Plextor M5 Pro 128GB with Xtreme Firmware SSD Review

Plextor has given its M5 Pro 128GB SSD the Xtreme firmware treatment. We put it up against the 128GB kings from Samsung (840 Pro) and OCZ (Vector) to see how it goes.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Fri, Apr 5 2013 6:01 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Nov 3 2020 7:00 PM CST
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Plextor

Introduction

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We started testing 128GB class drives again a couple of months ago and the Plextor M5 Pro was the drive we really wanted to get in the ring. Plextor has always manufactured excellent 128GB capacity drives, some of the best on the market. So, when we decided to take a deeper look at this capacity size, we had to bring Plextor into the mix.

The problem was, a couple of months ago was a crossover period for Plextor. The M5 Pro that we are looking at today received a firmware update to Plextor's Xtreme Firmware. Plextor was also in the middle of a hardware change, also Xtreme. The M5 Pro can be flashed to the new M5 Pro Xtreme, but the full on M5 Pro Xtreme has a hardware change as well. It's all a bit confusing, but the breakdown is like this, M5 Pro uses 8K page sizes in the 19nm NAND flash. M5 Pro Xtreme uses new 19nm NAND flash with 16K page sizes.

Today we'll look at the Plextor M5 Pro 128GB, with 8K page size 19nm NAND flash, flashed with the new Xtreme firmware update. This isn't Plextor's newest M5 offering, but it gives us a model to look at until a Xtreme drive with new 16K page size hits the lab.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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Plextor released the M5 Pro in three capacity sizes - 128GB, 256GB and a large 512GB. Along with the NAND capacity, the DRAM volume scaled with the capacity size. The 128GB model we're looking at today uses a single 256MB DDR DRAM chip for holding page data.

The performance scales as well as the capacity size increases. The 128GB model we're looking at today delivers 540MB/s sequential read and 330MB/s sequential write speeds. Claimed 4K IOPS read is 92K while 4K IOPS write is 82K.

Plextor built the M5 Pro in a 7mm z-height so the drives will work in new ultrabooks that don't have enough space for 9.5mm drives.

Plextor covers their M5 Pro with a five year warranty and also includes a nice accessory package. Echo, Backup Now EZ and SSD Performance Analyzer are included and well as trial software. On the hardware side, Plextor includes a desktop adapter bracket and screws for easy desktop installation.

There are a handful of Plextor M5 Pro drives still out there according to Google Shopping. Plextor replaced this model with the new M5 Pro Xtreme, but that means you can find a few of these on sale. On Google Shopping we found the M5 Pro for as low as $130, but at the same time we found the M5 Pro Xtreme for $123.99. At some point the remaining M5 Pro drives with 8K page sizes may dip below the price of the Xtreme models to get them out of the warehouse. That's what we're hoping for anyhow.

Packaging

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We've seen the Plextor M5 Pro retail packaging before in the other reviews. The surface is shiny so it's difficult to take a picture of. On the front Plextor has an image of the drive and gives us some information on what's included.

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The back of the retail package lists the specs we saw on the previous page.

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Everything it tucked away nicely inside dense foam. The desktop adapter bracket it on the back of the foam panel so it's not going to scratch the drive. The software disk and paper manuals are tucked into a pocket.

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Here we see the whole kit laid out. Plextor does a really good job with their retail package and includes a nice accessory kit.

Plextor M5 Pro 128GB SSD

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Here we see the actual drive. It is a Plextor as you can see, but all of the data is located on the back of the drive.

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The back sticker lists the model number, the capacity size, serial number and so on.

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At this point we don't recommend buying a SSD with a 9.5mm z-height since one day you may want to use the drive in an ultrabook. The Plextor M5 Pro follows the 7mm specs, which will fit in your ultrabook.

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The SATA power and data connectors are located where they should be. Here we see the drive loaded in the desktop adapter bracket.

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Plextor used the latest Marvell controller, 88SS9187-BLD2. The NAND flash and DRAM are on the other side of the PCB.

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An up-close shot of the controller.

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The NAND and DRAM all get thermal transfer material to the top cover of the drive and that's why all of the components are on the same side of the PCB.

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There are eight 19nm Toshiba Toggle NAND flash chips, Type A, 8K page sizes. The 128GB capacity size uses a single 256MB DRAM chip to hold table data.

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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The ATTO results show the mismatched performance of the 128GB M5 Pro.

We achieved nearly 547MB/s read, but only 334MB/s write performance at QD4. Other manufacturers claim higher write performance on their 128GB capacity size drives, and since ATTO is the standard for making marketing statements, it's fair to do so. Maximum performance is one thing, but the Plextor performs better in real world conditions than what these numbers lead us to believe.

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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As we've already stated, the Plextor 128GB drives are good. Here we see the sequential read performance and it averaged over 450MB/s.

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The sequential write performance emerged at 322MB/s with the minimum and maximum close to the same range.

HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes

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Here we see a trace right after a controlled set of random writes to the drive. The read performance stayed fairly steady, but the write speed was all over the place. The write performance was also higher than the read 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 cache fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by Jmicron..

