Crucial’s M550 solid-state drive reviewed

When someone asks me which SSD to buy, I typically recommend getting the highest capacity they can afford from a reputable brand. Some budget drives should be avoided, especially at lower capacities, but most decent SSDs offer similar all-around performance. For the majority of consumers, the differences in pricing are more important than the differences in performance.

Right now, the Crucial M500 is one of the most affordable contenders. Crucial is the consumer brand of memory giant Micron, so it gets a family discount—and first dibs—on the latest and greatest flash memory. That’s a good recipe for success in the increasingly commoditized world of consumer SSDs, especially when one adds the strong reliability reputation Crucial has built over multiple generations of solid, er, drives.

We like the M500 480GB and 960GB a lot. Both offer decent all-around performance, and they’re very cheap per gig. We’re not as crazy about the 240GB variant, though. The M500 uses higher-density flash chips than most of its peers, and the 240GB model doesn’t have enough of them to saturate the controller’s NAND interface. The drive is notably slower in certain scenarios as a result, though it’s still much faster than mechanical storage.

Keenly aware of the M500 240GB’s handicap, Crucial has developed an updated family of SSDs that seems custom tailored to address it. The new M550 uses flash from the same 20-nm generation as its predecessor. However, the smaller capacities in the lineup employ lower-density NAND chips than the rest of family, so they should be able to wring more performance out of the controller.

In addition to tweaking the die configuration for lower capacities, the M550 is supposed to be faster than the M500 across the board. The new lineup’s 128GB-to-1TB spread offers a little more storage than the M500’s 120-to-960GB options, too. Let’s take a closer look.

A new spin on an old favorite

Instead of supplanting its predecessor, the M550 complements it. The old M500 has become noticeably cheaper in recent months, and the M550 slots in above it as a more premium solution.

Crucial’s latest hotness comes in the same form factors as its elder sibling: 2.5″, mSATA, and M.2. The top 1TB capacity is only available in 2.5″ form, though. The M.2 and mSATA versions are meant for notebooks and limited to 512GB and smaller capacities. We’re focusing our attention on the 2.5″ SATA family, which includes the following models:

Capacity Die config Max sequential (MB/s) Max 4KB random (IOps) Endurance Price $/GB
Read Write Read Write
128GB 16 x 8GB 550 350 90,000 75,000 72TB $99.99 $0.78
256GB 32 x 8GB 550 500 90,000 80,000 72TB $168.99 $0.66
512GB 32 x 16GB 550 500 95,000 85,000 72TB $336.99 $0.65
1TB 64 x 16GB 550 500 95,000 85,000 72TB $530.99 $0.51

All the drives are built on 20-nm MLC NAND that rolls off of Micron’s production line. These chips store two bits per cell, just like the flash used on most modern SSDs.

Unlike the M500, which has 16GB (128Gb) flash chips throughout, the M550 series reserves those high-density dies for the 512GB and 1TB units. The 128GB and 256GB drives have smaller 8GB (64Gb) NAND to provide more independent chips for the controller to address simultaneously. Thus, the M550 256GB has the same amount of I/O parallelism as the 512GB version—and nearly identical performance specifications.

The 1TB variant has the same performance specs as the 512GB drive, suggesting that there’s little to be gained by adding more than 32 NAND dies. The write speed ratings for the 128GB model drop off substantially, though. That drive’s 16 dies just aren’t enough to saturate the controller.

Each M550 capacity offers a little more storage than the equivalent M500, but the amount of onboard flash hasn’t changed. It’s just partitioned differently, with more available to the user, less to the controller and its associated firmware.

Crucial expanded the amount of user storage by makin’ it rain… slightly less. Ahem. RAIN is a RAID-like redundancy scheme that uses parity to protect against data loss due to physical flash failures. In the M500, the RAIN stripe is set at 15:1, which monopolizes 17GB of flash on the 240GB version. That ratio has been scaled back to just 127:1 in the M550. If my math is correct, only 2GB of the M550 256GB’s total flash capacity is dedicated to parity data. Crucial passes the savings on to the user: the M500 reports 223GB of user-accessible storage in Windows, while the M550 256GB weighs in at 238GB.

SSDs with RAID-like data protection typically have slightly lower capacities, like the M500, or extra NAND dedicated to storing redundancy data, like the Intel 730 Series. The M550’s slimmed-down stripe is an interesting twist, and it was motivated by the lessons Crucial learned with the M500. The NAND platform is now more mature, Crucial says, and the company is confident it can meet reliability expectations with a scaled back RAIN implementation.

The M550 doesn’t just guard against data loss due to flash failures. It also features a layer of power-loss protection powered by onboard capacitors. If the power is cut unexpectedly, these caps should supply enough juice for the drive to complete pending writes and to shut down gracefully, without corrupting user data.

Much of the M550’s drive-level intelligence is part of custom firmware running on an off-the-shelf Marvell 88SS9189 controller chip. Crucial says there are “no substantial differences” between this chip and the 88SS9187 silicon in the M500. Like pretty much every other SSD controller, the Marvell solution has eight memory channels and a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface. 256-bit AES encryption is handled in hardware, and the firmware has the necessary hooks for Microsoft’s eDrive standard, in addition to the TCG Opal 2.0 and IEEE 1667 specs.

