Crucial M550 Solid State Drive Review
By Olin Coles
Manufacturer: Micron Technology, Inc.
Product Name: Crucial M550 Solid State Drive
Model Number: CT512M550SSD1 (512GB capacity) CT1024M550SSD1 (1TB capacity)
UPC: 649528766113 (512GB) 649528766120 (1TB)
Price As Tested: $168.99 (256GB), $336.99 (512GB), $530.99 (1TB)
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by Micron Technology.
Micron Technology, the company behind the Crucial brand, has delivered many first’s to the computer industry. Primary among them are advancements in the solid state storage sector. Crucial delivered excellent price value when they launched the M225 SSD series back in 2009, then followed up with the fastest available SSD when they launched the SATA 6 Gb/s Crucial C300 back in 2010. Just last year they broke the price barrier for 1TB SSDs, and now they’re back to combine all the best attributes of their past into one new product: M550.
Crucial’s C300 solid state drive introduced SSDs to the SATA-6Gb/s interface, followed by the Micron M500 SSD series which will continue in the mainstream value segment. With the Crucial M550 SSD, Micron introduces their brand’s first premium-level product series. Utilizing a new Marvell 88SS9189 controller on the Crucial M550 SSD, read speeds reach 550 MB/s while write speeds attain 500 MB/s. M550 promises 90,000 random IOPS reads, and up to 85,000 random IOPS writes. 20nm Micron 64GB and 128GB NAND flash components are used in M550, which improves overall performance and enables lower-capacity drives to perform nearly as well as the higher capacity counterparts.
20nm Micron NAND flash delivers native write acceleration, which does not depend on write compression techniques or NAND/DRAM buffer modules to deliver the advertised 550/500 MB/s performance. Micron components are arranged into a Redundant Array of Independent NAND (RAIN) configuration, offer AES 256-bit hardware-based data encryption, include Microsoft e-Drive compatibility, and feature adaptive thermal monitoring to ensure that heat does not harm the device. Crucial’s M550 meets all TCG Opal 2.0 and IEEE-1667 standards.
Solid State vs Hard Disk
Despite decades of design improvements, the hard disk drive (HDD) remains the slowest component of any personal computer system. Consider that modern desktop processors typically have a 1 ns response time (nanosecond = one billionth of one second), while system memory responds between 30-90 ns. Traditional hard disk technology utilizes spinning media, and even the fastest mechanical storage products still exhibit a 9 ms (9,000,000 ns) initial response time (millisecond = one thousandth of one second). In more relevant terms, the processor sends the command, but must wait for system memory to fetch data from the storage drive. This is why any computer system is only as fast as the slowest component in the data chain, which is usually the hard drive.
In a perfect world all of the components would operate at the same speed: system memory signals as quickly as the central processor, and the storage drive fetches data as fast as memory. With present-day technology this is an impossible task, so enthusiasts try to close the speed gaps between components as much as possible. Although system memory is up to 90x (9000%) slower than most processors, consider that the hard drive is an additional 1000x (100,000%) slower than memory. Essentially, these three components are as different in speed as crawling (HDD) is to walking (RAM) is to running (CPU).
Solid State Drive technology bridges the largest gap in these response times. The difference a SSD makes to operational response times and program speeds is dramatic, and takes the storage drive from a slow ‘crawling’ speed to a much faster ‘walking’ speed. Solid State Drive technology improves initial response times by more than 450x (45,000%) for applications and Operating System software, when compared to their mechanical HDD counterparts. The biggest mistake PC hardware enthusiasts make with regard to SSD technology is grading them based on bandwidth speed alone. File transfer speeds are important, but only so long as the operational I/O performance can sustain that bandwidth under load.
Bandwidth Speed vs Operational Performance
As we’ve explained in our SSD Benchmark Tests: SATA IDE vs AHCI Mode guide, Solid State Drive performance revolves around two dynamics: bandwidth speed (MB/s) and operational performance I/O per second (IOPS). These two metrics work together, but one may be more important than the other. Consider this analogy: bandwidth determines how much cargo a ship can transport in one voyage, and operational IOPS performance is how fast that ship moves. By understanding this and applying it to SSD storage, there is a clear importance set on each variable depending on the task at hand.
For casual users, especially those with laptop or desktop computers that have been upgraded to use an SSD, the naturally quick response time is enough to automatically improve the user experience. Bandwidth speed is important, but only to the extent that operational performance meets the minimum needs of the system. If an SSD has a very high bandwidth speed but a low operational performance, it will take longer to load applications and boot the computer into Windows than if the SSD offered a higher IOPS performance.