Life just isn’t fair. When I met with Crucial at CES to talk about its first foray into the high performance SSD market I was given very high expectations for reliability and the testing that Crucial would put the drive through. We talked about the failure of other controller vendors to do adequate testing. Even Intel’s own follies. Crucial assured me that validation testing was high on the priority list.

The company already tests hundreds if not thousands of configurations for its memory. Slotting SSDs into the mix wouldn’t be difficult. In contrast, most of the vendors who ship Indilinx and SandForce drives don’t have nearly the validation experience or infrastructure in place to gain it.

Then, just weeks after I got my C300, the drive stopped working. Crucial sent me another drive which didn’t die, but let me discover that the C300 had serious issues when it came to worst case scenario performance. Similar to the original X25-M firmware when given a random enough workload, the RealSSD C300 could be backed into a corner that it would never get out of.

I dropped the C300 from my list of even potential recommendations while Crucial worked on a fix. Meanwhile SandForce’s partners had been shipping drives, with relatively few problems. To make matters worse? The majority of SandForce drives that shipped while Crucial suffered used release candidate firmware. Mass production firmware wasn’t distributed until later. And SandForce did nothing to stop it.

The moral of this story is that entering the storage market is still new territory for everyone. Company size, whether small or large, doesn’t dictate whether you’ll face a failure from a new product. The only guarantee you have is the experience of others who’ve used the drives in configurations similar to your own.

Which brings me to todays topic. I’ve been testing Crucial’s fixed firmware and so far things look good. The situation has improved enough to warrant another look at the C300, including its more affordable 128GB version. And that’s exactly what we’ll do today.

The Drive

I’ve explained how SSDs work in great detail here and here, if you’re a newcomer to all of this I’d suggest looking over those articles.

Like most SSD vendors, Crucial turned to a third party to supply a controller for its SSD - Marvell. Inside Marvell’s controller is a pair of ARM9 CPUs that work in parallel. One core handles SATA requests while the other handles NAND requests.

On the SATA side is a 6Gbps interface, a significant upgrade from the 3Gbps controllers found on all other SSDs we’ve reviewed. If you’ve followed our SSD coverage you’ll know that sequential read speed is one area where SSDs are traditionally limited by 3Gbps SATA. The C300 should fix that. To feed the controller Crucial uses ONFI 2.0 NAND with higher max transfer rates.

While the controller is made by Marvell, the firmware is entirely Crucial’s design. As we’ve seen in the past, as long as the controller’s CPU is fast enough the biggest influence on SSD performance is the architecture of the firmware.

Paired with the controller is an absolutely massive 256MB DRAM. The Marvell controller has a smaller cache than what Intel outfits its X25-M G2 with and rather than demand a more expensive controller with a larger cache, Crucial uses a very large external DRAM to store mapping tables and access history. Micron, Crucial’s parent company, being a DRAM manufacturer probably played a role in making that decision.

The RealSSD C300 is available in three capacity points, two of which I’ll be looking at today: 64GB, 128GB and 256GB. The Crucial controller has 8 channels to its NAND. Both the 128GB and 256GB versions have all 8 channels populated, however the 256GB drive physically has more die per NAND package which allows for greater parallelism and potentially higher performance.

Like the Intel and Indilinx drives, Crucial dedicates around 7% of the drive’s capacity to spare area. This non user-addressable NAND is used as a pool of clean blocks to replace dirty ones during normal use, and to replace any bad blocks.

Pricing Comparison
Drive NAND Capacity User Capacity Drive Cost Cost per GB of NAND Cost per Usable GB
Corsair Nova V128 128GB 119.2GB $319 $2.492 $2.676
Crucial RealSSD C300 128GB 128GB 119.2GB $369 $2.883 $3.096
Crucial RealSSD C300 256GB 256GB 238.4GB $660 $2.578 $2.768
Intel X25-M G2 160GB 160GB 149.0GB $405 $2.531 $2.718
Intel X25-M G2 80GB 80GB 74.5GB $215 $2.688 $2.886
OCZ Vertex 2 120GB 128GB 111.8GB $329 $2.570 $2.943
OCZ Vertex 2 240GB 256GB 223.6GB $640 $2.500 $2.862

High end SSDs have dropped in price considerably over the past couple of months. While 100GB SandForce drives were once at or above $400, these days you can get 120GB extended capacity versions for $330. In fact, the price of SandForce drives have dropped so much that there’s pretty much no reason to buy an Indilinx drive at this point. Note that there's no tangible performance difference between the extended capacity SandForce drives and the older versions with more spare area for any of the workloads we'll be talking about today.

Crucial’s C300 is priced competitively with the market, but it does command a price premium over the equivalent capacity SandForce drive. While OCZ will sell you 128GB of NAND on its Vertex 2 for $2.57/GB, Crucial asks for $2.883/GB on its C300.

