We Like The High-Capacity Crucial M500 SSDs Best...
As the solid-state drive market matures, we're watching companies take different routes to end up in largely the same place. Some are on the interstate, others are winding around the scenic route, and an unfortunate few became hopelessly lost along the way. That's alright by us; we're interested in both the journey and the destination.
We remain huge proponents of SSDs. Few other technologies can affect the snappiness of your PC quite like solid-state storage. As they become more economical and technically refined, we continue refining the way we test them, compare them, and ultimately recommend them. We've seen this road littered with potholes in the past, but launch after launch, the top contenders impress us over and over again with interface-limited performance, fresh features, and attractive pricing...
...it's just that we sometimes get the impression one or two companies are flying private jets, laughing at the poor suckers stuck in rush-hour traffic.
Sometimes that's Crucial's position, and sometimes its not. Parent company Micron moves tons of drives, and being huge certainly helps. Did we mention that Micron is the number-two DRAM manufacturer next to (surprise, surprise) Samsung.
The M500 is the organization's sole consumer offering at the moment. While it was beset with early availability issues, getting your hands on any drive in the line-up shouldn't be a problem today. That's good news, since affordable 1 TB SSDs are a significant milestone. Previously, one-thousand gigabytes required a pair of 512 GB drives in RAID (not always an elegant solution, to be sure). Now, Crucial achieves this using higher-density dies, but continues leaning on two-bit-per-cell NAND. Samsung proved a while back that three-bit-per-cell flash is viable too, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that Micron might jump on that bandwagon in the future.
This takes us to the unavoidable comparison with Samsung's 840 EVO. We just reviewed that entire line-up in Samsung 840 EVO SSD: Tested At 120, 250, 500, And 1000 GB. Although the 840 EVOs employ triple-level cell memory, it gets a big boost from some quantity of emulated SLC, too. Consequently, the EVO is on par with, and sometimes ahead of the M500 in write performance benchmarks. Read performance is squarely in Samsung's camp, though.
The 840 EVO is missing power loss protection, cross-die redundancy, and it currently lacks Opal 2.0 encryption, which is one of the M500's aces. Samsung says its EVO will get that last feature in time, though the discussion is largely academic until the new 840 shows up for sale anyway. Both drive families sport three years of warranty coverage, but suddenly-lower pricing on the M500s might give them an edge.
What Crucial's latest offerings lack is the EVO's sweet set of consumer-friendly management and cloning tools. The company also isn't selling the M500s with installation kits, though a standalone upgrade package is available separately for $20 from Crucial's Web store. Samsung, on contrast, adds a USB 3.0-to-SATA adapter to its installation kit (though that luxury will add to the 840 EVO's price tag).
At the end of the day, we have to break our recommendations down by capacity. If 128- and 256 GB-class offerings are big enough for you, then it's hard for us to get behind the smaller M500s due to their performance. Conversely, the 480 and 960 GB models are genuinely quick. Speed alone doesn't make an SSD worth buying of course. Enhanced security and reliability features rate way up there, too. Ingenuity might be a better selling point, except that ingenuity rarely shows up on benchmarks. So, we continue plugging away at our M500s and 840 EVOs to get a better sense of how long they'll last.
Now that the 960 GB versions of the M500 are plentiful (they weren't at first), the worst thing we can say about the behemoth is that its metallic label gets marred if you so much as breathe toward it. This makes for bad beauty shots. But we're still pretty enamored with the hardware underneath.