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

Performance Across Capacities

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 1Option 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 m464 GB128 GB256 GB512 GB
Average Access Time<.1 ms<.1 ms<.1 ms<.1 ms
Sequential Read415 MB/s415 MB/s415 MB/s415 MB/s
Sequential Write95 MB/s175 MB/s260 MB/s260 MB/s
4 KB Random Read40 000 IOPS40 000 IOPS40 000 IOPS40 000 IOPS
4 KB Random Write20 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
  • wintermint
    I've been recommending the Crucial m4 128gb to people, and after seeing this.. I'm glad I did :]
    Reply
  • sceen311
    it'd be nice if they threw a 7200 rpm hardrive on the bench... We don't all have laptops ya know.
    Reply
  • compton
    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.
    Reply
  • beenthere
    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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • 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"...
    Reply
  • ubercake
    These things are still too expensive.
    Reply
  • mroanhaus
    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
    Reply
  • burnley14
    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.
    Reply
  • cknobman
    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.
    Reply