Despite the fact that the M550 uses largely identical controller and NAND technology to the old M500, the new drive is supposed to be faster. Crucial credits the M550’s “native write acceleration,” which doesn’t involve compression, NAND buffering, or DRAM-based caching. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t say what this native acceleration does entail.

In a moment, we’ll look how the M550’s performance compares to that of the M500 and a range of other competitors. There are a few more details to cover before we get to those results, including a couple of features targeted primarily at mobile users.

The M550 supports the DevSleep low-power state used by Windows 8’s connected standby mode. Crucial claims the drive pulls less than three milliwatts in this state, and it says active power consumption is less than 150 mW. Interestingly, the 2.5″, mSATA, and M.2 versions of the M550 all have similar power consumption ratings.

Adaptive thermal protection is the other feature aimed at mobile devices. If the M550 gets too hot, it throttles performance until thermals return to optimal levels. This capability is most important for notebooks and tablets, but it could also benefit cramped small-form-factor and all-in-one rigs. Desktop users with adequate system airflow probably don’t have to worry about their SSDs overheating.

Missing software and secretive SMART attributes

Most of the big-name SSD makers offer utility software that optimizes system settings, monitors drive health, and handles firmware updates. Crucial continues to be conspicuously absent from that club, but it sounds like software is in development. For now, M550 owners will have to resort to third-party utilities. These applications typically don’t perform optimization or firmware updates, but they can monitor the drive via its SMART attributes.

Crucial doesn’t make monitoring with third-party tools particularly easy, though. The screenshot below displays the SMART attributes accessible to HD Sentinel. Note the numerous “Vendor-specific” attributes with no additional explanation.

Similarly obfuscated attributes populate the M500’s SMART data. Fortunately, the vendor-specific entries are described in an attribute decoder ring (PDF) available on Crucial’s site. The M550’s attributes are the same as those for the M500’s latest MU03 firmware. They provide information on reallocated sectors, program and erase failures, error correction and RAIN recovery events, and total host writes. That’s important data, so I’m puzzled why much of it is hidden behind meaningless labels. Users shouldn’t need a separate document to analyze basic drive statistics.

SMART attributes are most useful for wear monitoring, but most users probably don’t have to worry about burning through the M550’s available flash cycles. The drive is rated for 72TB of total writes, which works out to 40GB per day for five years. This endurance specification is fairly generous for a consumer-grade drive. It also matches the rating attached to the M500.

Crucial expects both drives to continue working after they’ve surpassed 72TB of writes. However, the warranty expires after the endurance limit is reached or three years have passed, whichever comes first.

The results of our ongoing endurance experiment suggest that the M550 should be able to write a lot more than 72TB. Thus far, we’ve written hundreds of terabytes to a stack of MLC-based SSDs. We’ve exceeded all their endurance ratings several times over, and the drives have reported barely any bad blocks, let alone more serious failures.

Premium SSDs usually have higher write endurance ratings and longer warranty coverage than cheaper models, so it’s a little surprising that the M550 matches its predecessor on both fronts. To be fair, though, the M550 is priced more like a mid-range drive than a high-end offering. The 256GB version is set to sell for $169, which is a lot cheaper than the $200+ stickers typically attached to premium SSDs. The old M500 effectively resides in budget territory; the 240GB version rings in at only $120 right now, which is the lowest price I see for a drive of that size.

At the top of the range, the M550 1TB is priced at $531, or $0.51/GB. That’s cheaper than the $556 street price of the Samsung 840 EVO 1TB, but only just. The old M500 is cheaper still, with the 960GB version priced at only $440, or $0.46/GB.

Test notes and methods

All three terabyte-class SSDs are included in our performance results, so that will be a fun battle to watch. We’ve run the M550 256GB through the gauntlet, as well. Pay attention to how that drive fares against not only its counterpart in the M500 family, but also other contenders in the sweet spot of the market.

Here’s a full rundown of the SSDs we tested, along with their essential characteristics.

  Cache Flash controller NAND
Corsair Force Series GT 240GB NA SandForce SF-2281 25nm Intel sync MLC
Corsair Neutron 240GB 256MB LAMD LM87800 25nm Micron sync MLC
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB 256MB LAMD LM87800 26nm Toshiba Toggle MLC
Crucial M500 240GB 256MB Marvell 88SS9187 20nm Micron sync MLC
Crucial M500 480GB 512MB Marvell 88SS9187 20nm Micron sync MLC
Crucial M500 960GB 1GB Marvell 88SS9187 20nm Micron sync MLC
Crucial M550 256GB 256MB Marvell 88SS9189 20nm Micron sync MLC
Crucial M550 1TB 1GB Marvell 88SS9189 20nm Micron sync MLC
Intel 335 Series 240GB NA SandForce SF-2281 20nm Intel sync MLC
Intel 520 Series 240GB NA SandForce SF-2281 25nm Intel sync MLC
Intel 730 Series 480GB 1GB Intel PC29AS21CA0 20nm Intel sync MLC
OCZ Vertex 4 256GB 512MB Indilinx Everest 2 25nm Micron sync MLC
OCZ Vertex 450 256GB 512MB Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10 20nm Intel sync MLC
SanDisk Extreme II 240GB 256MB Marvell 88SS9187 19nm SanDisk Toggle SLC/MLC
Samsung 840 Series 250GB 512MB Samsung MDX 21nm Samsung Toggle TLC
Samsung 840 EVO 250GB 256MB Samsung MEX 19nm Samsung Toggle TLC
Samsung 840 EVO 500GB 512MB Samsung MEX 19nm Samsung Toggle TLC
Samsung 840 EVO 1TB 1GB Samsung MEX 19nm Samsung Toggle TLC
Samsung 840 Pro 256GB 512MB Samsung MDX 21nm Samsung Toggle MLC
Seagate 600 SSD 240GB 256MB LAMD LM87800 19nm Toshiba Toggle MLC
Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB 64MB NA 24nm Toshiba Toggle SLC/MLC
WD Caviar Black 1TB 64MB NA NA

