Crucial m4 512GB Solid State Drive w/ the 0009 Update Review

Crucial released a performance update for their m4 product line, but is it enough to displace Team SandForce on the mound?
@ChrisRamseyer
Published Mon, Oct 10 2011 1:58 AM CDT   |   Updated Fri, Sep 18 2020 10:50 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Crucial

Introduction

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If you own a Crucial m4 solid state drive, we have good news. The company has released a firmware update that is said to increase sequential performance by up to 20%, lower latency and lower system boot up time negotiating with host controllers faster. Compatibility with certain chipsets has also been improved and we suspect some undisclosed fixes were also stuffed in as well. We've updated our entire portfolio of Crucial m4 products with the new 0009 firmware, all the way from the 64GB to the newest 512GB model. The updated benchmark results will be in our performance charts from this point forward.

This article isn't just about the new "free performance" firmware update, though. We have Crucial's largest SSD to date on the test bench and with it a big smile on our faces. We rarely hear about the largest SSD capacity sizes since they are generally beyond what most enthusiasts spend on a single product for their system, but prices have been falling rapidly. On its release the Crucial m4 512GB SSD cost over 1,000 USD and even at that price it was a bargain compared to the 1,700 Dollar Vertex 3 480GB. After a quick search this morning, we found the 512GB m4 available online for less than 600 Dollars.

You may think we've been overcome by SSD intoxication, but the price of these massive capacity products is starting to look good. Not really good or pretty good, but good. Once you come to grips with the actual capacity and the amount of data that can be stored on a 512GB drive, things start to look better. Before you know it something clicks and the price becomes secondary to the performance and capacity offered.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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That is a really big spec list isn't it. I internally pulled the whole section to give you as much info as I could, because the actual specifications at the top of the page are quite small. It seems Crucial is spending too much time with the Lexar side of the company and enthusiast products are now being dumbed down to look like brick and mortar retail products on paper.

We still get some information from Crucial's product page. The read speed is quoted as being up to 415MB/s and of course that is with SATA III. The drive, as with every SATA III drive we know of also supports SATA II.

Crucial offers three kit versions for all of their m4 product line. Today we are looking at the drive only kit, but the company also offers a desktop kit that includes a desktop adapter bracket and a notebook kit that includes a USB to SATA cable and drive cloning software.

Aside from the kit options, Crucial offers the m4 product line in four capacity sizes. Those are 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and the largest size that we are looking at today, 512GB.

Pricing is all over the place on the m4 products depending on where you're shopping at. Using Google's Shopping feature, we found the 64GB for as low as 115 Dollars. Our 512GB sample is available for just under 600 USD from one e-tailer and goes all the way up to 1,100 Dollars at others with several stops in-between.

The Packaging

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Crucial put together an attractive package for their retail m4 products. On the front we clearly see the capacity size and product branding.

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The back of the package lists some general information about the m4 product line.

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As mentioned previously, we are looking at the drive only version. Unlike the Kingston 'Drive Only' model, Crucial makes it a true statement and you get the drive and the quick install / warranty paper.

The Crucial m4 512GB SSD

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I'm not really sure why, but Crucial moved the stickers around on the m4 products. Usually on the underside we see the capacity, serial number and such, but in the m4's case we have the product label. On the underside we found the mounting points where they should be.

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The top of the drive has the serial number, model number and the capacity size.

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The side mounting points are where they should be.

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The SATA power and data connectors are offset to the left side as they should be. You won't have any issues installing this drive in your notebook or desktop (with a bracket).

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.

In order to get the most performance out of your Crucial m4, or for that matter any other SATA III SSD, you need a motherboard with native SATA III built into the chipset. At this time your best performance will come from P67 and Z68 motherboards. I'm currently using a GIGABYTE P67 and am very impressed with its performance.

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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Well, if that isn't quite a surprise! The Crucial m4 512GB after the 0009 update is producing SandForce level read speeds - 555MB/s. The m4 uses what is considered a traditional SSD design with a controller, NAND flash and a DRAM buffer. Because of this the write speeds are less than what we see on SandForce drives that are reviewed here every few days.

There are benefits to the DRAM design, though. One that we see coming into play often is the background garbage collection that keeps your drive running fast even when TRIM isn't available.

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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In our charts you'll find three Crucial m4 drives with the new 0009 update. When it comes to read performance, the m4 has been supercharged and now competes with the Team SandForce SF-2281 controlled drives. At the same time the Crucial m4 puts even more distance between itself and the Corsair Performance 3 that uses a different version of the same Marvell controller.

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Read performance hasn't ever been a problem for the Crucial m4, but we aren't about to turn down a free performance boost no matter where it occurs. While writing across the drive in HD Tune Pro we see the sequential performance is still down a bit when compared to the SandForce drives represented here by the OCZ Vertex 3.

