Sharing the same design and interface as most of the other solid-state drives we've reviewed, the Crucial m4 stands out where it matters most: the price. It's still much more expensive than a traditional hard drive, but the m4 is the most affordable SSD on the market, especially its top-capacity 512GB version. In fact, its cost per gigabyte is low enough for us to look past its comparatively slow performance and the fact that it doesn't include a drive-bay converter to fit in a desktop computer.
If you are looking for an SSD to upgrade your system with, be it a laptop or desktop, at its street price of around $440 for 256GB (or $220 for 128GB and $800 for 512GB), the Crucial m4 will make a totally worthwhile investment.
Design and features
|Drive type||2.5-inch solid state|
|Connector options||SATA 3Gbps, SATA 6Gbps|
|Available capacities||64GB,128GB, 256GB, 512GB|
|Product dimensions||9.5mm, 2.5-inch standard|
|Capacity of test unit||256GB|
|OSes supported||Windows, Mac, Linux|
Like the rest of the SSDs we've reviewed, the Crucial m4 has the same shape, dimensions, and port design as a standard SATA 2.5-inch laptop hard drive, so it will work in any application where these hard drives would be used. We tried the drive with a few different computers and different operating systems (Mac, Windows, and Linux), and the drive worked well with all of them. For desktop computers, we were able to use the drive while leaving it unscrewed in the drive bay, as it has no moving parts and is very light. It would be better, however, if it came with a drive-bay converter, the way the OCZ Vertex 3 does.
The Crucial m4 supports RAID configurations and has an estimated mean time between failures of 1.2 million hours. This means that with normal usage the drive can easily outlast the rest of your computer's components.
Similar to other high-end SSDs and hard drives, the Crucial m4 supports the latest SATA 3 (6Gbps) standard but also works with the popular SATA 2 (3Gbps) standard. To get the most out of it, obviously, using it with SATA 3 is recommended. When used with a computer with an SATA 2 controller, however, the drive also offered a great performance improvement in our trials.
Cost per gigabyte
The scariest thing about SSDs is the price, and the Crucial m4's is the easiest to swallow in this regard, though not really easy enough for most of us. The m4's 256GB version costs around $440, which translates into $1.72 per gigabyte. Its 512GB version is even cheaper at just $1.56 per gigabyte. For comparison, the Vertex 3 costs $2.17 and $3.76 per gigabyte for the 240GB and 480GB, respectively.
Compared with traditional hard drives, however, the Crucial m4 is still very expensive, as most hard drives cost just a few cents per gigabyte.
|Cost per GB|
We test SSDs in real-world usage, both when the reviewed drive is used as the main drive, which hosts the operating system of the test computer, and when it's used as the secondary drive, which is used only to store data. Some of our tests gauge the performance of the system as a whole and see how the drive affects its performance. Our data copy tests, however, show the drive's raw data transfer speed when used in real-world scenarios after all overheads. Our test system uses the latest chipset, RAM, and processor, and is equipped with built-in SATA 3 controllers to show the drive's top performance.
We first tested the drive as the main drive of the test system. In boot and shutdown tests, the m4, like all SSDs, helped the system take a very short time to boot up and shut down, just 28.7 and 6.8 seconds respectively. Note that the boot time includes the time the test machine takes to go through the hardware initialization, which is about 15 seconds. Compared with when the system used a hard drive as the main storage drive, the amount of time required to boot up and shut down was cut by about one-third.
In the office performance test, in which we time how long the computer takes to finish a comprehensive set of different concurrent tasks, as expected the Crucial m4 didn't help much, as the test system took 393 seconds to finish the job. Note that when used with a hard drive, the system took just a few seconds longer to get the job done. The storage device doesn't play a big role in these tasks. We did notice that the applications used in the test launched much faster than when using a hard drive.
Similarly, in our multimedia multitasking test, which gauges the computer's performance as it converts an HD movie from one format to another while iTunes is doing a heavy job of music conversion in the background, the Crucial m4 only helped speed up the process just a little bit, scoring 322 seconds, compared with 340 seconds when a hard drive was used.
The Crucial did much better at the copy test, which is the most important test, showing how the drive performed while simultaneously reading and writing a large amount of data. In this test, the m4 scored 118MBps, which is about three times the speed of the fastest hard drive. Unfortunately this was still slower than the Plextor PX-256M2S , which scored 162MBps. It was in no way the slowest, however, as the OCZ Agility 3 scored only 102MBps in this test.
We did only one test with the drive being used as a secondary drive, and it's the same copy test as mentioned above. The only difference is that this time, the drive performed only writing, and the m4 did much better, showing a speed of 236MBps. Again this easily more than doubled the speed of even the fastest hard drive. Compared with other SSDs of the same standard, the m4 was again neither the fastest nor the slowest.
All in all, considering how affordable the m4 is, we were pleased with its performance, which will definitely improve any computer's overall performance, compared with a hard drive.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Shutdown time||Boot time|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|As secondary drive||As OS drive|
Service and support
Crucial backs the m4 with a three-year warranty, which is decent and standard for most SSDs. At Crucial's Web site, you can find a page dedicated to the m4 that offers lots of support information, including firmware and manual downloads.
Add better performance and the 4-star Crucial m4 SSD would earn our Editors' Choice Award. In its current state, we still loved it for its already decent performance and, most importantly, its affordable price. The drive will make an excellent buy for anyone who wants to upgrade and get the best performance out of a high-end system.