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Crucial M4 256GB SSD Review

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AkG

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Real World Data Transfers

Real World Data Transfers


No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy (set to 1 file depth) and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.

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The lowered large file sequential file speed of the Crucial M4 certainly handicaps it when compared against other massive capacity drives we have looked at. However, the large file read performance is more than adequate. When you couple moderately good large file with downright impressive small file performance the end result is the M4 being different league than the Performance 3.
 
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AkG

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NON-TRIM Environment Testing

NON-TRIM Environment Testing


In many ways, Crucial's M4 should thrive in an environment that doesn’t support TRIM. To recreate this, we first modified our testbed so that it would not pass on the necessary cleaning commands. Meanwhile, to artificially induce a degrade state we ran eight hours of IOMeter set to 100% random, 100% write, 4k chunks of data at a 64 queue depth across the entire drive’s capacity. At the end of this test, the IOMeter file is deleted and the drive was then tested. This will replicate drive performance after extended heavy usage prior to any self maintenance routines kicking in and is indicated by the “Dirty” results below.

In order to allow each drive’s self-maintenance routines to kick in, we then wait 30 minutes (Dirty + 30 results) with the system at idle and rerun the tests.

To help give as both a detailed and practical overall picture of a given drive’s ability in this severe environment we have chosen two tests: one synthetic and the other more real world in nature.


Synthetic Results


Since reads are usually not greatly affected by a degraded state, for our synthetic non-trim test, we have chosen our standard sequential write test. By opting for this test and not one of our other shorter tests, the controller will not be able to compensate for being in a degraded state by using over-provisioning, caching or other similar buffers to hide the true state of the drive. To put it simply, by writing data across the entire drive, we will quickly see how big an impact this environment will have on them.

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Real World Results


For a real world application we have opted for our standard Vista load time test.

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The main differentiating factor between the Corsair and Crucial Marvell-based comes down to how aggressive each drive’s garbage collection routines are. As we mentioned in the Performance 3 review, its garbage collection happens at all times instead of being enabled during idle states. The M4 on the other hand can achieve higher benchmark numbers due to maintenance routines that only run when the drive isn’t under high levels of load. Granted, it takes a bit more time to “clean” itself but seems to be a great choice for consumers who don’t have a TRIM-enabled operating system and runs circles around Sandforce-based drives.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


The Crucial M4 is currently one of the most popular SSDs on the market and by reading through this review, you can see why. In many cases the numbers it posted were right up there alongside more expensive Sandforce-based drives and long term performance in non-TRIM environments was second to none.

Custom firmware is the driving force behind this drive’s success over a similar Marvell 9174-based SSD; the Performance 3 in operating systems that don’t support TRIM. Sure, the change in NAND may have boosted some numbers but the M4’s dynamic garbage collection routines give it a leg up over the competition. Instead of having processor cycles taken up by always-enabled housekeeping, the controller is free to stretch its legs when needed and run ITGC during true idle periods. Getting out of a degraded state does take a bit longer but we highly doubt most end users will see much of a difference between these competing drives.

The benchmark and real world performance numbers are actually a perfect example of what can be accomplished when a company is given free rein over firmware. They contribute to make the M4 a much better option than the Performance 3 in nearly every situation. It also ends up being a very good alternative to SF2281-based drives for people who have TRIM-enabled OSes.

A combination of power and performance across a wide swath of operating environments will make the Crucial M4 a great choice for many consumers. But the most important selling point here is price. The 256GB version of this drive retails for significantly less than many comparable enthusiast level SF2281 drives and also undercuts similar Marvell-based SATA6G SSDs as well. And what’s not to like about that?


Pros:

- Good performance in a non-TRIM environment
- Great overall performance
- Appealing price
- Separate SKUs with different accessories to better meet individual needs
- Self-maintenance routines don’t hinder performance


Cons:

- Perceived write endurance issues from 25nm NAND
- Potential consumer confusion from all those SKUs
- Slightly slower garbage collection performance than a Corsair Performance 3
- While a good value for its class, still is a large monetary investment


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