Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5
The Crucial M550 512GB scored in the middle of the pack in our notebook battery life test at just over 271 minutes on our Lenovo W530 with a six-cell battery.
There is a reason why I wanted to divide these reviews up and not toss them all into one while trying to explain all of the bits and pieces for four capacity sizes at one time. When it comes to the 1TB capacity size, there are very few players in that market, so just getting an SSD out with 1TB of flash is an accomplishment, but the M550 is one of the best there is. The 128GB capacity size products at this point are a real mixed bag.
The newest generation of flash is optimized for larger capacity drives, and to get solid performance out of 128GB drives, you really need older flash or, at the very least, 64Gb die. Few companies are even using 64Gb die right now because the flash manufacturers are keeping it for their own drives. The M550 128GB is at the top of the list in this capacity size as well but faces strong competition from drives using SanDisk and Toshiba 64Gb die in 19nm lithography.
That leads us to the M550 256GB that we looked at today. The 256GB capacity size is the current price, performance, and capacity king. Even though I don't have the numbers to back up this next statement, I would say more 256GB capacity drives are being sold than the other three capacity sizes combined, at least in the enthusiast, prosumer, and gamer categories. That brings a lot of competition into this capacity size. There is a reason why all of these companies want us to review their 256GB drive.
So, how does the M550 256GB fair against the competition? The drive does really well in some places but not as well in others. The high performance in the recovery phase after some idle time is due to aggressive garbage collection. The aggressive garbage collection has a downside, though. If you're trying to write data to the drive at the same time the drive is performing clean up, then the write speed drops quite a bit. I was surprised we didn't run into the issue as much on the M550 128GB, but I think it's size meant the GC operation went faster than the time we wait between each test. Smaller capacity drives write less random data in our test, so the test scales, but the time we take between each test doesn't.
I would say that most of the time this is an issue most users will not see, but there are some predictable scenarios that will bite you. Games are getting hefty, so you can expect your system to run a bit slushy after installing Titanfall or other large games. After the drive's garbage collection cleans up the cells, the performance will return, but the time in between is when you have to worry. We're surprised Crucial didn't add a pseudo-SLC area by manipulating the flash translation layer like SanDisk and Samsung to take care of this issue.
Performance wise, I think there are faster 256GB class drives on the market, and the same goes for the accessory package. Feature wise, few incorporate the latest buzzwords as well as the M550. DEVSLP, TCG Opal, and eDrive hardware encryption with a dash of host power failure protection sprinkled on top is a hard combination to beat for those willing to jump through the hoops to make them all work.
That's where we can fit a wedge in; are you going to use the extra features, or are you looking for performance? If it is performance, then look elsewhere like the Extreme II or Vertex 460, but if you plan on using eDrive hardware encryption or DEVSLP on a Haswell based notebook, then the Crucial M550 256GB drive is your next SSD.
PRICING: You can find the Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.
United States: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $168.99 at Amazon.
New Zealand: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $299.99 NZD at Mighty Ape NZ.
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