As the 6Gbp/s version of the SATA interface becomes more prevalent amongst users, so we have more and more drives taking advantage of the enormous bandwidth available to them.
Solid State Drives have had particular benefits. Whereas we once considered 150 MB/s to be a seriously quick drive, now we're in the realms of 300 MB/s and beyond. Indeed current 3Gbp/s drives seem positively sloth-like in comparison.
One of the first drives we saw with full SATA-III compatibility was the C300 from Crucial. This had serious read speeds but, like so many SSDs, had some write speeds that left something to be desired. Now the replacement for the C300 is upon us in the form of the Crucial M4.
As Crucial are owned by the Micron Technology group, so the M4 is replete with a full array of Micron chips on board. Whilst the controller isn't capable of the same enormous burst speeds of the SandForce controller, what it lacks in a little top end speed it makes up for in affordability.
Let's crack on.
The M4 packaging is the fairly standard SSD affair. We have a card box with a plastic insert containing the drive and accessories. It is always nice to see artwork that is devoid of the 'shouty' elements that Motherboards and Graphics cards tend to have.
Inside we have the standard combination of pamphlets, drive cloning software and a cable to enable USB connectivity.
As always with SSDs, there is little to see here, so let's crack on with the testing.
Although the M4 isn't quite hitting the amazing heights available from the SandForce equipped Hyper X, it still puts up a good showing in the HD Tune read test and is much better in the write test than the C300 it replaces.
Crystal Disk Mark
In Crystal Disk Mark the M4 is even closer to the all-conquering Kingston Hyper X. A particular highlight is the amazing 4K QD32 performance. Those small cluster read and write tasks barely slow the drive at all when compared to the SATA-II Velociraptor and SSD Now V+ drives.
So far the M4 has been on the shoulder of the Hyper X. In AIDA64 however it edges ahead, pushing 400 MB/s read speeds on a consistent basis. Highly impressive.
PC Mark Vantage
The two big SATA 6Gbp/s drives trade punch and counterpunch in the Futuremark favourite. Only in the Application Loading test is there a significant difference, but generally speaking the drives are inseparable.
The write speed barely takes any time at all to run at full chat. Even with only 8kb chunks it's already racing along at 160 MB/s. Read speeds naturally need a bit larger cluster size before it can push the 300 MB/s barrier, but either way the M4 is a speedy little thing.
In case you're wondering what the real world benefit of having a faster drive entails, here is a real-world example. Encoding a video file in x264 format on a i7-970 is considerably faster with the M4 handling the temporary storage during the encode than the identical test run on the relatively quick Kingston V+. The difference between 3Gpb/s and 6Gpb/s in a nutshell.
The image below is from the AIDA64 Buffered Write. However all of our testing showed similar consistency in both read and write testing. If it was any flatter we'd have to build Windmills and wear clogs.
When we reviewed the Kingston Hyper X earlier in the month we found it to be an absolutely blistering performer with a suitably enthusiast price-tag. The Crucial M4 is obviously cheaper in this 128GB guise, but also crucially (ahem) in the 256GB version it's nearly £100 less expensive.
However this lower price-point doesn't mean you're losing a whole hill of performance.
Certainly at the absolute limit the SandForce controller is capable of producing gaudier numbers than the Micron-equipped M4, but this is damn close in most of our tests and in the important PC Mark Vantage benchmarks it's neck and neck.
Thankfully unlike the C300 the write speeds haven't been compromised to give such excellent performance for such a decent amount of money. The consistency in all of our tests was exemplary with no weak links at all. The uniformity of the graphs produced by all of our test applications mirror the AIDA64 one shown above, in both read and write formats.
Priced at around £150 this is on a par with decently priced SATA II SSDs, yet delivers comprehensive performance improvements. In fact the only real fly in the ointment is if you're after truly extreme performance the Micron can't keep up with a SandForce drive.
Even still, the consistency of the Crucial M4 coupled to the very attractive price make it a deserving winner of our OC3D Silver Award.
Thanks to Crucial for supplying the M4 for review. Discuss in our forums.