Crucial Goes Large With The M500
It's been awhile since we've seen any major drive updates from Crucial but wait we will no longer. With the M500 Series of drives, we not only see an updated controller but also some new NAND configurations and a massive 960GB SSD for a price that won't cause convulsions. We didn't get our hands on the 960GB version but we were able to procure the next highest capacity of 480GB which should make for an interesting evaluation.
Inside, Crucial has placed an updated Marvell controller along with 20nm NAND with some architectural changes that we'll discuss a bit more in depth on the following page. The line will range from 120GB to 960GB with the larger drives hitting stated performance numbers of 500MB/s reads, 400MB/s writes and 80,000 IOPS on both reads and writes. Crucial claims a MTBF of 1.2 million hours or the equivalent of equal to 40GB writes per day for 5 years or 75TB total. The pricing for each capacity is as follows:
|Crucial M500 Model:||Capacity:||Price:||Price Per GB:|
Crucial M500 Series SSD Features and Specifications:
- Ample storage: available in capacities of 120GB, 240GB, 480GB, and 960GB
- Includes top-level hardware encryption technology
- Advanced controller technology and Micron custom firmware
- Extensive quality and reliability testing built into every drive
- Compatible with PC and Mac systems
- Micron Quality - As a brand of Micron, one of the largest NAND manufacturers in the world, Crucial SSDs are designed and developed in-house with the latest technology. This means four things: hundreds of SSD qualification tests, over a thousand hours of prerelease validation testing, 1.5 billion dollars invested in R&D, and more than 30 years of industry expertise.
- Adaptive Thermal Protection - Greater thermal management enables the Crucial M500 to work with the host computer to dynamically adjust power consumption based on usage demands, which helps address the cooling challenges of ultra-small, thermally constrained systems.
- Hardware Data Encryption - The Crucial M500 SSD offers top-level hardware-based encryption, enabling enhanced data security. Our AES 256-bit hardware encryption engine and TCG Opal 2.0 compliant firmware allow the drive to operate at full speed without the performance loss that's typically found in drives that use software-based encryption technology.
- Three Year Limited Warranty - From pre-release validation testing to ensure that our SSDs work with the broadest range of chipsets, motherboards, and operating systems to more than a thousand hours of endurance testing, our drives are tested for reliability from start to finish. We proudly offer a three-year limited warranty and award-winning tech support.
- Capacity (Unformatted): 480GB
- Interface: SATA 6Gb/s (SATA 3GB/s compatible)
- Sustained Sequential Read up to (128k transfer): 500MB/s
- Sustained Sequential Write up to (128k transfer): 400MB/s
- Random Read up to (4k transfer): 80,000 IOPS
- Random Write up to (4k transfer): 80,000 IOPS
- Form Factor: 2.5-inch, mSATA, and M.2
- NAND: 20nm Micron MLC NAND
- Life Expectancy: 1.2 million hours mean time to failure (MTTF)
- Endurance: 72TB total bytes written (TBW), equal to 40GB per day for 5 years
- Operating Temperature: 0°C to 70°C
- Compliance: RoHS, CE, FCC, UL, BSMI, C-TICK, KCC RRL, W.E.E.E., TUV VCCI, IC
- Firmware: Field upgradable firmware
- Product Health Monitoring: Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (SMART) commands
The exterior is unremarkable with a design similar to previous Crucial drives with an aluminum enclosure and blue color scheme. It does carry the 7mm z-height form factor that is rapidly becoming the standard
Just in case the thinner form factor doesn't work well with your machine, they include a handy plastic 2.5mm shim to fatten it up a bit which simply applies via adhesive already applied.
Inside the M500
Four screws and one voided warranty sticker later, we're inside.
Underneath the PCB is a thermal pad that rests against the controller to mitigate physical shock and dissipate excess heat.
Once removed, we find this side of the board simply houses half of the 16 total flash modules found on board.
Zooming in a bit we see the part number on the NAND is MT29F256G08CECABH6 based on the NW526 FBGA code with the Micron logo hanging out alongside. These ONFI 3.0 chips are MLC 20nm in design and each package equates to 32GB for a total of 512GB on board and a logical block size of 512 bytes. Also worthy of note, the M500 features a 128Gb NAND die as opposed to the 64Gb NAND die we've seen on SSDs to date.
