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Crucial V4 256GB SSD Review

AkG

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When most people are looking for SSDs, they typically don’t think of slightly older systems and the performance boost solid state storage can provide to what many would consider outdated specifications. Rather their focus is upon cutting edge, ultra expensive rigs with high performance ICH/PCH’s. This is unfortunate because there has recently been a veritable explosion of low priced drives designed for upgrade purposes rather than providing blazingly fast benchmark scores.

These upgrade solutions typically come in the form of hybrid SSD/HDD combo drives which combine speed of solid state media with the capacity of spindle-based media. Another option is the “cache” drive which uses a limited capacity SSD to store and grand quick access to your most-used files and programs. Indeed, over the past few months Hardware Canucks has looked at a few of these more exotic ways of upgrading older systems and for the most part we walked away moderately impressed with the hybrid options. However, as flash media has fallen in cost, several manufacturers have found a way to create SSDs that actually compete against these somewhat unholy unions. The Crucial V4 256GB is one of these products and its aim is to eliminate the hard drive from you system altogether by offering speed, capacity and a low price.

Much like any typical SATA interface equipped SSDs, the V4 doesn’t rely upon external software solutions in order to transform your existing hard disk drive into a hybrid device. Rather, Crucial’s latest drive simply provides you with a one stop shop for increased system responsiveness. With an online average price of about $170 – or a mere 66 cents per GB – the V4 certainly may not be as cheap as some of those Hybrid setups, but it is still well within the “inexpensive” category for a modern SSD packed with 256GB of space.

Crucial_V4_256GB_top.jpg

From the outside the V4 256GB doesn’t look any different from any other typical SSD. It is only when you crack the lid open that anyone will begin to realize exactly how Crucial went about offering a value-forward solution without simply making the drive smaller: they’ve focused upon the controller and amount of NAND modules.

Crucial_V4_256GB_bottom.jpg

Unlike the Crucial M4 line, the V4 doesn’t rely upon Marvell’s extremely impressive second generation controller and it also bypasses the recently released 3rd generation of Marvell’s line. Unlike similarly price options, the Crucial V4 also avoids LSI SandForce units like the abundantly popular SF2181. Instead of taking the more common approaches - and risking being just another SandForce drive – Crucial has taken the road less traveled by utilizing the lesser known and slightly older PHISON PS3105-S5-1 controller. As with many controllers this Phison relies upon an external cache RAM IC (in the case Micron Low Profile DDR 128MB module) to speed up operations and keep latency to a minimum.


Crucial_V4_256GB_controller.jpg


The Phison PS3105 was first seen in early 2011 inside the Patriot Torqx 2 and received only a tepid reception. Opting for a controller which debuted in early 2011 does make for a rather controversial choice since there the more powerful –and slightly more expensive- options available to Crucial. Even in its heyday, the PS3105 wasn’t considered flagship material and now this SATA 3Gb/s controller may be thoroughly outclassed when compared against entry level designs.


Crucial_V4_256GB_board2.jpg


Though it may not be as powerful as the Marvell controller found in the M4 or a SandForce unit found in most other drives Phison’s controller does have some things in its favor. First and foremost among these benefits is Phison’s allowance for custom firmware. Much as we saw with Intel and their 520 series and Crucial own M4 drives, this is a big deal. Having total control over the firmware not only allows the engineers to tweak it for the NAND used within the drive but also grants them the ability to fine tune the drive fine-grain capabilities.


Crucial_V4_256GB_board.jpg

Also helping to keep costs down is, that unlike most 256GB drives, the V4 256GB only uses 8 NAND ICs instead of 16. In a modern controller this could mean reduced performance, but we doubt it will make much of a difference thanks to the older technology used in the PS3015.
 
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AkG

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Twenty Questions with Crucial

Twenty Questions with Crucial


Crucial was kind enough to make one of their senior managers available for a quick question and answer period with Hardware Canucks. Below is the conversation, replicated in its entirety.

H In a few words could you tell us a little about yourself and the role you play at Crucial.

C Robert Wheadon, senior worldwide product manager, Crucial.


H Over the past 5 years we have seen a literal explosion in the storage arena. What role has Crucial played in the ever increasing popularity of Solid State Drives? What role do you see Crucial playing in the future (say next 5 years)? Does being under the Micron umbrella give Crucial unique advantages other companies may not have? If so can you describe some of them?

