The Crucial m4 256GB SSD
Hot off the presses, the Crucial m4, err, Micron C400. Would a rose by another name still smell as sweet? Don't let the label fool you; the hardware, programming and firmware are the same for both the C400 and m4. The differences rest in the after purchase support.
The case design is the same as what shipped with the RealSSD C300 products, a design we really liked. The labels will be almost identical as well. On one side end users will be able to find their model and serial number as well as capacity information and the firmware revision that shipped with the drive.
The underside of the drive has the standard mounting locations that allow for installation in most notebooks and desktop adapter brackets.
The side mounting locations are also present on the m4.
SATA power and data connectors are where they should be, so you will not have an issue loading the Crucial m4 into a device with a backplane like a NAS. We've been using the C300 with the same design for all of our NAS server reviews and haven't run into an issue yet.
As you may know, Micron has their own NAND flash production factories, so seeing Micron flash isn't a surprise to us. This capability will play out very well for Micron / Crucial, more so than you might imagine. We will get into more detail in the conclusion. The m4 will use new 25nm flash exclusively and it should allow us to see the m4 at prices much lower than what the C300 was offered at initially. We are keeping our fingers crossed on that one. The new 25nm flash does allow for the birth of the first SATA 6G 512GB drive, the Crucial m4 512GB model will make an appearance in 2011; we are crossing our fingers on getting one of those in for a review too.
What did surprise us when we popped the top of the m4 was the new revision to the Marvell controller. Here you see clearly the 88SS9174-BLD2. I asked Crucial about the new controller and was told that it is a minor revision change over the -BKK2 (used in the Intel and LiteON partner products). The answer was quite brief and without explanation.
There are three things that determine how a drive performs; the controller, the programming and the firmware. Some argue the relevancy of each when it comes to order of importance. For me the order given is appropriate. In 2011 we will see flash tossed in the mix with toggle flash, but let's keep it simple for now. So, Crucial is packing a new revision of the Marvell SATA 6G controller, something that will change the landscape of performance beyond controller programming and customized firmware. The Crucial m4, much like the C300, will be its own product and not one of the 'Team', me too varieties.
On the back of the PCB we found 8 additional flash modules giving us 16 total. This has some significance as well when compared to the 'Team Marvell' drives that only use 8 modules (four on each side). The Marvell controllers use 8 channels, but our testing over the years has led us to believe that more modules usually lead to higher sustained performance. Also on the back of the PCB is a 256MB Micron cache that feeds the controller.