Crucial's SSD products are in an odd position at this time. The m4 products launched during the first quarter of 2011, around 18 months ago. In SSD years, that's quite some time. To keep up with other manufacturers, Crucial shaved the m4 prices and now the m4 is one of the best-selling SSD series in the world.
Since its first introduction to us in January 2011, the Crucial m4 has actually changed quite a bit. Firmware updates have increased performance while advances in flash technology and higher production has decreased the cost of flash, the most expensive component on the BOM. The result leaves us with a faster product that costs less. Today though, were looking at an entirely new m4, this time in the small mSATA form factor.
mSATA was announced in September of 2009 and it didn't take long for OEMs to make use of the new, tiny form factor. mSATA in part is responsible for many of the new ultrabook designs. Typical notebook SSDs are 9.5mm tall, but some of the new ultrabooks are actually thinner than that.
Today we are looking at the new Crucial m4 SATA III mSATA 256GB SSD. This is the first new SATA III SSD from Crucial in a long time and we're excited to see how it performs.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Crucial gives us just enough data on their specifications sheet to allow us to do this page. The mSATA m4 is available in three capacity sizes, 64GB, 128GB and the unit we're looking at today, 256GB.
The performance changes from one capacity size to the other. The read speed on all four drives is 500MB/s, but the write speed and IOPS change throughout the range. The 256GB drive has a sequential write speed of 260MB/s with 45K read IOPS and 50K write IOPS, all at 4KB aligned random. The smallest drive in the lineup, 64GB has a sequential write speed of 95MB/s, read IOPS of 45K and write IOPS of just 20K. The 128GB capacity size resides in the middle with 175MB/s write speed, 45K read IOPS and 35K write IOPS.
Crucial has already released these parts on the market and we managed to find them at Amazon and Crucial's own web site. On Crucial's site they list at $71.99 (64GB), $117.99 (128GB) and $225.99 (256GB). The prices on Amazon were a little higher than Crucial's website, but we did find something odd on Amazon, a 32GB model.
When it comes to accessories and add-ons there really isn't much you can give away with an mSATA drive. Crucial does include a three year warranty.
Crucial m4 256GB mSATA SSD
Crucial ships mSATA drives out in a blister pack as you can see here. The model and serial number are on the label.
There is nothing really on the back, but you can see your drive through the plastic shell.
Here we get our first look at the drive. There are two Micron 25nm NAND flash ICs, one Marvel controller and one Marvell DRAM IC under the sticker.
On the opposite site there are two more Micron 25nm NAND flash ICs.
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.
mSATA is a connection standard that is gaining ground on two fronts. The first is the notebook / ultrabook market where space is very limited. With companies like MyDigitalSSD producing mSATA drives that compare with full size 2.5" form factor models in capacity this standard will continue to gain traction.
The second market where mSATA is taking hold is SSD caching of mechanical HDDs. We've seen a handful of motherboard manufactures including mSATA slots on their desktop boards. GIGABYTE seems to be leading the charge, but their mSATA slots are only SATA II.
If you are purchasing an mSATA drive for a desktop motherboard choosing a lower cost SATA II model might prove to be a wise decision. Then again, your next motherboard may just have an mSATA slot with SATA III so if you can afford the additional expense a SATA III model should be better in the long term.
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.
Our preliminary testing with ATTO resulted in a 543MB/s read speed, much higher than Crucial's claimed 500MB/s. The write speed topped out at 278MB/s, also higher than Crucial's claimed 260MB/s. We like getting extra performance!
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 sequential read performance across the drive in HD Tune Pro gave us an average speed of 382MB/s and a minimum speed of 279MB/s.
The average sequential write speed across the drive was 256MB/s and the minimum was 198MB/s. HD Tune Pro uses compressible data, later on well look at sequential performance with 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 cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.
One of the most important specifications for SSDs is the access time, shown here as latency. The Crucial m4 256GB mSATA hovers right around .07ms at 64k. This is almost as fast as the best mSATA units we've tested to date.
The write access time is a little higher on the mSATA version of the m4. We didn't expect to see this since the 2.5" m4 has about half the write latency as the mSATA model.
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.
CDM gives us sequential, 512b, 4K and NCQ performance, all with incompressible data. The Crucial m4 mSATA delivers around 24MB/s of read 4K performance. The drive scales really well when we ramp up the requests. The QD4 4K performance reaches nearly 85MB/s and that goes to 192MB/s at QD32.
In HD Tune Pro we see compressible sequential performance, but in CDM we see incompressible numbers. Here we see that the Crucial m4 is faster than the SandForce drives when working with incompressible data and writing sequential data.
The 4K write performance of the m4 is a little slower than the SandForce drives (MemoRight MS 701 and MDSSD SMART).
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
The real-world performance in many of the applications you use daily is tested with PC Mark Vantage. In Vantage we see the Crucial m4 running right in line with many of the newer mSATA drives on the market today.
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
The file transfer performance with the Crucial m4 mSATA is very good. This performance level is higher than some of the newer 2.5" SSDs.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: BETA 11
So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test or just the read or the write test or you can run a single test, i.e. 4K DQ16.
Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.
The software can be used several different ways and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.
Fill Compressible Data
The Crucial m4 mSATA 256GB doesn't lose performance when moving from compressible data to incompressible data. The performance actually increased by a small margin when working with incompressible 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.
Crucial doesn't market the m4 as an enterprise drive, but it's always fun to run the tests just to see how each drive fairs at these tasks.
Crucial has already started shipping the new mSATA version of the m4. This miniature m4 is already following in the footsteps of the 2.5" model when it comes to pricing as well. Since this drive matches the performance of the SandForce mSATA drives in most benchmarks (and even pulls away in some of the others), Crucial has an exciting little drives on their hands.
When it comes to the mSATA market, price plays a very big role. After you spend a heap of money on a new ultrabook, the last thing you want to do is buy a SSD to go with it. Ultrabooks span a wide price range and the lower priced models are selling very well. What you're not told when buying a lower price ultrabook is that those models usually ship with SSDs using older technology. The older Toshiba and Samsung SSDs found in some of the lower priced ultrabooks are slow compared to the Crucial m4 mSATA. The m4 is actually faster than many of the SSDs used in many of the higher priced ultrabooks as well.
That leads us into the performance of the Crucial m4 mSATA. In our testing we found the drive to be in line with many of the other new mSATA drives on the market. SandForce is now all over this new market segment with several companies making Team SandForce mSATA drives. The Crucial m4 is running right with them, both have wins in our benchmark charts and they go back and forth depending on the test being run at the time.
Given that the Crucial m4 is so new to the market, I don't think we've seen the lowest price for this model yet. In a couple of weeks the 'new product' pricing will drop off and this drive will have an amazing price. Even now, with the 256GB drive selling for just $225.99 on Crucial's own site, the price is better than most mSATA 256GB drives on the market. With equal performance, we have to give this one a nod for delivering exceptional performance at a great value.
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