Until now, a majority of products shipping with mSATA ports used SATA II connections. A few SATA III products hit the market, nearly all ultrabooks, but notebooks and desktop motherboards were electrically SATA II. That's about to change, though. Intel's new chipsets designed for fourth generation Core architecture provide up to six SATA III ports on the PCH. Intel's SATA III ports have proven to be far superior to third-party add-on ports.
I think Haswell will deliver a well-rounded experience for everyone, from notebook users to power users looking for the highest performance from every component. At this time there are very few Haswell notebook/ultrabooks on the market, but over the next three months that'll change. With everything heading Haswell's direction, the dream of $400 notebooks from Walmart with 8-hour battery life and SATA III is nearly a reality.
This opens a really wide channel for Plextor and other SSD makers to sell products to mainstream markets. A $400 notebook isn't going to ship with a large, high performance or for that matter any SSD at all.
A $400 notebook should include an mSATA port and with storage still the slowest component in a PC, it's also the first part that should get upgraded.
Today we spend time look at Plextor's PX-M5M mSATA 256GB SSD to see what it can do.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The new Plextor PX-M5M is the company's first mSATA product. Available in three capacity sizes, the M5M follows Plextor's highly popular M5 Pro Xtreme with the same Marvell 88SS9187 controller and Toshiba 19nm Type C NAND flash.
Although Plextor wasn't able to use all 8 channels from the controller, they still managed to pull a lot of performance with a 4-channel layout. The largest capacity size, 256GB, the same we're looking at today, reads sequential data at 540MB/s and writes sequential data at 430MB/s. Random performance with the 256GB M5M comes in at 79K read and 77K write. The performance scales down through the capacity size range - smaller products have weaker write performance.
Many of Plextor's buzzwords associated with the company's other products made its way into the mSATA version, True Speed and True Protect among others. Plextor's state of the art test center includes at least three Flexstar Technology thermal chambers (we are working on our own) for testing products at 60C ambient temperatures and another test with 400 SSDs running constantly for 500 hours without a single failure get attention on the official product page.
The part most care about though is the price and after a little research at Tiger Direct we learned this is an area where the PX-256M5M does really well. Tiger Direct has the 256GB model we're looking at today for $204.99. This is lower than the Intel 525 Series 240GB ($279.99), Crucial M500 240GB mSATA ($219.99) and every other 256GB class mSATA SSD at the popular shopping site.
Plextor doesn't include any extras in the package, as you'll soon see. The M5M Series does include a three year warranty.
Plextor M5M 256GB mSATA SSD
As we mentioned, you don't get any bells and whistles with the Plextor PX-256M5M. I've yet to see an mSATA drive with bells or whistles, so this isn't anything unique to this product.
We've shown mSATA drives before, more than any other review site for that matter. There isn't much to see with the sticker in place.
With the sticker removed, we found a Marvell 88SS9187-BLD2 and a pair of Toshiba 19nm NAND flash chips on this side.
On the other side we found two more Toshiba NAND flash chips and a single Micron 512MB DRAM chip for buffering page table data.
We did find something in our physical inspection of the Plextor M5M that seemed a bit odd. Here we see the Toshiba flash in a BGA (ball grid array) package. This is the first time I've seen a BGA package this far off the PCB.
We didn't run into any issues with the drive and there is little chance the flash will fail, but it's something we haven't seen before.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
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.
The 4-channel design takes a toll on the write performance. The Plextor PX-M5M delivers nearly 440MB/s of sequential write performance. The sequential read performance of nearly 537MB/s on our test system is quite good compared to many of the other mSATA products we've tested.
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
HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.
HD Tune Pro allows users to set the block size, the default being 64KB and that what we measure sequential reads and writes with. The Plextor M5M scored nearly 428 MB/s in the read test. The score was only surpassed by the MyDigitalSSD BP4, a Phison controlled product.
Our 256GB class mSATA chart is still dominated by LSI SandForce controllers so we'll have to balance the compressible and incompressible performance later in this review. Of the non-SandForce controllers, the M5M is the fastest writing mSATA SSD.
