AI lifecycle.

[To see a larger version of the graphic at upper left, right-click on it and select “View Image.”]

The combination of NVIDIA, Mellanox and Pure Storage or even Cisco and Pure have hundreds of possible configuration knobs and levers to tune. While the hardware settings might look complex, they pale in comparison to the AI software. As an example, TensorFlow alone has more than 800 configuration parameters. With Airi and Flashstack, all the heavy lifting has been done and customers can get the product up and running in just a few days. In highly competitive industries, this could make the difference between being a market leader and a laggard.

The AI era has arrived, and IT professionals need to be ready. Even the most technically astute engineers likely don’t have the skills to get an AI ready system up and running quickly. The majority of organizations looking to embark on AI should look to an engineered system to de-risk the deployment.

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Mobile Wallets – Still Not Living Up to Expectations

Ever since the birth of Apple Pay in 2012, payment experts have declared that we are living in “the year of the mobile wallet.” But digital wallet adoption rates have remained static for years. While a small group of consumers have embraced this new technology, many Americans seem perfectly happy continuing to use cards and cash for their purchases.

A Slow Start for Wallets

While iPhones may still be enjoying good sales, Apple Pay, the country’s largest mobile payment player, is not seeing record-setting numbers. According to statistics from, less than 3% of iPhone users paid with the app during their most recent shopping trip – and only 6.8% of all iPhone owners used Apple Pay the last time they went to a store that accepted it.

Walmart Pay has also seen a similar adoption rate, with 5.9% of eligible adults using it during their last trip to Walmart. Samsung Pay has a usage rate of 4.6%, and consumers used Android Pay for 2.3% of all recent transactions. And perhaps most telling, in 2017, less than 1 in 20 consumers with a mobile wallet used it when they had the opportunity.

Mobile Woes

Why are consumers hesitant to pay via phone? For the most part, many consumers are perfectly happy to pay with cash and their cards and don’t feel the need to switch.

And unlike Visa or MasterCard, mobile wallets are hardly universal. Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay are restricted to their respective devices. Walmart Pay has a higher overall usage rate because it can be accessed by anyone with a smartphone. For many consumers, switching between mobile wallets based on where they’re shopping creates unnecessary payment friction.

Still, as smartphones and internet connectivity reach a saturation point, consumers will likely start to view their phones more as banking and shopping devices. Mobile wallet transactions topped out at $718 billion in 2017. However, experts do expect that mobile payments will reach $800 billion this year, as Apple, Google, Samsung and PayPal increase their focus on mobile payments, and merchants ramp up their mobile capabilities.

One Wallet to Rule Them All

While the mobile wallet market is increasingly fragmented, the wallet that might stand the best chance of growth is PayPal, since it is not connected to a single payment brand. Along with its partnership with Venmo, PayPal represents the closest to a universal mobile wallet. Other global standouts include China’s Alipay and WeChat Pay.

The world will also see an increase of QR code-based, contactless mobile payment options like those seen from retailers like Walmart, CVS and Starbucks, as well as NFC-based mobile payments. There is a possibility that Walmart could expand its wallet app beyond its stores, while Amazon could venture into the mobile payments market.

While today’s mobile wallet market is fragmented and competitive, an increase in corporate acquisitions in 2019 will clear the way for a few top players who acquire and eliminate rival services.

Payments of the Future

When it comes to the growth of mobile wallets, the primary obstacle is bridging the gap between awareness and adoption. And while the future of money is increasingly mobile, security will always be the top priority of any payment system.

That’s why Bluefin offers our P2PE and tokenization solutions to ensure that sensitive payment data is encrypted the moment it enters your system – and is encrypted if you store payment data. To learn more about how you can protect your organization’s payment information, contact a Bluefin representative today.

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Best Free Firewalls for 2019

While you might think it’s fine to rely on the firewalls built into your wifi router and device operating system, these may not be enough. Don’t worry if you don’t have spare cash for additional firewall software; we’ve found some great free firewalls for you to consider.

If you have a wifi router, you likely already have a measure of protection from intrusion in the form of a built-in hardware firewall. Additionally, you may have a software firewall built into your operating system, such as Windows Defender for Windows users. According to the AV Test Security Report 2017/2018, Windows is by far the most attacked operating system, so built-in protection makes sense.

However, these firewalls aren’t perfect and you may find yourself in need of extra protection. And it’s not just Windows users who should be concerned. No operating system is immune to attack, so no one should be complacent about the vulnerability of their internet-connected devices.

Installing antivirus software as well as an additional firewall is your best chance of keeping your equipment malware-free. Thankfully, you don’t have to break the bank when it comes to third-party software, or even pay a penny. We’ll cover each firewall in detail, but if you’re just looking for a quick list, these are the best free firewalls:

  1.  Sophos XG Firewall Home Edition
  2.  ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2019
  3.  AVS Firewall
  4.  Avast Free Antivirus
  5.  Comodo Free Firewall
  6.  TinyWall
  7.  Outpost Firewall
  8.  GlassWire
  9.  Privatefirewall
  10. OpenDNS Home

The following sections will explain what each of these has to offer:

The Best Free Firewalls of 2019

You don’t need to pay for a top quality firewall because some of the leading cybersecurity companies produce free software that will protect your computer.