Crucial sent us the 128GB and 512GB versions of the M550, too, but I was out of the lab traveling for a chunk of last week, so there wasn’t enough time to test those drives fully. Fortunately, there was just enough time to run them through DriveBench 2.0, our long-term test of real-world I/O performance.

Our main body of results contains some of the most popular SSDs around. The bulk of the field is in the 240-256GB range, and most of those drives have 32-die configurations with no performance handicaps. For the Crucial M500 and Samsung 840 EVO, whose lower-capacity flavors are tagged with slower specs, we have results for multiple capacities, including the fastest models. You can find full reviews of most of the drives in our storage section.

The solid-state crowd is augmented by a couple of mechanical drives. WD’s Caviar Black 1TB represents the old-school hard drive camp. Seagate’s Desktop SSHD 2TB is along for the ride, as well. The SSHD combines mechanical platters with 8GB of flash cache, but like the Caviar Black, it’s really not a direct competitor to the SSDs. The mechanical and hybrid drives are meant to provide additional context for our SSD results.

The rest of this page is filled with nerdy details about system and test configurations. If you’re familiar with how we do things around here, feel free to skip ahead to the benchmark results.

We used the following system configuration for testing:

Processor Intel Core i5-2500K 3.3GHz
CPU cooler Thermaltake Frio
Motherboard Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Bios revision 1850
Platform hub Intel P67 Express
Platform drivers INF update 9.2.0.1030

RST 10.6.0.1022

Memory size 8GB (2 DIMMs)
Memory type Corsair Vengeance DDR3 SDRAM at 1333MHz
Memory timings 9-9-9-24-1T
Audio Realtek ALC892 with 2.62 drivers
Graphics Asus EAH6670/DIS/1GD5 1GB with Catalyst 11.7 drivers
Hard drives Seagate Desktop SSHD 2TB with CC43 firmware

WD Caviar Black 1TB with 05.01D05 firmware

Corsair Force Series GT 240GB with 1.3.2 firmware

Corsair Neutron 240GB with M206 firmware

Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB with M206 firmware

Crucial M500 240GB with MU03 firmware

Crucial M500 480GB with MU03 firmware

Crucial M500 960GB with MU03 firmware

Crucial M550 256GB with MU01 firmware

Crucial M550 1TB with MU01 firmware

Intel 335 Series 240GB with 335s firmware

Intel 520 Series 240GB with 400i firmware

Intel 730 Series 480GB with XXX firmware

OCZ Vector 150 256GB with 1.1 firmware

OCZ Vertex 450 256GB with 1.0 firmware

SanDisk Extreme II 240GB with R1131

Samsung 830 Series 256GB with CXM03B1Q firmware

Samsung 840 Series 250GB with DXT07B0Q firmware

Samsung 840 EVO 250GB with EXT0AB0Q firmware

Samsung 840 EVO 500GB with EXT0AB0Q firmware

Samsung 840 EVO 1TB with EXT0AB0Q firmware

Samsung 840 Pro Series 256GB with DXM04B0Q firmware

Seagate 600 SSD 240GB with B660 firmware

Power supply Corsair Professional Series Gold AX650W
OS Windows 7 Ultimate x64

Thanks to Asus for providing the systems’ motherboards and graphics cards, Intel for the CPUs, Corsair for the memory and PSUs, Thermaltake for the CPU coolers, and Western Digital for the Caviar Black 1TB system drives.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

Some further notes on our test methods:

  • To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before almost every component of our test suite. Some of our tests then put the SSDs into a used state before the workload begins, which better exposes each drive’s long-term performance characteristics. In other tests, like DriveBench and FileBench, we induce a used state before testing. In all cases, the SSDs were in the same state before each test, ensuring an even playing field. The performance of mechanical hard drives is much more consistent between factory fresh and used states, so we skipped wiping the HDDs before each test—mechanical drives take forever to secure erase.

  • We run all our tests at least three times and report the median of the results. We’ve found IOMeter performance can fall off with SSDs after the first couple of runs, so we use five runs for solid-state drives and throw out the first two.

  • Steps have been taken to ensure that Sandy Bridge’s power-saving features don’t taint any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled, effectively pegging the 2500K at 3.3GHz. Transitioning in and out of different power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.

The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1280×1024 in 32-bit color at a 75Hz screen refresh rate. Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.

