Crucial V4 256GB SSD Review
When most people are looking for SSDs, they typically don’t think of slightly older systems and the performance boost solid state storage can provide to what many would consider outdated specifications. Rather their focus is upon cutting edge, ultra expensive rigs with high performance ICH/PCH’s. This is unfortunate because there has recently been a veritable explosion of low priced drives designed for upgrade purposes rather than providing blazingly fast benchmark scores.
These upgrade solutions typically come in the form of hybrid SSD/HDD combo drives which combine speed of solid state media with the capacity of spindle-based media. Another option is the “cache” drive which uses a limited capacity SSD to store and grand quick access to your most-used files and programs. Indeed, over the past few months Hardware Canucks has looked at a few of these more exotic ways of upgrading older systems and for the most part we walked away moderately impressed with the hybrid options. However, as flash media has fallen in cost, several manufacturers have found a way to create SSDs that actually compete against these somewhat unholy unions. The Crucial V4 256GB is one of these products and its aim is to eliminate the hard drive from you system altogether by offering speed, capacity and a low price.
Much like any typical SATA interface equipped SSDs, the V4 doesn’t rely upon external software solutions in order to transform your existing hard disk drive into a hybrid device. Rather, Crucial’s latest drive simply provides you with a one stop shop for increased system responsiveness. With an online average price of about $170 – or a mere 66 cents per GB – the V4 certainly may not be as cheap as some of those Hybrid setups, but it is still well within the “inexpensive” category for a modern SSD packed with 256GB of space.
From the outside the V4 256GB doesn’t look any different from any other typical SSD. It is only when you crack the lid open that anyone will begin to realize exactly how Crucial went about offering a value-forward solution without simply making the drive smaller: they’ve focused upon the controller and amount of NAND modules.
Unlike the Crucial M4 line, the V4 doesn’t rely upon Marvell’s extremely impressive second generation controller and it also bypasses the recently released 3rd generation of Marvell’s line. Unlike similarly price options, the Crucial V4 also avoids LSI SandForce units like the abundantly popular SF2181. Instead of taking the more common approaches - and risking being just another SandForce drive – Crucial has taken the road less traveled by utilizing the lesser known and slightly older PHISON PS3105-S5-1 controller. As with many controllers this Phison relies upon an external cache RAM IC (in the case Micron Low Profile DDR 128MB module) to speed up operations and keep latency to a minimum.
The Phison PS3105 was first seen in early 2011 inside the Patriot Torqx 2 and received only a tepid reception. Opting for a controller which debuted in early 2011 does make for a rather controversial choice since there the more powerful –and slightly more expensive- options available to Crucial. Even in its heyday, the PS3105 wasn’t considered flagship material and now this SATA 3Gb/s controller may be thoroughly outclassed when compared against entry level designs.
Though it may not be as powerful as the Marvell controller found in the M4 or a SandForce unit found in most other drives Phison’s controller does have some things in its favor. First and foremost among these benefits is Phison’s allowance for custom firmware. Much as we saw with Intel and their 520 series and Crucial own M4 drives, this is a big deal. Having total control over the firmware not only allows the engineers to tweak it for the NAND used within the drive but also grants them the ability to fine tune the drive fine-grain capabilities.
Also helping to keep costs down is, that unlike most 256GB drives, the V4 256GB only uses 8 NAND ICs instead of 16. In a modern controller this could mean reduced performance, but we doubt it will make much of a difference thanks to the older technology used in the PS3015.
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