Here’s our list of the best free firewalls for 2019:

1. Sophos XG Firewall Home Edition

Sophos XG Firewall

Sophos is a rising star in the cybersecurity industry and its excellent business protection software is also available for home use. This security system is unusually advanced compared to the standard firewall software. It isn’t just a computer security system, it is a network security system.

Given that most homes now run multi-user wifi networks, the Sophos approach to whole home cybersecurity coverage is a concept that is long overdue. Essentially, you get all of the system protection controls that you would for a business, but for your home network.

That being said, there is a major infrastructure requirement of this free firewall that may put you off. Sophos XG has its own operating system (OS) and when you install it on a computer, it wipes out the existing OS and all software installed on that device. You won’t even be able to reinstall your Windows-compatible software once the Sophos XG OS is running. The host computer needs to have four cores and 6 GB of RAM.

If you have a spare computer, then this firewall option is light years ahead of the competition. It includes anti-malware, and gives you web security, connection privacy, and URL filtering. Within the network, you get application control, an Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), and traffic-shaping features. The console includes a network monitoring and reporting dashboard, providing all the system management facilities that large companies enjoy on their networks.

Download Sophos XG Firewall Home Edition

2. ZoneAlarm Free Firewall 2019

ZoneAlarm logo

ZoneAlarm Free Firewall installs on Windows 7, 8, 9, and 10. This system has some great extras, which makes it a good choice for home wifi networks and laptops that connect to the internet in public places. All you need to install it is an internet connection for the download and an email address for the activation.

The firewall includes a “stealth mode” which protects your connections from hackers, includes identity protection services, and blocks malware. If you are in the US, you can call on the company for victim recovery assistance in the case of identity theft.

The software will add an extra layer of protection to your connections when you connect to public wifi hotspots and it assesses the security of your home wifi network to improve protection from attacks. It updates itself automatically, so you benefit from an up-to-date threat protection database.

Download ZoneAlarm Free Firewall

3. AVS Firewall

AVS Firewall

The AVS brand is owned by Online Media Technologies Ltd. However, the company doesn’t make its firewall software easy to find on its website. Alternatively, you can download it from Tucows or Softpedia among other free software distribution sites. This firewall runs on all versions of Windows from XP to Windows 10.

The firewall will block incoming connection requests and it includes other security measures. These include the ability to select which applications on your computer are allowed to connect to the internet and a security level feature. The software monitors activity in the registry and blocks alterations. This is a very important protection measure against worms and persistent malware.

The AVS Firewall provides surfing protection as well as system security. These measures include an ad and popup blocker and parental controls. You can allocate bandwidth usage limits to devices, applications, or programs.

Download AVS Firewall

4. Avast Free Antivirus

Avast logo

Avast is a major player in the antivirus market and its AV software packages include firewalls. The company produces a free antivirus package that will give your home computer complete protection from cyber attacks. This software runs on Windows, MacOS, and Android.

The antivirus module of this package includes live updates for the threat database which gives you instant coverage when the company discovers a new virus. The software also creates a Sandbox environment on your computer. This is useful if you like to download new software from untrusted sources as you can try out your new utility without the risk of it releasing hidden viruses onto your computer.

Wifi security in this package monitors for intruders and network weaknesses, and online protection includes a password locker and fake site detection that guards against DNS hijacking.

Download Avast Free Antivirus

5. Comodo Free Firewall

Comodo logo

Comodo is an award-winning cybersecurity software house that produces a firewall for all versions of Windows from XP through to Windows 10. The paid firewall has a free alternative, which the company claims is the world’s #1 free firewall.

As well as blocking incoming connections, this software package will monitor your computer for ongoing threats, with a constantly updated threat database. The monitor alerts you in real-time to detected risks. You get a Sandbox environment for any new software you download to protect from hidden viruses. The system uses AI to build up a profile of normal operating behavior on your computer so that it can block suspicious activity. You can choose to block specific applications from accessing the internet while the software monitors all outgoing traffic as well as inbound data.

Other features include a browser cleanup utility and a games mode to enable interactive applications to operate over the internet.

Download Comodo Free Firewall

6. TinyWall

TinyWall logo

The developer of TinyWall, Károly Pados, came up with the clever idea of producing an enhancement for the native Windows firewall, Windows Defender. So, unsurprisingly, this utility is only available for Windows.

The ethos behind the development of TinyWall is that it should be unobtrusive. The program runs all the time and shows as an icon in the system tray. You click on the icon to view the popup menu of the system. This means that threat information is available on demand. The good point about that is that you won’t get your computer frozen by an overlay when you are in the middle of something. However, on the downside, threat alerts are easy to ignore, which is a risk.

As a free utility that’s meant to be lightweight (it only takes up 1 MB of space on your hard drive), this firewall doesn’t have many features. You can whitelist applications to prevent your important programs from being blocked, but that’s about it.

Download TinyWall

7. Outpost Firewall

Outpost Firewall logo

The maker of Outpost, Agnitum Ltd, was sold to Yandex, the Russian Google, in 2017 and at that point shut down its own website. You can’t get this firewall directly from the company anymore, but it is available from software distribution sites, such as Filehippo and Softonic.

