As I'm sitting here looking over the performance numbers Speed Channel is airing a documentary on the Porsche 911. Around 1963 Porsche released their iconic two door sports car. The 911 name lives on today, but so does the exterior design. When you see a 911, be it a model produced in 1969, my favorite, the 1982 slant nose turbo with the big whale tail to the new 2012 you know it is a 911. Altogether, there have only been seven major revisions to this car, quite a legacy.
The Marvell 88SS9174 isn't quite sixty years old, but the controller first hit the scene in January 2010, a long time in computer component years. Just like the 911, each minor revision adds to the speed and functionality. Also like the 911, the components that surround the main controller have changed to produce a better product.
Plextor has taken a bit of that Porsche magic and brought it into the new M3 Pro solid state drive. The base for the M3 Pro is the same 9174 controller we've been reporting on for more than two years. Plextor has paired this ageless controller with the newest NAND flash on the market today, Toshiba 24nm Toggle Mode flash.
The 256GB model M3 Pro that we are looking at today is also equipped with a massive 512MB cache buffer which certainly adds to the amazing performance we're seeing from this new series of products from Plextor. We've already seen the performance of the 128GB model; now let's take a close look at the 256GB model.
Let's go dive into the technical details.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Plextor has already launched three capacity sizes under the M3 Pro umbrella. Those are 128GB that we reviewed earlier in the week, the 256GB model that we are looking at today and a massive 512GB capacity size. The 256GB and 512GB both receive a very large 512MB cache while the 128GB drive only gets 256MB. You may notice that Plextor didn't release a 60GB model in the Pro class, but they did release a 60GB drive in the non-pro, M3 series.
As we said earlier in the week we looked at the 128GB M3 Pro and it has a claimed performance of up to 535MB/s read and 350MB/s write speeds. The 256GB drive we are looking at today moves those specs to 540MB/s read and gets a big boost in the maximum write performance, all the way up to 420MB/s.
Other notable specifications from the list that we found interesting include the 1.5 million hour mean time between failure, a number high enough to put the M3 Pro into the enterprise category. Most of the enterprise drives, HDD or SSD usually pull quite a bit of power, but that isn't the case with the M3 Pro. Plextor is claiming a very low .01 watt while idle and 5 watts while active. Finally the new M3 Pro series all use the new 7mm Z-Height form factor making these drives available in many of the new ultrabook products on the market.
Newegg already lists all three capacity sizes of the Plextor M3 Pro. The 256GB model we're looking at today is listed at the time of writing at $374.99. The MSRP according to Newegg is $399, so we are already seeing a nice reduction, but at this price, the M3 Pro 256GB is one of the higher priced consumer SSDs available today.
For that price you are getting a premium SSD with a premium accessory bundle. The five year warranty is certainly the stand out from this group, but not the only nice add-on you get. The 7mm height should be included in this group because it extends your installation options. Along the same lines of thinking, the included desktop adapter bracket extents your installation options as well. Disk cloning and data backup software is also included in the package, a nice feature that we don't see every day with consumer SSDs.
The Plextor M3 Pro ships in a shiny package! The overall presentation is attractive, but we care more about the information given. Plextor is highlighting their five year warranty, software bundle and the inclusion of the desktop adapter bracket on the front. It's a good start.
The full product specification sheet is listed on the back of the package. Other manufactures take note; this is what consumers want to see when shopping retail at the B&M stores.
As if they could do no wrong in the packaging segment of this review, Plextor tucked the drive neatly inside of a foam base with the adapter bracket on the outside (it was moved so you can see it in the image). The software and manuals are slid into a separate compartment and placed in a separate bag.
Few companies deliver such an extensive bundle.
Plextor M3 Pro 256GB SSD
Brushed aluminum is always a safe bet when making an attractive SSD.
Most of us could really care less about how an SSD looks unless the drive is going to be used in a highly modded system with visibility given to the storage array. On the functionality side the bottom mounting positions are where they should be.
Speaking of functionality, when it comes to ultrabook's that accept only 7mm Z-Height drives the Plextor M3 Pro is one of a very few drives on the market today that conform to this new standard.
The desktop adapter bracket allows you to install the drive in your desktop without fuss. The adapter keeps the SATA power and data connectors offset for systems with backplanes.
Here we can see the difference between the 128GB cache and the 256GB cache system. The 128GB model just had a single 256MB DDR3 cache chip while the two larger drives in this series use two 256MB cache chips.
The flash controller is on the opposite side of the flash. Plextor is using the Marvell 88SS9174-BLD2 for this release. I was expecting to see a -BKK2, what we found on our M3 series sample. To date we've seen three different models, the other being -BJP2. Now that we are talking directly with Marvell we'll track down what the differences are.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
In order to fully utilize SATA III you need a system with native SATA III support. P67, Z68 and X79 systems are preferred, but AMD has made advances in their newer SATA III systems as well. Older X58 systems with Marvell based SATA III ports do not deliver the same high levels of performance, so we recommend newer systems when available.
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.
In ATTO we see that Plextor's marketing claims for maximum performance were spot on with our numbers. The big news with the 256GB drive is the increased write performance, now up to 420MB/s. We also hit very close to 540MB/s read speed with the M3 Pro.
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
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.
The Plextor M3 Pro produced a near perfect plot on the graph with very few ripples. The average speed recorded was just over 384MB/s which puts it a little faster than the Vertex 3 240GB when we reviewed it.
