Prior to the m4, Crucial updated their flagship SSD products roughly every year, but that changed when m4 stretched the timeline. The m4 product series held a two-year stretch on the timeline and is still a popular product today, while the existing supply dwindles away.
Announced in January at CES, the Crucial M500 is the successor to the m4 series and we expect it to have a long run as well. We finally have all of the crucial pieces together to take a complete look at the new M500 series in all available 2.5" capacity sizes.
The Crucial M500 is the company's first consumer SSD to use new 20nm flash from parent company Micron. Paired with the new flash is a Marvell 88SS9187 controller and Micron DRAM. Over the last few weeks, we've been critical about the new 20nm IMFT flash. Many companies are having a difficult time securing their own and Crucial seems to have issues supplying the 960GB M500 drive to the channel.
The new 20nm flash seems to have issues when used in smaller capacity SSDs. This isn't anything new, 25nm flash didn't work out too well for 64GB class SSDs, but the new 20nm flash has pushed the curve up into the 128GB class.
Today we're looking at how the new 20nm flash works in Micron / Crucial's own 128GB class product.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
The M500 series has four capacity sizes - 120GB, 240GB, 480GB and the massive 960GB. We've already looked at the 960GB and today we're moving to the other end of the spectrum. Over the next week or so the 240GB and 480GB drive reviews will appear on TweakTown.
As with other SSDs, performance scales as the capacity increases. Crucial rates the 120GB M500 at 500MB/s sequential read and 130MB/s sequential write. The 4K IOPS ratings are 62K read and 35K write.
On the specification sheet, you'll notice three form factors - 2.5", mSATA and m.2. All three-form factors use the SATA standard, Crucial hasn't announced a PCIe based m.2 product at the time of writing.
Not on the specification sheet is a feature that's desired by business users, data encryption. The C500 series is TCG Opal and IEEE-1667 compliant. The series also supports Windows 8's eDrive feature as long as your other hardware supports the feature.
Newegg currently has three of the four capacity sizes in stock. Prices are as follows at the time of writing - 120GB ($129.99), 240GB ($199.99), 480GB ($394.99) and 960GB (599.99). The 960GB is out of stock at Newegg, and for that matter just about everywhere. The M500 series has a three year warranty.
Crucial M500 120GB SSD
Crucial put together an attractive package for the M500, but as you'll soon see, the accessory kit is a bit light.
A list of package contents appears on the back. You get the SSD and a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter.
The plastic adapter fills in the gap when mounting the 7mm drive in a drive cage designed for 9.5mm z-height drives.
The model number CT120M500SSD1 and serial number are located on the identification sticker.
Crucial flips their stickers on opposite sides compared to what we find on other products.
As mentioned, this is a 7mm z-height drive. The mounting points are in the same position as a standard notebook 9.5mm form factor.
The SATA power and data connectors are also located in the same position as typical notebook drives.
Here we get our first look at the internals. The first thing you may notice is the array of surface mount capacitors. Crucial claims these provide enough power to flush the data in route to the flash in a host power loss event. At the time of writing, we didn't have a way to test this feature, but in the coming weeks we'll have this capability.
There are a few surface mount components on the back of the PCB, but all of the major components are located on the other side.
Crucial once again choose a Marvel controller, the 88SS9287.
This capacity size only has one DRAM buffer for caching page table data.
Crucial uses 20nm Micron NAND flash.
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 test 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.
Using ATTO we get to see the sequential read and write performance while using different sized transfers.
The peak read of 540MB/s is exactly what users want from their SSD. The write speed of less than 140MB/s on the other hand is, well... unsatisfying. Crucial only claims 130MB/s, so it's nice to get a little more than claimed, but the new flash really changes the way we look at 128GB class SSDs today.
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 and for the last couple of years has gained popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.
Looking at the sequential reads across the span of the drive, we see the Crucial M500 delivering consistent read performance.
Sequential write performance across the span of the drive shows us a 108MB/s minimum and a 137MB/s maximum. The larger issue though is how much lower the write speed is on the M500 120GB compared to other products on the market today.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
The slope is slippery. After a consumer appropriate amount of random writes to the M500 120GB, we see that can drop to below 20MB/s when writing sequential 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.
