Over recent months we’ve seen an explosion in the number of SATA 6Gbps SSDs on the market. Pretty much all of this has been down to Sandforce and its 2281 controller chip, which powers most of the models out there.
Crucial is one of the few companies that hasn’t gone all Sandforce crazy, instead its M4 series of SSDs has arrived with a chip from Marvell driving transfers. This is paired with RAM from parent company Micron to create a drive that is more analogous to those coming from Intel than it is the Sandforce-based models.
Our review sample is a 256GB variant of the M4, which stands out by being a bit cheaper per gigabyte than competing Sandforce models. This is important, because when it comes down to raw numbers the Crucial M4 just doesn’t quite manage Sandforce 2281 levels of speed, even though it still manages to outperform equivalent SATA 3Gbps models.
We’ll get to the specific results in a minute, but this is a useful point to expand on. As SSDs become increasingly less varied in their hardware these little differences begin to become more and more important. Compared to the bottleneck that is a mechanical hard drive even the slowest SSDs are demonstrably better. So even though a product isn’t capable of hitting spectacular numbers like those seen from an OCZ Vertex 3 for example doesn’t mean it should be discounted (even OCZ has lower speed SATA 6Gbps solutions).
In our AS SSD benchmarks we saw the Crucial M4 achieving 414.1 MB/s writes and 235.67 reads in the sequential test. These burst speeds were slightly below those seen on SandForce drives but still more than capable. Of more interest were the 4K-64Thrd tests, where we saw reads of 156.04 MB/s and writes of 213.44 MB/s. These speeds were noticeably slower than the SandForce 2281 drives – Kingston’s HyperX drive read at 213.57 MB/s and wrote at 227.99 for example.
Crucial’s M4 doesn’t compete with the fastest SSDs on the market, but it comes close and is cheaper. Considering the benefits seen going with any kind of SSD are huge then it is a more tempting product than it first sounds. The M4 isn’t the best, but it’s a damn decent offering.