Crucial M500 480GB SSD Review

Author:Hugh Briggs

Editor:Kyle Bennett

Date: Tuesday , May 28, 2013

Crucial's M500 offers the lowest price per gigabyte for an MLC SSD with enterprise-class features not seen on typical consumer SSD data drives. With new 128Gbit MLC NAND paired with the Marvell 9187 controller the M500 should deliver great performance at a historically low price point. Is the Crucial M500's performance up to par?

Crucial M500 480GB SSD Basics

Crucial's introduction of the new M500 series of SSDs has been a long-awaited moment for many of its customers. The M500 represents the first consumer SSD from Crucial since the venerable M4 line of SSDs. The M4 SSDs have proven to be a reliable SSD over the last few years, and the low price point of the M4 SSD drives led many users to spring for their first SSD through the Crucial brand. The M4 was overdue for a refresh and the M500 holds plenty of promise with advanced features and a much lower price per GB than competing solutions.

The 7mm 480GB M500 we are testing today boasts sequential speeds of 500/400 MB/s in read/write, and random speeds of 80,000/80,000 read/write IOPS. This impressive speed is delivered from 20nm Micron MLC NAND in conjunction with the Marvell 88SS9187 controller. The Marvell 9187 is an updated version of the 9174 utilized in the M4. Crucial builds its own firmware for the Marvell controller and utilizes its own NAND and DRAM in the build. The 20nm NAND used in the M500 has architectural differences that allow Micron to pack more capacity more die, and we will cover these changes in-depth on the following page.

One of the big selling points of the M500 is the pricing of the SSD in the 960GB capacity. With an MSRP of $599.00 (street price is $649.99) for 960GB of storage, the M500 offers up value unavailable from other companies. Many of today's top-flight SSDs, such as the OCZ Vector and 840 Pro, aren't even offered in ~1TB capacities. This provides Crucial with a lock on the 1TB range, but even with the smaller capacity M500's the SSD features a much lower price than other enthusiast SSDs.

Micron is bringing MLC SSDs into a price range of $0.63 per GB for the 960GB capacity point, which should significantly raise the pressure on other manufacturers to offer similar price points for their SSDs. The only downside is that the price doesn't scale linearly, one would expect that the price of the 960GB would place the 480GB into the $300 range, but the 480GB M500 actually retails for $371.77. This is a very competitive price point even for the smaller capacities, allowing the M500 to compete directly with the TLC offerings from Samsung but with higher-quality MLC NAND.

Crucial also has an extensive line of enterprise SSD offerings through its OEM alter-ego Micron, which provides enterprise versions of Crucial products.

This enterprise heritage bleeds through in the feature set offered by the M500. The M500 is also marketed by Micron for use in the enterprise market, so there are features that aren't normally seen in the consumer realm. The M500 has a bank of capacitors that provide power hold-up in the event of power loss, and the inclusion of Microsoft's eDrive encryption standard provides a significant boost in encryption performance and ease-of-deployment. Other SSD manufacturers do currently not offer support for Microsoft’s eBoost standard, and its performance enhancements make the M500 an attractive choice when dealing with encrypted data.

Another key advantage of the M500 is the inclusion of Crucial/Micron's RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent NAND) technology. This provides a layer of parity at the device level that allows for the recreation of user data in the event of an uncorrectable error. This extra step in the data protection department provides a safety net to protect from lost user data.

There are also mSATA and the new M.2 form factor M500 SSDs coming in Q2 of this year. The M.2 specification was previously referred to as NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor). These SSDs will allow for direct communication over the PCIe bus in coming motherboards that support these new SSDs.

Large and relatively cheap SSDs like the M500 will hasten the transition to the commoditization of the consumer SSD market. Micron has the resources to deliver in the SSD market; it is the world's fourth largest supplier of NAND products with 12.7% of the market. Micron also has an extensive history in the DRAM market, which is known for brutal competition and razor-thin margins.

The price wars that have dominated the DRAM market for several years are going to extend to the NAND market soon, and the entrance of players with foundries will only hasten this transition. During the DRAM wars Crucial/Micron has proven it has what it takes to thrive in near-zero margin territory, there isn't any question that it has the tenacity and resolve to make a long-term player in the SSD space. In many ways, NAND fabricators like Crucial/Micron can figuratively squeeze the life out of competition with protracted pricing pressure. Products like the M500 will serve to push many of the smaller players out of the market and only companies with extended vertical integration will thrive in the long-term.

With new form factors and technologies on tap that aren't offered by other manufacturers at a very low price point the M500 seems destined to be a winner. Today we will test the M500 against other SSDs to see if the remaining concern of steady state performance is addressed as well.