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Crucial M550 256GB SSD Review

Crucial M550 256GB SSD Review

Crucial makes a play on the performance SSD market with the M550. We've seen the 1TB and 128GB models, and now it's time to see how the 256GB model fares.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Thu, Apr 10 2014 5:08 PM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:32 PM CDT
Rating: 92%Manufacturer: Crucial

Introduction & Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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You've seen the 128GB and the 1TB M550 reviews, and now it's time to fill in the gap. Today, we're looking at the 256GB capacity size that, like the 128GB model, uses 64Gb die to increase parallelism in Crucial's RAIN feature.

Just days ago, we saw the ADATA Premier Pro SP920 128GB with the same Marvell controller that's in the Crucial M550. The difference between the SP920 and the M550 is the NAND flash in the two smallest capacity drives.

In the SP920 128GB review, we clearly saw how the increased number of die per package increased performance. In the 256GB M550 review, we expect to see the performance increase over the SP920.

The flash, paired with the new Marvell 88SS9189 controller, puts the M550 in the top tier of performance with the fastest consumer SSDs in the world today.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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The Crucial M550 hit the market in four capacity sizes, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, and the flagship 1TB model. All four models use the same Marvell SS889189 controller and pair it with 20nm Micron flash. The two smaller drives use 64Gb die, while the two larger capacity size models use 128Gb die.

Crucial rates the 256GB M550 at 550 MB/s sequential read and 500 MB/s sequential write speeds. Random performance is 90k read and 80k write. The M550 goes beyond just performance, though. The new flagship brings host power loss protection to the consumer market as well as TCG Opal and eDrive support for hardware encrypted data security. The M550 also supports DEVSLP for newer systems, which is a very nice power saving feature that can increase notebook battery life.

Newegg has all four capacity sizes in stock. At the time of writing, the 128GB was at $99.99, the 256GB at $168.99, the 512GB model at $334.99, and the large 1TB model at $529.99. All M550 models have a three-year manufacturer's warranty, ship with a 7mm to 9.5mm adapter bracket, and Crucial also provides Acronis data migration software via a download.

PRICING: You can find the Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $168.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for CDN$168.99 at Amazon Canada.

Australia: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $284.99 AUD at Mighty Ape Australia.

New Zealand: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $299.99 NZD at Mighty Ape NZ.

Crucial M550 256GB SSD

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At this time, Crucial is only shipping the M550 in a 'drive only' package and doesn't offer a desktop or notebook optimized kit. This aids in keeping the price low but, at the same time, reduces the accessory package.

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Inside, we found the drive and a 7mm to 9.5mm bracket.

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Here we get our first look at the actual drive. Oddly, Crucial places the graphic label on the underside of the drive, but it's nothing new for the company.

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The information label is on the top cover. The cover is exactly that in this case, just a thin sliver to protect the PCB. The other side of the case is a one-piece design that also doubles as a heat sink.

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Inside the drive, we found sixteen NAND flash packages, a Marvell controller, a Micron DRAM package, and capacitors for host power fail protection.

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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

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Our early testing shows the M550 256GB was able to deliver just over 560 MB/s sequential read and 510 MB/s sequential write speeds. The performance is a bit higher than what the Crucial spec sheet calls for, and we aren't complaining.

Benchmarks - Sequential Performance

HD Tune Pro - Sequential Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.55

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The highest we've achieved in the sequential read test was 480 MB/s from the SanDisk Extreme II. The bar is set there. The Crucial M550 256GB peaked at 455 MB/s in HD Tune Pro's 64KB sequential read test. Although not the fastest, it's still very high and the average performance of 454.4 MB/s is in line with several other drives on the chart.

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The write test on the M550 256GB shows the drive slowing to an average just under 330 MB/s. In the next test, we'll see why the maximum sequential performance is so high but the average and minimum is so much lower.

HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0.4.0

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Here we see the Crucial M550 256GB's sequential performance after a light hit of random writes. The drive drops considerably after subjected to random writes. We see this quite often with newer SSDs but rarely to this extent.

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 QD16.

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 can be used several different ways 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 Crucial M550 works with both compressible and incompressible data the same way, so performance stays the same regardless of data type.

Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale

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Low queue depth 4k read performance is very close to other leading drives in this capacity size. The M550 256GB achieves nearly 8700 IOPS at QD1, and the drive scales well from that point. At the high-end, the M550 256GB nearly achieves 100k IOPS at QD32 in our test.

Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale

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We're very impressed with the M550's 4k IOPS performance at low queue depths. At QD1, the 256GB model delivers 37,000 IOPS, but at QD2, the IOPS jump to just over 70,000. The 64Gb die allow the M550 256GB to scale all the way to 88k IOPS at just QD4, a rate that holds all the way to QD32.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage (Drives with Data Testing)

PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0

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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You may have noticed that we skipped a few tests that are normally in our review. Out with the old and in with the new. I did want to keep Data on Disk testing to show how much performance decreases as data populates the flash.

The Crucial M550 does very well in this test where we use 50 percent of the flash full as the marker. Of all of the 256GB capacity size, the M550 256GB does the best.

PCMark 8 Consistency Test

Futuremark PCMark 8 Extended - Consistency Test

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0.228

Heavy Usage Model:

FutureMark's PCMark 8 allows us to wear the test drive down to a reasonable consumer steady state and then watch the drive recover on its own through garbage collection. To do that, the drive gets pushed down to steady state with random writes and then idle time between a number of tests allows the drive to recover.

Precondition Phase:

1. Write to the drive sequentially through up to the reported capacity with random data.

2. Write the drive through a second time (to take care of overprovisioning).

Degradation Phase:

1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 10 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 8 times, and on each pass increase the duration of random writes by 5 minutes.

Steady state Phase:

1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 50 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.

Recovery Phase:

1. Idle for 5 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.

Storage Bandwidth

PCMark 8's Consistency test provides a ton of data output that we use to judge a drive's performance.

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We're starting with the throughput in worst case (blue) and recovery (orange) phases. The worst case performance shows the drives after being hammered with a heavy load and the recovery phase shows typical performance when you are surfing the web, writing reviews and so on.

The drives are listed in alphabetical order so you have to go down a few spaces to find the M550 256GB. The 64Gb die paired with the new Marvell controller allow this model to recover and deliver more throughput performance than any other 256GB capacity size drive we've tested so far.

Disk Busy Time

Disk Busy Time shows us how long the drive has to work to achieve the performance from the above. The best scenario is high throughput performance with low busy time. The less the drive works, the less power it consumes. For the most part, this is an efficiency test.

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The M550 doesn't reserve space for overprovisioning so it's not as efficient as some of the other drives on the market. OP really helps in the steady state tests but it's not a sure fire way to ensure top performance.

PCMark 8 Consistency Test - Continued

Total Access Time

The access time test measures the total latency across all 18 tests. This is one of the more--if not most--important tests we run at this time for consumer SSDs. When your latency is low, your computer feels fast; it's just that simple.

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SSDs make your system feel fast, but there is fast and then there is really fast. The M550 falls somewhere in the middle due to increased latency after heavy use. This is an issue that you can take care of quite easily with a little overprovisioning when installing the drive.

Data Written

In the final test, we measure the amount of data written to the drive prior to the steady state test. The drive is under a constant random write load for 220 minutes. Overprovisioning helps quite a bit here as it allows the drive room to keep some flash clean and ready.

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The M550 256GB is in the middle of the pack of products we've already ran the test on.

Benchmarks - DiskBench

DiskBench - Directory Copy

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.6.2.0

Note: In this test, we use the Lenovo W530 Mobile Workstation and a SuperSpeed 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 transferred. 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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The first of our mobile tests shows data transferring to and from the drive. Before we get too deep into the chart, I want to point out that our tests are all ran with a set time in between them and it never changes.