CrystalDiskMark — transfer rates

TR regulars will notice that we’ve trimmed a few tests from our usual suite of storage results. The drives were all benchmarked in the same way, but we’ve excluded the results for tests that have grown problematic or less relevant over time. This abbreviated format should be a little easier to digest until our next-gen storage suite is ready.

First, we’ll tackle sequential performance with CrystalDiskMark. This test runs on partitioned drives with the benchmark’s default 1GB transfer size and randomized data. I’ve color-coded the results to make the M500 and M550 easier to spot.

Crucial’s latest SSD is faster than its predecessor in both tests. The difference is only about 30MB/s with reads, but it’s double that with writes—and much larger for the 240-256GB drives. The M550 256GB more than doubles the sequential write speed of the M500 240GB.

Likely thanks to its tweaked die configuration, the M550 256GB barely trails its 1TB sibling. Both are competitive with the fastest SSDs we’ve run through this test, and they easily outclass the mechanical and hybrid drives at the bottom of the pile.

HD Tune — random access times

Next, we’ll turn our attention to random access times. We used HD Tune to measure access times across multiple transfer sizes, and we’ve presented the data in a couple of ways. The line graph shows the results for all the transfer sizes for only the Crucial SSDs, the Seagate hybrid, and the WD mechanical drive. We’ve also busted out the 4KB and 1MB transfers sizes into bar graphs that compare the Crucial SSDs to their solid-state counterparts. The mechanical and hybrid drives screw up the scale for the bar graphs, and the SSDs end up stacked on top of each other in the line graphs, so the two-pronged approach works best.

Besides, we’re really looking at two separate things here. The first is highlighted by the line graph, which shows the vast gulf in access times between solid-state and mechanical drives. SSD access times are orders of magnitude quicker than those of traditional hard drives, at least with smaller transfer sizes. The delta is pretty huge at the largest transfer size, too.

Now, notice the relative parity between the solid-state drives in the bar graphs. Even though the field looks a little spread out in the 4KB test, the differences amount to small fractions of a millisecond there and in the 1MB test. The M550 isn’t appreciably faster or slower than any of the other SSDs.

Similar subplots are found in our random write results, but with a couple of twists.

Unlike in the random read test, the Desktop SSHD’s write access times are notably slower than those of the SSDs. The hybrid still beats the mechanical drive hands down, but it lags behind the SSDs more than in the random read test.

The right side of the line graph shows a difference between the M500 240GB and the other Crucial drives. Let’s see what the bar graphs tell us.

The 1MB results show the M500 240GB well behind most of the field. Whatever ails that drive doesn’t seem to affect the M550 256GB, which hangs near the front of the pack with its 1TB sibling. Both M550s have a slight edge over the M500 480GB and 960GB.

All of these SSDs are very responsive with 4KB random writes. The differences there amount to a few microseconds at best, just like in the random read tests.

TR FileBench — Real-world copy speeds

Filebench, which was concocted by TR’s resident developer Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, runs through a series of file copy operations using Windows 7’s xcopy command. Using xcopy produces nearly identical copy speeds to dragging and dropping files using the Windows GUI, so our results should be representative of typical real-world performance. We tested using the following five file sets—note the differences in average file sizes and their compressibility. We evaluated the compressibility of each file set by comparing its size before and after being run through 7-Zip’s “ultra” compression scheme.

  Number of files Average file size Total size Compressibility
Movie 6 701MB 4.1GB 0.5%
RAW 101 23.6MB 2.32GB 3.2%
MP3 549 6.48MB 3.47GB 0.5%
TR 26,767 64.6KB 1.7GB 53%
Mozilla 22,696 39.4KB 923MB 91%

The names of most of the file sets are self-explanatory. The Mozilla set is made up of all the files necessary to compile the browser, while the TR set includes years worth of the images, HTML files, and spreadsheets behind my reviews. Those two sets contain much larger numbers of smaller files than the other three. They’re also the most amenable to compression.

To get a sense of how aggressively each SSD reclaims flash pages tagged by the TRIM command, the SSDs are tested in a simulated used state after crunching IOMeter’s workstation access pattern for 30 minutes. The drives are also tested in a factory fresh state, right after a secure erase, to see if there is any discrepancy between the two states. There wasn’t much of one with the M550, so we’re only presenting the used-state scores.

The M550 looks especially strong here. The 256GB and 1TB drives perform similarly, and they’re within striking distance of the front of the pack. That said, the 1TB version is a step behind its counterpart in the Samsung 840 EVO family. It’s still a fair bit faster than the M500 960GB, though.

At the lower end of the capacity spectrum, the M550 256GB is a lot faster than the M500 240GB. Those extra NAND dies really come in handy, allowing the M550 to trade blows with the other top drives in the 240-256GB range.

Notice that the M550 has competitive copy speeds with different types of files. Unlike the SandForce-based SSDs, it doesn’t perform appreciably better with compressible data.

TR DriveBench 2.0 — Disk-intensive multitasking

DriveBench 2.0 is a trace-based test comprised of nearly two weeks of typical desktop activity peppered with intense multitasking loads. More details on are available on this page of our last major SSD round-up.

We measure DriveBench performance by analyzing service times—the amount of time it takes drives to complete I/O requests. We’ll start with an overall mean service time before slicing and dicing the results. The M550 128GB and 512GB drives are also included here.

