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Crucial's m4 SSD Tested At 64, 128, 256, And 512 GB

Crucial's m4 SSD Tested At 64, 128, 256, And 512 GB
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SSDs are a lot faster than hard drives. But their price tags continue deterring enthusiasts. Less-expensive SSDs are available, but what do you trade off (aside from capacity) when you buy a smaller drive? We test four models from Crucial to find out.

We all know that SSDs are a surefire way to speed up the rate at which Windows boots up, make applications more responsive, and accelerate large data transfers. But making the move to solid-state storage is an expensive proposition. If you're on a $200 storage budget, you only have two options if you want to incorporate a SSD into your next system build.

  1. Sink a majority of the cash into a large-enough SSD and spend what's left on a relatively modest hard drive. This lets you drop Windows and a few apps on the SSD and manage your capacity manually. In our opinion, that's the best way to maximize the performance of flash-based storage.
  2. Spend more on magnetic storage to maximize capacity, then get one of the least-expensive SSDs for a caching-based setup. You can achieve this either with Intel's Z68 Express platform or an add-in card, like the HighPoint RocketHybrid 1220.

Option 1
Option 2
PrioritySpeedCapacity
Primary Drive (SSD)
1 x 90 GB OCZ Vertex 2 90 GB1 x Corsair Nova 32 GB
Secondary Drive (Hard Drive)
1 x 250 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.121 x 2 TB WD Caviar Green, 1 x 250 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.12
Total Cost
$205.98$206.97


In reality, there's a third option for getting a little flash under your proverbial hood: buy that same small 32 GB SSD, throw Windows and an app or two on it, and simply live with the fact you'll never get to put much more on your SSD, while still managing capacity manually. We don't like that reason very much for a couple of reasons, though.

First, you have to be super-picky about the apps you put on the SSD. It's going to be Windows 7, maybe Microsoft Office, and Photoshop, if you're lucky. And even then, you could run into issues when Windows Update decides to pull a bunch of data onto your boot drive.

Second, smaller MLC-based SSDs tend to shed a lot of performance as they give up capacity. Not to pick on Corsair here, but the 32 GB Nova pushes sustained writes of up to 70 MB/s. The 64 GB version does 130 MB/s. You can apply the same comparison to almost any other vendor, though. Shoot, Intel's drives fare even worse: a 40 GB X25-V is rated for 35 MB/s reads, while an 80 GB X25-M based on the same controller with half as many NAND channels populated pushes that number to 70 MB/s. 

Clearly, it appears that the larger the SSD, the more performance you could expect to see from it. That's a really compelling reason to buy the highest-capacity drive you can afford, especially since the cost per gigabyte stays pretty steady as you ascend any given vendor's product lineup. 

Now, this presents the hardware press with a conundrum. Vendors prefer sending out their fastest offerings to best represent their respective SSD families. Generally, this means a 256 GB sample. When we review them, we draw generalizations that apply to one capacity specifically. However, it's too easy for a reader to assume the conclusions we draw about one member of a given lineup applies all the way across. And that's simply not the case.

Our point is this: don't expect the same performance out of a smaller SSD just because you saw a higher-capacity model achieving what you want to see in your own system. Though the difference might not always be significant, we want you to have the entire story before making an investment into solid-state technology.

The folks over at Crucial were willing to support our exploration by providing the SSDs we needed to illustrate the difference between drives. The company's new m4 lineup includes 64, 128, 256, and 512 GB models. Take a look at the bottom of the following chart. See how they all hover pretty close to the same price per gigabyte, while sequential write and random write performance trend upward? Those are the spoils available to folks willing to spend more on higher capacities.

We have all four SSDs on-hand and are prepared to show you just how capacity and configuration affects the SSD you end up buying.

