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Some time ago we had the opportunity to see that the performance of contemporary SSDs was severely limited by the SATA-300 interface. So, if we needed an even faster disk sub-system, then we had either to combine several SSDs into a RAID array, or use SSDs with PCI-E interface (which internal architecture, in fact, made them similar to a RAID array of two or four drives). SSDs with SATA-600 interface looked fairly promising at that time, but unfortunately, their speed was limited by capacity of the only controller available then, Marvell 9123, and the issues in its very raw drivers. Moreover, there were not that many SSDs supporting SATA-600 interface available.

Things changed dramatically when the new Intel P67/H67 chipsets came out. One of the major innovations introduced in these chipsets was the integrated SATA-600 controller. Finally, the computer enthusiasts’ dreams are coming true. But to everyone’s greatest disappointment the new Intel P67/H67 chipset launch was ruined by the error in the B2 revision: the transistor responsible for the interface frequency of the SATA-300 ports could potentially fail much sooner than anticipated. To Intel’s credit we should say that they reacted in a timely manner and absolutely correctly: they stopped selling products with potentially faulty chipset revision and announced a massive recall.

Unfortunately, this problem has affected us, too. While we were planning to upgrade our testbed in the early spring of 2011, we were forced to postpone it until May, when mainboards with B3 chipset revision became widely available. But now that all problems are overcome, we are glad to offer you a detailed review of the new solid state drives supporting SATA-600 interface.

Testing Participants

Crucial RealSSD C300

Crucial RealSSD C300 drive belongs to the new SSD generation with all other high-performance solid state drives launching this year. However, while it was announced in the middle of last year, it easily outperformed almost all leaders at that point, so it would be fair to consider this drive a transitional solution of some sort. In fact, this statement can be backed up by the fact that Crucial RealSSD C300 became the first SSD supporting new SATA interface with 6 Gbps bandwidth.

 

Although Crucial brand is used by a daughter-company of Micron, one of the semiconductor market leaders, RealSSD C300 uses not only Micron components inside. Yes, flash memory chips are only from Micron, but the actual controller is from a third-party maker. I am talking about Marvell, which offered a special chip based on a pair of processors with ARM9 microarchitecture. One of these processors is responsible for the SATA interface, while another one – for the interface connecting the NAND chips.

Another peculiarity of the Crucial RealSSD C300 is a 256 MB cache, which should not only increase the drive’s performance, but also lower the flash-memory chips load thus increasing their life-span.

However, the specifications of the Crucial RealSSD C300 shouldn’t be the object of your ultimate admiration: just like the previous-generation SSDs, this product uses 34 nm NAND chips. Moreover, Crucial already has newer and faster products, which we are going to talk about later in this article.

We had a 256 MB Crucial RealSSD C300 model participating in our today’s test session. Here are its formal specifications for your reference:

  • Controller: Marvell 88SS9174;
  • Interface: SATA 6 Gbps;
  • Flash-memory: 34 nm MLC NAND;
  • Storage capacity: 256 GB;
  • Cache-memory: 256 MB;
  • Sequential read speed: 355 MB/s;
  • Sequential write speed: 215 MB/s;
  • Random read speed (4 KB blocks): 60,000 IOPS;
  • Random write speed (4 KB blocks): 45,000 IOPS.

We tested this SSD twice: with different versions of SATA interfaces featuring 3 Gbps and 6 Gbps bandwidth.

Our Crucial RealSSD C300 model was tested with CTFDDAA256MAG-1G1 256GB – 0007 firmware.

Crucial m4

The new SSD called Crucial m4 is the one that came to replace RealSSD C300. But don’t be misled by this completely new name. Crucial m4 is offered in the OEM market as Micron C400, and in reality it doesn’t differ from the predecessor as greatly as you would expect it to. In other words, Crucial m4 is a refresh of Crucial RealSSD C300 and not a completely new product.

 

 

In fact, the only completely new thing in this drive is the NAND memory. Crucial m4 uses new 25 nm Micron chips with upgraded ONFI 2.2 interface. Moreover, the developers managed to avoid replacing the hardware, i.e. the Marvell controller, and only upgraded its firmware. As a result, the 256 MB cache is still there.

Anyway, the finer manufacturing process used for the memory chips and firmware optimizations allowed to significantly improve the SSD performance. We received a 256 MB Crucial m4 model for review. Here are its official specifications:

  • Controller: Marvell 88SS9174;
  • Interface: SATA 6 Gbps;
  • Flash-memory: 25 nm MLC NAND;
  • Storage capacity: 256 GB;
  • Cache-memory: 256 MB;
  • Sequential read speed: 415 MB/s;
  • Sequential write speed: 260 MB/s;
  • Random read speed (4 KB blocks): 40,000 IOPS;
  • Random write speed (4 KB blocks): 50,000 IOPS.

Here you should keep in mind one peculiarity. Crucial drives offer users all available flash-memory, leaving no reserved sectors for the controller. As a result, the drives have larger storage capacity, but they may slow down when the entire drive is utilized.

Just like other SATA 6 Gbps drives, we tested this SSD twice with different versions of SATA interfaces.

The tested Crucial m4 model featured MTFDDAC256MAM-1K1 256GB – 0001 firmware.

 
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