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Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme 256GB SSD Review

Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme 256GB SSD Review

Plextor's new flagship M5 Pro Xtreme hits our lab in the 256GB capacity size. Can Plextor break into the top performance tier with this product or will Xtreme just be another mainstream drive with aspirations of the crown?

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Wed, Mar 6 2013 2:06 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:31 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Plextor

Introduction

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Recently we posted a retake review of the Plextor M5 Pro using the new Xtreme 1.02 firmware. Around the same time the new firmware update was released, Plextor also released an official branded 'Xtreme' SSD. The new Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme drives ship with new Xtreme firmware preinstalled, uses new Toshiba Toggle 19nm 2bpc NAND and has a more aggressive garbage collection scheme.

The physical change in the form of new NAND is quite a bit different from the older 19nm Toggle. The chips are now TSOP instead of BGA, but the largest change is the page size. 2bpc uses 16KB page sizes, which doubles the page size of the first generation 19nm Toggle.

The preinstalled firmware, version 1.02, delivers a performance boost over the M5 Pro's 1.0 release firmware. The M5 Pro original does accept the new 1.02 and newest 1.03 release, the same as the new Xtreme branded drive. We're not sure if the new firmware programs the old Pro with the new garbage collection scheme that starts the garbage collection at 10% and makes it more aggressive as the drive continues to use up free blocks.

The old 1.0 firmware didn't start GC until 4% so this is a nice change for consumer users because it helps keep the drive fresh and running at higher speeds. The trade off is higher write amplification.

Firmware details aside, let's dive in and take a look at the new M5 Pro Xtreme SSD.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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Even though the new Xtreme has a new model number, PX-xxxM5Pro (the original M5 Pro was PX-xxxM5P), we didn't find an updated spec sheet on Plextor's website.

The drive uses the latest Marvell 88SS9187 controller and pairs it with the latest Toshiba 19nm Toggle NAND. The controller is just as interesting as the new flash. The 88SS9187 now supports AES 256-bit encryption and a new ECC algorithm that increases error recoverability.

Plextor has three capacity sizes for Xtreme including 128GB, 256GB and finally a large 512GB model. The xxx in the model name is the capacity size; today we're looking at PX-256M5Pro.

Plextor ships Xtreme with a five year warranty, desktop adapter bracket and a nice software package that includes backup software. We did manage to finally track down Xtreme for sale after a long search. You can't look for the drive under Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme. You have to use Plextor M5P Xtreme. It's a bit of a pain, but now that you know the task will be a lot easier.

Newegg has the 256GB drive in stock for $219.99, a $10 premium over the original M5 Pro 256GB.

Package

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The M5 Pro Xtreme package is a nice shiny design that is nearly identical to the original M5 Pro. Xtreme branding was applied as you can see.

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Plextor lists performance specifications on the back of the box along with a feature list.

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The inner packaging has a nice design with the drive kept away from the other hardware components so they aren't scratched in transport.

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Here we see the accessory package all laid out. You get a desktop adapter bracket, screws and a pair of paper manuals. Our drive arrived used by another site and didn't include a software disk, something we normally see.

Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme 256GB SSD

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Here we get our first look at the Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme. Plextor used the same case with this model that they used on the last. It's a nice aluminum 7mm form factor package that allows the Xtreme to work in a number of ultrabooks that require a 7mm z-height.

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The back of the drive has the new model number, PX-256M5Pro. It also has the serial number and capacity size.

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The 7mm z-height uses the same mounting positions as a standard 9.5mm drive designed for notebooks and desktops.

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Plextor includes a 2.5" to 3.5" desktop adapter bracket with the drives.

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The real difference between this model and the original incarnation is inside the case. The same controller is used as is the same 512MB DRAM. The NAND is different, now Toshiba 19nm Toggle with 16KB page sizes. The NAND is also TSOP instead of BGA.

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There are 16 NAND packages all together, eight on each side.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

Desktop Test System

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Lenovo W530 - Mobile Workstation

We use two systems for SSD testing. The desktop runs a majority of the tests and the Lenovo W530 runs the notebook power tests as well as the real-world file transfer benchmark.

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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ATTO scored Xtreme 256GB at 546MB/s read and 452MB/s write speeds.

Benchmarks - Sequential Performance

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 gained popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

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In HD Tune Pro we had a bit of a hiccup at the beginning of each of our read tests and we never managed to sort it out. The dip was always at the same spot at the beginning of the test and even a secure erase couldn't resolve the issue.

The dip didn't have much of an effect on the average score as you can see in the results. We scored an average sequential read speed at 449MB/s with QD1.

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The sequential write speed topped out at 361MB/s under the same conditions.

HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes

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Here we see 128KB data size sequentially after hitting the drive hard with random data. We are looking at the flutter on the write speed and how low it goes. The Xtreme dips down to just below 200MB/s, but has an average write speed of 334.1MB/s.

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..

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Plextor's previous flagship and new flagship have the exact same access time for both reads and writes. I expected the new 16KB page size to increase latency here, but that didn't happen.

Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities

Anvil Storage Utilities

Version and / or Patch Used: RC6

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 is 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.

0-Fill Compressible Data

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Incompressible Data

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The Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme doesn't change performance when working with different data types. Here we scored nearly identical results with compressible and incompressible data.

Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale

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In the latency test we didn't see any difference, but here in the IOPS test we found what we were looking for. The 16KB page size means more data in each page so more to work with at the block level. This helps increase sequential performance, but reduces random performance. It's a lot like what we published about RAID stripe sizes months ago with the LSI 9265-8i RAID controller review. Unlike the RAID controller, the page size difference is very small when reading data back from the drive.

Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale

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The same happens when writing data in all queue depth sizes other than 32.

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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When converting IOPS over to real MB/s the difference between 8KB page sizes and 16KB page sizes is very small, around 2MB/s with 4K read data at a single queue depth.

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The margin opens up a little when writing 4K data to the drive.

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

With the random performance out of the way we can focus on sequential reads and write. Having a good mix between random and sequential is very important and we feel a lot of manufacturers over the last year have lost track of keeping everything in balance.

The Xtreme didn't lean too far random and the result was very good daily software use performance. The M5 Pro Xtreme actually performs better than anything else on that market in daily use software tasks, but this chart only shows the performance when the drives are empty.

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.

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SSDs slow when their flash has data on it and in this series of tests we measure the performance with a few different states of data volume on the drive.

The Xtreme increases performance over the original M5 Pro, but is still behind Samsung's 840 Pro, OCZ's Vector and Intel's 520 Series (which represents a number of LSI SandForce SF-2281 drives with synchronous NAND flash) drives.

Benchmarks - BootRacer

BootRacer - System Boot Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.0

Developer Homepage: Greatis

Product Homepage: BootRacer

Download here: http://www.greatis.com/bootracer/download.htm

Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation loaded with an operating system and several program files. The data on the drive at the time of the test is 45GB. The second test, 50GB Free, was run with the drives filled with block data until only 50GB of free capacity remained.

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It's time to put these drives in real world use and measure them inside a notebook with the operating system and programs installed. All of the top tier SSDs boot a Lenovo W520 around the same amount of time.

Benchmarks - DiskBench

DiskBench - Directory Copy

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.6.2.0

Developer Homepage: Nodesoft

Product Homepage: DiskBench

Download here: http://www.nodesoft.com/diskbench/download

Note: In this test we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation and a SuperSSpeed S301 SLC 128GB SSD to move a 15GB block of data to and from the target drive. This is part of our real world test regiment. Roughly 45GB of data resides on the target drive before the '15GB Block' is transfer. The 15GB Block is the same data we built for the Data on Disk Testing and is a mix of compressible and incompressible data.

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Reading data back from the test drive produces around the same 300MB/s results in our notebook, but writing data varies among the drives. The Xtreme's boost in sequential performance helps the drive close in on the performance of the two leading enthusiast class drives, the 840 Pro and Vector, in this capacity size.

Benchmarks - Power Testing

Bapco MobileMark 2012 1.5

Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5

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

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

MobileMark 2012 1.5 is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of office productivity, media creation and media consumption. Unlike benchmarks that only measure battery life, MobileMark 2012 measures battery life and performance simultaneously, showing how well a system design addresses the inherent tradeoffs between performance and power management.

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If you plan on using your SSD in a notebook and rely on battery power, you'll get less time with the Xtreme than any other top performing SSDs out today.

PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw

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In the power trace test, we see why the Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme fairs so poorly in the power test.

It has one of the highest in use power draws of the drives tested. The power does drop off at idle, but the aggressive garbage collection means the drive takes longer to get to an idle state. In our test the Xtreme never even dropped back into idle power while we were recording the trace.

Final Thoughts

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The new Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme 256GB is a very good offering, but it still doesn't put Plextor into the top performance tier with Samsung's 840 Pro and OCZ's Vector, at least not in this capacity size. We added the last bit to the sentence because Plextor's custom firmware has always done very well in the lower capacity sizes, especially the 128GB size. Soon we'll have the 128GB M5 Pro review with new 1.03 firmware published and see how it fairs.

The M5 Pro Xtreme 256GB does cost less than 840 Pro and Vector and that makes up for the slight decrease in performance. All three drives in this capacity size are smoking fast and I doubt anyone would feel a difference while in use. The benchmark tests highlight the micro differences and they appear much larger than what you would notice in the real world, but for some that matters.

Plextor did raise the bar of their products with the new Xtreme drives. The new NAND flash also produces a nice increase in sequential performance, but at the cost of random performance. The sequential increase easily outweighs the small loss of random performance though since you will actually notice the sequential boost.

When push comes to shove though, you would be fine purchasing either M5 Pro product. The real world differences are not that great but then again, the file transfer increase when writing data to the drives is worth the $10 premium. We'd like to see Plextor lower the price of the Xtreme 256GB to at the very least the same $209.99 that we found the M5 Pro at. That price would make the Xtreme 256GB much more attractive and easier to choose over the Samsung's class leader.

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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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