You might wonder why a seemingly abandoned firewall is on this list. It’s here because it deserves to be. Agnitum licensed its firewall to other security companies, so this is actually the firewall that you get from other big name cybersecurity providers, including Sophos. Although the paid Outpost Firewall Pro is no longer supported, the free firewall is still going strong.

Features of this excellent security utility include automatic whitelisting for well-known software, an anti-leak module that blocks suspicious outgoing messages, a file and folder lock, and an ad and popup blocker for web surfers.

Download Outpost Firewall

8. GlassWire

GlassWire logo

GlassWire is network monitoring software as well as a firewall, and it’s free to use. This package installs on Windows 7, 8, and 10. Although this software would be ideal for a small business network, it’s also marketed for home use. The firewall can be set up with several profiles so it behaves differently in each given scenario. For example, you can have a home network setting and a public wifi profile.

As well as blocking incoming connections, the suite enables you to monitor bandwidth usage, throttling some apps to make more bandwidth available to key applications. The traffic management functions go down to port number, program, and process.

The monitor is always on and it tracks all activity on your computer, looking for suspicious anything suspicious. Like TinyWall, the firewall functions of GlassWire are actually just a management interface to the native Windows Defender.

Download GlassWire

9. Privatefirewall


Privatefirewall is a product of Privacyware. The company’s feature product is ThreatSentry, a security system designed for business networks. The company is not so interested in Privatefirewall anymore and it doesn’t even mention the product on its own website. However, you can download it for free from software distributors, such as CNet, and Softpedia. The program will run on Windows from XP up to 8.1 – there isn’t a version for Windows 10.

As well as being a firewall, this utility is a host-based intrusion detection system. It examines the log files on your computer to look for worrying events. It will also protect those log files from unauthorized alteration or deletion, which is a track-covering trick that some malware uses.

The regular firewall features of this suite include whitelisting and blacklisting functions, as well as content privacy controls such as text copy shutdown and clipboard monitoring. The interface for the firewall is a popup context menu that you activate by right-clicking on the program icon in the system tray.

The tool will also monitor email activity, disable infected or banned websites from loading, and block internet activity from a specified address.

Download Privatefirewall

10. OpenDNS Home

OpenDNS logo

OpenDNS is a business network security system that also has a free Home edition. This firewall covers all of the internet-active devices in your home, including DVRs and smart TVs, computers, tablets, and smartphones. It’s a great choice for families because it includes parental controls.

This system is cloud-based, so you don’t have to install any software. Instead, the service changes your router settings to channel all of your internet traffic through the OpenDNS server. This is what the industry calls an “edge service” and it will also protect you from other hacker actions, such as DDoS attacks.

Sign up for OpenDNS Home

Do I need a third-party firewall?

Businesses religiously install firewalls to protect their resources from attack, but the general public has become less interested in this form of protection. A big reason for this complacency is that protection is often built in to devices.

At home, wifi routers offer protection against attack from the internet in the form of a hardware firewall. However, the advent of Trojans means that this incoming connection request block is no longer enough; Trojans will open up outgoing connections back to base and invite in other viruses.

Popular operating systems often come with their own software firewall, such as Windows Defender in newer versions of Windows. However, this is a rudimentary firewall that could do with a lot more options, which you get with third-party firewalls.

Note that if you do have firewalls built in to your router or operating system, you need to make sure they’re enabled. A disabled firewall is as useless as not having one at all.

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Two-thirds of secondhand USB drives still contain previous owners’ data: study

68 percent of secondhand USB flash drives sold in the US, and 67 percent sold in the UK, still contain recoverable data from their previous owners, according to a new study by the University of Hertfordshire and commissioned by Comparitech.

University of Hertfordshire researchers purchased 200 USB memory sticks—100 in the US, 100 in the UK—from eBay, secondhand shops, and traditional auctions. Our latest research sought to find out how many of the USB drives still contained data, what was contained in that data, and whether any attempt had been made to remove the data.

Two-thirds of USB drives still contained remnant data from previous users. Within them, researchers discovered a wide range of intimate, private, and sensitive files.Nude photos, business documents, ID scans, job applications, wage slips, private memos, tax statements, receipts, and medical documents were found among the trove of data.

The data recovered from secondhand USB drives could be used for a wide range of crimes, including targeted phishing, identity theft, and extortion. “One of the criteria that the study applied to the recovered data was to ask ‘would this data be of value to a cybercriminal?’” says Andrew Jones from the Cyber Security Centre at the University of Hertfordshire. “If a person can be identified in sufficient detail (name, address, email, phone number), then this information has potential value to a criminal for identity theft.”

Researchers conducted their analysis using publicly available software that can be downloaded from the web.