As you can see, the M550 write speed in the directory copy test is a lot lower than the other drives. I've only seen this one other time and that was on the ADATA SP920 512GB. Both the SP920 and the M550 use the same controller. We have eight drives with this controller, and out of those eight, only two tested this way. After all of our other tests were finished, we went back and ran the test again. On the second test, the M550 256GB wrote the entire 15.2GB block of data at 269.4 MB/s.

Benchmarks - Power Testing & Final Thoughts

Bapco MobileMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5

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The Crucial M550 512GB scored in the middle of the pack in our notebook battery life test at just over 271 minutes on our Lenovo W530 with a six-cell battery.

Final Thoughts

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There is a reason why I wanted to divide these reviews up and not toss them all into one while trying to explain all of the bits and pieces for four capacity sizes at one time. When it comes to the 1TB capacity size, there are very few players in that market, so just getting an SSD out with 1TB of flash is an accomplishment, but the M550 is one of the best there is. The 128GB capacity size products at this point are a real mixed bag.

The newest generation of flash is optimized for larger capacity drives, and to get solid performance out of 128GB drives, you really need older flash or, at the very least, 64Gb die. Few companies are even using 64Gb die right now because the flash manufacturers are keeping it for their own drives. The M550 128GB is at the top of the list in this capacity size as well but faces strong competition from drives using SanDisk and Toshiba 64Gb die in 19nm lithography.

That leads us to the M550 256GB that we looked at today. The 256GB capacity size is the current price, performance, and capacity king. Even though I don't have the numbers to back up this next statement, I would say more 256GB capacity drives are being sold than the other three capacity sizes combined, at least in the enthusiast, prosumer, and gamer categories. That brings a lot of competition into this capacity size. There is a reason why all of these companies want us to review their 256GB drive.

So, how does the M550 256GB fair against the competition? The drive does really well in some places but not as well in others. The high performance in the recovery phase after some idle time is due to aggressive garbage collection. The aggressive garbage collection has a downside, though. If you're trying to write data to the drive at the same time the drive is performing clean up, then the write speed drops quite a bit. I was surprised we didn't run into the issue as much on the M550 128GB, but I think it's size meant the GC operation went faster than the time we wait between each test. Smaller capacity drives write less random data in our test, so the test scales, but the time we take between each test doesn't.

I would say that most of the time this is an issue most users will not see, but there are some predictable scenarios that will bite you. Games are getting hefty, so you can expect your system to run a bit slushy after installing Titanfall or other large games. After the drive's garbage collection cleans up the cells, the performance will return, but the time in between is when you have to worry. We're surprised Crucial didn't add a pseudo-SLC area by manipulating the flash translation layer like SanDisk and Samsung to take care of this issue.

Performance wise, I think there are faster 256GB class drives on the market, and the same goes for the accessory package. Feature wise, few incorporate the latest buzzwords as well as the M550. DEVSLP, TCG Opal, and eDrive hardware encryption with a dash of host power failure protection sprinkled on top is a hard combination to beat for those willing to jump through the hoops to make them all work.

That's where we can fit a wedge in; are you going to use the extra features, or are you looking for performance? If it is performance, then look elsewhere like the Extreme II or Vertex 460, but if you plan on using eDrive hardware encryption or DEVSLP on a Haswell based notebook, then the Crucial M550 256GB drive is your next SSD.

PRICING: You can find the Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing but can change at any time. Click the link to see the very latest pricing for the best deal.

United States: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $168.99 at Amazon.

Canada: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for CDN$168.99 at Amazon Canada.

Australia: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $284.99 AUD at Mighty Ape Australia.

New Zealand: The Crucial M550 (256GB) SSD retails for $299.99 NZD at Mighty Ape NZ.

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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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