Crucial M500 SSD Review – A continuing evolution

Test machine

For this review I will be using a computer
with the following configuration:

Hardware:

  • Motherboard: AsRock Z68 Extreme 4 (Intel Z68
    chipset)
  • Processor: Intel 2nd generation
    Core i5 2500K @ 4Ghz
  • RAM: 8GB Kingston Hyper X DDR3 1600MHz (dual channel)
  • GFX: Onboard Intel HD 3000
  • Sound: Onboard Realtek ALC889 HD audio
    controller
  • Hard disk OS: Corsair Nova 64GB
  • PSU: Corsair CX430 430W
  • Display: Futsiju Siemens 22”
  • Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit with
    Service Pack 1

 

The Crucial M500 SSD was connected to the Intel
native SATA 6Gbps (port 1) on the Z68 motherboard of our review PC and all
tests on the drive were carried out with the drive connected to this port. All
power saving features were disabled during all of my synthetic benchmarks.

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AHCI mode was also selected for all drives
in the UEFI of our test PC, and all the tests were carried out in this mode.

Crucial M500 SSD Review - A continuing evolution

The SATA 6Gbps drivers used on our review
PC were the Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST) Version 10.8.0.1003.


Test applications

To test the performance of the Crucial M500
SSD, I will be using the following test applications in this review.


Test procedures

I will start off our testing procedures
explanation by stating that I did not run many synthetic benchmarks on the Crucial
M500 SSD. You may ask why I have run so few synthetic benchmarks.

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SSD technology has moved so fast in the
last couple of years, that basic synthetic benchmarks alone are now of very
limited use, as they don’t really tell us much about performance and how the
drive will behave in the real world. I have therefore decided to show some
basic benchmarks for the Crucial M500 SSD, and will complement this with
advanced benchmarks using IOMeter and AS SSD benchmark. I will also show how the
Crucial M500 SSD performs in the real world.

The reality of SSD performance

While I can easily show you which SSD is
technically the faster, when you use one of these modern SSDs as an operating
system drive it becomes very difficult to tell them apart as far as performance
is concerned.

A typical use of a small capacity SSD at
the moment is to have your operating system and applications installed onto the
SSD. The performance difference compared to a traditional HDD is enormous,
however when you start to compare SSD to SSD the difference becomes almost
impossible to detect.

Let’s look at why this is the case.

Drive A can boot to the desktop in 8.11
seconds, and drive B can boot to the desktop in 8.12 seconds, the difference in
time is milliseconds, and can one really tell the difference?

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The fact is, all modern SSDs are only
ticking over when they are only running the OS and launching applications, it’s
only when you get to some of the larger capacity SSDs, with enough free space
to be able to hold the actual data that you’re going to be working with, be
that video, audio or pictures, for example, that you actually get a tangible
difference in performance. This is where the SSDs with the better sequential
performance start to pull well ahead of the SSDs which have lower sequential
read/write performance.

Small file random IOPS vs sequential performance

IOPS

This is a fairly complex subject, but I
will do my best to explain things in a manner that is easy to understand.

The term IOPS is the amount of input or
output transactions that can take place in a one second interval, so for
example, if an SSD is quoted as being able to cope with 20,000 4K random write
IOPS, then the SSD should be able to cope with 20,000 input transactions in a
period of one second. If the same SSD is said to be able to produce 20,000 4K
random read IOPS, then the same SSD should be able to produce 20,000 4K random
read output transactions in a one second interval.

Ok, now we have some figures to work with,
the next question is how many IOPS are actually required?

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This will depend on your usage pattern. If
you are a typical desktop user who browses the internet, does some word
processing or perhaps some audio or video editing, and perhaps plays a few
games, then in actual fact, you don’t need to have massive 4K random read/write
performance. The actual amount of 4K random performance that is required for a
fast and smooth running system for a desktop user with a usage pattern similar
to the above will be well under 1,000 4K IOPS.

On the other hand, if the SSD is being used
for running a large and complex database server, then 4K random performance is
the absolute measurement of how fast that server will run, as this type of
application does most of its input and output transactions in the 4K domain.

So why would I need an SSD with 80,000 4K
IOPS for a desktop?

In fact you don’t need this type of
performance for a desktop, but an SSD which is capable of coping with 80,000 4K
IOPS will be faster than an SSD which can only cope with 20,000 4K IOPS.

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OK, I just said if under 1,000 4K IOPS are
actually required for typical desktop usage, why is an SSD with 80,000 4K IOPS
faster than an SSD with only 20,000 4K IOPS, confused?

You may ask, if I only require 1,000 4K
IOPS surely the rest is wasted?

While you may never need 80,000 4K IOPS,
IOPS is all about latency. The reason that an SSD can cope with as much as 80,000
4K IOPS is because latency in this domain is very low. With 4K files, even if
you require to process 500 of them at the same time, you are not talking about
a huge amount of data, it has far more to do with how long it takes the SSD to
process a single file, and the amount of time required to process a single 4K
is all about how long it takes for the SSD to access or store that data before
it can move on to the next transaction.

In other words an SSD with 80,000 4K IOPS
performance will handle those 500 files faster than the SSD with 20,000 IOPS.

So how will a desktop user even notice this
faster speed if so little 4K random IOPS and data are actually used?

Multitasking is a good example. The more
tasks you run at the same time, you more you will notice the speed difference.

Sequential performance

I have always maintained that sequential
performance was every bit as important as small random file performance for a
desktop SSD. Some highly regarded people on other sites found this statement
quite funny a couple of years ago when I made it, but my, how times have
changed in the world of SSD reviewing.

To me this was always so obvious for a desktop
user. For example, let’s say you want to launch an application or game. Both
have some fairly large files to load, and also a great many small files, but
the point is, even the smaller files are sequential in nature. Now let’s say
you’re into audio or video editing. Video files tend to be huge, and the files
are written or read sequentially. Isn’t this how many users are using their PCs
these days?

Summary

So how does this shape up in the real
world? Which is better, massive 4K IOPS or massive sequential performance?

In an ideal world you want both, as an SSD
with massive random 4K IOPS and sequential performance will always be faster
than an SSD that has high sequential performance and moderate 4K random IOPS
performance, and the same applies to an SSD that has massive 4K random
performance and moderate sequential performance. The SSD which has high
performance in both patterns will always be the faster SSD.

However, you can still have an SSD that is
very fast for desktop use that has moderate random 4K performance and massive
sequential performance, the same can be said about a drive having massive
random 4K performance and moderate sequential performance, as it is about
getting the balance right if you have to compromise on one or the other.


Drive preparation for running the tests

All the SSDs used in this article were in a
clean and fresh state when the testing period started. From then on, each drive
had to rely on its own NAND cleaning effectiveness for the remainder of the
tests.

  • Both our spinning HDD drives were
    defragged before the start of each test.
  • All SSD and HDD used in this article had
    their partitions aligned to the Windows 7 x64 defaults.

Where I use graphs in this article to
display results, I will use the following colours to make it easier, for our
readers to see which drive we are reviewing.

Crucial M500 SSD Review - A continuing evolution Crucial M500 480GB SSD

Crucial M500 SSD Review - A continuing evolution Comparison SDD

 

Now let’s head to the next page, where I
look at some basic benchmarks…

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