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Micron M500DC Enterprise Class SSD Review
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Date: Apr 22, 2014
Section:Storage
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

Despite being limited by the capabilities of the SATA interface, many solid state drive manufacturers continue to innovate and introduce new products that improve on previous generation products. For example, Micron recently released its M550 series of drives, which was an evolution of the previously released M500 series, but built around newer, 20nm NAND flash memory and featuring enhanced/updated firmware. The M550 proved to be an excellent all around performer, outpacing many competing products in a number of tests, but again, operating within the limitations of its SATA interface.

Today, Micron is at it again, though the drives we’ll be showing you here are targeted at a different audience. The new Micron M500DC series of drives are designed for enterprise/data center type workloads and strike a balance between performance and endurance. We’ve got a couple of the drives on hand, in 800GB and 480GB flavors—full specs are below, followed by an array of benchmarks versus a handful of other drives in the same class...


The New Micron M500DC Enterprise-Class Solid State Drive

Micron M500DC Enterprise SSD
Specifications & Features

Find Micron SSDs at Amazon here, starting at $99.


Externally, there isn’t really much to see on the Micron M500DC drives we received for testing. As you’d expect, the M500DC looks just like the vast majority of other 2.5” solid state drives currently on the market (though, 1.8” models are also coming). It has a slim, 7mm Z-Height, and is adorned with a single decal listing the model number and some other identifying information, but other than that, it looks like any other SSD. These early samples don’t even have any stylized branding.

 
Talk about a clean PCB...

Open up the Micron M500DC and you’ll find that the drive is built around the tried-and-true Marvell 9187 controller, which has been employed by a number of other manufacturers, and that it sports a bit of Micron DRAM cache as well (1GB in the 800GB drive). This particular drive is an 800GB model, but it’s outfitted with 1024GB of total NAND. The unallocated capacity is used for wear leveling and other maintenance routines (the lower capacity drives are also over-provisioned, though the 480GB drive we tested is outfitted with 768GB of NAND). Micron rates these drives for 2 fills/day for 5 years, so endurance is competitive with competing products in this class.

The actual flash memory in this drive is custom 20nm MLC NAND that is not being offered to other drive manufacturers at this time. Details were scarce on what exactly makes this NAND different than what Micron offers to its customers, but we’re told it was designed for longevity and endurance and that it’s the “best of the best” bin. According to Micron, the M500DC takes full advantage of Micron’s vertical integration with XPERT and a custom MLC NAND device targeted specifically for enterprise SSD products. These NAND devices are built using a 20nm process and will not be sold to the open market—it will only be available in Micron SSDs.

What the pictures don’t show are some of the proprietary technologies Micron has incorporated into the M500DC, including RAIN (Redundant Array of Independent NAND), Adaptive Read Management/Optimized Read (ARM/OR), and DataSAFE, which fall under the umbrella of Micron’s extended performance and enhanced reliability technology, or XPERT. The drive also offers power loss protection, thanks to the bank of capacitors visible in the pics above.

RAIN can be considered somewhat of a RAID 5-type solution that works across the flash channels in the drive. With RAIN, the M500DC can recover lost data beyond page, block, and die-level failures. Adaptive Read Management / Optimized Read (ARM/OR) uses custom DSP algorithms implemented in firmware to optimize NAND read locations to deal with issues that affect the accuracy and endurance of a cell over time. Enterprise data path protection is a protection scheme that ensures all data within the drive is transferred correctly through the various SSD structures, including the drive interface, DRAM cache, all error checkers, etc. To further protect data, the M500DC is also outfitted with Physical Power-Loss Protection. The drive sports an array of capacitors that can provide enough power for the drive to commit all pending write commands in the event of a power failure.

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Test Setup, IOMeter 1.1 RC

Our Test Methodologies: Under each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a separate drive used for the OS and benchmark installations. Out testbed's motherboard was updated with the latest BIOS available as of press time and AHCI (or RAID) mode was enabled. The SSDs were secure erased prior to testing, and left blank without partitions for some tests, while others required them to be partitioned and formatted, as is the case with our ATTO, PCMark 7, and CrystalDiskMark benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system, ensured all temp and prefetch data was purged, and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle and for the system to reach an idle state before invoking a test.

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 and SSD Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -

Audio -

Storage -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7-4770K

Gigabyte Z87X-UD7 TH
(Z87 Chipset, AHCI Enabled)

Intel HD 4400

8GB G.SKILL DDR3-1600

Integrated on board

Corsair Force GT (OS Drive)
Intel SSD DC3500 (480GB) 
Intel SSD DC3700 (200GB)
Micron p400m (200GB)
SanDisk CloudSpeed 1000 E (800GB)
Micron M500DC (480GB, 800GB)

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 8.1 Enterprise x64
Intel 9.4.0.1027, iRST 12.8.0.1016
DirectX 11

Intel HD 10.18.10.33

Benchmarks Used:
IOMeter 1.1.0 RC
HD Tune v5.50
ATTO v2.47
AS SSD
CrystalDiskMark v3.0.3 x64
PCMark 7
SiSoftware Sandra 2014

IOMeter
I/O Subsystem Measurement Tool

As we've noted in previous SSD articles, though IOMeter is clearly a well-respected industry standard drive benchmark, we're not completely comfortable with it for testing SSDs. The fact of the matter is, though our actual results with IOMeter appear to scale properly, it is debatable whether or not certain access patterns, as they are presented to and measured on an SSD, actually provide a valid example of real-world performance for the average end user. That said, we do think IOMeter is a reliable gauge for relative available throughput within a given storage solution. In addition there are certain higher-end workloads you can place on a drive with IOMeter, that you can't with most other storage benchmark tools available currently.