Flipping the board over, we find the remaining NAND chips, the cache chip and the controller.
The cache is also Micron branded DDR3-1600 DRAM with 4Gb (500MB) in capacity. The cache, not found on SandForce drives, is used to assist the controller with buffering data as needed.
While a little hard to read the part number thanks to the thermal pad, what we see here is the Marvell 88SS9187. This is different than the 88SS9174 controller we saw on the M4 drive. Contained within is custom firmware to handle the NAND discussed above and also has some performance improvements to boot. More security minded consumers may be interested to learn that this controller offers AES 256-bit hardware encryption with TCG Opal 2.0 compliant firmware which allows the drive to operate without hindrance of any overhead software encryption may carry. Of course, it supports TRIM and idle garbage collection to keep things running smoothly.
Test System & Comparison Drives
Legit Reviews Storage Benchmark Test System
All tests were performed on a fresh and up-to-date install of Windows 8 Pro x64 with no other applications running while using AHCI mode set through the BIOS. Synthetic Benchmarks were run with the OS loaded on a 120GB Corsair Force SSD. In between every test, the test drive was secure erased using an instance of Parted Magic. As such, all results should be indicative of optimal performance. All components were set to their default speeds and are listed below.
Z77 Test Bench
|Intel LGA 1155 Test Platform|
|Core i5 2500k|
|ASUS Maximus V Gene Z77|
|Kingston HyperX KHX16C9B1RK28 8GB|
|Corsair Force 120GB (FW 2.4)|
|Antec Basiq BP550W Plus-EC|
|Windows 8 Pro 64-Bit|
Comparison Drives And Other Models We Have Tested
Since there are so many SSDs out there now with different controllers, we started a reference table of which controllers are used by each drive to help you compare results. Different controllers definitely perform differently and each has various strengths and weaknesses. Like CPU's, even identical drives will have variations in performance and part of that variance may be attributable to the NAND flash used. Since the tests of the drives listed have spanned different test benches and represent different interfaces, we have listed the most recent ones for easy reference.
|OCZ Vertex 3.20 240GB||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||SATA III|
|Samsung 840 Pro 240GB||Samsung MDX||SATA III|
|Sandisk Ultra Plus 256GB||Marvell 88SS9175||SATA III|
|Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB||LAMD LM87800||SATA III|
|Intel 520 Series 240GB||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||SATA III|
|OCZ Vector 256GB||Indilinx Barefoot 3||SATA III|
|Kingston SSDNow V300 120GB||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||SATA III|
|Samsung 830 Series 256GB||Samsung S4LJ204X01-Y040||SATA III|
CrystalDiskMark 5.2.0 Readout:
For the Crucial M500 480GB drive, the readout on CrystalDiskInfo 5.2.0 shows that both NCQ and S.M.A.R.T. are enabled, as well as TRIM and the interface is confirmed at SATA III (6Gbps). This is a great free tool to see lots of detailed information about the drive such as the firmware version for which we are running the latest available at the time of testing - MU02.
Let's look at some benchmarks...
ATTO & AS-SSD Benchmarks
ATTO is one of the oldest drive benchmarks still being used today and is still very relevant in the SSD world. ATTO measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and places the data into graphs that can be very easily interpreted. The test was run with the default runs of 0.5KB through 8192KB transfer sizes with the total length being 256MB.
ATTO - Intel Z77 Platform:
Benchmark Results: Given that this is usually the benchmark that yields peak performance, it's always nice to see a drive far exceed the given specifications which is what we see here from the M500. Still below the SandForce drives in writes but it doesn't use compression to boost performance.
AS-SSD (1.6.4237.30508) Benchmark - Intel Z77 Platform:
We have been running the AS-SSD Benchmark app for over some time now and found that it gives a broad result set. The programmer has worked very hard on this software and continues to make updates often so if you use it, show him some love and send him a donation. There are now three tests that are found within the tool and we'll show the results from two of them.
Benchmark Results: Pretty decent numbers here with a small drop in performance when faced with incompressible data but nowhere near the drop we see with SandForce drives.
Benchmark Results: In contrast to the SandForce drives, performance is very consistent across all levels data compressibility.