The research team split up the results by country. Here’s a breakdown of the 100 cards from the US:

  • Only one USB drive appeared to have no attempt made to remove the data
  • 18 were wiped using a data erasing tool and no data could be recovered
  • Eight were formatted, but data could be recovered “with minimal effort”
  • 64 had data deleted, but it could easily be recovered
  • 6 drives were not accessible and could not be read using the tools available
  • The previous owner could be identified in 20 cases

… and the 100 from the UK:

  • 19 had no attempt made to remove the data
  • One was encrypted with BitLocker (not recoverable)
  • 16 were properly wiped and no data could be recovered
  • 16 were formatted, but data could still be recovered “with minimal effort”
  • 47 had data deleted, but it could be easily recovered
  • 1 was not accessible and could not be read
  • The previous owner could be identified in 22 cases

The biggest difference between the two countries was the number of drives sold without having had any attempt made to erase data beforehand. The study notes, “In the USA, there appears to be a greater level of awareness of the issue and only one of the purchased USB memory sticks had not had any effort made to remove the data, whereas in the UK there were 19.”

Despite Americans’ greater efforts to remove data from USB drives before selling them, the proportion of USB flash drives from which data could be recovered was almost equal in the UK and the USA at 68 percent and 67 percent, respectively.

This study concurs with our similar study by the same university on secondhand memory cards, such as SD and microSD cards. That research, carried out in conjunction with Comparitech last year, found that 65 percent of secondhand memory cards still contained personal data from their previous owners.

What did the USB drives contain?

Researchers noted that the types of data found on USB flash drives varied somewhat by country. Americans’ USB sticks contained more business documents, while those in the UK contained more personal information.

The risks of leaving data on secondhand USB flash drives and memory cards seems obvious, so what researchers found on some of the USB flash drives might surprise you. Some notable cases include:

  • Nude images of a middle-aged man along with name and contact details
  • A collection of photos of bundles of money and shotguns. A search warrant giving the name of the person to be searched, a forfeiture submission for the seizure of drugs giving the name of the person that had their property seized, A forensic laboratory report on evidence submitted and a letter of resignation from a law enforcement officer.
  • Chemical, fire, and power safety documents for a project in Cardiff, along with risk assessment documents and the name of the owner
  • Laboratory reports for a petrochemical company, along with the name and National Insurance number (SIN) of the USB drive’s owner
  • Documents containing the stock exchange dealings of a trader along with their passport and addresses in France in the UK for the past six years
  • Wage slips and tax statements with name, address, and contact details
  • Photos of a soldier including a deployment screening sheet containing his home and duty addresses
  • A resume and filled-out W-4 tax form with full name and address

Why do people leave data on secondhand USB drives?

The cause of this problem is twofold, according to the research:

  • First, not enough people are aware of the risks of leaving data on USB drives before selling them.
  • Second, those that do make an effort to erase the data don’t do it properly, so the data can still be recovered.

Jones tells Comparitech, “There are a number of solutions that are already easily and freely available, such as media wiping tools, encryption, and the low level formatting of the media, but this is more an issue of the user not being aware that even though they cannot see it, the data does not go away when they delete itor do a high level format.”

Simply dragging files into the trash can or highlighting them and hitting the “Delete” key does not permanently erase data from a USB drive. Similarly, formatting a USB drive still leaves recoverable remnant data. To fully erase data, it the storage area containing it must be overwritten, preferably by secure data erasure software. Read our guide on how to securely erase SD cards and flash drives to learn more.

The onus of responsibility is on both previous owners and secondhand sellers. It’s quite possible that sellers simply plug in the USB drive, see that it’s empty, and put it up for sale without bothering to properly wipe remnant data.

The tools required to properly wipe a device are often free and even built into device operating systems. The authors of the study note that there’s plenty of free and publicly available information out there (including ours) saying as much, but it apparently never reached many sellers of secondhand devices. Researchers suggests one reason might be that USB memory sticks are fairly cheap and therefore sellers, perceiving them as low value, do not consider the potential value of the data they contain.

In some cases, online sources erroneously suggest wiping devices using a “Quick Format” on Windows, which leaves recoverable remnant data on devices. A full format is necessary to completely overwrite remnant data.

Despite proper data destruction being easy and information about it being prevalent, people still fail to do it. The researchers say the causes might be a lack of understanding of how to properly delete data, a lack of concern in an era of social media and data sharing, or a failure to understand the risks of exposing personal data.

“There have been efforts by Government and a number of other organisations to educate users, but these are not having a significant effect,” Jones explains. “This is probably due to people not considering the effect of aggregation of data on the media over time and that a number of individual elements of data that appear to have no value can be viewed as a whole to develop a rich picture of the user.”

Portable storage

The storage capacity of the drives used in our study varied widely, from a mere 64 MB to 128 GB. The study says USB memory sticks are primarily used to move files from one computer to another, or as a form of backup storage. That means any files stored on USB flash drives were purposely stored there, which is slightly different than data stored on a computer hard disk.

Although storage demand continues to grow, that storage won’t necessarily exist on end user devices in the long term. As broadband speeds increase and memory gets cheaper to manufacture, remote cloud storage and online file transfers could mitigate the amount of personal data we put on USB flash drives.

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SAN vs NAS: Difference Between Storage Area Network and Network Attached Storage

When you are looking for local storage for business, there come two options: NAS (Network Attached Storage) and SAN (Storage Area Network). Today you will find out whether it is NAS or SAN that fits your needs.

What Is NAS?

Network Attached Storage (NAS) is a device for storing data over the network. It has dedicated hardware and a pre-installed by manufacturer OS. The main characteristic of the NAS is the number of bays you can insert hard drives into. From the hardware standpoint  you need to be aware of the NAS CPU and RAM.

