At the start of the year during CES, the major buzz word of the show as we all know was 4K, but whilst this was a buzz word, in the storage sector there were other goings on the was stirring a whole heap of interest. For many years now we have been watching the solid state drive grow and grow, not only in terms of popularity but also their performance and most importantly capacity. One common factor that is associated with SSDs is with out a doubt their more weighty price tag in relation to their mechanical counterparts, however over the last year or so we’ve started to see the price per GB of storage come right down to a highly affordable level, which in turn has made the drives even more desirable.
During CES, Crucial had something rather special to shout about and when we look back to only a few years ago, what they had to shout about would have then sounded insane. This shout out that I’m referring to is a mainstream consumer 1TB – yes a ONE TERABYTE SSD. Because of the speed at which technology has been moving forward, we’ve seen die sizes shrink and bigger and faster NAND chips appear on the market, making the possibility of greater capacity drives, not only a reality, but also at a price that’s not too outrageous.
So forward comes the M500 SSD from Crucial, a drive that not only packs up to 960GB of storage, but also has the tech inside to ensure that it keeps up the pace right through to the last byte as we will see later on. Like many other drives these days, the M500 fits into an ultra slim 7mm frame, which is quickly becoming a new standard, but as some situations still require the thicker build, Crucial also include a self adhesive 2.5mm spacer which can be quickly stuck onto either side of the drive to make it fit that much better.
Jumping onto the slim build bandwagon, the M500 follows the 7mm build that we are seeing more an more these days. The clean aluminium enclosure is finished off with blue sticker on the upper side, just like we have seen before on other drives like the Adrenaline and the M4.
Breaking open the warranty sticker from one corner and removing the four screws and then inside another four screws that secure the PCB in place, we can see the two parts that make up the shell in more detail. The lower half of the case is considerably more sturdy than the ‘lid’ as such and a thermal pad is present indicating the rough position of the controller and DRAM in relation to the rest of the PCB.
Case aside, its time to see what makes this super capacity SSD tick. Starting off with the controller, Marvell have got the honours of giving the M500 the brawn with their 88SS9187 controller. Over the older 88SS9174 that was featured on the older M4 line of drives, this fresher variant has had some performance tweaks which are essential when working such a vast storage capacity and it also now offers 256-bit AES encryption as well for enhanced data security. Alongside the controller is 1GB of DDR3-1600 memory which surprisingly enough only holds a small fraction of the user data – most of the time it is used to map the logical tables and indexes on the drive.
Flipping the PCB over and looking a little closer at the MLC NAND, this is a part of the drive that stirred a lot of interest earlier in the year at CES. The M500 is home to 16 20nm Micron NAND IC’s each with a 128Gb die size and each package housing 32GB of storage, which equates to a total board storage in this case of 512GB.
- Asus Maximus V Formula
- Intel Core i7 3770k
- Corsair Vengeance 1866MHz 16GB
- AMD Radeon HD 7970
- Corsair H80
- Corsair HX1050W
- Kingston HyperX 240GB SSD
- AOC E2795VH
Many different software applications are also used to gain the broadest spectrum of results, which allows for the fairest testing possible.
- AS SSD
- Anvil’s Storage Utilities RC6
The AS SSD software determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains five synthetic and three practice tests. The synthetic tests determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are performed without using the operating system caches. In Sequential tests the program measures the time it takes to read and write a 1GB file respectively.
AS SSD starts off with an initial set of strong results on the sequential front. The M500’s sequential speeds are rated at 400MB/s write and 500MB/s read and on the write front it easily surpasses this mark with 426MB/s.
The ATTO Disk Benchmark performance measurement tool is compatible with Microsoft Windows. Measure your storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. Several options are available to customize your performance measurement including queue depth, overlapped I/O and even a comparison mode with the option to run continuously. Use ATTO Disk Benchmark to test any manufacturers RAID controllers, storage controllers, host adapters, hard drives and SSD drives and notice that ATTO products will consistently provide the highest level of performance to your storage.
The underlying performance that ATTO is able to record is also similarly impressive. On the read front, the Marvell controllers pushes the drives speed close to the limits of the SATA III interfaces capacity with a speed of ~540MB/s. The write speed is also very healthy with 440MB/s. Its good to see that the real world performance is close to the of the underlying performance.
CrystalDiskMark is a small HDD benchmark utility for your hard drive that enables you to rapidly measure sequential and random read/write speeds.