HD Tach - Sequential Performance after Random Writes
HD Tune Pro also has random read and write tests. In this test with HD Tach, we run a sequential read and write test after the HD Tune Pro random tests. This is mainly a test of sequential writes across the drive after a reasonable amount of consumer load random writes.
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 was a bit surprised to see high read latency since this is an area where Plextor always seems to do well. The 4-channel design is likely the culprit, since the controller and flash relationship uses less interleaving. Still, the 11ms average is much better than anything offered by mechanical HDDs.
The Plextor M5M uses DRAM to cache where the data is located on the flash. This allows the drive to access that data quickly. The random write access time averages .05ms.
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
The M5M treats compressible and incompressible data the same, so it doesn't slow when writing incompressible data.
Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale
I've added a red border to the lower queue depth IOPS read / write charts to show the areas we are more concerned with. Companies like to talk about their high queue depth IOPS performance, but most of us will never queue enough data to hit 100K IOPS. If you are shopping for a consumer SSD, you want to look at low queue depth performance.
The Plextor M5M scores well in low queue depth IOPS and the performance scales well as queue depth increases.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
4K write IOPS performance scales really well, too.
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.
Here we're looking at 4K performance through a different lens. The M5M delivers 34MB/s at 4K QD1 and that jumps to 123.9MB/s at QD4.
Here we get our first look at sequential writes with incompressible data for the sample drives in the 256GB class of mSATA products. The M5M 256GB delivers the highest sequential incompressible writes we've seen with mSATA.
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 Plextor M5M 256GB delivers very good performance across the board when testing daily use software.
Benchmarks - 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.
The half full performance is still down compared to the Intel 525 240GB, but much better than the Phison controlled BP4 mSATA.
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.
Our Lenovo W530 that we use for the notebook battery test doesn't reboot faster than 15 seconds regardless of what SSD we put in it. Our next notebook for this testing will utilize UEFI and we'll see the reboot time decrease.
The new tests should be published in early August.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 184.108.40.206
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.
The high write speed came through in our directory copy test with 15.2GB of data. The 260MB/s write speed is the fastest we've recorded with an mSATA SSD. The 292MB/s performance when reading the same data back is very fast as well and is among the best on the market.
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.
The Plextor M5M 256GB's DRAM buffer adds to the power consumption and it's difficult to get exceptional battery life with a DRAM chip present. It's been done before in the 2.5" market, but with fewer components, the mSATA makers have less to work with, so extremely efficient voltage regulators and component choice is more important than ever.
PCMark Vantage HDD Tests - Power Draw
Here we see the power consumption during a PCMark Vantage HDD test. The Plextor M5M doesn't use a lot of power when reading and writing sequential data, but the power spikes when writing random data. The spikes are higher than any other drive in the chart. It also never drops back down to idle power levels. This shows the background garbage collection working at an aggressive level.
In this capacity size, the Plextor M5M Series is hard to beat. The price is exceptionally low compared to other products, even those we expected to find selling at a lower price. That's not to say every capacity size in the M5M lineup gets the same high rating, we have the 128GB model on the test bench now and a massive roundup is coming soon.
In our tests, the Plextor PX-256M5M routinely outperformed other products in our charts. This product writes incompressible data faster than any other mSATA SSD we've tested and its compressible write performance isn't too far behind the LSI SandForce products. The low queue depth read IOPS performance is also strong, an area we feel is often overlooked by manufacturers and other reviewers.
As we stated in the introduction, we're on the verge of an mSATA explosion. mSATA was a hot seller in 2012, but a majority of those sales were at the big box builder level. A large number of notebooks shipped with mSATA slots, many unadvertised. Our Lenovo W530 shipped with an mSATA slot tucked under the keyboard, yet most buyers of this model wouldn't know without researching its full capabilities. With SATA III coming of age and Intel chipsets shipping with more than two SATA III ports, mSATA with a SATA III interface will explode.
Tiger Direct has the Plextor PX-256M5M for $204.99 at the time of writing and it's the lowest priced 256GB class mSATA SSD on the site. It's also the one of, if not, the fastest 256GB class mSATA SSDs on the market.