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Crucial M550 512GB SSD Review

AkG

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Late last year the M500 series not only cemented Crucial’s reputation as an industry leader but it also helped prove to consumers that there was another alternative to TLC NAND. By leveraging the power of Marvell's then top of the line 9187 controller and a strong relationship with IMFT through their parent company Micron, massive 128GBit ONFi 3 NAND ICs ushered in a new era of price vs performance. Since then Crucial and Marvell have learned many valuable lessons about the nature of these new ONFi 3 beasts.

These hard won lessons have now been distilled into an entirely new model called the M550 which uses only top-shelf ONFi 3 NAND, binned specifically for these SSDs.

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In nearly every critical area the M550 exhibits a noticeable improvement over its predecessor the M500. Everything from its IOPS rating to sequential file performance has been boosted significantly. However, much like the AData SP920, the biggest difference for the average consumer is the increase in capacity. Due to tweaking of the parity stripe’s size for RAIN (redundant array of independent NAND), Crucial was able to squeeze additional capacity out of the same number -and size- of NAND ICs. RAID essentially increases redundancy which has a side effect of making the drive more resilient to premature aging. In the M550 512GB's case this technology frees up an extra thirty two gigabytes of space which would normally be used for over-provisioning.

Amongst other things, this extra space will help improve the M550s price vs. capacity ratio over that of the M500 and its competitors. hough with an online average price of only $329 the M550 does not need much help in this regards.

Usually when a new model comes out with such obvious improvements it replaces the previous model. This is not what Crucial have decided to do in this situation. Instead of End Of Life'ing the redoubtable M500 and replacing it with the M550, Crucial has simply decided to let both co-exist in the marketplace. The M500 will now focus on the entry level market and gain an even lower price point, whereas the M550 will now be Crucial's mainstream offering. This move certainly is good news as consumers who previously couldn’t afford a mega-capacity drive now will be able to purchase the M500, conversely and with more money can get the M550 with more performance and additional capacity.

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Due to the fact that this drive is so similar on paper to the AData SP920 we would be remiss in not comparing and contrasting the two drives. So if you have not already read our review of the SP920 we strongly recommend you do so before continuing. If you don’t that’s you’re loss but the Coles notes version is both of these drives use similar ONFi 3 NAND ICs, RAM, controller, and with an online price of $329 - or 64 cents per GB- the M550 512GB is on paper very similar to that of the $334 ADadata SP920 512GB.

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From the exterior the M550 follows firmly in its predecessors’ footsteps. Just like the M500, it uses a 7mm all metal exterior that is quite thick and secure feeling. Crucial has also included both a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter and a 7mm to 9.5mm black plastic adapter covering. This combination allows the M550 to be installed in everything from an Ultrabook to full tower PC system.

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Internally, the M550 also is very similar to the M500 and the new AData SP920 with a classic Marvell layout. There is a single Marvell controller, 16 ONFi 3 128GBit NAND ICs and a single Micron 512MB external ram cache IC. There are also onboard capacitors which allow for Flush In Flight abilities. Seeing a consumer grade drive with FiF is not as rare as it once was, but this costly to implement feature is always welcome on consumer grade storage devices.

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AkG

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5,270
Test System & Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our test-bed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Windows 7 load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being an Intel DC S3700 800GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD, Anvil Storage Utilities and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition. All drives were tested using AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
: 1.33
Intel 520: 400i
SanDisk Extreme 240GB: R211
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: M206
Intel 335 180GB: 335
Crucial M500: MU02
SanDisk Extreme 2 240GB: R1311
Seagate Pro 600: B660
OCZ Vector 150 240GB: 1.2
Angelbird Adler 640GB: AA3.15
Vertex 460 240GB: 1.0
ADATA SP920 512GB: MU01
Intel 7230 240GB: L2010400
Crucial M550 512GB: MU01

SandForce SF1200 controller:
OCZ Vertex 2 - ONFi 2 NAND

SandForce SF2281 controller:
Intel 520 - custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND

LAMD controller:
Corsair Neutron GTX - Toggle Mode NAND
Seagate 600 Pro - custom firmware w/ Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell 9187 controller:
Crucial M500 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
SanDisk Extreme 2 - Custom firmware w/ 19nm eX2 ABL NAND

