No matter how big or small your computer is, there is at least one internal drive to host its operating system and programs. This drive is almost always a standard internal drive, which comes in the form of a regular hard drive (HDD) or a solid-state drive (SSD). The former is affordable and offers lots of storage space, while the latter is generally more expensive but superfast. The good news is, 2012 marked the time SSDs became more and more popular, thanks to the reduced costs and the increased number of vendors joining the storage market of this type.
That said, if you have a computer that uses a hard drive as the main internal storage unit, you definitely want to replace it with an SSD. This is the single upgrade that will bring a totally new life to your computer.
If you have a desktop, however, it's better to use an SSD as the main drive that hosts the operating system and a fast hard drive as a secondary drive to host data. This way you have the best of both performance and storage space.
If you want to find out more about digital storage, don't forget to check out my series on the basics. Those who want to have a quick pick for the holidays, among all internal drives I reviewed during 2012, here are the best five of them. Any of these drives will serve your system well, so the list is sorted based on the review order.
The OCZ Vector is the latest drive from OCZ and is the first drive made entirely by OCZ itself, from the controller to the flash memory. The result is something quite impressive. In my testing, it's arguably the fastest consumer-grade SSD to date. Coming in the ultrathin (7mm) 2.5-inch design and shipped with a 3.5-inch drive bay converter, the Vector works with all standard systems, from desktops to ultrabooks.
In my opinion, it's best used with a desktop, however, since it's not a drive with the best energy efficiency. For that you want to check out the Samsung 840 Pro below. Read the full review of the OCZ Vector.
Samsung 840 Pro
The Samsung 840 Pro is an upgrade of the already-excellent Samsung 830. The new drive shares exactly the same design as its predecessor, coming in the 7mm-thin 2.5-inch design. On the inside, however, it uses a new controller and toggle-mode NAND flash memory to offer a much better combination of performance and energy efficiency. In fact it's for now the most energy-efficient on the market, with just .068W(working)/.042W (idle) consumption rating. For this reason, the new Samsung is best suited for laptops or ultrabooks. Read the full review of the Samsung 840 Pro.
Corsair Neutron GTX
The Corsair Neutron GTX is the first SSD from Corsair that I've worked with. Despite sharing the increasingly popular 7mm, 2.5-inch design, the drive's quite different from the rest of SSDs since it uses a new controller called LAMD LM87800 and a high-performance toggle-mode NAND from Toshiba. This resulted in one of the best performances I've seen. The good news is that getting it won't break the bank. The new Corsair drive is priced at around $1 per gigabyte, and the price is expected to get lower soon. Read the full review of the Corsair Neutron GTX.
Plextor M5 Pro
The Plextor M5 Pro is one of the fastest SSDs on the market and the first SSD from Plextor that supports the new 7mm, 2.5-inch design. Similar to the Corsair drives above, it also comes with a new controller, the Marvell 88SS9187 Monet, that provides enterprise-grade double data protection. The drive also comes with friendly pricing, costing less than $1 per gigabyte. Read the full review of the Plextor M5 Pro.
WD VelociRaptor WD1000DHTZ
The WD VelociRaptor WD1000DHTZ is the only standard hard drive on this list and it makes it here because it's one of a kind.
Unlike the rest of the consumer-grade hard drives on the market, the VelociRaptor spins at 10,000rpm (as opposed to 7,200rpm in other high-speed hard drive) and offered very fast performance in my testing. While the drive can't compare with SSDs in terms of boot/shutdown times, it offers comparable data copy rates, even faster when you use two units in a RAID 0. This means the drive makes an excellent secondary hard drive for your high-end system where the main drive, which hosts the operating system, is an SSD. That said, you can also use it as a main drive in a desktop and expect quite an improvement compared with other hard drives.
Those who do a lot of data manipulation work, such as movie editing, would benefit a lot from the VelociRaptor since, like all hard drives, it doesn't suffer from the limited program/erase cycles found in all SSDs. Read the full the review of WD VelociRaptor WD1000DHTZ.
Looking for specs and pricing? Compare these SSDs head-to-head.
Editors' note: This is the final Top 5 internal drives of 2012. Over the year, other drives have also made the list but not all of them can make it to the final. The fact that they don't make the finals doesn't mean they are no longer among excellent drives on the market, and you should still consider them while making your purchase.
Following are those that have been considered top internal drives this year: the Corsair Neutron, the Samsung 830 Series, the SanDisk Extreme SSD, the Plextor M3, the RunCore Pro V 2.5-inch 7mm Ultra SSD, the OCZ Octane, the Seagate Momentus XT (second generation), the Crucial m4, the OCZ Agility 3, the Vertex 3, and the Intel SSD 520 Series.