The sequential write speed is a little slower on the M3 Pro than it is on the Vertex 3 in this synthetic benchmark. HD Tune Pro uses compressible data. We'll look at incompressible data later in this review.
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 cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.
I talk quite a bit about the low access times in our reviews, but there really isn't any way to effectively convey amazing in words. We've used words like fast, quick and instant when talking about windows and programs opening, but with an average read access time of just .05ms you really have to experience it for yourself to understand.
The Plextor M3 Pro 256GB also scores well in the write access time test. Just like the 128BGB capacity size, the larger model holds the latency down to just .04ms on average.
Benchmarks - 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.
* 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.
Usually we just use CDM to look at 4k and NCQ performance, but CDM uses incompressible data so we're also going to look at the sequential speed as well. Starting off with the sequential test, we see the M3 Pro read a little faster than the Vertex 3 240GB. The 4k read performance is about the same between these two drives with a single command, but when 4 commands are given, the M3 Pro doubles the V3 240GB performance. At 32 commands the M3 Pro runs away from the V3 by around 70MB/s.
If you remember back to the HD Tune Pro write test, the M3 Pro was a little behind the Vertex 2 240GB. That test took place with compressible data, an area where SandForce based drives typically have an advantage. In CDM we are now looking at incompressible data. When it comes to incompressible files the Plextor M3 Pro 256GB has around a 120MB/s lead with sequential writes.
The 4k and NCQ tests also show a nice lead except for in the 4 command test.
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/
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.
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
With the Plextor M3 Pro empty the drive is an amazing performer, one of the best we've looked at this year. We prefer a different approach to testing with Vantage, though.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
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.
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 our custom Vantage test we place a controlled amount of data on the drives and run the tests at various states of being full. The 50% fill test is our mark for determining the level of performance offered by an SSD.
Over the years we've seen the Marvell based drives take a big hit in these tests, as shown at the bottom of the chart with the Crucial m4 256GB. The Plextor M3 Pro has raised the bar for fill test performance, but the M3 Pro still doesn't outperform the Vertex 3 240GB here.
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
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
There is more to computing than just your day-to-day tasks even though they are very important. We have a philosophy for the copy test that is fairly unique in the industry. The larger your drive the more optional data you'll keep in it. With smaller drives, especially those under 100GB, you don't have a lot of space for music, movies or images after you install the OS, Office and essential boot drive items. That means the larger the drive the more you'll transfers files to and from your drive so this test has a higher degree of importance with larger drives.
Looking at the chart we see that the Plextor M3 Pro 256GB is a brute when transferring data.
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.
The M3 Pro is billed by Plextor as the higher IOPS model, but not specifically as an enterprise SSD. Given that these Pro models are keeping pace with the Team SandForce drives in our enterprise class tests a few of you may start looking at these drives for your light duty web or file servers.
Over the last couple of months we've seen some amazing SSDs in our lab. Quickly being overshadowed was the Intel 520 Series with Intel 25nm flash and a SandForce controller that runs exclusive Intel optimized firmware. The shadow thrower for the 520 Series was the SanDisk Extreme, SandForce's new big dog in town. Then came the Plextor M3, the first Marvell controlled drive to take advantage of the new 24nm Toggle Mode flash that made the Extreme so fast. Now we have the enthusiast model from Plextor, the M3 Pro.
All four of these SSDs are faster than the previous models that came before them and in some areas significantly faster. We're not talking about products that hit the market two years ago, but drives that were reviewed as recently as two months ago can now be considered aged when compared to the new crop. The firmware optimizations and new Toggle Mode flash have really changed the definition of the word fast when referred to with SSDs.
So, how does the Plextor M3 Pro fit into this mix of amazing SSDs? Instead of starting out with the good notes let's look at where this drive is hurting. We're all talking about the pain at the pump these days, but the Plextor M3 Pro 256GB is suffering from pain in the HDD bay. The price of the 256GB Pro model, at the time of writing, is $35 more than the base M3 256GB. The 256GB M3 Pro is the highest priced model on the market today when looking at these new high performance drives, $374.99. We aren't going to pull your leg and tell you that the price does not play a factor. In the defense of the new M3 Pro 256GB, it is the newest SSD on the market and Newegg likes to keep the new drives priced higher than the older models , so we expect this price to come down over the next couple of months.
With the price out of the way we can take a closer look at what the M3 Pro has going for it. The five year warranty certainly helps us swallow the higher cost a little easier as does the included bundle that includes a good software package and desktop adapter bracket. The real selling point though is the performance and this is where the Plextor M3 Pro stands out in many aspects. Only one other drive on the market has an access time even close to the M3 class, the OCZ Octane and it doesn't hold a candle to the sequential speeds offered by the Plextor drives. Next up is the sequential performance where Plextor has managed to increase performance up to and beyond the SandForce controller numbers in some cases.
The real-world performance with a mix of random reads and write have also increased with this release, also elevating the performance to areas we didn't think this generation of Marvell controller would go. The file transfer tests are also very fast, an area where Marvell has dominated for most of the year, but Plextor has managed to increase performance here as well.
Overall we are looking at a very fast drive, with a great bundle, but we still have to keep it real when it comes to the price. For most reading this the current price is going to keep this very fast drive out of your system. My recommendation is to wait it out a month and then see if you can score the M3 Pro 256GB for $350 or less. By then that new, Newegg price will be off and we'll see the M3 Pro be more competitive with other super SSDs on the market.
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