High capacity SSD group test: Crucial M500 480GB review
Good, but not amazing
Two features jump off the page when I look at the Crucial M500. The first is that these drives are available in capacities of 120GB, 240GB, 480GB and 960GB so anyone who is looking for a nominal Terabyte of SSD storage can be confident that Crucial has the hardware they need.
Secondly, and perhaps more surprisingly, is the pricing of the M500. The 120GB drive sells for £90 on Crucial's own web store, the 240GB is £150, the 480GB drive I have on review is £285 and that massive 960GB drive costs a 'modest' £474. These numbers put Crucial head-to-head with Samsung in terms of pricing and that may not be a coincidence as both Crucial/Micron and Samsung fabricate their own flash memory and have control over both the technology and costs.
When it comes to the SSD controllers, Crucial has kept faith with Marvell as its preferred vendor. In the past Crucial has used the Marvell 9128 and more recently the C300 and m4 drives used the 9174 and now with the M500 SSD we move up to the latest Marvell 9187 controller.
However, both the capacity and speed of the drive depends on the number of flash chips that have been used. Thus we get an inkling of the way the Marvell 9187 works by looking at the claimed maximum read and write speeds for M500. All four drives have a Max Read speed of 500MB/sec and the 480GB drive with 16 flash chips a Max Write speed of 400MB/sec.
The 960GB drive has the same speed and presumably also uses 16 flash chips. Moving down the scale the 240GB drive has a claimed Max Write speed of 250MB/sec and the 120GB comes in at 130MB/sec. At a guess those drives use eight and four chips respectively and frankly the speeds are so much lower than the 480GB and 960GB drives that I wouldn't consider buying either of the two smaller models.
The 480GB drive pops apart to reveal that there are indeed two rows of eight flash chips (either side of the PCB), while the Marvell controller and the DDR3-1600 cache chip are covered by a thermal pad. It is worth noting that Crucial has used 20nm MLC flash in the M500, so there is no funny business going on such as the use of cheaper SLC flash to bring down the price.
Crucial supplies the M500 in a box with the bare minimum of extras - basically a spacer, which attaches with two pieces of tape, that slips under the drive to pack it out from 7mm to 9.5mm. However, if you want to install the M500 in your PC you'll have to get your own drive bay adapter or mounting screws.
That's a minor inconvenience, but I noted that Crucial doesn't list any downloads on its website for the M500, and that is a serious matter. I would have liked to see how Crucial handles firmware updates, as previous models have required that you create a bootable CD to handle the job. It's a outdated approach that could be handled more slickly, and in time we shall see whether or not M500 uses a different system.
A notable feature of the M500 is that it is a self-encrypting Drive where encryption that is always on, but Crucial does not supply or recommend a suitable utility, so the obvious approach is to activate the password option in the BIOS of your laptop. Crucial includes a PSID number on the drive, so if you forget your password you can use an unspecified utility to reset the drive and while you'll lose the data, the drive will not be bricked. In this respect the M500 feels like a work in progress, as it would surely be a simple matter to include the relevant software in the package.
The performance of the Crucial M500 is good, without being stellar. The price is very good, but the absence of any supporting software reduces the appeal of this SSD.
• Price: £285
• Manufacturer: Crucial