C Crucial has long been synonymous with reliability, quality, and a trusted name when it comes to SSDs even before the explosion in the storage arena. We introduced the first SATA 6Gb/s SSD to the market, showcasing the significant performance advantages of solid state drives over traditional hard disk drives. We have enabled cost reductions across the board through our innovative technology, including implementing our 25nm NAND flash technology in various products. Our most recent solution, the Crucial V4 SSD, is designed to match the performance level of PCs built prior to 2011 (SATA 3Gb/s bandwidth). As we look towards the future of storage, we’re continuing to innovate without sacrificing what has made us great: high-quality products backed by outstanding customer service.

Because our parent company is Micron Technology, Inc., a worldwide leader in NAND design and development, we’re able to provide major advantages to our customers: hundreds of SSD qualification tests, extensive investment in R&D, more than 30 years of industry expertise, and end-to-end quality assurance. Crucial SSDs are built with custom firmware and our own cutting edge NAND technology. Before the manufacturing process begins, our SSD prototypes undergo significant prerelease validation testing. When the manufacturing process is complete, we examine our drives again to ensure that they meet the endurance, performance, and compatibility specifications that we advertise.


H It seems that some companies have taken the ‘shotgun’ approach to their solid state line-up and have released a mindboggling number of models, each one meant to satisfy a very specific consumer group’s requirements. Crucial has taken a different approach. Can you describe what your core philosophy is and why having fewer choices can be considered beneficial for consumers?

C Our core philosophy is to provide customers with products that meet their needs, without sacrificing a quality development process. Our products are designed to benefit a wide variety of computing systems, so we’re more focused on meeting the needs of a lot of our customers with fewer, high-quality solutions.


H Recently Crucial has diversified their SSD portfolio and added in both Hybrid solutions and addition budget orientated solutions. This includes both the Adrenaline and V4 series of drives. Can you elaborate on the design decisions behind both of these drives and explain what the average customer of each of these drives ‘looks’ like?

C The Crucial Adrenaline was designed for consumers who don’t want to give up the capacity of their existing hard drive, but who want to experience the benefits of SSDs. The Crucial Adrenaline is for Windows®-based PCs, and includes a Crucial M4 SSD with a 3.5” adapter bracket and Dataplex™ software. By combining a low-capacity, high-performance SSD with an existing high-capacity hard drive, we were able to significantly improve performance for consumers at an affordable price.

As for the V4, the fact is that many consumers purchased their computers before 2011, and these systems have slower data transfer (SATA 3Gb/s) capabilities than newer systems. The Crucial V4 SSD was created to complement the abilities of these mainstream systems, while other SSDs on the market are designed for systems with high bandwidth capabilities (SATA 6Gb/s). Faster marketed performance levels cannot be achieved on an older system, and consumers end up paying for extra performance their computer system is unable to support. The Crucial V4 SSD features all the benefits and quality you’ve come to expect from Crucial SSDs over traditional hard drives: faster start-up times, faster data transfer speeds, and increased durability—all at a lower price than most high-performance SSDs. Why pay for performance you can’t use?


H How do these drives satisfy these customers’ needs differently than the competition? On the surface, the Adrenaline appears to be a moderate sized SSD coupled with Dataplex software. We can think of numerous companies with their own spin on this combination. In your opinion what are the key reasons a customer should choose the Adrenaline over the competition?

C Enabling PCs to start up twice as fast and to perform up to 8 times faster, the Crucial Adrenaline is a high-quality solid state cache product. Setting itself apart from the competition, the Crucial Adrenaline utilizes Micron NAND and Dataplex™ software, which we worked closely with NVELO to optimize for this offering.


H Since such a hybrid configuration is by default a non-TRIM environment have you customized the Adrenaline’s firmware to help curtail the potential long term performance drop off which seems to go along with most Hybrid solutions?

C The Crucial Adrenaline solution utilizes a 64GB Crucial M4 SSD. We provide 50GB of NAND for caching data and dedicate 14GB of NAND for background tasks that optimize the performance and endurance of the drive.


H Both the V4 and the Adrenaline are aimed at the budget-minded consumer who is not using a bleeding edge computer system. What are the key areas that will help them decide on one over the other?