Crucial m4
64 GB
128 GB
256 GB
512 GB
Average Access Time<.1 ms<.1 ms<.1 ms<.1 ms
Sequential Read
415 MB/s
415 MB/s415 MB/s415 MB/s
Sequential Write95 MB/s175 MB/s260 MB/s260 MB/s
4 KB Random Read
40 000 IOPS
40 000 IOPS40 000 IOPS40 000 IOPS
4 KB Random Write
20 000 IOPS35 000 IOPS50 000 IOPS50 000 IOPS
Price  On Newegg, As Of 8/1/2011)
$105
$215
$416
$790
Price/GB
$1.64
$1.67
$1.62
$1.54
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  • 5 Hide
    wintermint , August 3, 2011 5:11 AM
    I've been recommending the Crucial m4 128gb to people, and after seeing this.. I'm glad I did :]
  • 6 Hide
    sceen311 , August 3, 2011 5:22 AM
    it'd be nice if they threw a 7200 rpm hardrive on the bench... We don't all have laptops ya know.
  • 7 Hide
    compton , August 3, 2011 5:25 AM
    I'm glad this was done. It's rare that you get the chance to stack all the capacity points up (as in never). I bought an Intel 510 120GB and a M4 64GB and my own testing showed that you'd never know the difference besides the capacity (in day to day use, besides lower max write MB/S). I kinda like keeping my system drive to a bare minimum -- just Win7 no swap or hibernate, Office, a few other apps, and then I keep my Steam folder on a separate drive. Simple. I will say that if you are building a new system, cut whatever you have to in order to fit at least a 64GB SSD -- the M4 is excellent at any capacity. I'd rather have to go down to an i3 from a 2500k than from a SSD to a HDD. I get tired of people saying "it's not worth it" and "they're not much faster than a 7200rpm". Those people must be doing it wrong.
  • 6 Hide
    beenthere , August 3, 2011 6:01 AM
    Now if they could only make these SSDs reliable, we could all enjoy some performance improvement. Intel, Micron, OCZ and Corsair to name a few have all had reliability/compatibility/firmware issues of some sort resulting in loss of data, which for me is simply unacceptable.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 3, 2011 6:17 AM
    Last month I got a 64GB for my laptop and a 128GB m4 for my desktop. So far no issues, and the speed is great. Glad I got the 128GB and not the 256GB.
  • -1 Hide
    Anonymous , August 3, 2011 6:37 AM
    PCMark 7 Storage tests are just pathetic, they have messed some of them up on purpose it seems just to shrink the difference between systems containing SSD and the ones containing HDD only, useless bench from start to "finish"...
  • -1 Hide
    ubercake , August 3, 2011 9:38 AM
    These things are still too expensive.
  • 1 Hide
    mroanhaus , August 3, 2011 11:40 AM
    I picked up the 64 GB M4 two weeks ago on Newegg for under $90. I am so glad I bought it, the thing makes boot times lightning fast. I have Win7 64-bit, Photoshop, 3DS Max, Google Chrome, and a few little monitoring and Bitcoin mining apps on there and I STILL have 21 GB to spare. Don't buy the 128 GB unless you really need it, throwing Steam and other massive apps will be much better suited on a secondary HDD. SSDs are simply amazing and well worth the money spent, even if you're a cheapass like me they're still affordable. The time saved from having to wait around while booting your computer makes SSDs worth the money imo
  • -2 Hide
    burnley14 , August 3, 2011 12:59 PM
    Quote:
    See how they all hover pretty close to the same price per gigabyte, while sequential write and random write performance trend upward? Those are the spoils available to folks willing to spend more on higher capacities.


    This is true, but in 6 months when the whole lineup is outdated and the next generation of drives blows these ones away, those that spent more are going to have spent the extra money without much purpose.
  • 1 Hide
    cknobman , August 3, 2011 1:29 PM
    burnley14This is true, but in 6 months when the whole lineup is outdated and the next generation of drives blows these ones away, those that spent more are going to have spent the extra money without much purpose.


    Well going by your logic why should anyone ever spend money on anything in technology??? Guess its always a waste huh?

    Failed logic.
  • 1 Hide
    jerreddredd , August 3, 2011 1:30 PM
    the Reviews on Newegg have been really positive. no DOA or failures. the only issue i have seen is that some laptops have issues with the M4. this is probably a MB Bios issue or driver issue. I have a 256GB Phoenix Pro and my sees how quickly levels load and thinks he needs an SSD too. I am building his new system soon and the M4 is a strong contender for his build. The Vertex3 seems to have a lot of issues right now, which was the other SSD consideration.
  • -1 Hide
    burnley14 , August 3, 2011 2:39 PM
    cknobmanWell going by your logic why should anyone ever spend money on anything in technology??? Guess its always a waste huh? Failed logic.


