Giving the M4 A Boost

When we tested the Crucial M4 drive we found it to be a very capable SSD although we noted that we expected that the sequential scores would be more inline with where we saw the Intel 510 Series drive results. After all, they share the same processor so it's a reasonable expectation. Apparently, Crucial took this to heart and spent some time quietly working on firmware changes to improve performance - especially in the sequential reads/writes.

Crucial M4 Box

So, in the spirit of due diligence we took the very same drive we tested back in April of this year, performed the firmware update and ran several of the same benchmarks to see just how far the firmware had bolstered performance. In addition, firmware changes aren't always perceptible to the end user so there are other tweaks Crucial made as well which we have referenced below based on what Crucial had communicated to us.

Crucial M4 Firmware 0009 Changes:

Note: Changes made in version 0002 (m4 can be updated to revision 0009 directly from either revision 0001 or 0002)

Increases…

Improves…

Provides…

Crucial M4/Micron C400 CONTROLLER

We lauded the M4 for having very good scores on the benchmarks which use incompressible data as this is where the SandForce drives invariably lose their dominance because of the nature of their processor which depends on compressing the data to realize optimal performance. So if Crucial has made significant improvements, it could very well be one of the fastest all-around drives.

Crucial M4/Micron C400 APART

First stop, ATTO land!

ATTO & CrystalDiskMark Comparisons

We start things off with the benchmark that typically represents the best case scenario in terms of performance numbers - the ATTO benchmark.

Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0001

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400  ATTO

Benchmark Results: Though the charts from each look at lot different, it's simply the way the data is presented graphically because of the scale on the Transfer Rate axis. Writes are more or less unchanged across the board but the reads show a marked improvement topping out at 542.90MB/s whereas the earlier firmware capped at 460.55MB/s. That's nearly an 18% increase in performance.

Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0009

Crucial M4 ATTO

Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0001

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 CRYSTALDISKMARK

Benchmark Results: Similar results here in that the write scores really haven't changed except for the 4k writes which are up slightly. The sequential reads on the other hand are up over 30% and the 512k reads are up 25%. Both very large jumps in performance for free!

Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0009

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400  CRYSTALDISKMARK P67

Let's see if the AS-SSD scores follow suit.

AS-SSD Comparisons

CONTENT

Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0001

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 AS-SSD

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 AS-SSD

Benchmark Results: The overall score jumped 45 points which isn't huge but the sequential reads gained a little over 20% while the sequential writes seemed to have dropped just a bit as did the individual copy benchmark scores. This gives us a mixed bag but mostly positive results.

Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0009

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 AS-SSD

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 AS-SSD

On to PCMark Vantage!

PCMark 7 & Real World Comparisions

PCMark 7 doesn't always show large variations in performance but can be a good indicator if there are very strong or weak components to a drive's overall performance.


Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0001

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 PCMARK VANTAGE

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 PCMARK VANTAGE

Benchmark Results: The overall benchmark score jumped some 4,000 points although the individual scores don't show a ton of improvement. In fairness, it takes a lot for this benchmark to really show large variances in scores.

Crucial M4 Firmware Revision 0009

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 PCMARK VANTAGE

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 PCMARK VANTAGE

Real World Tests

You know the drill on this one. Using a free application called Teracopy, we copied large numbers of two file types from one folder to another on the same drive. Teracopy allows us to objectively measure the time of transfer and using the same drive prevents other devices from tainting the outcome. The first set of files is a 5GB collection of JPG's of variable size and compression levels with a few movie (.MOV) files thrown in for good measure since most cameras now take video as well as stills.

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 Filecopy Chart

We also did our usual application install timed test using Adobe Dreamweaver CS5, Microsoft Office 2010 Professional and Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage (v1.102.1901) with all install settings at default. All were installed from an installer located on the target drive itself as installing from another drive, especially an optical drive, would cause a bottle-neck that would corrupt the results. The timing for these is done via stopwatch so there should be about a half second +/- error margin.

CRUCIAL M4/MICRON C400 Application Chart

Benchmark Results: The app installs rarely show large variances unless there is a marked difference in performance so their times were more or less the same as before. However, the file copy times showed significant improvement.

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

Crucial M4/Micron C400

Performing the firmware update is simple and Crucial provides a very nice guide to walk you through it. All it takes is downloading the firmware, burning an image to a disc, and then running the installer. Of course, be sure to back up all data first. The updater is not destructive so this is a precaution only. Although the documentation doesn't reference Mac computers, there are reports of Mac users on Intel based machines successfully performing the updates on their machines while others have said they weren't able to get it to work and had to use a PC. It may be worth a try before tearing things apart.

Crucial M4/Micron C400

At this point we'll say congratulations to Crucial for the excellent job they did on their latest firmware update. As promised, we saw significant performance increases in many areas. The sequential read scores on the ATTO benchmark using compressible data increased over 18%. Just as impressively, the incompressible data scores on CrystalDiskMark increased up to 30% which is a massive increase. Even our real world tests showed a positive result from the new firmware. Honestly, we see no reason not to go ahead and apply the update immediately. We all know there can be some risk with firmware updates, as the saying goes - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. However, there's been enough time since it was released and there doesn't appear to be any reported issues so as long as you back up your data you should be fine.

Crucial M4/Micron C400

Legit Bottom Line: Crucial has released a firmware update that offers up significant performance improvements, among other things, and all for the low, low price of free.