The Test

CPU Intel Core i7 965 running at 3.2GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled)
Motherboard: Intel DX58SO (Intel X58)
Chipset: Intel X58 + Marvell SATA 6Gbps PCIe
Chipset Drivers: Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel IMSM 8.9
Memory: Qimonda DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 285
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 190.38 64-bit
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows 7 x64
Random Read/Write Speed
POST A COMMENT

51 Comments

View All Comments

  • deardeerlulu - Monday, July 19, 2010 - link

    I am kind of confused about the figures shown in that page, what axis X represents? Does it mean how much capacity has been filled? Or anywhere I can find explanations?

    If yes, then for crucial drive, why the performance dropped more than 50% just after less than 10GB data is filled? Since from my understanding, if there are only a small percentage capacity is filled, there are still a lot of free space, the random performance should not drop so rapidly?

    Anand, or someone else here can explain my confusion? Thanks!
    Reply
  • zzing123 - Monday, July 26, 2010 - link

    Here's a question. If you have Windows 7 running under BootCamp on a Mac, and have an SSD that's partitioned with 1 partition being the Mac OS X boot drive (HFS+) and the other being the Windows 7 boot drive (NTFS), and finally have an HFS driver like Mediafour's MacDrive to read the HFS+ partition, will TRIM work on that SSD?

    Since I know Anand has a couple of Macs, and possibly other readers, can anyone verify this?
    Reply
  • SSDInq - Tuesday, July 27, 2010 - link

    I've been wondering how this particular scenario would affect the performance of SSD's. I believe that many users fall into this pattern:

    - Laptop with smallish HD (same range as SSDs)
    - A few months after purchase the drive is ~90% full (Original OS + Crapware, Updates,Office + files, Emails + archives, photos + videos, leftover crap from every app, etc)

    At this point, every write request starts hitting the same area (some old data is deleted to free space and new data from emails, browser cache, downloads replaces it).

    Will the write leveling algorithms affect the performance of SSDs ? How much?
    Reply
  • alexwy - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    I am wondering why random read is slower than random write. Write operation is always slower than read, and sequential write is slower than sequential read. Why random read is slower? Is it because that the random read data is not 4K aligned? Reply
  • sor - Saturday, December 11, 2010 - link

    With small random data, the overhead of looking up where the data is to retrieve it begins to show up, compared to simply identifying an empty spot to store something. This is somewhat related to why TRIM is important, keeps empty/no-longer-used blocks readily available. Reply
  • Nick932 - Sunday, August 08, 2010 - link

    Does anybody know a laptop that has sata3 controller? Or any other solutions that would accomodate the use of this drive? Reply
  • deBlanc - Saturday, August 28, 2010 - link

    I have two Crucial C300 drives in two different HP laptops. Both have ICH9, Intel GM/PM45 Chipsets. These work fine using the Microsoft AHCI 1.0 driver. If I use the Intel RST 9.6.0.1014 driver, I get BSODs intermittently on boot and almost always waking from sleep. These are known issues reported in several posts on the Crucial C300 forum and also seem to be a problem with the Sandforce drives as discussed on the OCZ forums. If I put an Intel SSD in the laptops, I have no problem with the RST drivers.

    So I sent and email to Crucial asking about the problem. I figure there is some type of firmware issue. Here is their response:

    Hello - - - - - - - - -,

    Thank you for contacting Crucial. It sounds like the C300 drives are functioning properly if you get them to work just fine with the Microsoft drivers. We haven't had any reports of issues with the our SSD and the Intel Rapid Storage driver. We will keep our ears open for similar issues. In the meantime I will refer you to Intel to see if they have had heard of an issue with their driver with our drives.

    If you have further questions, please visit the Crucial Community at http://www.crucial.com/help. For sales questions, try our online chat service at http://www.crucial.com/company/contacts.aspx. Our hours are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Mountain Time). At Crucial, we are committed to providing high-quality products and reliable service and support.

    KELLI
    Technical Support Representative
    Tel: (800) 336-8896
    Fax: (208) 363-5501
    mailto:crucial.support@micron.com
    Reply
  • poohbear - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Anand you really should've mentioned in this review that the AMD AHCI drivers do NOT pass on the TRIM command, so even w/ Win7 this SSD will lose TRIM support w/ the AMD AHCI drivers, and we'll get the abysmal long term performance u highlighted in your TRIM sectino). AMD needs to feel the heat in this regards cause they've been lazy as hell & need to get their stuff together. This is not a problem w/ Intel chipsets, but im really peeved that as of October 2010, there is STILL NO TRIM support from AMD. really pathetic on their part, SSDs are becoming less than $100 & they dont care to implement TRIM support for us. We're stuck using the much less performing MS drivers.