    No, not failed logic at all. Go ahead and buy a SSD today, I already have, but why spend 8x as much money on a larger drive to get marginally better performance when everyone knows a better product will be out so soon? My logic would be that for the price of a single large drive, you could buy a smaller drive in this generation, the next, and the one following that for the same amount of money. And odds are that capacities will increase at the same price level in the future as well. Your performance would be substantially greater than just having today's single large drive while spending the same amount of money.
  • 1 Hide
    brenro , August 3, 2011 3:03 PM
    burnley14No, not failed logic at all. Go ahead and buy a SSD today, I already have, but why spend 8x as much money on a larger drive to get marginally better performance when everyone knows a better product will be out so soon? My logic would be that for the price of a single large drive, you could buy a smaller drive in this generation, the next, and the one following that for the same amount of money. And odds are that capacities will increase at the same price level in the future as well. Your performance would be substantially greater than just having today's single large drive while spending the same amount of money.




    The same could be said of every single computer upgrade you could ever do. CPU's, graphics cards, motherboards? By your logic I could never upgrade because something better will soon come out.
  • 3 Hide
    dgingeri , August 3, 2011 3:14 PM
    I have an outstanding question regarding SSDs that I've been trying to find for a while now: how does raid performance compare at the same capacity. In other words, I'd like to see the comparison between 4X64GB, 2X128GB, and a single 256GB to see which performs better for the money spent.

    I'm currently running a 2X120GB Vertex 2 setup, and I can tell you for certain that it massively outperforms a single 240GB Vertex 2. That was pretty plain with that generation of drives. It's not so clear with this generation, though. Also, since TRIM isn't an option for a raid config, how much performance is sacrificed after it gets used for a while? I haven't lost much at all with my dual Vertex 2 raid after over a year, but it is also only half used. I haven't run out of unused cells yet to see a difference.

    Since nobody else has written an article on such things, I would think such a thing would attract readers.
  • 0 Hide
    jacobdrj , August 3, 2011 3:16 PM
    brenroThe same could be said of every single computer upgrade you could ever do. CPU's, graphics cards, motherboards? By your logic I could never upgrade because something better will soon come out.

    Yeah. At this point, even a mid-grade SSD has balanced my PC out so much to the point that an upgrade will only happen if my computer dies in a lightning storm... A C2Q with an Agility 2 60gb and a RAID of 500GB Samsung drives with 8 gb of DDR2 RAM and Windows 7 x64 will last me a long long time...
  • 0 Hide
    stevelord , August 3, 2011 3:24 PM
    I run a few 128s and 256s at work. So far so good. Although a coworker had the freezing bug and had to update firmware. Beware of this. It is fairly common and allover Crucial's forums.
  • 0 Hide
    JohnnyLucky , August 3, 2011 3:25 PM
    I'm looking at the article page with the response time graphs. A human blink of an eye takes between 300ms and 400ms. It would seem then that average and maximum response times would appear to be instantaneous to a human being. What would a gamer or an enthusiast be doing with a ssd for the difference between 64GB and a 512GB ssd response times to be noticeable?
  • 2 Hide
    cadder , August 3, 2011 3:41 PM
    1. The recommended 128GB size has a lot of negative feedback on newegg, specifically freezing periodically.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820148442

    2. I wish Toms would come up with some real world benchmarks for testing SSD's. How long does it take for the computer to boot? How long does it take to load Excel? How long does it take to load Crysis? Things like that. I've seen tests other places that showed how fast a computer would boot, and the difference between the slowest hard drive and the fastest SSD wasn't all that much. I would like to see real world tests of these drives. While the artificial benchmarks show big differences, I'm betting in the real world the differences are very small.
  • 1 Hide
    X-Nemesis , August 3, 2011 4:48 PM
    Something tells me that over 90% of the users out there wouldn't notice a difference between a sata 6 ssd and a sata 3 ssd. Eventually all that will be available will be sata 6 but for now, buy a sata 3 last gen model for cheaper price.
  • 0 Hide
    jacobdrj , August 3, 2011 4:57 PM
    X-NemesisSomething tells me that over 90% of the users out there wouldn't notice a difference between a sata 6 ssd and a sata 3 ssd. Eventually all that will be available will be sata 6 but for now, buy a sata 3 last gen model for cheaper price.

    The problem is, while the last gen models are cheaper, they are not THAT MUCH cheaper... It has got to get to $1/GB... It really just has to...
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