Overall, the M550 looks like a nice improvement over its predecessor. The mean service time is down for each capacity, though the 256GB unit appears to be a bit sluggish compared to the larger M550 variants. At least it’s more responsive than the 128GB version, which has half the internal parallelism of the 256GB drive—and a much slower mean service time.

The M550 512GB and 1TB score especially well in DriveBench 2.0 overall. The flagship model has one of the quickest mean service times we’ve recorded in this test, and the 512GB variant isn’t far behind.

There are millions of I/O requests in this trace, so we can’t easily graph service times to look at the variance. However, our analysis tool does report the standard deviation, which gives us a sense of how much the individual service times vary from the mean.

This metric suggests that the M550’s access times are not only quicker than those of its predecessor, but also more consistent. Again, the 512GB and 1TB versions are the most competitive overall. The smaller drives exhibit more variance, especially the 128GB one.

Let’s split DriveBench 2.0 service times into reads and writes to get a better sense of what’s going on.

The M550 256GB’s mean read service time doesn’t look too bad. The drive falls much further behind with writes, though, and so does its 128GB sibling.

That said, the M550 drives have quicker service times than their M500 counterparts pretty much across the board. The only exception is the tie between the mean read service times of the M500 240GB and the M550 256GB. NAND-level parallelism apparently has little effect on read performance, at least for those drives in this test.

All the SSDs execute the vast majority of DriveBench requests in one millisecond or less—too little time for end users to perceive. We can also sort out the number of service times longer than 100 milliseconds, which is far more interesting data. These extremely long service times make up only a fraction of the overall total, but they’re much more likely to be noticeable.

The M550 looks much better than the M500 here, and its advantage grows as the capacity rises. That’s a fine accomplishment. However, it’s worth noting that the older Crucial SSDs exhibit far more extremely long service times than their peers. Even with the M550 cutting those numbers dramatically, the new drives still trail the top dogs by substantial margins. The M550 256GB in particular logs way more extremely long write service times than alternatives from other vendors.

Of course, the M550 128GB is even worse. It takes longer than 100 milliseconds to execute about 1.3% of all DriveBench requests. This drive has the same number of NAND dies as the M500 240GB, but it posts nearly three times as many extremely long write service times.

IOMeter

Our IOMeter workload features a ramping number of concurrent I/O requests. Most desktop systems will only have a few requests in flight at any given time (87% of DriveBench 2.0 requests have a queue depth of four or less). We’ve extended our scaling up to 32 concurrent requests to reach the depth of the Native Command Queuing pipeline associated with the Serial ATA specification. Ramping up the number of requests also gives us a sense of how the drives might perform in more demanding enterprise environments.

We run our IOMeter test using the fully randomized data pattern, which presents a particular challenge for SandForce’s write compression scheme. We’d rather measure SSD performance in this worst-case scenario than using easily compressible data.

There’s too much data to show clearly on a single graph, so we’ve split the results by drive maker. You can compare the performance of the Crucial M550 to that of the competition by clicking the buttons below each graph.

Instead of presenting the results of multiple access patterns, we’re concentrating on IOMeter’s database test. This access pattern has a mix of read and write requests, and it’s similar to the file server and workstation tests. The results for these three access patterns are usually pretty similar. We also run IOMeter’s web server access pattern as part of our standard suite of tests, but it’s made up exclusively of read requests, so the results aren’t as applicable to real-world scenarios. Our own web servers log a fair amount of writes, for example.


Before we start comparing the solid-state drives, notice that the lines for the mechanical and hybrid offerings hug the horizontal axis. Once again, the SSDs offer an entirely different class of performance.

There are big performance differences between the SSDs, too, but the M550 drives are often on the losing end of those contests. The Corsair Neutrons, Intel 730 Series, OCZ Vector 150, and Seagate 600 SSD all achieve higher I/O rates across the bulk of this test.

The M550 at least looks better when compared to the older SandForce-based drives and the various Samsung 840 incarnations. The 1TB version is faster than the 256GB one, and both have an edge over their respective rivals in the M500 family. In fact, the M550 256GB largely equals the performance of the M500 960GB.

Boot duration

Before timing a couple of real-world applications, we first have to load the OS. We can measure how long that takes by checking the Windows 7 boot duration using the operating system’s performance-monitoring tools. This is actually the first test in which we’re booting Windows off each drive; up until this point, our testing has been hosted by an OS housed on a separate system drive.

Level load times

Modern games lack built-in timing tests to measure level loads, so we busted out a stopwatch with a couple of reasonably recent titles.

The SSDs are on largely even footing throughout our load time tests. No more than about a second separates the fastest SSDs from the slowest ones, making the differences between them awfully difficult to notice.

Our mechanical drive has much longer load times than the SSDs, highlighting a key benefit of solid-state storage. The Seagate hybrid largely narrows that gap, but it’s still a little bit slower than the SSDs.

Power consumption

We tested power consumption under load with IOMeter’s workstation access pattern chewing through 32 concurrent I/O requests. Idle power consumption was probed one minute after processing Windows 7’s idle tasks on an empty desktop.

The M550’s power consumption is similar to that of the M500. The differences between them—and indeed the differences between all the SSDs—are too small to be significant for desktop systems. For mobile applications, the M550’s power consumption is reasonably low. It’s not the lowest-power SSD we’ve tested, but I wouldn’t worry about it draining your laptop battery, either.

