August 9th, 2013 by Josh Shaman
Best SSD Firmware Update Tools
Recently we've pored over our How To Upgrade SSD Firmware page, adding several guides and updating a few others in order to give consumers a grasp on how to complete a process which can vary quite drastically from brand to brand. Some SSD manufacturers deliver their firmware updates in a client that downloads and updates your SSD with the simple click of a button, and they might even include some bonus features such as Disk Clone, Secure Erase, Drive Optimization, etc. On the other hand, some others provide a much more bare-bones approach that is far less automated and requires the user to download a file from a very specific location, burn it onto optical media and have the system boot to it.
Ranking firmware update tools, we look at 9 SSD manufacturers - those from our list of The Brands That Matter. There are several factors that helped us arrive at our conclusions on which were the best updater tools, but these considerations were foremost:
- Was there a special firmware upgrade tool or would we have to burn onto optical media or use a USB flash drive?
- Did we have to download individual firmware files and load them into the installer or was that process automated and handled within the application?
- How intuitive was the GUI?
- What extra features, if any, were offered?
With these points considered, we arrived at four tiers comprising the 9 Brands That Matter. Note that Seagate, being relatively new to the consumer SSD space, isn't included as it hasn't yet issued a consumer firmware update.
Samsung and Intel offer the most complete firmware update tools, going above and beyond the other SSD brands by providing extremely well-designed GUIs that are highly intuitive and deliver far more functionality than one would expect from an update tool. For Samsung, that's because their tool is embedded in company's Samsung Magician software which is actually a management suite for tuning and optimizing SSDs, configuring performance settings and evaluating SSDs' health. We award major style points to Samsung as well, which has provided the most visually-appealing GUI. In comparison, Intel too provides a client that features a smooth layout and excellent usability. Users also gain access to features designed to boost SSD performance and monitor health - not to mention a Secure Erase function to wipe the drive. Like Samsung's tool, Intel's will similarly automatically find updates and users won't have to go download firmware after finding the appropriate support site.
While not as visually stunning as the Tier 1 clients and with slightly fewer extra features, SanDisk, OCZ and Corsair deliver applications that simplify the process more than the Tier 3 updaters, generally offerings extra features too. Their overall functionality vaults them substantially ahead of Tiers 3 and 4. For instance, with all of the Tier 2 updaters, the application finds the latest update for users, meaning they don't have to find the files on their SSD brands' support site and manually select them in the client. That feature along with the smooth layout, even if basic, got SanDisk a spot in Tier 2. OCZ and Corsair's applications also do that, and they go a step further by featuring a bunch of additional features such as Secure Erase, SMART and TRIM management, etc. They don't quite exude the overall refinement Samsung and Intel's clients feature, but they are far beyond just being labeled "serviceable."
OWC and Kingston both utilize the standard SandForce-based client which is sufficient, but doesn't offer anything extra. The two clients are near-identical, so we'll discuss them synchronously. Both require users to download the client and to find the firmware update to download (or the group of updates that contains the one required). Additionally, they both display connected SSDs, enabling users to click, find the update and install it. The clients don't include other features and their respective GUIs are basic, but having said that, their utilitarian format is easy enough to work within.
Clients from Crucial and Plextor round out the firmware update tools we've evaluated, and they're in Tier 4 because though they do get the job done, they don't offer intuitive applications and their process delivers little in the way of automation. Further, users need to find their specific drive and its capacity on the downloads section of their SSD brand's support site to get the exact firmware their SSD requires. All of this forces the user to spend time manually updating firmware. Both Crucial and Plextor's methods request that consumers burn ISO files onto optical media. Many users might not even have burnable media, and those that do probably don't want to spend the time going through the process. We utilized an alternate route whereby we downloaded and used free software called Universal USB Installer. This gets your USB flash drive to mimic an optical drive, enabling users to boot from it to install the firmware update. Needless to say, it wasn't as simple as opening a client and clicking update. We were able to get the firmware updated, but the process was more taxing.
While many SSD buyers consider performance and cost as primary buying decision factors, ease of ownership is something that shouldn't get left behind. With most SSD vendors offering multiple firmware updates a year, updates which are often meaningful in terms of performance or correcting errors, ease of drive management will likely become an increasingly significant part of the buying process and will be something we continually monitor and update.