Here are some key features of “CrystalDiskMark”:
- Sequential reads/writes
- Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
- Text copy
- Change dialog design
- internationalization (i18n)
Like AS SSD, CrystalDiskMark shows that the M500 has a very strong controller with the write speed closely matching that as seen previously within ATTO at the 1024k sector. On the 512K front within CrystalDiskMark, the drive maintains a high level of performance, almost matching that of the sequential speeds.
Anvil’s Storage Utilities is a new benchmarking utility that we have started using here at eTeknix, it’s completely free to download and has the ability to test mainly hard drives and solid state drives, but also any other form of storage medium that you can throw at it. As well as testing the drive in a variety of benchmarking tests, it also has a drive endurance test that consistently reads and writes data to the selected medium to give days, months and potentially even years of use in a shorter period of time to see how the drive copes in the longer term.
Typically SSDs tend to suffer with a drop in performance when handling incompressible data. The M500 however appears to handle this form of data very well with speeds that still surpass the expectations of the Marvell controller.
As seen with a set of results from compressible data testing, the drive does not appear to suffer from a performance drop with incompressible data. Looking a little more at the drive IOPS, on the write front this also appears to be higher than the rated specifications, however IOMeter will highlight this more clearly.
IOMeter is an I/O subsystem measurement and characterization tool for single and clustered systems. It is used as a benchmark and troubleshooting tool and is easily configured to replicate the behaviour of many popular applications. One commonly quoted measurement provided by the tool is IOPS.
IOMeter allows the configuration of disk parameters such as the ‘Maximum Disk Size’, ‘Starting Disk Sector’ and ‘# of Outstanding I/Os’. This allows a user to configure a test file upon which the ‘Access Specifications’ configure the I/O types to the file. Configurable items within the Access Specifications are:
- Transfer Request Size
- Percent Random/Sequential distribution.
- Percent Read/Write Distribution
- Aligned I/O’s.
- Reply Size
- TCP/IP status
Most of the surprising results that i have seen up to this point with the M500 have all been on the write front, however that read side of things still has one little trick up its sleeve with IOPs. Topping out at juts over 85k, the read IOPs, as seen with the drives write speed, goes right past the specified levels, making this drive ideal for photo and video editing where high read IOPs give a leading edge in terms of performance.
The write IOPs are similarly impressive once again, also pushing right past the 80k mark that the M500 is rated to.
On the broad scale, there is quite a substantial gap between solid state drives that offer up massive storage capacities and those that offer blazing performance, making the process of choosing a drive that offers both to a certain extent rather hard. Over the last few months I have seen a number of drives that have high the 512GB capacity with performance levels that are pretty good to shout about. but up until this point there hasn’t been anything really goo to shout about when its comes to a 1TB SSD.
Considering the solid state drive has only been around for a short period of time in respect to mechanical drives, the rate at which their capacity has been able to grow has been phenomenal and as a result the reality of owning a 1TB SSD is here.
Focussing on the 480GB model that I’ve played around with today, I have to say that after the M4’s success I did have a bit of a raised expectation with what the drive had to offer. Crucial have not failed to deliver on this front either. Right across all my benchmark utilities, the M500 on the write front was consistently ahead of Crucial’s specifications and this was not just on the sequential read speeds. Very rarely do I see a drive that sticks so close to the rated IOPs levels and in this case giving more than expected. This gives me a clear indication that the collaboration of a Marvell controller with the new 128Gbit NAND chips is a well chosen marriage.
Whilst SandForce controllers may still reign the SSD markets for now, with this combination of component selection and the potential for future firmware tweaks, the scope for pushing the performance that little further, more on the write front is certainly there and would most likely give the market a little shake up like I was with the Indlinx controllers not too long ago.
Making a note on pricing, this is an area where some people are going to stop in their tracks. without looking, its clear that these drives are not going to be as cheap as more mainstream 120-240GB models, but for around the £300 (62.5p/GB) mark, the 480GB model isn’t exactly expensive either when you consider what’s inside the case. For those that are interested in the top end 960 model, don’t expect much change out of £500, but at just over 50p per GB it is the most cost effective solution to go for with the 120GB the most expensive at around 78p/GB.
Bottom line, the dawn of the 1TB SSD is here and with a very well thought through choice of components including a new 128Gbit die that offers up cheaper cost per GB, the M500 is not only worth the large cost, but its got the performance to match too.