NAS is a computerized box for hard drives that can be accessed by multiple users or applications over the network.

This is a Synology NAS device

This is a Synology NAS device

ypical NAS use cases:

  • Data storage
  • File sharing
  • Backup

NAS should be connected to a local network. It then can be accessed by multiple users. It can also be configured as a network share for simpler user access.

Network storage devices do not have pre-installed hard drives – you should choose them.

Typical NAS infrastructure model

Typical NAS infrastructure model

What Is SAN?

Storage Area Network (SAN) is an array of disks, which are attached to the server via a special network. In SAN you get access directly to the storage, as if it was your local hard drive. That makes storage area network fast if configured correctly.

The right SAN infrastructure consists of a dedicated network typically relying on a fiber-optics, enterprise-grade storage systems, and special connecting hardware. The wrong SAN setup leads to network overload and instability.

SAN is a bunch of disks that act as one storage device over a network.

Typical SAN infrastructure model

Typical SAN infrastructure model

The management of the IT infrastructures with SAN requires a knowledge of low-level block protocols and their hardware and software medium, such as FC switches, optical cables, SCSI-powered protocols, etc.

SAN switch with optical Fibre Channel connectors

SAN infrastructure implementation costs are high from a hardware and management perspective.

Typical SAN use cases:

  • High speed server transactions
  • Data mirroring

SAN switch with optical Fibre Channel connectorsNAS can also be made faster by using the high-end devices, routing planning, using a dedicated network and overall optimizations. Both storage solutions are often used within one organization. You may have a file server for storing user files and a block storage for the disaster recovery at the same time.

Conclusion: SAN vs NAS Comparison Chart

Now you are aware of fundamental differences between SAN and NAS devices and can find your bearing on the storage technologies ground. We have created a comparison chart with the key features of both storage types so you could choose the right one.

Block-level accessFile-level access
High performance due to the infrastructure nature, commonly fasterHigh performance can be achieved using the network and software optimization, commonly slower
May be configured in a very custom wayEasy to configure a basic data storage use case
Needs changes in the existing networkMay be published in a network as it is
Needs separate servers for application or user accessIndependent device with server functions
Suitable for any appsSuitable for latency-tolerant apps
Grants read and write access for multiple users using external managerGrants read and write access for multiple users out of the box
Costs more due to the infrastructure expensesCheaper due to the simplicity of deployment
Effective for big data or performance-crucial businessCan be handy for a business of any size

Should You Choose a NAS or a SAN?

Whereas NAS is an endpoint device, SAN is a network of devices that act as  one. Network area storage device is far simpler and cheaper to buy and maintain. Setting up a storage area network requires knowledge, practice and continuous maintenance. It also costs a lot to build one.

If you need storage for backup or data sharing within small teams – you are better off with a NAS.

If you require high input/output speeds, you have servers and applications that need to communicate with each other – hire a professional to build you a SAN.

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How to Buy the Right SSD: A Guide for 2019

The easiest way to hobble a fast CPU is to pair it with slow storage. While your processor can handle billions of cycles per second, it spends a lot of time waiting for your drive to feed it data. Hard drives are particularly sluggish because they have moving parts. To get the optimal performance you need a good solid state drive (SSD).

Image Credit: Chris Ramseyer

Image Credit: Chris Ramseyer

 Best OverallAdata XPG GAMMIX S11 (1TB)$207.99Amazon Best M.2 PCIeSamsung 970 Pro (1TB)$345.97Amazon Best SATASamsung 860 Pro (1TB)$277Amazon Best Add-in-CardIntel Optane 905P (1TB)$1,325.71Amazon Best CheapCrucial MX500 (500GB)$69.95Amazon
Capacity (Raw / User)960GB / 1024GB1024GB / 1024GB1024GB / 1024GB960GB / 960GB512GB /500GB
Form FactorM.2 2280 D5M.2 2280 S32.5″ 7mmHalf-Height, Half-Length2.5″ 7mm
Interface / ProtocolPCIe 3.0 x4 / NVMe 1.3PCIe 3.0 x4 / NVMe 1.3SATA / AHCIPCIe 3.0 x4 / NVMeSATA / AHCI
ControllerSMI SM2262Samsung Phoenix NVMeSamsung MJXIntel CustomSilicon Motion SM2258
NANDMicron 64-Layer TLCSanDisk 64L Samsung 64-Layer MLCSamsung 64L MLCIntel 3D XPointMicron 64-Layer TLC
Sequential Read3,150 MB/s3,500 MB/s560 MB/s2,600 MB/s560 MB/s
Sequential Write1,700 MB/s2,700 MB/s530 MB/s2,200 MB/s510 MB/s
Random Read310,000 IOPS500,000 IOPS100,000 IOPS575,000 IOPS95,000 IOPS
Random Write280,000 IOPS500,000 IOPS90,000 IOPS550,000 IOPS90,000 IOPS
EncryptionClass 0 (256-bit FDE), TCG Opal 2.0, Microsoft eDriveTCG Opal, eDriveAES 256bitHardware AES-256 Encryption; TCG Opal 2.0 SED Support
Endurance640 TBW1,200 TBW1,200 TBW17.52 PBW180 TBW
Warranty5-Years5-Years Limited5-Years5-Years Limited5-Years Limited

If you already know all about the specific drive types and want specific recommendations, check out our Best SSDs page. But if you don’t have a Ph.D in SSD, here are a few things you need to consider when shopping.