CrystalDiskMark and Anvil IOPS
CrystalDiskMark is a small benchmark utility for drives and enables rapid measurement of sequential and random read/write speeds. Note that CDM only supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ) with a queue depth of 32 (as noted) for the last listed benchmark score. This can skew some results in favor of controllers that also do not support NCQ.
CrystalDiskMark 3.0.2 x64 - Intel Z77 Platform
Benchmark Results: We see almost the same scores here on the M500 as we did on the AS-SSD on both sequential and the smaller random tests.
Anvil Storage Utilities 1.050 RC6- Intel Z77 Platform
Along with the move to a new platform, we decided to make a change in one of the benchmarks. There's a relatively new benchmark called Anvil Storage Utilities that is in beta but close to production. It's a very powerful tool that measures performance through a variety of tests which can be customized. Since some of the tests more or less duplicate what we get from other benchmarks we use already, we decided to use the IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) testing on 4kb file sizes at a queue depth of 32. IOPS performance is something SSD makers tout quite a bit but we generally don't do a lot of IOPS testing because frankly a lot of users can't relate to IOPS metrics as well and it tends to be more meaningful to the enterprise/server crowd. Still, it is another performance indicator with relevance and while some drives post good MB/s numbers, their IOPS scores aren't always commensurate which this test will prove out.
Benchmark Results: IOPS performance was right where expected on writes and above on reads given the 80k specification.
Real World Copy & Boot Tests
File Copy Times Via Teracopy 2.27:
One of the most common operations performed on a PC is moving/copying files. 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 operation requires the drive to perform both sustained read and writes simultaneously. 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. The second is a collection of MP3 files of various sizes which totals 5GB collectively. These file types were chosen due to their wide use and mixture of file sizes and compression levels.
Install Results: No worries on the real world file copy tests where the copy times put it near the top of the pack with times very close to the speedy Corsair Neutron GTX drive.
Windows Boot Times Via BootRacer:
Windows start up/shutdown time is always something people are interested in and we haven't done it in a while because there was little variation with the majority of the SSDs. We recently began using an application called BootRacer to objectively measure the startup times of the drives. All of the instances of Windows were identical and freshly installed with only the video driver installed.
Test Results: Boot times also come out nicely with times that don't stray from where we have seen the latest drives we've tested.
Final Thoughts & Conclusions
Taking a look at the actual usable capacity of the Crucial M500 480GB drive we find that it yields 447GB as reported by Windows after formatting, unit conversion (GB to GiB) and overprovisioning have their share. Like all drives, the capacity stated in the drive description comes from the available 480,103,981,056 (unformatted, per Crucial) bytes which equates to 480GB (1 byte = 1,000,000,000 bytes) but 447GiB (1Gib = 1,073,741,824 bytes). For an SSD, it's quite voluminous although effectively dwarfed by the largest in the M500 at 960GB.
Performance was found to be very good although not a performance leader in any category although maximum performance is not really the goal of the M500 line. There's a small subset of enthusiast consumers that are focused on absolute performance but the majority of users will find the M500 more than acceptable with reads of 500MB/s and writes of 400MB/s. An important factor to bear in mind is that the Marvell 88SS9187 controller supports true hardware encryption which is quite different from most other controllers whose encryption is handled via software means. In addition, there are features for power loss and thermal protection which make it suitable for a modest use enterprise application with an effective lifespan estimate of 72TB of writes.
The pricing is very attractive, especially as you get to the higher capacities and the peer group wanes dramatically.
|Crucial M500 Model:||Capacity:||Price:||Price Per GB:|
The 480GB drive is retailing for $389 which is a very respectable $0.87 per GB. The 960GB drive is retailing for $599 which really is a heck of a deal with a superb cost per GB at $0.62! A lot of people have been waiting for a 1TB SSD that's affordable and it's finally coming into view.
Overall, the M500 may not be the fastest drive we've tested but it is very consistent and in the real world tests, where it counts, it performs very well. In general use as an OS drive, we couldn't discern any performance issues or hiccups that may be indicative of inconsistency and in this stage if SSD development, we'd be shocked if we came across any. The real story of this drive rests in not it's raw performance but the reliability, new architecture and the affordability of some very large capacities by SSD standards.
Legit Bottom Line: The M500 Series from Crucial won't win any extreme performance awards but it's certainly fast enough for virtually anyone and the price per usable GB of the 480Gb and 960GB drives is extremely attractive.