Crucial M4 64GB: Solid-State on a Budget

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Crucial M4 64GB: Solid-State on a Budget

September 13, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Crucial M4 64GB
2.5" SSD
Crucial Technology
Street Price

We're currently in a sort of golden age for solid state drives with every well-known flash memory brand taking a crack at the market. With so many models available, selecting an SSD is arduous, but on the bright side, the intense competition has made them more affordable. The current crop of high performance consumer SSDs are faster, more reliable, and about half the price compared to those from a year ago. Despite the substantially lower pricing, they are still more expensive per byte than a standard magnetic hard drive by an order of magnitude.

That said, many users don't need a lot of capacity for everyday use, assuming personal media like music and video, etc. are stored in the cloud or on secondary/shared hard drives in desktops, enclosures, or NAS type devices. A fully updated Windows 7 install uses about 15GB, give or take, and the most common applications are megabytes in size rather than gigabytes, with some notable exceptions like Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and of course, high-end games. In many cases, a small, cheap SSD like the Crucial M4 64GB, can make for a very nice upgrade.

Crucial first dipped their toe in the performance SSD market a couple of years ago with the acclaimed C300, one of the first SSDs to use the new SATA 6 Gbps interface. The M4 is the next iteration based mainly on the same architecture with a slightly updated Marvell 88SS9174 controller and smaller 25 nm NAND Flash chips rather than the 32 nm packages found in the C300.

Crucial M4 64GB (CT064M4SSD2):
(from the product data sheet)
Controller Integrated 8-channel single chip
Interface SATA 6Gb/sec (compatible 3Gb/sec)
Average Access Time < .1 ms
Sequential Read (up to) 415 MB/sec (SATA 6Gb/sec)
Sequential Write (up to) 95 MB/sec (SATA 6Gb/sec)
Random 4k READ 40,000 IOPS
Random 4k WRITE 20,000 IOPS
2.5-inch SSD dimensions (L x W x H) 100.5 x 69.85 x 9.50 mm
2.5-inch SSD weight 75g
MTBF 1.2 Million Hours
Drive Endurance 36TB=20GB per day for 5 years
Warranty Limited 3 Year Warranty

Looking at the specifications you will see some disappointing numbers. The write performance is listed as only 95 GB/s maximum for sequential writes and 20,000 IOPS for random writes, fairly pitiful for a SATA 6 Gbps drive. Some small capacity SSDs have poor performance because manufacturers burden them with more affordable controllers and/or slower NAND chips but this doesn't apply to the M4. The larger versions have more respectable write speeds yet use the same internal components. The issue boils down to the design of the controller and the type of NAND chips used across the entire M4 line.

Crucial M4 Model Comparison: Performance Specifications
Sequential Read (up to)
415 MB/sec
415 MB/sec
415 MB/sec
415 MB/sec
Sequential Write (up to)
95 MB/sec
175 MB/sec
260 MB/sec
260 MB/sec
Random 4k Read
40,000 IOPS
40,000 IOPS
40,000 IOPS
40,000 IOPS
Random 4k Write
20,000 IOPS
35,000 IOPS
50,000 IOPS
50,000 IOPS

The M4 family uses 25 nm synchronous NAND modules with two 32Gb dies per chip for a combined size of 64Gb (8GB) per chip. So the 64GB model has 8 chips while the 128GB model sports 16. The Marvell controller has 8 channels that can be written to simultaneously and they're all populated, one chip per channel in the 64GB version. Unfortunately this isn't enough to to fully exploit each channel's write potential — the 128GB model, with twice as many chips per channel, has specified write speeds about 80% higher, while the 256GB and 512MB versions are faster still. The question is how much does this effect the speed of the 64GB drive in real world use and whether it's still a worthy upgrade over a magnetic hard drive.

Crucial M4 64GB (CT064M4SSD2) box and contents.

The drive.

There are three versions of the Crucial M4 64GB that use the familiar 2.5 inch 9.5 nm thick form factor (Crucial also offers two slim 7 mm models) with the only difference being the accessories. Like many manufacturers, they offer a desktop kit with a 3.5 inch drive adapter, a laptop kit with a SATA to USB adapter for data transfer and imaging, and a less expensive barebones, almost OEM model which is what we have today. All that's included is a small instruction sheet and the drive itself in an antistatic bag, immobilized by a thin plastic shell.

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