First, if you’re going to be shopping for an SSD deal, you’ll want to check out our feature: How to Tell an SSD Deal From a Solid-State Dud. And if you keep an eye on our Best SSD and Storage Deals page, you might snag a sweet price on an older (but still plenty fast) SATA SSD. Also, keep an eye out for deals on higher-capacity drives, like 1 or even 2TB models. That’s where there’s the most potential for great discounts.


Here are four quick tips, followed by our detailed answers to many FAQs:

  • Know your home computer: Find out if you have slots for M.2 drives on your motherboard and room in the chassis. If not, you may may need a 2.5-inch drive instead.
  • 500GB to 1TB capacity: Don’t even consider buying a drive that has less than 256GB of storage. 500GB offers a good balance between price and capacity. And as 1TB drives slide toward the $100/£100 price point, they’re great, roomy options as well.
  • SATA is cheaper but slower: If your computer supports NVMe PCIe or Optane drives, consider buying a drive with one of these technologies. However, SATA drives are more common, cost less and still offer excellent performance for common applications.
  • Any SSD is better than a hard drive: Even the worst SSD is at least three times as fast as a hard drive. Depending on the workload, the performance delta between good and a great SSDs can be subtle.

How much can you spend?

Most consumer drives range from 120GB to 2TB. While 120GB drives are the cheapest, they aren’t roomy enough to hold a lot of software and are usually slower than their higher-capacity counterparts. It costs as little as $10 (£7) extra to step up from 120 to 250GB size and that’s money well spent. The delta between 250GB and 500GB drives can be slightly more, but 500GB is the sweet spot between price, performance and capacity for most users–particularly if you don’t have the budget for a 1TB model.

There are also some drives (primarily from Samsung) with capacities above 2TB. But they’re typically expensive in the extreme (well over $500/£500), so they’re really only worthwhile for professional users who need space and speed and aren’t averse to paying for it.

What kind of SSD does your computer support?

Solid-state drives these days come in several different form factors and operate across several possible hardware and software connections. What kind of drive you need depends on what device you have (or are intending on buying). If you own a recent gaming desktop or are building a PC with a recent mid-to-high-end motherboard, your system may be able to incorporate most (or all) modern drive types.

Alternatively, modern slim laptops and convertibles are increasingly shifting solely to the gum-stick-shaped M.2 form factor, with no space for a traditional 2.5-inch laptop-style drive. And in some cases, laptop makers are soldering the storage directly to the board, so you can’t upgrade at all. So you’ll definitely want to consult your device manual or check Crucial’s Advisor Tool to sort out what your options are before buying.

Which form factor do you need?

SSDs come in three main form factors, plus one uncommon outlier.

  • 2.5-inch Serial ATA (SATA): The most common type, these drives mimic the shape of traditional laptop hard drives and connect over the same SATA cables and interface that any moderately experienced upgrader should be familiar with. If your laptop or desktop has a 2.5-inch hard drive bay and a spare SATA connector, these drives should be drop-in-compatible (though you may need a bay adapter if installing in a desktop with only larger 3.5-inch hard drive bays free).
  • SSD Add-in Card(AIC): These drives have the potential to be much faster than other drives, as they operate over the PCI Express bus, rather than SATA, which was designed well over a decade ago to handle spinning hard drives. AIC drives plug into the slots on a motherboard that is more commonly used for graphics cards or RAID controllers. Of course, that means they’re only an option for desktops, and you’ll need an empty PCIe x4 or x16 slot to install them. If your desktop is compact and you already have a graphics card installed, you may be out of luck. But if you do have room in your modern desktop and a spare slot, these drives can be among the fastest available (take the Intel Optane 900p, for example), due in large part to their extra surface area, allowing for better cooling. Moving data at extreme speeds generates a fair bit of heat.
  • M.2 SSDs: About the shape of a stick of RAM but much smaller, M.2 drives have become the standard for slim laptops, but you’ll also find them on many desktop motherboards. Some boards even have two or more M.2 slots, so you can run the drives in RAID. While most M.2 drives are 22mm wide and 80mm long, there are some that are shorter or longer. You can tell by the four or five-digit number in their names, with the first two digits representing the width and the others showing length. The most common size is labeled M.2 Type-2280. Though laptops will only work with one size, many desktop motherboards have anchor points for longer and shorter drives. The largest M.2 drives are 1 to 2TB. So, if you have a generous budget and need a ton of storage space, you should consider other form factors.
  • U.2 SSDs: At first glance, these 2.5-inch components look like traditional SATA hard drives. However, they use a different connector and send data via the speedy PCIe interface, and they’re typically thicker than 2.5-inch hard drives and SSDs. U.2 drives tend to be more expensive and higher-capacity than regular M.2 drives. Servers that have lots of open drive bays can benefit from this form factor.

Do you want a drive with a SATA or PCIe interface?

