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SSD: Crucial m4 256 GB

Tom's Hardware's 2011 Gift Guide: Part 1, For System Builders
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$410.99
www.crucial.com

Speed. The holidays are all about speed. If you doubt, go to any Target or Wal-Mart on the afternoon December 24th. You will witness one of two possible speeds at play: frantic sprinting and dead, bottlenecked stop. Those of us still running hard disks as our primary boot volumes are well acquainted with the latter—we experience it with every reboot. We wait from two to four minutes for Windows to creep through its loading, staring at that little four-color Windows icon on its empty backdrop like the world’s last Christmas light pulsing feebly against a sea of black despair. This is why so many of us have adopted SSDs over the last year or two, even if they had to be low-capacity cheapies. But 40 or 80 GB of C: space erodes sooner than anyone expects, and things...start to...slow...dowwwn. Again.

So welcome Crucial’s 256 GB m4, aggressively street priced at under $1.50 per gigabyte. In addition to hitting the pricing sweet spot, the 256 GB m4 model also offers the best performance specs from the four-model m4 roster at the lowest price point: 40K random read IOPS, 50K random write IOPS, sequential reads of up to 415 MB/s, and sequential writes of up to 260 MB/s. Crucial (which is the consumer arm of Micron, which in turn is 51% of the NAND partnership between Micron and Intel) backs the 6 Gb/s SATA interface with Marvell’s 9174 controller. SandForce fans may be put off by this, and it’s true that several SandForce-based drives, especially the OCZ Vertex 3, do eke out performance wins over the m4, depending on the workload. On the other hand, the 240 GB Vertex 3 currently costs around $1.80 per gigabyte, and we’ve seen fewer reliability concerns over time with Crucial’s design.

We should point out that even though 256 GB remains fairly spacious in 2011 SSD terms, this is not meant for primary storage. Crucial’s 256 GB will hold your OS (maybe even a couple of them) and plenty of apps, but expect to bring up a separate volume for storage. Right now, we’re partial to Western Digital’s 2 TB Caviar Black WD2002FAEX (SATA 6 Gb/s interface). Two of these in a RAID 1 get you 2 TB of mirrored security and a great complement to the m4’s blistering performance. That’s a lot of bytes to put under one tree, but a well-rounded storage strategy is going to give the most satisfaction long-term.

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