Just days ago we published reviews for the Crucial M500 120GB and 240GB. Prior to that, we published the M500 960GB, Crucial's flagship offering. So far it's been a Dr. Jackal and Mr. Hide situation. The 960GB M500 is really good no matter what angle you look at it from.
On the other side of the capacity range, the 120GB and to a lesser extent, the 240GB have issues with sustained write speed and write latency. Both the 120GB and the 240GB use one die per package NAND - 8 packages for the 120GB and 16 packages for the 240GB. Both of the smaller capacity sizes also share the same 128MB DRAM buffer as well.
Crucial claims the M500 480GB shares the same 500MB/s sequential read and 400MB/s sequential write performance with the 960GB. The claimed IOPS performance is the same as well - 80,000 4K IOPS for both read and write. The 480GB model uses three-die per package and increases the DRAM buffer size to 512MB. This isn't the 1GB buffer found on the 960GB model or the 4-dies per package, but it could be good enough to get to competitive performance in the 512GB class category.
Today we're going to finish our coverage of the Crucial M500, at least until Crucial releases new firmware. We have a number of high capacity SSDs to compare the 480GB to and a number of benchmarks see where everything lands.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
As mentioned in the introduction, the M500 480GB shares the same specifications as the larger 960GB drive. The claimed performance is 500MB/s sequential read and 400MB/s sequential write. 4K IOPS are balanced 80,000 read and write. After reviewing the M500 120GB and 240GB capacity sizes, we need a little balance on our test bench.
There are four capacity sizes for the M500 series - 120GB, 240GB 480GB and a massive 960GB model. The three smaller capacity sizes come in three different form factors - 2.5", mSATA and Crucial will soon release an NGFF form factor. We've already reviewed the 120GB, 240GB and 960GB 2.5" models. Today's review of the 480GB will round out the 2.5" form factor.
Not shown on the specifications list is Crucial's new encryption compliance. This works with various software packages like Microsoft's Bit Locker and other TCG Opal compliant packages, like Wave.
At the time of writing, the Crucial M500 240GB costs $394.99 at Newegg. This is a drive only package that only ships with a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter. The M500 series has a three year warranty.
Crucial M500 480GB SSD
Crucial put together an attractive package for the M500.
On the back, we found a list of package contents. You get the drive and he 7mm to 9.5mm adapter.
Crucial flips the label sides to the opposite sides from what other companies do. The information label is on the top of the drive and the full color label is on the bottom. Here we see the information label with the model number, serial number and so on.
The bottom of the drive has the full color label.
The Crucial M500 is a 7mm z-height drive, so it works in many of the new ultrabooks on the market. Crucial includes a .5mm adapter that you may need in some notebooks, but very few.
The SATA power and data connectors are also in the same location so you won't have an issue using this product in your notebook ultrabook or desktop.
Here we get our first look at the inside of the drive. One of the first things you'll notice is the array of capacitors that works to flush the data in the buffer to the flash if a host power failure event occurs.
There are 16 NAND packages on the 480GB M500. There are three dies per package.
The same Marvell 88SS9187 controller was chosen for the full M500 series.
Flashtastic - 400MB/s claimed sequential write performance, exactly what we need. Let's see exactly what the 480GB model actually does over the next few pages.
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.
Just like the other M500 models we've tested, the 480GB drive does better than what Crucial's spec sheet says. In our baseline performance test, we nearly hit 540MB/s reads and 435MB/s writes.
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.
All of the Crucial M500 capacity sizes do really well in the sequential read tests. The 480GB model averages 454MB/s in HD Tune Pro. This is actually really good performance and it's difficult to pull much more out of SATA III.
All good things have to end though. The HD Tune Pro sequential write performance with a block size of 64KB shows the write performance falling well below the 430MB/s we achieved in ATTO.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
After a consumer level of random writes, we see the sequential read and write performance with 128KB blocks. The average read is down to 200MB/s, and the average write isn't much better at 227MB/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.
Access times are why SSDs feel so fast if your computer. The 480GB M500 surprised us because it has highest read access times of any of the Crucial M500 models. I would love to be able to point to a component and tell you that's the reason why, but I can't.
On the other side of the coin, the 480GB model has the best write latency of any of the M500 capacity sizes. The .19 ms reading came from a single spike, the rest of the test was smooth.
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.
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
The M500 480GB nearly reaches 90,000 4K read IOPS at QD32, but we're more concerned with the low queue depth IOPS performance, since most of us will never get past a queue depth of eight. The M500 480GB delivers higher QD1 IOPS than the older M4 512GB, but it's down on everything else in the chart.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
Finally we get an affordable M500 with high 4K write IOPS. The 480GB model comes out of the gate with 32K IOPS doubles that at QD2 and then outperforms everything else at QD4.
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 4K performance scales well from there as the queue depth increases.
4K writes are nearly 135MB/s and scale to QD4, but 4K QD32 falls back a bit. The QD4 result is so high that we can look past the decrease at high queue depths.
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.
Across the board the Crucial M500 480GB does really well in the PCMark Vantage test. Many of these tests are heavy read environments, so it doesn't surprise us to see the M500 at or near the top in each instance.
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.
SSDs slow as data populates more of the flash. Here we see the rate in which performance drops at various states of the flash used to hold data. Once the performance drops on the M500, it settles and then gives consistent performance.
Benchmarks - DiskBench
DiskBench - Directory Copy
Version and / or Patch Used: 126.96.36.199
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.
In our real-world file transfer test, we see a much better balance between read and write performance with the 480GB M500 than we did with the 120GB and 240GB M500 models.
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.
Of the drives on the notebook battery life test chart, the M500 480GB delivers the least amount of battery life in our Lenovo W530. This chart only shows other 512GB class SSDs.
PCMark Vantage HDD Test - Power Draw
As with the other M500 drives we've tested, the 480GB model never drops down into a lower power state during our PCMark Vantage run.
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.
The Marvell controller temp is just over 45C at idle, but increases to nearly 65C at load. Crucial uses a thermal pad to transfer heat to the case so it doesn't build up inside the case and transfer to the flash. As we move deeper into process nodes of the flash, the temperature of the NAND becomes a bigger issue.
Look for an in-depth article with tests in the coming weeks at TweakTown.
When asked at CES about the M500 price points, we were told the 960GB model would hit the $600 price point and the other capacity would scale from there. Although not specifically stated, I took that to mean $300 for the 480GB, $150 for the 240GB and around $75 for the 120GB. At the time, the prices were very good, although other SSDs were hitting those price points from time to time with sales and incentives, like rebates.
The 960GB model hit the $600 price point for a short period and then Crucial couldn't make enough of them to keep up with demand. We've seen M500 960GB drives selling for as high as $750 this week. We're fairly certain IMFT isn't getting the yields out of 20nm that they would like and that's one of the reasons why 960GB M500 drives are so few and far between. If this is true, then there is no reason for Crucial to move the 480GB down to a $300 price point. I think we'll see this drive at that very low price point before it turns end of life, but I don't see the price going down anytime soon.
At $349.99 (Newegg pricing at the time of writing), the M500 480GB is quite attractive. LSI SandForce drives have performance issues at this capacity size and other Marvell based and Link A Media controlled drives cost more.
Performance wise, the 480GB model is the lowest capacity size that delivers enthusiast level performance. The M500, if you recall, is Crucial's answer to Samsung's 840 SSD with TLC flash. The price points in the smaller capacity sizes are more 840 Pro instead of 840, though. At the higher capacity sizes, the M500 hits the spot in both performance and price. All considered, the Crucial M500 480GB is one of the best buys in this capacity size right now.