Strap in, because this bit is more complicated than it should be. As noted earlier, 2.5-inch SSDs run on the Serial ATA (SATA) interface, which was designed for hard drives (and launched way back in 2000), while add-in-card drives work over the faster PCI Express bus, which has more bandwidth for things like graphics cards. 

M.2 drives can work either over SATA or PCI Express, depending on the drive. And the fastest M.2 drives (including Samsung’s 970 drives and Intel’s 760p) also support NVMe, a protocol that was designed specifically for fast modern storage. The tricky bit (OK, another tricky bit) is that an M.2 drive could be SATA-based, PCIe-based without NVMe support, or PCIe-based with NVMe support. That said, most fast M.2 SSDs launched in the last couple of years support NVMe

Both M.2 drives and the corresponding M.2 connectors on motherboards look very similar, regardless of what they support. So be sure to double-check the manual for your motherboard, laptop, or convertible, as well as what a given drive supports, before buying.

If your daily tasks consist of web browsing, office applications, or even gaming, most NVMe SSDs aren’t going to be noticeably faster than less expensive SATA models. If your daily tasks consist of heavier work, like large file transfers, videos or high-end photo editing, transcoding, or compression/decompression, then you might consider stepping up to an NVMe SSD. These SSDs provide up to five times more bandwidth than SATA models, which boosts performance in heavier productivity applications.

Also, some NVMe drives (like Intel’s SSD 660p) are nearing the price of SATA drives. So if your device supports NVMe and you find a good deal on a drive, you may want to consider NVMe as an option even if you don’t have a strong need for the extra speed.

What capacity do you need?

  • 128GB Class: Stay away. These low-capacity drives tend to have slower performance, because of their minimal number of memory modules. Also, after you put Windows and a couple of games on it, you’ll be running out of space. Plus, you can step up to the next level for as little as $10/£7 more.
  • 250GB Class: These drives are much cheaper than their larger siblings, but they’re still quite cramped, particularly if you use your PC to house your operating system, PC games, and possibly a large media library. If there’s wiggle room in your budget, stepping up at least one capacity tier to a 500GB-class drive is advisable.
  • 500GB Class: Drives at this capacity level occupy a sweet spot between price and roominess, although 1TB drives are becoming increasingly appealing.
  • 1TB Class: Unless you have massive media or game libraries, a 1TB drive should give you enough space for your operating system and primary programs, with plenty of room for future media collections and software.
  • 2TB Class: If you work with large media files, or just have a large game library that you want to be able to access on the quick, a 2TB drive could be worth the high premium you pay for it. 
  • 4TB Class: You have to really need this much space on an SSD to splurge on one of these. A 4TB SSD will be quite expensive — well over $500/£600 — and you won’t have many options. As of this writing, Samsung was the only company offering consumer-focused 4TB models, in both the 860 EVO and pricier 860 Pro models.

If you’re a desktop user, or you have a gaming laptop with multiple drives and you want lots of capacity, you’re much better off opting for a pair of smaller SSDs, which will generally save you hundreds of dollars while still offering up roughly the same storage space and speed. Until pricing drops and we see more competition, 4TB drives will be relegated to professionals and enthusiasts with very deep pockets.

What about power consumption?

If you’re a desktop user after the best possible performance, then you probably don’t care how much juice you’re using. But for laptop and convertible tablet owners, drive efficiency is more important than speed—especially if you want all-day battery life.

Choosing an extremely efficient drive like Samsung’s 850 EVO over a faster-but-power-hungry NVMe drive (like, say, the Samsung 960 EVO) can gain you 90 minutes or more of extra unplugged run time. And higher-capacity models can draw more power than less-spacious drives, simply because there are more NAND packages on bigger drives to write your data to.

While the above advice is true in a general sense, some drives can buck trends, and technology is always advancing and changing the landscape. If battery life is key to your drive-buying considerations, be sure to consult the battery testing we do on every SSD we test.

What controller should your SSD have?

Think of the controller as the processor of your drive. It routes your reads and writes and performs other key drive performance and maintenance tasks. It can be interesting to dive deep into specific controller types and specs. But for most people, it’s enough to know that, much like PCs, more cores are better for higher-performing, higher-capacity drives.

While the controller obviously plays a big role in performance, unless you like to get into the minute details of how specific drives compare against each other, it’s better to check out our reviews to see how a drive performs overall, rather than focusing too much on the controller.

Which type of storage memory (NAND flash) do you need?

When shopping for an SSD for general computing use in a desktop or laptop, you don’t expressly need to pay attention to the type of storage that’s inside the drive. In fact, with most options on the market these days, you don’t have much a choice, anyway. But if you’re curious about what’s in those flash packages inside your drive, we’ll walk you through various types below. Some of them are far less common than they used to be, and some are becoming the de facto standard.

