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Appeared on: Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Crucial M550 512GB SSD Review

1. Features

Crucial has just released its latest the Crucial M550 SSD series, which offers capacities up to 1TB and is available in three different form factors - 2.5-inch, mSATA, and M.2. The 2.5-inch version is available in 128 GB (CT128M550SSD1), 256 GB (CT256M550SSD1), 512 GB (CT512M550SSD1), and 1 TB (T1024M550SSD1) versions, while the more compact mSATA, and M.2 M550 SSDs come with 128GB, 256GB and 512GB flavours.

The M550 SSD series uses Micron's 20nm MLC NAND and the company's 128Gbit MLC NAND die. It treats all files the same, regardless of whether they’re compressed or uncompressed, promising to offer 550 MB/s sequential reads across all file types.

Today we will test the 2.5-inch, 512 GB M550 SSD. The drive uses a Marvell 88SS9189 controller SATA 6Gb/s controller that’s fueled by Crucial's own custom firmware.

As a member of the M550 series, the SATA version features Native Write Acceleration, a more efficient and dependable way to write data, along with Adaptive Thermal Protection technology, to help users avoid overheating, even when they overwork it.

Developed by Micron's engineers, the Native Write Acceleration technology promises to deliver consistently fast write performance. This technology spreads the drive's workload across several elements, and links the controller, custom firmware, and flash storage components together.

Adaptive thermal monitoring enables the SSD device to operate in a wide variety of environments by helping to prevent the host computer from running at excessive temperatures. The technology reduces write data throughput to about 150MB/s when the temperature sensor reaches 78°C. Performance will be reduced by approximately an additional 50% as the temperature hits higher points at 82°C, 85°C, and 88°C. Read rates are also reduced. While this is occurring, DRAM refresh rates are increased by a multiple of 4, in order to provide increased data integrity when the drive is operating above the temperature specification. The SSD remains in this lowered performance state until the temperature returns to 65°C; the SSD then returns to normal operating mode.

The thermal monitoring feature is enabled by default, but it can be disabled using ATA SET FEATURE commands.

Micron’s SSDs incorporate advanced technology for defect and error management. They use various combinations of hardware-based error correction algorithms and firmware-based static and dynamic wear-leveling algorithms. Over the life of the SSD, uncorrectable errors may occur. An uncorrectable error is defined as data that is reported as successfully programmed to the SSD but when it is read out of the SSD, the data differs from what was programmed. The M550 2.5-inch SSD has an Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate of less than 1 sector per 1015 bits read. And the SSD achieves a mean time to failure (MTTF) of 1.5 million hours.

The endurance for the SSD can be predicted based on the usage conditions applied to the device, the internal NAND component cycles, the write amplification factor, and the wear-leveling efficiency of the drive. Micron calculates that the 512GB drive has a lifetime of 72TB - almost 40 GB/day for 5 years.

As a self-encrypting drive (SED), the Crucial M550 also incorporates the FIPS-compliant, AES-256 encryption into the controller, allowing the drive to operate at full speed without the performance loss associated with software-based encryption. The self-encypting drive (SED) features a FIPS-compliant, AES-256 encryption engine. In order to make your password more secure, the M500's firmware is TCG Opal 2.0 and IEEE-1667 compliant. The TCG Opal support lets you leverage third party encryption tools to more securely lock down your system.Both these compliances also make the M550 compatible with Microsoft's eDrive standard. This means the M500 possibly the first drive that can be used to enable the BitLocker under Windows 8.

Features M550 2.5-Inch SATA NAND Flash SSD

• Micron 20nm MLC NAND Flash
• SATA 6 Gb/s interface
• TCG/Opal 2.0-compliant self-encrypting drive
• Compatible with Microsoft eDrive
• Hardware-based AES-256 encryption engine
• Industry-standard, 512-byte sector size support
• Hot-plug/hot-remove capable
• Device sleep (DEVSLP), extreme low-power mode
• Native command queuing support with 32-command
slot support
• ATA-8 ACS2 command set compliant
• ATA security feature command set and password
login support
• Secure erase (data page) command set: fast and secure
• Sanitize device feature set support
• Self-monitoring, analysis, and reporting technology
(SMART) command set
• Adaptive thermal monitoring
• Power loss protection for data-at-rest

• Performance

  • Reliability
  • Power consumption: 150mW TYP4
  • Endurance: Total bytes written (TBW) - Up to 72TB
  • Capacity (unformatted): 64GB, 128GB, 256GB,
    512GB, 1024GB
  • 2.5-inch drive: 100.45mm x 69.85mm x 7.0mm
  • Weight: 70g (MAX)
    • Secure firmware update with digitally signed firmware
    • Operating temperature: Commercial (0°C to +70°C)

  • 2. Package, drive

    The Crucial M550 retail package is shown below:

    The M550 SSD is packaged in a standard 2.5-inch 7mm z-height enclosure. The drive has a SATA connection, and although it is backward-compatible with SATA 3Gb/s, a native 6Gb/s motherboard is required for maximum performance.

