If you have a crucial need for speed, you need a Crucial SSD

SSDs are fast, quiet, and they make spinning disks obsolete. Meet the Crucial M5xx SSDs: M500 and M550, your spinning disk replacements.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

Crucial's M5xx line-up of SSDs are blazing fast workstation models that put spinning hard disks into the nostalgic "Remember when?" category. Seriously. Once I experienced the speed of SSDs, I could never go back to standard disks. Plus, I don't want to hear that high-pitched whirring noise from a spinning disk anymore nor do I want to feel the heat generated from one. It always makes me a bit uneasy to feel my leg burning from a laptop hard drive or to feel the hot spot where my laptop has been on a table. There's something better and we should just use it: the SSD.

Solid State Disks aren't all that new but the new SSDs are faster and less expensive than their predecessors. And they're big. 512GB and 1TB SSDs are very common these days.

The one barrier that held me back from adopting SSDs was price. They're still not as cheap as regular disks but 30 cents (or less) per gigabyte, isn't a deal breaker for me — especially after experiencing the differences in speed, noise, and heat.

Enter the Crucial M5xx solid state drives. I've tested both the M500 in my Mac mini and the M550 in my laptop and I'm impressed with both of them.

Crucial M500 SSD benchmark data:

Mac mini 2.3GHz Quad-core i7, 4GB 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM, OS X 10.9.2

UNIX CLI dd benchmarks:

$ time dd if=/dev/zero bs=1024k of=tstfile count=1024
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes transferred in 2.488167 secs (431539283 bytes/sec)

real 0m2.493s
user 0m0.003s
sys 0m0.669s

412 MB/s Write

$ dd if=tstfile bs=1024k of=/dev/null count=1024
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes transferred in 2.776033 secs (386790018 bytes/sec)

369 MB/s Read

Xbench benchmarks:

Results 495.05
System Info
Xbench Version 1.3
System Version 10.9.2 (13C64)
Physical RAM 4096 MB
Model Macmini6,2
Drive Type Crucial_CT960M500SSD1
CPU Test 310.67
GCD Loop 343.41 18.10 Mops/sec
Floating Point Basic 251.86 5.98 Gflop/sec
vecLib FFT 250.73 8.27 Gflop/sec
Floating Point Library 498.89 86.87 Mops/sec
Thread Test 1217.76
Computation 1217.76 24.67 Mops/sec, 4 threads

Crucial M550 SSD Benchmark Data:

Crucial M550 SSD Windows 7 benchmark
Figure 1: Crucial M550 SSD Windows 7 Benchmark

HP Probook 6460b Laptop 2.5GHz Dual-core i5, 4GB RAM, Ubuntu 14.04 64-bit (Fresh install)

$ time dd if=/dev/zero bs=1024k of=tstfile count=1024
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes (1,1 GB) copied, 3,73648 s, 287 MB/s

real 0m3.873s
user 0m0.005s
sys 0m1.166s

$ dd if=tstfile bs=1024k of=/dev/null count=1024
1024+0 records in
1024+0 records out
1073741824 bytes (1,1 GB) copied, 0,190216 s, 5,6 GB/s

And the same hardware with a fresh install of Windows Pro 7 SP1 64-bit using CrystalDiskMark 3.0.3 benchmark utility. See Figure 1.

Figure 2 illustrates the same benchmark on the same hardware (HP Probook 6460b) with a not-so-fresh Windows 7 Pro SP 1 (Approximately one-year-old installation, 0% fragmentation) installation with a HGST Travelstar 7K750 HTS727550A9E364- 500 GB - SATA-300. I expect a little degradation in performance due to the age and relative fullness of the drive but, as you can see, the performance differences between the two are still significant.

Figure 2: Hitachi HTS727550A9E364 Windows 7 benchmark
Figure 2: Hitachi HTS727550A9E364 Windows 7 Benchmark

From a purely subjective point of view, I notice that startup time is very fast on the SSD, and opening applications such as Microsoft Word is near instantaneous. Shutdown is much faster as well. 

I kept benchmark results after the fourth run of the test for each disk type. That gave the results time to stabilize. The first results from both disks were pretty random and not representative of either drive's true performance. The second and third passes were much better and as you can see from the numbers, they are consistent.

I've been in the IT business long enough to know that benchmark results are kind of like gas mileage numbers reported by auto manufacturers when they say, "Your mileage may vary," but I'll have to say that these numbers, coupled with my observation of the speed differences, don't lie.

What you have in my unofficial tests are results from a variety of systems. Because this is not an official benchmark test, I don't have side-by-side results for both drives compared to a standard disk, but you do get a feel for the speed differences.

I gave you the exact commands I used on each system and the software name and version so that you can make your own benchmarks and compare them to mine.

One word of caution when installing CrystalDiskMark: It will attempt to install a third-party search engine (Conduit) into your browsers that is actually a search engine and browser hijacker, so be sure to perform a Custom installation and deselect the search engine changes or you'll be sorry that you didn't. Other than that the software is good. I'm surprised that the developer would do such a thing.

I'm happy with the results. Crucial (Micron) makes some excellent SSDs at impressive prices and downright shocking performance. After experiencing SSD speed, I'm not sure that I'll ever be happy with anything but an SSD. I used to call Disk I/O "The last great performance bottleneck" and now that barrier has been breached. You can put together a system with a super high-performing multi-core, multi-processor capability and add all the RAM you can afford, but if your disks are slow, your system will be slow by comparison with one equipped with SSDs.

What do you think of SSDs compared to standard disks? Have you had the SSD experience yet? If not, what's stopping you? Talk back and let me know.

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