Plextor Joins The mSATA Crowd
Plextor is perhaps best known for their optical drives began producing way back in 1989. Fast forward to 2009 and perhaps they saw the writing on the wall with the introduction of the MacBook Air sans optical drive and branched out a bit by rolling out their first SSD drive. Since then, they've offered several models for both enterprise and consumer application. More recently, they gotten in on the ground floor of the mSATA SSD train which brings us to the matter at hand with our first look at their M5M series mSATA drive and more specifically, the 128GB version. While not groundbreaking from a hardware configuration standpoint, we've found that it packs a pretty good punch and matches up well with the competition. Just how well we'll discuss during the course of the article.
Plextor offers capacities of 64GB, 128GB and 256GB which can be had for $74.99, $114.99, and $199.99 respectively. Performance numbers range from 160MB/s to 430MB/s in writes depending on the drive capacity and 540MB/s in reads across the board. All of the drives offer a three year warranty and a 2,400,000 hour MTBF. Let's have a closer look at the components since we don't have to actually open anything up to take a gander.
Plextor M5M Series mSATA SSD Features and Specifications:
|DRAM Cache:||128MB DDR3||256MB DDR3||512MB DDR3|
|Read/Write Speed (Under Windows NTFS)|
|Seq Reads (SATA 6Gb/s):||Up to 540 MB/s||Up to 540 MB/s||Up to 540 MB/s|
|SeqWrites (SATA 6Gb/s):||Up to 160 MB/s||Up to 320 MB/s||Up to 430 MB/s|
|Rndm Reads (IOPS 4KB):||Up to 73,000||Up to 80,000||Up to 79,000|
|Rndm Writes (IOPS 4KB):||Up to 42,000||Up to 76,000||Up to 77,000|
|Environment and Reliability|
|Temperature:||0°C ~ 70°C (Operating)|
|Shock:||1500G, At 1 msec half-sine|
|Vibration:||7 ~ 800Hz, 2.17Grms (Operation)|
|Warranty:||3 years Plextor's Warranty Service|
|OS Supported:||Microsoft Windows Family / Linux / Mac OS|
|Agency Approval:||BSMI, UL, TUV, C-Tick, CE, KCC, VCCI, FCC, RoHS, CB|
|Command Set Support:||TRIM, S.M.A.R.T., NCQ, ATA/ATAPI-8|
|DATA Encryption:||AES 256|
|Interface:||SATA 6Gb/s, compatible with SATA 3Gb/s and 1.5Gb/s|
|Form Factor and Connectors|
|Form Factor:||JEDEC MO-300 mSATA SSD form factor|
|Power Connector:||3.3V mSATA connector for DC 3.3V input|
|Data Connector:||mSATA connector|
|Dimension and Weight|
|Dimension (W/L/H):||50.8mm x 29.8mm x 3.6mm|
First up is the 256MB Micron DDR3 cache that's used by the controller to buffer data as needed which is common on most all drives except for those with a SandForce controller.
Storage components come complements of Toshiba with 19nm MLC NAND with part number TH58TEG8DDJBA8C. There are four total on the board with each being 32GB in density for 128GB total.
The M5M series is controlled by the most recent iteration of the Marvell controller carrying part number 88SS9187. This is the very same we've seen in a few drives already and it's clearly the best performing controller Marvell has put out to date. Plextor employs custom firmware to get the performance they want and the more standard features are still there like TRIM support, 256-AES encryption and wear-leveling algorithms. One additional Plextor feature is their True Protect technology used to bolster data integrity by confirming with certainty that each piece of data is correctly stored using the newest 128-bit error correction code.
Test Sytem and Drive Info
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.
|Mushkin Atlas Deluxe 30GB mSATA||Marvell 88SS9175||504ABBF0||mSATA 6Gbps|
|Intel 525 30GB mSATA||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||LLKi||mSATA 6Gbps|
|Intel 525 60GB mSATA||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||LLKi||mSATA 6Gbps|
|Intel 525 120GB mSATA||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||LLKi||mSATA 6Gbps|
|Intel 525 180GB mSATA||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||LLKi||mSATA 6Gbps|
|Intel 525 240GB mSATA||SandForce SF-2200 (SF-2281)||LLKi||mSATA 6Gbps|
CrystalDiskMark 5.2.0 Readout:
For the Plextor M5M 128GB mSATA drive, the readout on CrystalDiskInfo 5.6.2 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 - 1.03.
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: Admittedly, we were a bit surprised to see that the read scores were some of the best we've seen on an mSATA drive and equally surprised that the write scores weren't a little higher although the 128GB drive will be a bit slower than the 256GB.
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: It's always good to see when drive performance on the AS-SSD benchmark equals that of what it puts out on the ATTO benchmark which means data compressibility has no impact on performance.
Benchmark Results: To illustrate the above point, the zero slope of the graph lines show no correlation between data compressibility and performance.
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: A little higher numbers here than we saw on AS-SSD which resulted in top scores in three out of the four categories.
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: We see pretty even performance in the IOPS benchmark with reads and writes roughly equal and solid results.
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: Copying 5GB of data was no sweat for the M5M which did so with times that were second only to the larger Intel 525 Series 240GB 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: Synthetic performance is one thing but real world performance can give a better indication of what users will see during normal use and Windows boot time is a good metric. The M5M mSATA drive nearly tops the chart with the best times for mSATA drives we've tested.
Final Thoughts & Conclusions
For the Plextor M5M 128GB mSATA drive, the user ends up with 119GB that addressable for use. This is similar to the level of overprovisioning we see on SandForce drives after the conversion from GB (1GB byte = 1,000,000,000 bytes) as expressed in hardware storage to GiB (1Gib = 1,073,741,824 bytes) as expressed in virtual storage.
While we haven't had a ton of mSATA drives come across our desk, the ones that have are pretty much the best you can buy right now. The M5M did an admirable job on all of our tests with performance numbers that were tops in the charts in many instances which was frankly a bit of a surprise given the competition. We saw the specifications of 540MB/s reads and 320MB/s writes for this capacity drive attained in a number of instances and true to our experience with this very capable Marvell 88SS9187 controller.
Plextor has quite a lot of product information on their site and one very interesting piece that we generally don't see touted by manufacturers is the rigorous testing process they put their drives through which is claimed to be one of the toughest in the industry. They pounded 400 drives with over 500 hours of testing to simulate extreme operating environments in a effort to expose any weaknesses in hardware or software. In addition, they also endured 250 power cycle–cold and warm boot tests and 4000 idle test–sleep and hibernation tests. The latter is important with the new Intel Haswell chips support low power states. Through these exercises they've rated their drives to have a 2.4M hour MTBF. The also tout their True Protect technology which ensures data integrity using a128-bit error correction code. Given that the smaller architecture NAND generates more errors, this is a critical piece.
Pricing is right in line with what we'd expect with the 64GB, 128GB, and 256GB drives sporting prices of $74.99, $114.99, and $199.99. That makes the cost per usable GB for the 128GB drive we tested just over $1.00. There aren't a ton of mSATA drives on the market yet but as more emerge and more and more notebook and Ultrabook computers leverage this small form factor, we'll see prices drop. Currently, these are limited to 256GB due to the scarce real estate on the PCB and only the 8GB die NAND packages available but the cost of 512GB drives will be out of reach for most anyway.
Legit Bottom Line: Plextor has a pretty impressive line of mSATA drives with their M5M line that is very competitive with other drives on the market today.