C All consumers are budget-minded. The Crucial Adrenaline was designed for those who want to experience the benefits of SSDs without giving up the capacity of their existing hard drive – a combined need for high capacity and better performance. Typically, these consumers have 1TB to 2TB of storage in desktop systems, and are not looking to replace an existing hard drive; they simply want a storage solution that performs better. With the Crucial Adrenaline, we are able to deliver an improved storage performance to meet those consumers’ needs.

The Crucial V4 was designed to boost the performance of pre-2011 systems, and is a great solution for laptop systems where high storage capacity isn’t necessary. If a consumer wants to significantly improve the performance of an older computer and doesn’t have the need for massive amounts of storage, then the V4 is a great solution for them.


H Budget orientated, SATA 3Gb/s solid state drives are becoming more and more prevalent. In your opinion what sets the Crucial V4 series apart from the competitions offerings?

C It’s quality that sets Crucial apart from the competition. We perform hundreds of SSD qualification tests, extensive prerelease validation testing, and have more than 30 years of industry expertise under our belt. With the Crucial V4 SSD, we’re able to deliver everything consumers expect from our award-winning line of SSDs: faster read/write speeds, faster boot times, faster application loading times, and increased reliability compared to traditional hard drives. To further set ourselves apart from the competition, we've included custom firmware to deliver powerful performance in the Crucial V4 SSD for mainstream computers at an affordable price.


H One of the major strengths of Crucial solid state drives has been their non-TRIM environment performance. Even for enthusiasts it was not all that long ago that “TRIM vs. non-TRIM” or “short term vs. long term” performance was a major concern. With Windows 7 gaining market dominance and both Intel and AMD offering TRIM capable chipsets for a few generations now, do you see this as an area that will be as important in the future as it was in the past? Is this one of the main priorities behind the V4 as it is meant for older systems?

C Not long ago, pre-Windows 7 operating systems didn’t even recognize SSDs as a different storage device from hard drives. Now, specific support for SSD occurs in all major operating systems and chipsets, and TRIM is one of those features. Our drives are designed to take advantage of the TRIM command, and we don’t stop there. As a worldwide leader in the NAND design and development, our engineers are able to implement features in the firmware which improve upon the performance and endurance of the NAND. Optimizing the performance and endurance of SSDs continues to be important, and is why we continue to make significant investments in R&D.


H The V4 relies upon the lesser known Phison controller. What made Crucial decide on this route instead of – for example – a SF2181 or SF2141 controller?

C Unlike other SSDs on the market, Crucial SSDs treat all files the same, regardless of whether they’re compressed or uncompressed. While many SSDs on the market achieve faster speeds by using file compression, some of the most common file types – video, mp3, advanced graphics files and zip files – can’t be compressed any further, resulting in SSDs that often deliver drastically slower speeds than advertised.


H Another way in which some companies go about creating value orientated drives is by using lower binned NAND chips and using ‘custom’ firmware to limit the wear and tear on those NAND ICs. Has Crucial done this with the V4 or any Crucial branded drive? If not, can you elaborate on why not? If you have, can you say why you have done this?

C The Crucial M4 SSD uses the same quality Micron NAND as the Crucial M4 SSD.


H Can you explain why someone should opt for the V4 over that of the M4?

C If your current system predates 2011, the Crucial V4 SSD is the better option for you. The Crucial V4 SSD is designed to complement the capabilities of mainstream SATA 3Gb/s systems at an affordable price, while the Crucial M4 SSD is designed to deliver powerful SSD performance for cutting-edge SATA 6Gb/s systems.


H With SATA 6Gb/s interface already being quickly saturated by this generation of drives what do you foresee the future of SSDs being? For example, will we ever see PCI-E based solution from Crucial?

C We prefer to not disclose information about the Crucial product roadmap.


H
You have stated that one of the main goals of the V4 series has been to give consumers an easy, reliable and yet frugally priced upgrade option for their aging systems. Since Crucial has always used custom firmware, will we ever see a software based solution that will allow customers the ability to schedule ‘cleaning’ times for their drive or do you feel such “toolbox” solutions are not needed and “Idle Time / Background garbage collection” routines are enough?

C We believe such a tool is not needed at this time.
 
