Crucial m4 128GB SATA 6G Solid State Drive Review

The Crucial m4 128GB hasn't been talked about much in the media, but Chris thinks it's one of the best valued choices in the SSD market.
@ChrisRamseyer
Published Mon, Jun 27 2011 3:27 AM CDT   |   Updated Fri, Sep 18 2020 10:50 PM CDT
Rating: 91%Manufacturer: Crucial

Introduction

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At this point we've seen all of the larger, 256GB based SSDs and it's now time to start looking at the 128GB range. The 120GB - 128GB capacity size is important for manufacturers and consumers since this is the size that most of you are looking to purchase. The 128GB drives are very affordable this year, quite a bit less than the 2010 crop of drives and offer an amazing amount of performance.

Last year Crucial was the only major SSD manufacturer to offer a SATA III (6Gb) SSD, the RealSSD C300. When the C300 was first launched you only had two options to get the most out of the drive; use an expensive RAID controller capable of SATA 6G speeds or use a motherboard with a Marvell SATA 6G controller. Looking back, the Marvell SATA 6G chip was terrible and plagued with several problems at launch. Over time the SATA bridge chip became better, but even after several updates the X58 / Marvell combination still can't deliver the same performance as a native chipset solution.

Here we are halfway through 2011 and SATA 6G is all over the place. Companies like GIGABYTE and ASUS are rolling out motherboards with native SATA 6G on all of their new Intel and AMD products. If you're buying a new system or building your own, It's safe to say you'll have a high speed SATA 6G port ready for products like the Crucial m4.

Let's dive right in and take a look at the specifications listed by Crucial on their m4 128GB and then see just how fast this drive really is.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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The Crucial m4 uses an 8-channel Marvell controller similar to the one used last year in the RealSSD C300. The new Marvell controller is tuned a bit differently so it performs a bit better at some tasks. Paired with the new Marvell controller is Micron's own 25nm flash that seems to be the choice for almost all SSD manufacturers this year. The m4 also uses a DRAM cache for IO buffering and internal operations.

Crucial's product details page doesn't give us a whole lot of performance information, but I still have my cheat sheet from the m4 256GB review. The 128GB m4 is capable of delivering up to 415MB/s read and 175MB/s write speeds. This is where things get interesting. The 256GB and 512GB Crucial m4 share the same 415MB/s read rating, but the write speed goes up to 260MB/s. The read IOPS rating is shared throughout the m4 series, 40,000 IOPS, but the write rating is a bit different. The 128GB model that we're looking at today is recorded at 35K IOPS; the two larger capacity models are rated at 50K IOPS. Because of these variations, the 128GB Crucial m4 will perform a bit differently than the 256GB model we've already tested.

Crucial is one of the few SSD manufacturers that sell products on their own website to consumers. At the time of writing the 128GB model we are looking at today is listed at 249.99, but after looking around the web, we found the m4 128GB as low as 209.99. On its own the price difference is just 40 Dollars, but in the grand scheme of things the Crucial m4 costs less than the OCZ Vertex 3 120GB and the mainstream Agility 3 120GB.

The m4 is currently shipping with two different packages. The first is the bare drive and the second comes with an accessory package. The accessory package model ships with a USB to SATA cable and software so you can easily clone your existing HDD. Unfortunately neither package comes with a 2.5" notebook to 3.5" desktop adapter bracket. They both do carry a three year warranty.

The Packaging

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Our m4 128GB sample was the bare drive model, but we've seen the accessory package before with the C300 last year. There isn't a lot of information on the front of the package, but Crucial placed it all on the back.

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On the back of the package we found quite a bit of general information including how to get to the support area on Crucial's website.

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The inner package consists of a plastic surround that keeps the drive from moving around during shipping. A paper manual is also included.

The Crucial m4 128GB

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For some reason Crucial changed the location of their information stickers. On what would normally be the label side, Crucial put the product information sticker that shows the serial number, model number and capacity size. Also included on this label is the firmware revision of your drive at the time it shipped.

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The graphic label side is now on the bottom. Also on the bottom is the four mounting points and they are placed where they should be. The same aluminum case used on the C300 was carried over to the m4 and it also meets the size requirements used by nearly all notebook manufacturers. As you may know, the current OCZ SSDs are shipping with a case that doesn't fit some notebooks. You can read more about that issue here.

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The side mounting points are also where they should be, so you will not have an issue installing the Crucial m4 in your notebook or desktop with an adapter bracket.

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Connecting your new m4 128GB is as easy as connecting the SATA power and data cables.

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Inside we found the Marvell 88SS9174-BKK2 controller and sixteen Micron 25nm flash chips. The layout reminds us of the C300.

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The remaining 25nm flash is on the bottom of the PCB and this is also where you'll find the 128MB Micron cache buffer.

Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

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We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI, Corsair and Noctua.

You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.

The Crucial m4 128GB SSD fits right between the competitions mainstream and high-end products. For Crucial, the m4 is their flagship and its high read and write ratings justify that position. At the time of writing the m4 costs less than the OCZ Vertex 3, Agility 3, Intel 510 and Corsair Performance 3 of the same capacity. The Crucial m4 is actually one of the highest bargains at this point when shopping for a next gen SATA 6G SSD. Now it's time to see how it performs!

ATTO Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.

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The Crucial m4 delivers on its 415MB/s read rating and in our testing we managed to achieve 450MB/s when using a 1MB block size. The m4 is also an overachiever in the write speed department. Crucial claims 175MB/s, but we routinely hit 183MB/s.

Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro

HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00

Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com

Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com

HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:

Benchmark: measures the performance

Info: shows detailed information

Health: checks the health status by using SMART

Error Scan: scans the surface for errors

Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

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The Crucial m4 128GB comes out of the gate looking good. The sequential read grouping is very tight with the maximum and minimum speed very close together. The average speed is 375MB/s which is very good no matter what you compare it to.

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The sequential write speed group is also very tight, but as you can see here writing data is where the m4 has issues. This issue was more profound on the 128GB C300 and Crucial has increased the write speed on the m4. We'll have to see how this affects real world performance.

Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time

AIDA64 Random Access Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.

Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

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The Crucial m4 has a very low read latency, so it is able to access data very quickly. This is what gives SSDs their superior feel or user experience when compared to mechanical drives.

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The write latency is in line with other solid state drives on the market and doesn't have issues with using a DRAM buffer like what we see on Toshiba and JMicron controlled drives.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info

Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html

Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.

Key Features:-

* Sequential reads/writes

* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes

* Text copy

* Change dialog design

* internationalization (i18n)

Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.

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In CDM we're looking at 4K and 4K at depth performance. The single command 4K read is slower than the Vertex 3 128GB, but once you start stacking commands the m4 is faster at 4K reads than the Vertex 3.

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The 4K and 4K at depth writes are right in line with the Vertex 3 120GB. The larger 256GB based drives are still faster.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/

Buy It Here

PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

Our first real world tests of the Crucial m4 128GB gives us some promising results. Here we see the m4 128GB running with the Vertex 3 drives and even outperforming the 256GB m4. We're still working theories on why the 256GB we tested performed slower than the 128GB sample, but think we're onto something. Look for an updated 256GB m4 article to follow in the coming weeks.

PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.

Brief Methodology

SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.

Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test

Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)

60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB

120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB

240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB

Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

In 2010 we used PCMark's Vantage Suite for our definitive real world test, but in 2011 we stepped it up a notch in order to achieve a greater level of realism.

In this chart I included the OCZ Technology Agility 3, a direct competitor to the Crucial m4 128GB. This comparison comes from the two being priced very close to each other, much closer than the Vertex 3.

In these tests where data is placed on the drive prior to the benchmark run, the m4 is slower than the Vertex 3 120GB by a small margin. On the other hand, when comparing drives that are priced closer together, the Crucial m4 128GB is faster than the Agility 3 240GB.

Benchmarks - AS SSD

AS SSD Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358

Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9

AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.

In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).

Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.

- Copy Benchmark

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Transferring data from one area of the drive to another happens on larger drives more often than it does on the smaller models. Looking at the two top competitors, the 128GB m4 and 120GB Vertex 3, we see that these two power house SSDs go back and forth with wins of the three tests.

Benchmarks - Passmark

Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.

The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.

The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.

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The Crucial m4 is designed for consumer use, so these benchmarks aren't really important for most users. It's still always fun to run these tests to see how a product fairs to competitors.

Final Thoughts

The Crucial m4 128GB SATA III SSD performed much better than I thought. The assumption of a slower product was based on the 256GB drive we received from Crucial a couple of months ago. Little did we know that our 256GB drive had been ran prior to us taking possession, so our apples to apples comparison with other retail products didn't pan out. We are currently retesting the 256GB model after getting the drive back into our controlled steady state. Look for a full report on the 256GB and 64GB m4 in a week or so.

What we learned today is that the Crucial m4 is a real competitor to the SandForce SF-2281 controlled drives with 25nm IMFT flash. That's not to say that the m4 is capable of the performance offered by the SF-2281 drives paired with Toshiba Toggle flash like the Vertex 3 Max IOPS and Corsair Force GT, but there is a huge price difference between those products offered. When it comes to the baseline Vertex 3 the Crucial m4 also has a price advantage, but as I pointed out, the real world performance differences are a lot smaller than I originally thought. When comparing products by cost the Crucial m4 128GB sits right across from the SandForce drives paired with 25nm async flash; this group includes the Agility 3 and Corsair Force 3. To date we've only tested the Agility 3 and found that when the drive has data on it, the Agility 3 performs at levels resembling last year's models and is much slower than the Crucial m4 128GB.

This position is new to Crucial. Last year the RealSSD C300 256GB was the fastest SSD money could buy, but this year Crucial is being a bit overshadowed by Team SandForce at the high end. I think e-tailers are doing the right thing and lowering the price of the 128GB m4 enough to undercut the faster top shelf SandForce drives and as a result also undercutting the mainstream SandForce drives. What we are left with is a next generation SATA III SSD that is more than fast enough for nearly all users and a very good value when compared to the competition.

At 209.99 there is no doubt in my mind that the 128GB Crucial m4 is a bargain. This time last year we were paying nearly 400 USD on the Crucial C300 128GB. Oh what a difference a year makes (and the introduction of 25nm flash).

The only thing that really bothers me at this point is Crucial's accessory package. There are very few SATA III capable notebooks on the market, so a majority of these drives will be planted in desktop systems. Crucial doesn't offer a desktop adapter bracket on their full kit product, so many users will need to add that item to their cart at checkout. This raises the overall cost by a few dollars and many people will simply not think about fitting a 2.5" drive into their desktop system until they are trying to do so.

Still, even without a desktop adapter bracket, the Crucial m4 128GB is a solid value and a great way to increase your systems performance across the board when moving from a spinner or previous generation SSD.

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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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