Conclusions

Before we weigh in with our final verdict, we’ll indulge a couple of our famous value scatter plots. These plots use an overall performance score derived by comparing how each drive stacks up against a common baseline. This score is based on a subset of the performance data from our full suite, but with CrystalDiskMark’s sequential transfer rates substituted for older HD Tune scores. (More details about how we calculate overall performance are available here.)

We’ve mashed up the overall scores with per-gigabyte prices from Newegg. (The M550 isn’t selling online as I write this, so Crucial’s suggested retail prices were used for those drives.) The best solutions will gravitate toward the upper left corner of the plot, which signifies high performance and low prices.

Solid-state and mechanical storage have vastly different performance and prices, and those disparities make the main plot a little busy. Click the buttons below the plot to switch between all the drives and a cropped look at just the SSDs—and keep in mind that we’ve trimmed the axes for the SSD-only plot.


Most of the SSDs are grouped within a similar overall performance band. The prices per gig vary quite a bit more than the performance scores.

At the top of the M550 lineup, the 1TB drive nearly overlaps with the Samsung 840 EVO 1TB. These two drives have virtually identical overall performance scores and price tags. Also, the M550 delivers a nice boost in performance over the M500 960GB for only a modest increase in cost per gigabyte.

Things don’t look so rosy for the M550 256GB, whose sluggish performance in a handful of tests hurts its overall score. This drive is slower overall than most of its peers, including the Samsung 840 EVO 250GB, which is also cheaper per gig. The M550 256GB is much faster overall than the M500 240GB, at least, but its higher price tag somewhat negates that advantage. Several SSDs offer higher overall performance than the M550 256GB at lower prices.

The scatter plots don’t tell the whole story, of course. The M550 256GB does a lot more to address the M500 240GB’s most glaring weaknesses than the increase in the overall score suggests. And even if the newer drive doesn’t match the all-around performance of the top-tier SSDs, it’s still way better than mechanical storage. I’d just be hesitant to pick it over the equivalent EVO and some of the other SSDs that hang around the $170 mark

The M550 1TB is much easier to endorse. This drive doesn’t suffer from the same performance pitfalls as the 256GB variant, and it costs a fair bit less per gig. The 840 EVO 1TB may have faster performance in some tests, but the M550 wins in others, it has better built-in data protection, and its MLC NAND should have superior endurance than the EVO’s three-bit TLC flash. Those perks make the M550 better suited for write-heavy workloads and folks who are paranoid about data integrity.

Crucial M550 1TB

March 2014

What about the M500 960GB, which is nearly as fast as the M550 1TB but $91 cheaper? That’s tempting, and I wouldn’t blame anyone who bought this older drive. However, spending more on the M550 buys extra capacity, better all-around performance, and a big reduction in the number of extremely long service times logged by our long-term test of real-world I/O. That’s worth the premium for me. It’s also worth our coveted Editor’s Choice award.

In a sense, the M550 is only a minor update to the M500. Little has changed in the controller, and apart from some new die configurations, the NAND is essentially the same. You get a little more speed and a little more storage for a higher price. Part of me finds that formula a little boring, perhaps because I spend far too much time looking at new SSDs. But I also remember that the M500 launched with much higher prices about a year ago; the 240GB version was priced at $210, and the 960GB cost $600. The M550 beats those marks handily, and with better performance to boot. That might not be the most exciting progress in the tech industry, but it’s pretty awesome for consumers looking to upgrade from mechanical drives or to make more substantial investments in solid-state storage.

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    • itachi
    • 5 years ago

    Oh and just noticed, somehow you fail to mention the m550 512 Gb.. also not in the real world performance test I suppose it’s between the 256 and the 1tb though.. but, I wonder why you didn’t recommend it since the performance in the other tests seemed similar to the ones of the 1tb..

    • itachi
    • 6 years ago

    So for gaming a m500 is way enough right ? in what cases high writing speed would be really uselfull, like if I spend my day encoding videos or something ?! trying to think bout real world uses..

    • anotherengineer
    • 6 years ago

    “When someone asks me which SSD to buy, I typically recommend getting the highest capacity they can afford from a reputable brand.”

    So if I could afford this
    [url<]http://www.fusionio.com/products/iodrive-octal/[/url<] you would recommend it??? 😀

    • btb
    • 6 years ago

    Seems like a winner as soon as the price drops down to M500 level, which I assume will happen once the current M500 stock have been sold. More or less 10% better across the board.

    And it really has no competition in the 1TB class, since I(and presumably most readers of this site) dont consider crappy TLC type ssd’s as a viable alternative(that rules out the samsung 840evo).

    Been running two M500 960GBs in my computer since mid 2013 and they have been performing as expected. I cant really tell the difference between those, and the single intel 320 600GB it replaced(that one cost me and arm and a leg in 2011!), basically any SSD is “good enough”, so its more a question of price+reliability+features, and on those counts the M500 is near the top IMO. Having them being fully encrypted without a performance hit is also a nice bonus(ASUS Q87M-E+Windows8.1+Bitlocker+UEFI GOP compliant videocard=eDrive support). For my purchase the deciding factor was high capacity(~1 TB)+eDrive support, and there basically wasnt an alternative in mid 2013, and still isnt.