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Plextor's DRAM buffer aids in keeping latency low for both reads and writes. Here we see a steady .1ms average read latency.

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The write latency can spike when the M5 Pro's aggressive garbage collection kicks in. After the GC run is over the write latency goes back to very low levels.

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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Low queue depth IOPS performance, read and write, is very good on the Plextor M5 Pro with firmware 1.2. The drive sits right between the OCZ Vector and Samsung 840 Pro. When we tested those drives we determined the Vector was a better product due to the 840 Pro 128GB's high write latency. The Plextor M5 Pro 128GB fits right in this group and is a true contender to the best 128GB SSD title we gave Vector 128GB.

Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale

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Low queue depth write IOPS are on the low side with the non-Xtreme, Xtreme programmed M5 Pro. The new 16K page size Xtreme may do a little better in this test, but this drive is down around 5K IOPS at each queue depth stage.

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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Moving over to 4K scaling queue depth, this time in MB/s, we see a repeat of what the previous page showed. The M5 Pro with firmware 1.2 splits the 840 Pro and Vector at lower QD.

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Write IOPS are down compared to the other two tier 1 class drives, but IOPS is only part of the reason why we buy SSDs.

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

As we stated before, the M5 Pro is one of the best, if not the very best, 128GB drives on the market. When you put it all together and test real-world applications that we use every day, the M5 Pro 128GB stands out from the pack.

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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Ever since we introduced the world to fill testing, Plextor and their partner Marvell have worked at increasing performance when the drives are half-full. Here Plextor splits Vector and 840 Pro without having the same latency issues that the Samsung drive sees.

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 ran with the drives filled with block data until only 50GB of free capacity remained.

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All of our 128GB SSDs perform around the same in our Lenovo W530. We may move this test over to a different notebook.

My new Samsung 7-Series restarts in half the time of the W530, but I also have to take the notebook all the way apart to get to the HDD tray. Chances are this test won't be updated till our Intel Haswell notebooks arrive later this year.

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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Copying data to and from the drives from a secondary drive shows us how fast directory copies from one folder to another. The Plextor M5 Pro does very well when reading a directory from it, but writing the same directory data to the drive, it is a little slower than the 840 Pro and Vector.

Looking at other products on the chart like the Vertex 3.20 (with new 20nm Intel NAND) and Kingston V300 (with new 19nm Toshiba Toggle Mode Type B), the M5 Pro is much faster.

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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The Plextor M5 Pro comes in about average on the battery life chart. In this group it's at the upper tier if it wasn't for that pesky MyDigitalSSD BP4 with the new Phison controller and Toshiba 19nm Type B NAND (16K page).

PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw

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The Plextor is the black line on this chart and starting at the beginning it does really well - the idle portion. Once the drive starts working the power draw takes off and doesn't come back down to idle levels till the very end. Some of the other drives get back down to their idle power level in between the tests, but the aggressive garbage collection doesn't allow M5 Pro do to that.

Final Thoughts

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I know I didn't talk about it much in the review, but I can't finish this article until I tackle the only real question you want answered. Is this the 128GB drive to buy if you are shopping for a 128GB SSD? Let's just dive in and break it down, with the price first. The OCZ Vector 128GB is $129.99 and comes with Far Cry 3 right now. The Samsung 840 Pro is $139.99, and Plextor M5 Pro as tested costs $130. Just to get it in the mix, Plextor M5 Pro Xtreme comes in at $124.

All four drives ship with a five year warranty, desktop adapter bracket and nice software packages. The Plextor and Samsung ship with a better software package with a few more features. When it comes to performance we still don't have the new M5 Pro Xtreme branded 128GB model, but at CES we observed the new model next to the model we tested today, and the Xtreme model was a bit faster across the board.

Our last 128GB fight for the crown article produced close results, but OCZ's Vector 128GB came away with the award. This was due to Samsung 840 Pro's high write latency after random writes. Vector also performed better when populated with data. So, it really comes down to Plextor and OCZ for the top spot now that we've removed 840 Pro 128GB from the race.

The Plextor M5 Pro isn't the drive to knock Vector off the top spot in this capacity size. Vector is a little faster in many tasks and feels a little faster when multitasking. This is due to Vector's limited single queue depth system that keeps bandwidth in reserve for additional tasks. Vector also ships with a recent release title, so if you're a gamer, it's a big plus.

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That doesn't mean the M5 Pro 128GB is slow or a drive you should pass over. It's fast as lightening and very reliable. It's just has a competitor that is a little faster and ships with a desirable game. We should also keep in mind that Plextor's M5 Pro is right on the edge of End of Life status now that the new Xtreme is in warehouses. At the time of writing we can buy the Xtreme revision for less than the standard M5 Pro and at CES we saw the Xtreme benchmarks and it's faster.

We plan to have an M5 Pro Xtreme 128GB in the lab soon, and we think it may very well give OCZ something to be concerned about.

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