Crucial, a subsidiary of Micron who is a world leader in memory and flash production has established itself on the solid state storage market with their C300 RealSSD for quite some time. Unlike many other manufacturers they are using a Marvell SSD controller instead of SandForce.
Crucial's new m4 SSD is based on the same design but uses 25 nm flash chips and an updated firmware that has been optimized over the previous generation's. The drive also has full support for the SATA 6 Gbps interface which promises increased performance, especially in linear transfer rates.
||Crucial / Micron
||M4 C400 128 GB
||Micron MLC, 25 nm
||128 GB (119.24 GB usable)
||SATA 6 Gbps
Crucial has updated their color theme from a light brown to blue. This gives the package a fresh new look while also going nicely with the company's logo colors.
You will receive:
- The SSD
- Quick Install Guide
The drive conforms to the dimensions set forth by the 2.5" form factor. Unlike many other SSDs, the m4 comes in a rugged metal casing that feels extremely solid and high quality.
Crucial's m4 SSD uses a SATA 6 Gbps interface to provided maximum throughput on newer generation motherboards with speeds up to 600 MB/s. It is compatible with any other SATA standard.
Crucial is using 16 flash chips, the Marvell flash controller and a DRAM chip which provides memory for the SSD controller.
As controller an updated revision of the Mavell 9174 flash controller is used, called BKK2.
The DRAM chip is made by Micron which is not surprising as that's Crucial's parent company.
The flash chips are made by Micron too and have a capacity of 8 GB each, they are produced on Micron's new 25 nm process node.
||Intel Core i5 2500K @ 3.3 GHz
(Sandy Bridge, 6192 KB Cache)
||ASUS P8H67-M EVO
||2x 2048 MB Crucial Ballistix Finned DDR3
@ 1333 MHz 6-6-6-18
||Windows 7 64-bit Service Pack 1
||SATA: Microsoft AHCI
Display: Intel 15.21.13
- After initial configuration and installation we created a disk image that will be used to test every drive.
- Automated updates were disabled for all programs. This ensures that for every review each drive will get the same starting point without possible pollution from previous testing.
- Our disk image consumes around 25 GB on disk, we resized the partition to fill all available space on the drive.
- Partitions were checked to be aligned.
- In order to minimize random variation, each of the performance tests is run ten times, with reboots in between tests to minimize the impact of disk cache. This approach also serves to put the drive into a "used" state with data constantly being written and read from the disk and TRIM active.
- We used the average of the ten runs as final score.
- All application benchmarks run the actual application and do not replay any disk traces.
Windows 7 Startup Time
In this test we measure the time it takes Windows 7 to boot from kernel loaded to Startup programs executed. An internal kernel timer keeps track of this time, so it is more accurate than using a stop watch, for example.
Office 2010 Installation
We installed Microsoft Office 2010 using the standard installation without any customization. The installation source files were located in uncompressed form on the tested drive. (2.4 GB transferred, 72% write).
ISO File Copy
The 3.1 GB ISO image of Windows 7 64-bit (en_windows_7_ultimate_x64_dvd_x15-65922.iso) was copied to a different folder on the same drive. This represents a typical large file usage model. (6.15 GB transferred, 50% write).
This test measures the time it takes WinRAR to uncompress the Linux 2.6.34 Kernel bz2 archive to the tested drive. (865 MB transferred, 86% write).
Avast Antivirus 5 was used to check the C:\Windows\System32 folder of our installation. We enabled full file scans and scan of all files regardless of extension. (2.14 GB transferred, 0.6% write).
Photoshop CS5 Startup
We measured the time it took Photoshop CS5 to start the application, load a 21 MP photo, close the image and exit the application. (73 MB transferred, 1.4% write).
Photoshop CS5 Performance
Heavy Photoshop use can result in a large number of disk accesses when Photoshop is processing its scratch file. In this test we measured the time it takes Photoshop CS5 to open ten 21 Megapixel images at the same time and then process each one by one. The actions applied to each image were crop, move, auto levels, resize to 1024x768 and save for web. (862 MB transferred, 79% write).
Crysis Level Loading
Crysis is well known for its long level loading times. We disabled the rendering path of the engine to take the graphics card out of the equation and measured the time it takes to load the level "island". (188 MB transferred, 0.5% write).
Battlefield 2 Patch
Battlefield 2 uses a typical approach to game patching by integrating the new patch data into the existing game data - as opposed to just dumping a patch file into the game installation directory. This usage model results in a lot of disk activity and generally long patch times. We applied the 500 MB BF2 patch 1.41 to our installation. (18.3 GB transferred, 77% write).
PCMark Vantage is a widely used system performance assessment utility. It runs several gaming and productivity related tests. We ran the "disk" subset of tests for our benchmarks. (6.0 GB transferred, 49% write).
We used the performance data from all our benchmarks to condense the results into a single relative performance score.
Performance per Dollar
In addition to the performance alone, we also present a performance per USD score which will be important if you want to maximize your investment. Please note that this score was normalized to exclude the capacity of the tested drive.
Price per GB
If you are only interested in getting maximum storage capacity for the least amount of money then this price per GB graph should be the one to look at.
Value and Conclusion
- Crucial's m4 SSD is available online for $260.
- Up to 10% faster than Sandforce drives
- Supports TRIM
- 3 year warranty
- Nice looking, rugged metal case
- Higher price than C300
- No significant performance update over C300
||Compared to the older C300, Crucial's m4 SSD is more of a shift in performance priorities than a new design with improved performance all across the board. We see substantially improved performance in scenarios like Large File Copy and Game Patching. On the other hand tests like Windows 7 Startup and Photoshop Startup run slower than on the C300. It seems to me that Crucial has taken the existing firmware and turned some magic knobs, probably based on good research, to improve performance for their typical user profile. Based on our benchmark results I'd say that general performance has really increased, whether this is true for you depends on the tasks you perform in your daily PC usage. Most office and power users turn on their PC once a day or leave it running overnight, so Windows boot time might not be that important to them. Other users tend to have shorter work sessions and shut the PC off in between, so startup time is more important for them. I guess when looking at C300 vs. C400 performance it comes down to your own usage models, but fear not, both drives will give you substantially improved performance compared to a traditional HDD. When looking at pricing, the battle is a decisive win for the older Crucial C300, the 128 GB version comes at 200$, while the similarly performing m4 128 GB retails at $250. Considering that the m4 uses similar hardware, I see no reason why Crucial couldn't sell the m4 at C300 levels in the future, at which point the drive would quickly be able to capture major market share - the C300 is the best price/performance and GB per $ drive on the market right now.|