Let's just leave that alone for now, but we'll touch base on the Vertex 3's high write performance later in this article when we discuss incompressible data.

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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Crucial listed lower latency on their white paper discussing the new firmware and it would appear they've done a really good job. Our 512GB drive produced a nice graph with a solid line at .08ms.

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The write latency increased with the 256GB and 128GB m4 drives (we had data on them prior to the update). The C300 from last year had a higher write latency when compared to SandForce drives as well. The higher write latency just seems to come natural from the Marvell controllers, but the numbers are still much lower than mechanical platter 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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We use CrystalDiskMark to look at two areas of performance. The first is 4K read and writes and native command queuing scaling. The Crucial m4 512GB delivers almost identical performance when compared to the OCZ Vertex 3 240GB. These two drives reside at the top of the chart. I'm a bit surprised at how close they are to each other. The other two m4 products are right there with them, but the 128GB m4 actually outperforms them both when commands are stacked.

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CDM uses incompressible data, data that has already been compressed. SandForce drives handle this type of data differently since the controller actually compresses data in real time before it gets to the flash. The result is already compressed data is written to the flash slower than data that can be compressed; a sort of new age, digital sleight of hand.

When you take the SandForce magic out of the equation you get the results above. Here we see that once again, the m4 is really close to the Vertex 3 in the 4K and NCQ tests.

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

The 0009 update specifically calls out an improvement in PCMark's Vantage tests. Obviously there are going to be improvements in the sequential tests and we've discovered that the new firmware increases NCQ performance as well. The two together give the Crucial m4 a really big boost in Vantage points. If it was 2010 then we'd be jumping up and down with joy, doing backflips and singing songs about the m4's journey to the top of the hill.

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

Unfortunately for Crucial in 2011 and just as SSDs have improved in the last year, so have our testing methods and understanding of what's important for real world performance. This chart introduces a new drive into the mix, the OCZ Agility 3 240GB. The Agility 3 was the first SandForce SATA III drive we tested that used asynchronous flash.

On the surface the Agility 3 performed very well when compared to the Vertex 3 and other SandForce SATA III synchronous flash drives; nearly identical numbers across the board. That was until we started adding data to the drive and at that point the performance dropped rapidly.

This rapid decline in performance also takes its toll on the Crucial m4 even though the m4 uses synchronous flash. Here we see that with each drive being filled to 50% of capacity, the Crucial m4 is still slower than the OCZ Vertex 3 by a sizable amount. The m4 is faster than the Agility 3 by about the same margin, though.

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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The Marvell controlled m4 drives do have a knack for transferring data to and from areas of the drive. Here we see file transfers taking place much faster on the m4s than they do on the SandForce drives.

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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Crucial's m4 drives are designed for desktop use, whereas the SandForce consumer drives are derived from enterprise drives that have been dumbed down to consumer spec levels. Still, the m4 does well at webserver tasks.

Final Thoughts

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Crucial worked really hard on their new firmware and the results speak for themselves. In almost every test we saw improvements in performance. Some of the gains were larger than others, but it's not like they just went in and overclocked everything like a desktop processor. The Crucial performance level has been raised, but our real world tests with data on the drives show that Crucial still has a way to go before taking the performance crown away from SandForce.

That may sound a bit harsh, but it is also a bit misleading too. It all depends on what you're looking for in an SSD. Crucial hasn't had nearly the number of complaints about long term stability or the famous Drive Dropout Issue that is associated with SandForce SF-2281 controlled drives. To be fair to SandForce, not everyone is having the issue, but if you have it you could care less if anyone else does; it is a problem you have, a 100% failure rate in your eyes. For Crucial that is a big selling point and a big reason why we are still m4 fans even though they might not be the absolute fastest on the block.

Enough about updates and comparisons - did you see how fast the Crucial m4 512GB was? The 512GB version of the m4 is faster than the 256GB and the 128GB. I expected the m4 512GB to be faster than the 128GB and a little slower than the 256GB, but that wasn't the case. It is now clear that the 512GB is the Crucial m4 we've always wanted.

When the m4 product line was launched several months ago the 512GB model was barely on anyone's radar. It was sort of like an exotic car; you knew of its existence, but the price was far from your target budget. Luckily there are reviewers out there that can't let go of their dreams. At the time of writing we found the Crucial m4 512GB available online for as low as 574.69 USD. Don't get me wrong, it's still a lot of money, but it isn't 1,000 or 1,200 Dollars like it once was. Unlike our dream cars that just get old and slower with age, the m4 512GB actually got better after the new update.

There is of course one fact that trumps everything I've said on this page. IT'S 512GB of SSD STORAGE CAPACITY! Better yet, it's twice the SSD storage capacity of the 240GB SandForce drive you were thinking about buying at less than twice the cost. The Corsair Force GT 240GB that we reviewed recently costs 459.99. So for around 115 Dollars more you could double your capacity and still have really good SSD performance.

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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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