      • indeego
      • 6 years ago

      I’m fine with TLC for almost all use-cases. TLC’s reliability is good enough for me. Even after 300/600 TB [url=https://techreport.com/review/26058/the-ssd-endurance-experiment-data-retention-after-600tb<]it's still running[/url<]? Go ahead and tell me how much data you've written to your SSD. My 512G 840 Pro only has 1TB after 6 months. So maybe in ~30 years, I'll start to sweat if I used an equivalent TLC drive? Use-case scenarios. Joe user: TLC is fine. If you save money, go for it. That money can be put elsewhere. Joe Business users: MOst cases it's fine. If you do anything write heavy, test how much, extrapolate it for ~3 years. You'll almost certainly still be OK. Joe Small Business Server: Use as a scratch, in a RAID, or in a low-write environment. Anyone else should already be using enterprise-level support drives, PCIe, or RAID it at the network level where drive reliability isn't a concern.

    • Chrispy_
    • 6 years ago

    Summary:

    SSD price/performance is [i<]still[/i<] a crapshoot. Read quality reviews or suffer, your choice.

    • davidbowser
    • 6 years ago

    I vote for an “inside the second” type report on the reads/writes > 100ms.

    I have had good performance and reliability with my Crucials, but that latency issue has always been in the back of my mind.

    • tootercomputer
    • 6 years ago

    Take out the WD SSHD Caviar Black and M500 240G drives on that last graph, and the correlation between price and performance is practically squat. Interesting.

    • HisDivineOrder
    • 6 years ago

    Guess that explains all the $100-120 240GB SSD’s lately.

      • albundy
      • 6 years ago

      yup! thats what i paid for my seagate 240gb. I’m not to thrilled with it. I’ve noticed certain hiccups such as windows photo viewer taking a few seconds to open up a second photo after the first one opens up almost instantly, or vlc taking about 10 seconds to open up the first video, then instantly opening up others. never had this problem with my old hitachi 7200rpm 2tb drive. mind you, i;m still on sata II, and TRIM is working fine. i was hoping there would be a nice bump in performance, but i hardly notice the difference in speed.

        • indeego
        • 6 years ago

        Any notices in the event log? Sounds like storage controller or driver issues.

        • MadManOriginal
        • 6 years ago

        Are those photos and videos stored on the SSD?

    • deruberhanyok
    • 6 years ago

    So Geoff, would you say that the M550 is a… solid update to the M500?

    One thing about your scatter plots: they account two two variables (price per GB and performance) but there’s really three on display – the third, obviously, being the capacity.

    So while there are drives that offer better performance than, say, the M500 240GB, they’re also larger capacity drives, making the cost of the units hard to compare. Do I want decent performance for $120 (the M500 240GB) or do I want better performance for what is essentially double the price (M500 480GB)?

    Would it possible to do a scatter plot with overall price on the X axis, instead of price per GB?

    Great writeup, as always!

      • dragosmp
      • 6 years ago

      I find the scatter plot understandable as it is, but in case it gets over cluttered I think you (TR) should just separate the different capacity drive like the per-brand IOmeter results.

      Great review, this old favorite gets a boost in performance. The M500 has a pretty low price to boot, but quite a few times it’s been on discount. 0.5$/GB @240GB isn’t that rare for the M500; if the M550 takes its place so much for the better.

    • UnfriendlyFire
    • 6 years ago

    *Looks at the benchmarks*

    *Looks at Amazon’s pending shipment of a 240GB M500 that I purchased last week for $110, during a very limited sale.*

    Oh well. I can’t complain about getting an SSD for $0.46 per GB.

      • itachi
      • 6 years ago

      yea and the load are still gonna be good right, the write times aren’t whats most important anyway, unless you do alot of editing or something like that I suppose maybe.. mmh.

    • tom_in_mn
    • 6 years ago

    Typo : “The M550 256GB is much faster overall than the M550 240GB” that should be the M500 240GB.

      • Dissonance
      • 6 years ago

      Fixed. Thanks!

    • wierdo
    • 6 years ago

    It’s amusing that this relatively higher end model is most interesting at lower capacities vs its predecessor. I was having trouble accepting the performance hit on the M500 line at below 480gb capacities, the M550 addresses that issue nicely.

    I’m finding the M500 480/960GB the most attractive product right now though. I’m willing to have ~%800 (M500) of a HD’s performance vs ~900% (M550) in exchange for up to $100 in my pocket.

    I think It’s generally very hard to notice the performance differences between these modern major brand SSDs (Intel, Samsung, Crucial, Toshiba etc) outside of benchmarking, so price becomes a more important factor imho.

    Great product though, I’d take it over the 840Evo if I had to choose.

    • SuperSpy
    • 6 years ago

    I’m lovin’ the looong single-page view :sunglasses:

      • southrncomfortjm
      • 6 years ago

      Yep. Really nice for the subway commute.

    • Firestarter
    • 6 years ago

    Wow that 1TB drive really is a very nice evolution over the previous 960GB M500. Going blow for blow with Samsungs TLC drive while sporting MLC flash with superior longevity (as demonstrated by your endurance tests) is no small feat! I had a glance at Anand’s performance consistency data, and it doesn’t look like this drive has enterprise level consistency when hammered with 4K writes all day, but IMO that is not a strike against an SSD targeted for consumers.