Marvell 9189 controller:
ADATA SP920 512GB - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
Crucial M550 512GB - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND

Barefoot 3 controller:
OCZ Vector 150 (M00) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND
OCZ Vertex 460 (M10) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND

Novachips NVS3600A controller:
Angelbird Adler - ONFi 2 NAND

Intel X25 G2 controller:
Intel 730 - custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


<i>For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.</i>


<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/read.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Write Performance


<i>For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/write.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

These sequential file performance results are everything we have come to expect from the next generation Marvell 9189 controller when paired with good NAND. More importantly, the slightly elevated results point towards the NAND being higher binned than what is found inside the AData SP920 512GB model.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


<i>The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/atto_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/atto_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

Once again the performance curves are excellent and are better than a comparably sized AData SP920. Even excluding the M550 vs SP920 comparisons from the equation, the M550 is a great performer in its own right. Marvell is not known as a power house but this new controller is going to change people's minds.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.

cdm_r.jpg

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PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.

pcm7.jpg

The Crucial M550 is everything that you could ask for in a mega-capacity drive. It is big, it is fast, and the price to performance ratio is utterly and incontrovertibly fantastic.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
Messages
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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


<i>AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.</i>
<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/asd_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/asd_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


<i>Much like AS-SSD, Anvil Pro was created to quickly and easily – yet accurately – test your drives. While it is still in the Beta stages it is a versatile and powerful little program. Currently it can test numerous read / write scenarios but two in particular stand out for us: 4K queue depth of 4 and 4K queue depth of 16. A queue depth of four along with 4K sectors can be equated to what most users will experience in an OS scenario while 16 depth will be encountered only by power users and the like. We have also included the 4k queue depth 1 results to help put these two other numbers in their proper perspective. All settings were left in their default states and the test size was set to 1GB.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/anvil_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/M550/anvil_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

The more we test this drive the more we are coming to love what it has to offer. Obviously, Crucial is able to do more with what is obviously similar firmware, and whether it is due to minor refinements to Marvell's base MU01 firmware, or access to simply <i>better</i> NAND the end result is the same: the M550 512GB is a killer device.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER


IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,32k,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.

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As expected the M550 series is never going to be a great option for workstation scenarios. This is more than tolerable given the more mainstream orientation of this model. By the same token the M550 does have a noticeably better performance curve than the M500 here. Also while the difference is not all that noticeable the M550 does outperform the AData SP920. It seems that Crucial has learned a lot about what makes ONFi 3 'tick' since the M500 was released.
 
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AkG

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Windows 7 Startup / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. Where Windows 7 has become nearly ubiquitous for solid state drive enthusiasts we have chosen Windows 7 64bit Ultimate as our Operating System. In previous load time tests we would use the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer the case. We have not only added in a secondary Anti-Virus to load on startup, but also an anti-malware program. We have set Super Anti-Spyware to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line.

boot.jpg


ADOBE CS5 LOAD TIME


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!

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While these differences are not as large as the synthetic test results, the M550 is once again slightly better than an AData SP920 512GB. Even taking the SP920 out of the equation the M550 is more than capable of impressing. To put not too fine a point on it, these results make justifying an 'enthusiast' grade, premium priced SSD a lot harder.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Performance / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance



Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.


ff.jpg


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 and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found.


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At this point there is little to be gleaned from these results that was not already known. Namely the Crucial M550 512GB is a great drive and at times a huge improvement over the M500. Considering how high the M500 set the bar this is indeed going to make it harder for the competition to stand out in this increasingly competitive corner of the market.
 
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AkG

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Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing if a solid state drive will behave differently when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity.

Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.

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Real World Results

For a real world application we have opted for our standard Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance test.

data_boot.jpg

Higher binned NAND can only go so far and at the end of the day the Crucial M550 suffers a similar fate as all Marvell drives: performance drops like a proverbial stone as the drive nears capacity. Once again, this precipitous drop-off in performance could have been at the very least partially alleviated if Crucial had taken some of that 32GB of space that RAIN no longer needed and used it towards over-provisioning. Thankfully the M550 does start from a slightly higher performance point than other Marvell drives, so while it does fall basically as fast as the SP920 it is still faster in apples to apples comparisons.
 
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