  • Single-Level Cell (SLC) flash memory came first and was the primary form of flash storage for several years. Because (as its name implies) it only stores a single bit of data per cell, it’s extremely fast and lasts a long time. But, as storage tech goes these days, it’s not very dense in terms of how much data it can store, which makes it very expensive. At this point, beyond extremely pricey enterprise drives and use as small amounts of fast cache, SLC has been replaced by newer, denser types of flash storage tech.
  • Multi-Layer Cell (MLC) came after SLC and for years was the storage type of choice for its ability to store more data at a lower price, despite being slower. To get around the speed issue, many of these drives have a small amount of faster SLC cache that acts as a write buffer. Today, apart from a few high-end consumer drives, MLC has been replaced by the next step in NAND storage tech, TLC.
  • Triple-Level Cell (TLC) flash is still very common in today’s consumer SSDs. While TLC is slower still than MLC, as its name implies, it’s even more data-dense, allowing for spacious, affordable drives. Most TLC drives (except some of the least-expensive models) also employ some sort of caching tech, because TLC on its own without a buffer often is not significantly faster than a hard drive.
    For mainstream users running consumer apps and operating systems, this isn’t a problem because the drive isn’t typically written to in a sustained enough way to saturate the faster cache. But professional and pro-sumer users who often work with massive files may want to spend more for an MLC-based drive to avoid slowdowns when moving around massive amounts of data.
  • Quad-Level Cell (QLC) tech is emerging as the next stage of the solid-state storage revolution. And as the name implies, it should lead to less-expensive and more-spacious drives thanks to an increase in density. As of this writing, there are only a handful of consumer QLC drives on the market, including Intel’s SSD 660p and Crucial’s similar P1, as well as Samsung’s SATA-based QVO drive.

What about endurance?

These are two other areas where, for the most part, buyers looking for a drive for general-purpose computing don’t need to dive too deep, unless they want to. All flash memory has a limited life span, meaning after any given storage cell is written to a certain number of times, it will stop holding data. And drive makers often list a drive’s rated endurance in total terabytes written (TBW), or drive writes per day (DWPD).

But most drives feature “over provisioning,” which portions off part of the drive’s capacity as a kind of backup. As the years pass and cells start to die, the drive will move your data off the worn-out cells to these fresh new ones, thereby greatly extending the usable lifespan of the drive. Generally, unless you’re putting your SSD into a server or some other scenario where it’s getting written to nearly constantly (24/7), all of today’s drives are rated with enough endurance to function for at least 3-5 years, if not more.

If you plan on using your drive for much longer than that, or you know that you’ll be writing to the drive far more than the average computer user, you’ll probably want to avoid a QLC drive in particular, and invest in a model with higher-than-average endurance ratings, and/or a longer warranty. Samsung’s Pro drives, for instance, typically have high endurance ratings and long warranties. But again, the vast majority of computer users should not have to worry about a drive’s endurance.

Do you need a drive with 3D flash? And what about layers?

Here again is a question that you don’t have to worry about unless you’re curious. The flash in SSDs used to be arranged in a single layer (planar). But starting with Samsung’s 850 Pro in 2012, drive makers began stacking storage cells on top of each other in layers. Samsung calls its implementation of this tech “V-NAND” (vertical NAND), Toshiba calls it “BiCS FLASH.” Most other companies just call it what it is: 3D NAND. As time progresses, drive makers are stacking more and more layers on top of each other, leading to denser, more spacious, and less-expensive drives.

At this point, the vast majority of current-generation consumer SSDs are made using some type of 3D storage. The latest drives often use 96-layer NAND. But apart from looking at small letters on a spec sheet or box, the only reason you’re likely to notice that your drive has 3D NAND is when you see the price. Newer 3D-based drives tend to cost significantly less than their predecessors a the same capacity, because they’re cheaper to make and require fewer flash packages inside the drive for the same amount of storage.

What about 3D XPoint/Optane?

3D XPoint, (pronounced “cross point”), created in a partnership between Intel and Micron (maker of Crucial-branded SSDs), is an emerging new storage technology that has the potential to be much faster than any existing traditional flash-based SSD (think performance similar to DRAM), while also increasing endurance for longer-lasting storage.

While Micron is heavily involved in the development of 3D Xpoint, and intends to eventually bring it to market, as of this writing, Intel is the only company currently selling the technology to consumers, under its Optane brand. Optane Memory is designed to be used as a caching drive in tandem with a hard drive or a slower SATA-based SSD, while the Optane 900p (an add-in card) / 905P are standalone drives, and the Intel 800p can be used as either a caching drive or a standalone drive (though cramped capacities make it more ideal for the former).

Optane drives have much potential, both on the ultra-fast performance front and as a caching option for those who want the speed of an SSD for frequently used programs but the capacity of a spinning hard drive for media and game storage. But it’s still very much a nascent technology, with limited laptop support, low capacities and high prices. At the moment, 3D XPoint is far more interesting for what it could be in the near future than for what it offers to consumers today. However, if you have a lot of money to spend, the Intel Optane 905P is the fastest SSD around.

Bottom Line

Now that you understand all the important details that separate SSDs and SSD types, your choices should be clear. Remember that high-end drives, while technically faster, won’t often feel speedier than less-spendy options in common tasks.

So unless you’re chasing extreme speed for professional or enthusiast reasons, it’s often best to choose an affordable mainstream drive that has the capacity you need at a price you can afford. Stepping up to any modern SSD over an old-school spinning hard drive is a huge difference that you’ll instantly notice. But as with most PC hardware, there are diminishing returns for mainstream users as you climb up the product stack.

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