In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns; our custom Workstation pattern, with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and a 4K access pattern with a 4K transfer size, comprised of 67% reads (34% writes) and 100% random access.

The new  Micron M500DC series drives put up some excellent numbers in our IOMeter tests. With both access patterns, across every queue depth, both drives performed at, or near, the top of the charts.

In terms of bandwidth, both Micron M500DC series drives also did very well, leading the pack by a significant margin.

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SANDRA and ATTO Disk Benchmark

Next we ran SiSoft SANDRA 2014, the the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provide the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run on unformatted drives and read and write performance metrics are detailed below.

SiSoft SANDRA 2014
Synthetic HDD Benchmarking

 

According to SiSoft SANDRA's physical disk benchmark, the new Micron M500DC series drives offered competitive read and write speeds, and trailed only the Intel drives.

ATTO Disk Benchmark
More Information Here: http://bit.ly/btuV6w

ATTO is another "quick and dirty" type of disk benchmark that measures transfer speeds across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart. We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes and a queue depth of 6 over a total max volume length of 256MB. ATTO's workloads are sequential in nature and measure raw bandwidth, rather than I/O response time, access latency, etc.

The Micron M500DC series drives offered some of the best performance here, with the smaller block sizes. Once they hit the 32K mark though, performance landed about in the middle of the pack.

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HD Tune Benchmarks
EFD Software's HD Tune is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tune is a hard disk utility with many functions. It can be used to measure the drive's performance, scan for errors, check the health status (S.M.A.R.T.), securely erase all data and much more." The latest version of the benchmark added temperature statistics and improved support for SSDs, among a few other updates and fixes.

HD Tune v5.50
More Info Here: http://www.hdtune.com

The Micron M500DC series drives performed very well in the HD Tune benchmark, putting up some competitive transfer speeds and some of the lowest access times.

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CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks

CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark that tests both sequential and random small and mid-sized file transfers using incompressible data. It provides a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to SSD performance, best case being larger sequential transfers and worse case being small, random transfers.

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests

The Micron M500DC series drives also put up some decent numbers in CrystalDiskMark. Sequential and large data transfers were competitive, though the drives didn't lead the pack. In the 4K transfer tests, especially at high queue depths though, the Micron M500DC series drives did very well.

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AS-SSD Compression Test

Next up we ran the Compression Benchmark built-into AS SSD, an SSD specific benchmark being developed by Alex Intelligent Software. This test is interesting because it uses a mix of compressible and incompressible data and outputs both Read and Write throughput of the drive. We only graphed a small fraction of the data (1% compressible, 50% compressible, and 100% compressible), but the trend is representative of the benchmark’s complete results.

AS SSD Compression Benchmark
Bring Your Translator: http://bit.ly/aRx11n

There's not much to see here. All of the drives offered consistent performance regardless of the compressibility of data. In terms of total bandwidth, the Micron M500DC series drives were competitive, but they trailed the Intel drives by a few MB/s.

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PCMark 7 Storage Benchmarks
We really like PCMark 7's Secondary Storage benchmark module for its pseudo real-world application measurement approach to testing. PCMark 7 offers a trace-based measurement of system response times under various scripted workloads of traditional client / desktop system operation. From simple application start-up performance, to data streaming from a drive in a game engine, and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel more comfortable that these tests reasonably illustrate the performance profile of SSDs in an end-user / consumer PC usage model, more so than a purely synthetic transfer test.

Futuremark's PCMark 7 Secondary Storage
http://www.futuremark.com

Intel's drives led the pack in the Futuremark PCMark 7 secondary storage benchmark, but the Micron M500DC series drives still performed well here. The largest delta (separating the 800GB M500DC and the Intel DC SD3700) was only 6. And that delta is cut in half with the 480GB drive.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Micron’s new M500DC series of enterprise-targeted solid state drives offered strong performance across the board. The 800GB and 480GB drives we tested offered competitive sequential and large file transfers, though they didn’t lead the pack in this area. Access times, however, were among the best we’ve seen and 4K random transfers, especially at higher queue depths, were excellent. The Micron M500DC series drives also offered consistent performance regardless of data type being transferred.


The Micron M500DC In 480GB and 800GB Flavors

Micron doesn’t disclose pricing on its enterprise-class drives, but we were told the Micron M500DC series will be "priced competitively versus drives targeting the same market segment" and that they’ll be available immediately. Assuming that holds true, the new Micron M500DC series should be excellent offering in solid state storage. The drives perform well across a variety of workloads, they offer enterprise-class data path protection, and leverage Micron’s XPERT features. They’re also outfitted with power loss protection, and are built with high endurance in mind. These new SSDs will also be offered in both 1.8” and 2.5” flavors. Sequential transfers weren’t quite as high as some competing drives in their category, but overall there aren't many compromises with this new breed of Micron drives. The M500DC series is yet another strong family of products to come out of Micron.

Find Micron SSDs at Amazon here, starting at $99.

  • High Endurance
  • Top Notch NAND
  • Speedy 4K Random Transfers
  • Overall Performance
  • Pricing Not Disclosed
  • Larger Sequential Transfers



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