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AkG

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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 a Kingston HyperX 240GB 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.

Please note:
Due to the unique nature of the hybrid setup certain tests results have been omitted as they require an unformatted drive to test or gave erroneous results.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Kingston HyperX 240GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
: 1.33
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB: 2.2
OCZ Vertex 3 MI 240GB: 2.2
Patriot Pyro SE 240GB: 3.3.2
Crucial M4 256GB: 000F
Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 120GB: 5.0.2
Intel 520: 400i
OCZ Vertex 4 512GB: 1.5
Corsair Force GS 240GB: 5.0.2
Crucial V4 256GB: S5FAMM22
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


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.


read.jpg



Write Performance


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.


write.jpg



Since the V4 is a SATA 3Gb/s drive the numbers it posts are noticeably lower than most other reference points in our charts. This is to be expected as the other drives use SATA 6Gb/s interfaces and controllers that are meant for more modern systems. However, the speeds the V4 posts are still much higher than what you would get from any hard drive.
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


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.


atto_r.jpg


atto_w.jpg


To be perfectly honest the V4's power curve may look to be on the disappointing side but its performance here actually surprised us. The Phison 3105 controller was never known for its awe inspiring benchmark numbers but it appears that Crucial has wrung some extra performance from it via firmware tweaks.
 
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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

cdm_w.jpg


While the large file performance of Crucial's V4 may be bit low, it is actually the small file performance that separates this drive from most of its competitors. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing. It is blatantly clear the Phison controller may have had some firmware tweaking done to it by Crucial, but there is only so much that can be done. Simply put, this controller cannot perform anywhere close to what the typical SSD consumer has come to expect from their new 2012 drive. Fortunately, the V4 is meant for first time consumers and when compared against hard drives – even the mighty 1TB VelociRaptor - these numbers are in a different league altogether.


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



Once again the Crucial V4 256GB posts a score that is lower than what we have come to expect from newly released drives. With that being said, a score in the high 3K range is still very respectable and much better than what the intended V4’s consumer will ever have experienced. It also higher than expected and much like the ATTO scores we assume that Crucial was able to boost the performance of the Phison 3105 controller via firmware refinement.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


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.

asd_r.jpg

asd_w.jpg

As with Crystal DiskMark the small file performance of this drive is rather mediocre. With that said, these numbers are still more than adequate for consumers running older systems. Once the storage device is no longer the bottleneck anything above this level becomes rather academic. Simply put, consumers interested in a V4 will not being running a modern system and the numbers it produces are still high enough to put some major stress on their motherboard’s older ICH/SB.


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


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.


anvil_r.jpg

anvil_w.jpg

There really is only so much firmware can do and the Phison controller is simply not powerful enough to compete on a performance basis against more recent controllers.
 
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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,3xk,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.

iom.jpg

This is a truly budget orientated drive and while these numbers are down right poor in comparison to other modern drives,we doubt anyone would ever use a V4 256GB in a workstation environment. Of course, by the same token these numbers – while low for a SSD – are still eons better than what any hard disk drive could offer.
 
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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


These results are a touch lower than we would have liked to see. In all likelihood it is the 3Gb/s interface which is hampering the V4's overall time. After all, this is a two part test and the virus scan does make up a rather large portion of the overall score.


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!

adobe.jpg


These results are more indicative of what the V4 can really accomplish. While the performance is basically half of that of a drive like the Vertex 4 128GB, it still is nearly 20% better a Hybrid solution like the SATA 3Gb/s Corsair Accelerator 60GB. This does make it more attractive for the intended consumer and may sway them away from Hybrid solutions.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable Offline 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

Much like a drive based on a 2009/2010 controller, the deep file queue performance of Crucial's V4 is rather mediocre by 2012 standards. The Phison controller simply does not handle deep queues all that well. Fortunately, the number of times the intended consumer of the V4 256GB will encounter such scenarios will be extremely limited.


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.


copy_lg.jpg

copy_sm.jpg

Neither the large nor small file performance numbers are overly surprising. This is a SATA 3Gb/s device in amongst SATA 6Gb/s drives and it simply is not a fair comparison. The relatively anaemic small file performance is also not surprising as the V4's controller is rather mediocre by modern standards. However, these results are still nearly twice as good as the VelociRaptor's numbers.
 
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