|Crucial m4 Solid State Drive Tests|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Storage|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Wednesday, 20 April 2011|
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Crucial m4 Solid State Drive Review
Manufacturer: Micron Technology, Inc.
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by Micron.
For those who can still remember the occasion, back on February 2010 Micron Technology introduced the Crucial RealSSD C300 solid state drive. This was the first consumer-level SSD to support the cutting-edge SATA 6Gb/s interface, known by some as SATA-III. Back then, Crucial's RealSSD C300 was able to reach 383/227 MBps read/write speeds on a Marvell controller in our lab tests. Just over one year later, they've returned to deliver its sequel rated for speeds up to 415 MB/s: the Crucial M4. Now I can guess what you might be thinking: how can the m4 be a sequel to the RealSSD C300? The answer is a little complex because this new storage device is actually getting two names, depending on the targeted market.
Retail consumers will know this product as the Crucial m4 SSD, while an OEM version will be sold to system builders named the Micron RealSSD C400. Each of the device capacity will have different model numbers, replete with identical specifications. It's a little confusing, and it doesn't adhere to any logical naming convention from the previous generation, but we should be happy there won't be a third iteration produced for their Lexar Media brand. Although both versions of this storage product were designed using the same hardware and SSD technology innovation, Micron chose to establish separate brands for the retail and OEM drives to provide greater clarity around the service and support offered with each. The Micron RealSSD C400 drive offers a higher level of service and support for OEMs, while the Crucial m4 SSD provides a more streamlined support process for consumers. Both versions of this solid state drive will carry a 3-year limited warranty.
In this article, Benchmark Reviews tests the Crucial m4 solid state drive against several of the fastest consumer storage devices available. Based on the Marvell 88SS9174-BLD2 SSD processor, this SATA 6Gb/s drive is claimed to provide 415 MB/s reads and 260 MB/s writes with up to 90,000 IOPS... which we prove later into this article. We've also tested the Crucial m4 SSD against its older sibling, the Crucial RealSSD C300, to measure comparative performance differences. The 256GB model CT256M4SSD2 Crucial m4 also competes with the latest SandForce and Indilinx-based solid state drives, and our SSD test results show which product leads the consumer storage market.
Crucial m4 (top) and OEM Micron RealSSD C400 (bottom)
After decades of design improvements, the hard disk drive (HDD) is still the slowest component in any personal computer system. Consider that modern desktop processors have a 1 ns response time (nanosecond = one billionth of one second), while system memory responds between 30-90 ns. Traditional hard drive technology utilizes magnetic spinning media, and even the fastest spinning mechanical storage products still exhibit a 9,000,000 ns / 9 ms initial response time (millisecond = one thousandth of one second). In more relevant terms, the processor receives the command and must then wait for system memory to fetch related data from the storage drive. This is why any computer system is only as fast as the slowest component in the data chain; usually the hard drive.
In a perfect world all of the components operate at the same speed. Until that day comes, the real-world goal for achieving optimal performance is for system memory to operate as quickly as the central processor and then for the storage drive to operate as fast as memory. With present-day technology this is an impossible task, so enthusiasts try to close the speed gaps between components as much as possible. Although system memory is up to 90x (9000%) slower than most processors, consider then that the hard drive is an added 1000x (100,000%) slower than that same memory. Essentially, these three components are as different in speed as walking is to driving and flying.
Solid State Drive technology bridges the largest gap in these response times. The difference a SSD makes to operational response times and program speeds is dramatic, and takes the storage drive from a slow 'walking' speed to a much faster 'driving' speed. Solid State Drive technology improves initial response times by more than 450x (45,000%) for applications and Operating System software, when compared to their mechanical HDD counterparts. The biggest mistake PC hardware enthusiasts make with regard to SSD technology is grading them based on bandwidth speed. File transfer speeds are important, but only so long as the operational IOPS performance can sustain that bandwidth under load.
Bandwidth Speed vs Operational Performance
As we've explained in our SSD Benchmark Tests: SATA IDE vs AHCI Mode guide, Solid State Drive performance revolves around two dynamics: bandwidth speed (MB/s) and operational performance (IOPS). These two metrics work together, but one is more important than the other. Consider this analogy: bandwidth determines how much cargo a ship can transport in one voyage, and operational IOPS performance is how fast the ship moves. By understanding this and applying it to SSD storage, there is a clear importance set on each variable depending on the task at hand.
For casual users, especially those with laptop or desktop computers that have been upgraded to use an SSD, the naturally quick response time is enough to automatically improve the user experience. Bandwidth speed is important, but only to the extent that operational performance meets the minimum needs of the system. If an SSD has a very high bandwidth speed but a low operational performance, it will take longer to load applications and boot the computer into Windows than if the SSD offered a higher IOPS performance.