Price: £120 inc VAT
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As a division of Micron, Crucial is a true goliath of the memory market. In common with other manufacturers of DRAM the firm has been quick to react to the growing demand for ultra-fast SSD storage. The RealSSD C300 is the firm’s current flagship and comes in 256GB, 128GB and 64GB flavours, the latter of which we are reviewing today. The unique selling point of the C300 is its Marvell controller which is the first to offer a native 6Gb/s SATA interface. Whilst the incremental increases in SATA interface speed mean little to conventional hard disk owners – after all the original 2003 SATA 1.0 standard is still faster than 7200rpm drives can saturate – for SSDs there is already a real world need for more bandwidth. Before we take a look at Crucial’s new drive, let’s discuss whether an SSD purchase should be on your radar.
Why you need an SSD
If we step temporarily into a time machine and travel back ten years the best computers of the day were powered by Pentium IV chips running at 1.8GHz. In CPU Passmark; a benchmark that tests various facets of CPU performance, this chip earns a score of 220; very respectable at the time. Set the flux capacitor back to the present day the king of the hill is the Core i7 980X. In the same benchmark it manages a score of 10,167; a result 46x faster than its antique predecessor. If we now look at conventional hard disks from the same period the IBM Deskstar series ruled the roost. They achieved read speeds of around 45MB/s and access times of approximately 12ms as measured in HDTach. The current 500GB Seagate 7200.12 has read speeds of 106MB/s whilst access times have stayed about the same. We therefore have an improvement of just 2.3x in ten years; what was the biggest roadblock to computer performance in the year 2000 is now a colossal bottleneck. With read speeds three times that of the quickest hard disk and access times two orders of magnitude faster, SSDs like the Crucial RealSSD make huge strides towards alleviating the problem.
The Crucial RealSSD C300
The Crucial RealSSD C300 64GB is identical in appearance to the larger models in the range with a smart gunmetal enclosure protecting the NAND flash within and an orange and black sticker. Those interested in using the drive in 6Gb/s mode will need a modern motherboard with an appropriate add on chip. Most Intel models accomplish this via a Marvell controller whereas AMD fans how have access to motherboards with native support via the Southbridge. You’ll also need high speed cables ratified for 6Gb/s use, which should be included within the motherboard box.
Within the drive is housed a Marvell 88SS9174-BJP2 controller that connects to 16 NAND flash chips. This configuration is identical to the 128GB and 256GB drives but in this model each chip has a capacity of 4GB rather than 8 or 16GB. This has no impact on the drive’s read performance but the write performance is reduced proportionately as capacity drops. Whereas the 256GB drive can achieve speeds of 215MB/s when writing the 128GB achieves a more leisurely 140MB/s. This drive offers 75MB/s which is considerably slower than Indelinx and SandForce based drives of the same capacity. This is because of the way the Marvell controller works; the higher the density the more parallelism it employs when writing. Its performance is, however, competitive with Intel’s X25-M offering. Where the C300 makes up for this shortfall is in read performance. Offering a peak sequential transfer rate of 355MBs it leaves all comers coughing in its dust. As most home users spend their time reading rather than writing data, the C300 should offer blistering performance for the masses and at just over £100 ex VAT it is priced extremely aggressively.
As you’d expect for a modern drive the C300 supports the TRIM command to prevent performance from deteriorating over time. Nevertheless SSD owners should get into the habit of performing a secure erase before doing a fresh format. That way you can restore your drive to its factory best. For more information on TRIM, check out Jon’s review of the X25-M. We tested the drive’s trim algorithms by writing the full capacity of the drive, deleting it and repeating the process. We then deleted the drive's contents and left it for an hour to sort itself out. The performance before and after TRIMing was virtually identical; Crucial has done a great job here.