Access times are why SSDs feel so fast if your computer. When reading data, the M500 120GB does well, and continues to deliver consistent performance.
Anytime we do any writes to the drive, we find Mr. Hide. Access time while writing data is all over the place and the deeper into the test, the higher the latency.
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
Compressible and incompressible data works the same way on the Crucial M500 series.
Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale
Low queue depth IOPS performance is pretty good with the M500 120GB.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
The M500 120GB reaches peak write IOPS at QD2 and at that point it reaches a wall.
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.
4K reads nearly reach 30MB/s and the performance scales well from there.
4K writes are past 121MB/s, but we see the wall again as the queue depths increase. This test uses incompressible data which is worst case scenario for LSI SandForce based products. Looking at the ADATA SX900 on the chart, we see that the 120GB M500 is slower than SandForce SF-2281 controlled drives.
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/products/pcmarkvantage
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.
Vantage uses traces in a heavy read environment using applications we all use daily. The M500 120GB has very good read performance and that comes through in these results.
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.
As you already know, SSD performance decreases when you have data on the flash. Using the 50% of flash full, the M500 does very well in Vantage with the read tests.
Benchmarks - PCMark 8 Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark8
Note: PCMark 8 Storage benchmark is ideal for testing the performance of SSDs, HDDs and hybrid drives. Using traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games, PCMark 8 Storage highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.
PCMark 8 Storage Bandwidth
We're still testing drives for this test and don't have everything dine yet, but we have enough to publish some early tests. We certainly have enough to compare the M500 120GB to other popular drives on the market.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
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.
Transferring a large folder with files inside is one of the closest to real-world tests we can imagine. At this point it comes as no surprise to see the M500 120GB doing really well reading data, but falling flat when writing data. We actually have mechanical drives that do better in this write test.
Benchmarks - Power and Thermal 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 Crucial m4 did very good in the notebook battery life test, but the M500 120GB is a step in the wrong direction. The M500 delivered 265 minutes in our Lenovo W530 with a six-cell battery.
PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw
Recording the power during a PCMark Vantage HDD test, we see why the battery life test yielded the results it did. On the far left, just as the test starts, we see the power at idle. We can't really call it idle though because the M500 appears to be cleaning up the flash with its garbage collection scheme. The drive never gets into a lower power state during our trace test like some of the other drives.
Thermal Test - BETA
This is another next generation benchmark that we're sliding into this review. At this time, it's still beta and needs a little work, mainly a mount and platform for consistent images.
Like the Seagate 600 and a few other SSDs on the market, the M500 has a thermal protection mode that will slow the drive down to keep the temperate down. We don't know at what temperature this mode engages, but the drive doesn't get nearly as hot as the Seagate 600.
At idle we measured the controller at 46.9C and that rose to 64.4C at load.
We've talked about the new IMFT 20nm flash on a few occasions already. This is the second review we've published with the Crucial M500, the first being the 960GB model. In the highest capacity size the M500 is a very good drive with good read and write performance. The 120GB model can read data well, but its write performance is worse than most of the 128GB class SSDs that were native SATA II.
The problems don't stop there, but the reasons for more criticism is the same - the flash. Looking back at the HD Tach test where we measure sequential performance after a few light random writes, the performance drops below 20MB/s. We run this test much differently from what most review sites do. Others fill the SSD multiple times with 4K writes, a test pulled from enterprise products. We don't feel that is an appropriate way to test consumer SSDs because you will never fill your drive over and over with 4K data and not send a TRIM command. Still, the Crucial M500 120GB acts as if we beat it down with a baseball bat, riot style after what we consider an appropriate load.
Other issues include high write latency, as you can see above. If you write more than 7% of the flash capacity, the drive begs for mercy. This is something we experienced while preparing the drive for the data on disk test, first hand.
These issues don't plague the 960GB M500, but you'll have to wait for our review of the 240GB and 480GB capacity sizes to see how the new 20nm ONFi flash reacts in the middle capacity sizes.
At the time of writing the M500 120GB costs around $125. For the same price you can purchase an ADATA SX900 128GB. ADATA moved the SX900 over to Toshiba Toggle flash to sidestep the 20nm IMFT flash issues, and it also delivers longer battery life in a notebook.
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