    To deal with NAND error rates and defects, which are more prevalent at 20nm, Crucial introduced RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent NAND) support to the M550. But in order to save space for RAIN, Crucial is allocating almost 14% of the NAND area, used to curb failure due to NAND defects.

    The Crucial M500 was the first client SSD to utilize 128Gbit per die NAND. That allowed Crucial to go higher than 512GB without sacrificing performance but also meant a hit in performance at the smaller capacities.

    While the M500 used solely 128Gbit NAND, Crucial is bringing back the 64Gbit die for the 128GB and 256GB M550s. The 128GB and 256GB models are now equipped with 64Gbit per die NAND while 512GB and 1TB models use the same 128Gbit NAND as in the M500.

    Micron’s solid state drive (SSD) uses a single-chip Marvell 88SS9189 controller with a SATA interface on the system side and 8-channels of Micron NAND Flash internally. The Marvell 9189 is more of an updated version of the 9187 and the only major upgrades are support for LPDDR and DevSleep, both of which help with power consumption and can hence extend the battery life.

    The drive came with firmware Ver. MU01 installed and as you see below, the available capacity for the user is 488.386 MB (512GB drive). The difference is mostly the conversion of GB to GiB plus a bit of space set aside for over provisioning that the controller uses to maintain the drive over time in an effort to mitigate performance degradation.

    The readout on CrystalDiskInfo shows that both NCQ and S.M.A.R.T. are enabled, as well as TRIM and the interface is confirmed at SATA 6Gbps:

    3. HDTach RW, HD Tune

    Here is our testbed:

    For the tests, we used the following software:

    We start the tests with the HDTachRW software. The software measures the sequential read speed, the random access speed and sequential write speed.

    The drive gave 316. MB/s and 440 MB/s on average for sequential reads and writes, respectively. The performance is pretty close to what we had experienced with the previous Crucial SSD, the M500:

    We move on to the HD Tune Pro software, another utility we used to measure the drive's reading and writing performances. Although not necessarily representative of real-world workloads, HD Tune's targeted tests give us a glimpse of each drive's raw capabilities.

    This time the sequential reading test returned a 212 MB/s average speed and the corresponding sequential writing test a 194.3 MB/s average, which are both lower than we expected:

    As you see in the screenshot below, writing was not stable across the data sequence and the reading speed was slow after the 200MB mark of the graph, resulting to a low overall average writing speed:

    HD Tune's file benchmark consists of two parts: the transfer speed test and block size test. The transfer rate test measures three different parameters for both reading and writing:

    Below you see random reading test, where the M550 gave a 514.740 MB/s average reading speed for an 1MB transfer size and a 509.744 MB/s average reading for transferring files with random sizes - a pretty good performance.

    HD Tune's file benchmark also features three data patterns available that can be used during the write process: zero, random and mixed, which is a combination of zeroes and random data. Certain SSDs use a compression technique which improves performance when compressible data is used. For these devices the results will be highest when writing zeroes and lowest when writing random data.

    Let's start with a sequential transfer speed of a 500MB file using zeros in the writing part:

    The Crucial M550 drive read the 500MB file at an average speed of 502.92 MB/s and wrote the file at 468.49 MB/s - pretty fast in both cases. The 4K random single performance with 4096 byte blocks was 7447 IOPS for reading and 23952 IOPS for writing, which are also fast, especially in the writing part. When we enabled the 32 requests option, both figures were boosted up to 95942 IOPS and 89514 IOPS for both read/write, respectively.

    Selecting the "Random" data pattern (zeroes and data) had not any serious impact to drive's sequential read performance, although reading was slower when we enabled the multiple requests (32).

    The reading result with a "mixed" data pattern was also very high.

    Below you see some additional sequential and random reading tests:

    4. ATTO Disk Benchmark

    The next software we used was the ATTO Disk Benchmark. The tool measures storage systems performance with various transfer sizes and test lengths for reads and writes. The benchmark performs file transfers ranging from 0.5 KB to 8192 KB. ATTO can be adjusted to do overlapped I/O, in a variety of queue depths. We tested the SSD using the benchmark's default settings, using 256KB file length performance and QD4. ATTO probably gives the most accurate results for compressible read and write data.

    As you see above the drive's reading and writing performance with compressible files was pretty stable with files larger than 128KB. The average reading speed was about 540-550 MB/s and the writing speed was 500 MB/s.

    However, the drive is suffering a bit in the sequential reading of 4KB or smaller files:

    On the other hand, the Crucial M500 drive was very fast when it was writing such small, compressible files:

    Going further to larger file transfers, the M550 drive remained fast, especially in the reading part:

    5. CrystalDiskMark

    The next benchmark is the CrystalDiskMark. The software provides throughput data based on sequential reads and writes, and random (512K/4K/4KQD32) reads and writes of various sizes.