    Anandtech really needs to emphasize this, otherwise i never would've bought this drive and went w/ a sandforce based one for its internal garbage collection, but i didnt realize AMD was so behind the times.
    Reply
  • sin0822 - Saturday, October 16, 2010 - link

    The degradation you Anand got with the c300 128gb after writes is not reproducible. Even without trim the c300's GC in rev 002 firmware was made extremely aggressive b/c the engineers knew that many people would use the drive without trim. I wanted to contact anand but i do not know how so i am posting here, if proof is needed it will be provided. After seeing results the GC is very aggressive and the drive will stand up to a beating stronger than a sandforce competitor, i was under the impression that this review is correct, but after seeing the results it is evident that those results cannot be reproduced and the write speeds go down only 5-10mb/s from original. Reply
  • woosh7 - Saturday, December 11, 2010 - link

    Hi Anand. What really bugs me is that I got EXACTLY the opposite impression of the OCZ Vertex 2, 240GB. :-( In fact all I had to do is one of two simple things. One was to simply copy say 100GB or so of files, like my Flight Simulator X, or Crysis folder, along with 40GB of VMWare files to the hard drive, and my CrystalMark write score would drop. Also the simple act of partitioning the SDD so I had a 32GB OS partition (C:), and the remainder on D:, also helped to bring the read and write speed down on the OCZ when I reloaded an IMAGE backup of my OS. And this is a typical thing a lot of people in the know do. You could do all these things to a standard HDD and not lose anything.

    I tried every thing under the sun, including using Paragons align tool, also making sure my drive was reset with the toolbox first etc. Switching to AHCI and back. Nothing helped, except simply letting the Windows 7 DVD make it's partition, and making it ONE BIG 220GB or so partition. And then I only got about 220MB/s read sequential, and 145MB/s write. Random was also ok, but nothing great. Then I loaded a few GB's into this one big partition, and guess what? It too slowed down. It held up longer than my method of loading a cloned image to C:, but It only took me about 20 minutes to bring my drive to figures like 170MB for read, and 110 MB/sec write by transferring only ONE group of files to D: in the "Program Files" folder.

    Then out of curiosity I deleted a 20GB folder, then transferred it back to the SSD and this resulted in having 85MB/sec, slow-as-a-cow-on-valium writes. I tried all sorts of things, and nothing short of removing the partition and clearing the drive brought the speed back up to 220MB and 145MB.. I think TRIM was working because I witnessed the scores improve very slightly when I left it over night. Or tried things I had read in forums, or even did "force trim" later on. But the improvements never got me back. I was stuck on 170MB/sec read and 128 or write.

    Also this is on an i7 920 at 3.6Ghz, on an Asus board. This is no old or cheap machine! So my test on a clean install of windows 7 was the best, but disappointing as well. My image backups are also of clean installs and should also perform well, but they don't on OCZ.

    Now here is where it gets VERY interesting. My first SSD was an barely known PNY 128GB with little support, documentation. It only supports TRIM, and no instructions, nothing on the net really. I beat the living c_rap out of it for 6 weeks. I partitioned it as above, and reloaded many, many cloned images of Windows 7 and Windows XP, over and over on C:. I made folders and deleted them on D:. At the end of 6 weeks, I got the SAME benchmark scores of 240MB/sec Read, and 150MB/sec write. No nonsense. But I had bought the OCZ Because I believed I was stepping up to higher quality and bigger size etc. This taught me that there is something right that PNY did and something very wrong with how OCZ handles their GC or Trim. I've also found reviewers saying the OCZ slows down too easily on Amazon. So again, I'm frustrated because your article is pretty much saying the opposite of what I experienced or expected.

    I NEED an SSD that behaves like a REAL HD, except fast of course. Not something that slows down. I need to be able to make partitions and do my experiments etc. So because I know the PNY was fine, I figured it must be OCZ and I just went and ordered a Crucial C300 that isn't here yet. I figured it was a step above the OCZ and because it doesn't rely on sand force. I figured I wouldn't have a boat load of phony benches, along with ATTO with high marks because the data compressed so nicely as it did with the OCZ.

    But now I read this article, and it's eluding to the fact that the C300 actually isn't so hot against the OCZ, which is obviously disappointing. The only thing I can hope for is that somehow the C300 won't mind me making a partition for operating system, and another for data. But then again, the OCZ slowed down even on one partition. I mean, who in their right mind is stupid enough to get stuck with 12GB of OS Plus 200GB of programs and data added into the SAME partition 2 years down the line? In the event they need to reload their OS, it makes it a huge task. I surely don't want to continually backup 200GB plus. My system can currently be reloaded in 5 minutes. That's why I do that. I just wish the SSD makers understood that not everyone wants to erase their HD every time and stick in a w7 disc and start all over to get their advertised speeds ( or even less)

    And what happens if someone backs up their system (as they should), and then they need to reload it? Then what? Their SSD write scores will fall. I've seen the write speeds go below my green WD HD. I think this is an unacceptable problem that SSD's have and it needs to be resolved. If that Crucial C300 gets here next week and it slows down, you know what? I will return it along with the OCZ and I am going to buy back the PNY I mistakenly returned. Another thing is I am just amazed no one has done a review the PNY. It's not the best, but having an SSD that keeps its speed is worth more to me than anything. On the other hand, I have no clue as to why the PNY did so well, or how it works, and I'm sure it needs more testing. Thanks for the review. Anyway, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now