SOME­TIMES LESS IS MORE

Cru­cial M550 256GB

HWM (Singapore) - - Test - by Kenny Yeo

CON­CLU­SION With the M550, Cru­cial finds a bet­ter bal­ance be­tween speed, stor­age and af­ford­abil­ity.

Last year, Cru­cial de­buted its M500 drive, which was the first SSD in the mar­ket to use Mi­cron’s new 128Gbit NAND chips. In­ci­den­tally, Cru­cial is a sub­sidiary of Mi­cron. The high den­sity NAND al­lowed Cru­cial to of­fer high ca­pac­ity SSDs at com­pet­i­tive prices. How­ever, a downside was that the per­for­mance of its 120GB and 240GB mod­els suf­fered be­cause of de­creased NAND par­al­lel­ism.

Higher den­sity NAND means lesser NAND die in the drive to max­i­mize the per­for­mance po­ten­tial of the con­troller. One can think of it in the same way as sin­gle-chan­nel mem­ory ver­sus dual-chan­nel mem­ory. For ex­am­ple, if you wanted 8GB of RAM on a moth­er­board that sup­ports dual-chan­nel mem­ory, go­ing for two sticks of 4GB will give you bet­ter per­for­mance than just a sin­gle stick of 8GB. The same con­cept goes for SSDs as well.

As a re­sult, the Cru­cial M550 is an in­cre­men­tal up­date of last year’s M500 model. Specif­i­cally, it has Marvell’s new 88SS9189 con­troller, which adds sup­port for LPDDR (Low Power Dou­ble Data Rate) DRAM and is bet­ter op­ti­mized for DevSleep, which should make it more power-ef­fi­cient - a boon for those in­tend­ing to use this new drive in note­books. Most im­por­tantly, for 128GB and 256GB mod­els of the M550, Cru­cial has re­verted to lower den­sity 64Gbit NAND to in­crease NAND par­al­lel­ism and boost per­for­mance. The larger ca­pac­ity 512TB and 1TB mod­els will con­tinue to use 128Gbit NAND to keep prices at­trac­tive.

Per­for­mance is gen­er­ally much im­proved. The old M500 drive of­fered de­cent read per­for­mance and the M550 was able to im­prove on that slightly. How­ever, the largest gains were seen in the Cru­cial M550 over­all write per­for­mance, es­pe­cially on se­quen­tial and 512K work­loads. Look­ing at its over­all per­for­mance, we can say that the new Cru­cial M550 of­fers sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments over the old M500.

The Cru­cial M550’s key com­peti­tor in this seg­ment is Sam­sung’s very pop­u­lar SSD 840 EVO. The two drives are mostly even matched, with the Sam­sung drive hold­ing a slight edge up at the start up un­til higher queue depth work­loads where it ex­hausts its Tur­boWrite cache and then the Cru­cial drive takes the lead. How­ever, the SSD 840 EVO still has a trick up its sleeves in the form of its RAPID caching tech­nol­ogy, which greatly boosts per­for­mance of cer­tain work­loads.

Over­all, the M550 is a wel­come ad­di­tion to Cru­cial’s sta­ble and of­fers good all-round per­for­mance at a very at­trac­tive price. At $240 for the 256GB ver­sion, its price it be­low the magic $1 per gi­ga­byte mark and is markedly more af­ford­able than the com­pe­ti­tion. The Sam­sung SSD 840 EVO re­tails for around $269.

The drive sup­ports the lat­est SATA 6Gbps in­ter­face.

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