    Below you see the drive's performance with incompressible (0Fill) data:

    As you see below, the M550 will perform the same no matter if the stored/retrieved data is compressible or not:

    As we previously saw, the Crucial M550 512 GB SSD will perform according to its official specs in the sequential reading and writing tasks. The drive also reads and writes 512K files fast, and remains fast enough in the random read/writes of small 4K files, mainly in increased queue depths:


    6. AS SSD benchmark

    We move on with the AS SSD benchmark, which contains five synthetic as well as three practical tests. The synthetic tests determine the sequential and the random read / write performance of an SSD. These tests are carried out without using the operating system's cache. The Seq-test measures how long it takes to read and write an 1GB file. Most importantly, this sequential benchmark uses incompressible data for all of its transfers.

    The 4K benchmark tests the read and write performance for random 4K blocks. The 4K-64-THRD-test corresponds to the 4K procedure except that here the read and write operations are distributed on 64 threads:

    The M550's performance in sequential reading with incompressible test was high enough (517.45 MB/s), almost matching the performance quoted by Crucial. The same applies for sequential writing, where the drive wrote the incompressible files at 477.27 MB/s (average). It is obvious that Micron and Marvell have made a great job with the firmware of the drive, offering a performance consistency with all kinds of data.

    At the 4K random reading tests, the Crucial M550 512GB is positioned close to the top of the chart below, with an average reading speed of 27.77 MB/s.

    The drive also did it well in the 4K random writing tests with 71.78 MB/s:

    Multi-threaded requests for random reading of 4K incompressible files were not an issue for the M550 SSD - an improvement over the previous M500 model. A great performance for Crucial's new offering:


    In the following graph you see how the M550 512GB drive reads and writes files, which have been partially of fully compressed. It is obvious that the both reading and writing speeds do not depend on level of file compression:

    7. IOMeter

    This is the IOMeter benchmark. Iometer is run by using workstation and database patterns for queue depths (outstanding I/Os) representing very light and moderate loads. Iometer is both a workload generator (that is, it performs I/O operations in order to stress the system) and a measurement tool (that is, it examines and records the performance of its I/O operations and their impact on the system). The app's ability to bombard drives with an escalating number of concurrent IO requests also does a nice job of simulating the sort of demanding multi-user environments that are common in enterprise applications. The software can be used for measurement of the performance of an SSD. We started using the IOMeter tests using the Xtreme Benchmark template .

    For the specific test, we used 100% random, 67%-33% Read/write distribution, aligned with the benchmarks we had already done in the past with other SSDs.

    The Crucial M550 512GB SSD took the lead in the charts below:

    8. Anvil Pro

    The next benchmark is the Anvil Pro, an ‘all inclusive’ storage utility. The software is tests transfer speeds as well as IOPS  The IOPS tests can be configurable with preset testing scenarios for read (Seq 4MB, 4K, 4K QD4, 4K QD16, 32K and 128K), write (Seq 4MB, 4K, 4K QD4, 4K QD16) and mixed IO. 

    We used the software with the Vertex 4 128GB SSD and tested the drive with 0-fill compression (RAW), 8% compression, 25% compression, 45% compression, 67% compression and finally 100 % (incompressible data). Below are the results with 0-fill compression as well as with fully incompressible files.



    9. PCMark 7, PCMark 8

    Below you see the results of Futuremark's PCMark 7 Professional edition. The software includes 7 PC tests for Windows 7, combining more than 25 individual workloads.

    Below you can see the breakdown of individual benchmarks with the testing methodology. The Crucial M550 512GB drive scored 5450 points at the storage benchmark, while it also maintained high performances in the corresponding sub-tests:

    We continue with the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark, which uses traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games. Unlike synthetic storage tests, the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.

    The Crucial M550 512GB SSD scored 4965 points, but since it is a relatively new benchmark we do not have any data available from other SSDs:

    10. Final thoughts

    The Crucial M550 SSD is faster than the previous Crucial M500 SSDSSD and mainatins key features such as 20nm NAND Flash, hardware-based AES 256-bit encryption, TCG Opal 2.0-compliant firmware, along with data integrity and temperature control features. There M550 is also one of the only consumer-grade drives with power loss protection and it even supports DevSleep to enable low-power states in mobile platforms.

    The Marvell 88SS9187 controller supports true hardware encryption, it treats all files in the same manner regardless of whether they’re compressed or uncompressed, and packs features for power loss and thermal protection which make it suitable for use in enterprise applications.

    Judging from its specs, the M550 offers with reads and writes of 550MB/s. However, although it's a serious upgrade over the M500, the Crucial's flagship offering does not offer the performance of some other high-end SSDs in the market, especially if you are a power user seeking for the absolute benchmark results. But generally, the M550 is fast enough to justify the added cost over the M500 and saves you money.

    The Crucial M550 512GB is an overall solid SSD designed for everyone, packed with performance and enterprise features and available at a competitive price. The 512GB (488.4GB for the user) drive is retailing for $337 which is translated to a great $0.69 per GB.

    Models (2.5-inch)
    Sugested retail prices
    CT128M550SSD1 (128GB)
    CT256M550SSD1 (256GB)
    CT512M550SSD1 (512GB)
    CT1024M550SSD1 (1TB)


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