    I want one.

      • LoneWolf15
      • 6 years ago

      If you want enterprise, RAID-0 two of them. You won’t get high-end enterprise reliability I admit, but I’m running two M500 240GB drives in RAID-0 for booting my server, and it’s quite snappy.

      Crucial has become my go-to for price and reliability. Maybe they aren’t the fastest SSDs out there, but compared to any physical hard drive, they mop the floor with them, they last, and the Marvell controller chips are predictable. Plus, they have a large number of the features one wants to see in a drive.

      As the M550 drives drop slightly in price they’ll replace the M500 models as my go-to, I’m sure.

      EDIT: I should have said if you want Enterprise performance (note I didn’t say reliability). And I should have mentioned I’m doing this on my *home* server –all of the servers that I run at work have at least RAID-1 for boot drives if not higher. My Home Server’s Data Store is hardware RAID-5.

        • 5150
        • 6 years ago

        I hope you’re not booting an enterprise server (or any server that a business relies on) with a RAID-0 array.

          • LoneWolf15
          • 6 years ago

          I’m not. It’s a home server that is backed up nightly. I was talking about enterprise performance, not reliability –apparently you didn’t read that part.

        • indeego
        • 6 years ago

        “If you want enterprise…”

        “You won’t get high-end enterprise reliability I admit”

        And [i<]snappy[/i<] was three strikes!

          • LoneWolf15
          • 6 years ago

          I’m home, sick and feverish. Cut me some slack. =)

        • Chrispy_
        • 6 years ago

        Crucial committed the atrocity we know as the V4.

        They make some reasonable drives, but it’s too early to heap praise on them.

          • LoneWolf15
          • 6 years ago

          And since then, the M4 and M500, both of which have been solid drives. And the M550 is likely to be one too.

            • Chrispy_
            • 6 years ago

            The M4 came before the V4, which is why the V4 was such a horrible disappointment.

            The M500 is okay but it’s way down at the bottom of the scatter plot for typical capacities so I’m not going to heap praise on it; there are plenty of much better drives for very little extra money.

            • stdRaichu
            • 6 years ago

            IIRC the V4’s used a cheap-as-chips crappy controller that was basically an upscaled controller for USB flash drives rather than one designed for hard drives. Shades of JMicron’s execrable controllers from back in the early days of consumer SSDs – god knows what they were thinking when the cost of the controller is such a comparatively small part of the BoM compared to the NAND.

            A slew of annoyed users later and Crucial finally saw sense and withdrew it from the market and it certainly didn’t do their reputation any good.

      • stdRaichu
      • 6 years ago

      For a fairly heavy “desktop-style” workload like mine, the Crucials have been brilliant (been using them as my majority vendor since the days of the C300, which had some annoying firmware problems, also have four M4’s and six or seven M500’s – they’ve been too cheap to pass up on); as long as you have enough free space and a decent amount of idle time*, GC does its job and ensures decent performance. MLC is good for peace of mind and the M500 drives are, I think, the cheapest per GB available at the moment.

      I think too much emphasis gets placed on raw performance sometimes; I have the “dog slow” 120GB M500 as the boot drive in my office workstation, and the on-paper-far-faster Samsung 830 256GB at home. In terms of my desktop workload, they behave identically. My point is if you’re sitting on the fence with SSDs, I wouldn’t wait until you can afford one of the high-end models and grab one of these instead since 95 out of 100 users will never reach the threshold where they need the extra 5000 IOPS.

      The power protection, however, is worth its weight in gold after I nuked a vertex 2 by accidentally kicking out the power lead 😉

      * I’m using 120GB out of my 2x250GB RAID1 as a writeback SSD cache for my NAS/SAN so the drives are under reasonably constant but low load, GC still appears to be doing its thing.

        • Firestarter
        • 6 years ago

        [quote<]GC does its job and ensures decent performance[/quote<] Yeah I think this is the case for 100% of the desktop and workstation users for all reputable SSDs. Anandtech's testing methods for testing performance consistency during extremely heavy loads were tailor-made to highlight the benefit of going with an actual enterprise SSD for enterprise applications. They have no bearing on performance under normal user loads.

          • stdRaichu
          • 6 years ago

          Completely agree I think TRs benches are more indicative of typical client-side workloads and Anand’s more thorough disc thrashing represent more how such desktop drives behave in “worst case scenario” mode.

          That said, I wish Anand would do more reviews of enterprise drives – reviews of actual enterprise drives (like the luvverly HItachi SAS models) at places like storagereview don’t have anywhere near the rigour they need to gauge long-term consistency though.

          We experimented with some Samsung 830’s at work in a proof-of-concept VM I/O caching layer where they were never really given a chance to rest and performance dropped noticeably after a few weeks of use (although still faster than the bare discs course). Swapping in some nice HGST enterprise drives (with accompanying don’t-look-too-close-at-the-bottom-of-the-invoice-just-sign-it-off-damnit price tag [known as a DLTCatBotIJSIOD project for short]) and they’ve been humming along happily for months. As with all things technology, know your workload!

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