Crucial P1 1TB NVMe M.2 SSD
Today on the testbench we have the P1 SSD from Crucial. Crucial are one of the consumer product brands of Micron Technology, a major semiconductor manufacturer who have been around since the 1970s. You might remember we reviewed one of their 2.5" SSDs a couple of years ago. This new drive is available in 512GB, 1TB and 2TB sizes, with our one being the 1TB option. It's also their first NVMe M.2 consumer SSD, and one of the first on the market to use 3D QLC NAND. But what does all that mean?
2.5" drive above, M.2 drive below
First of all, this SSD is different to previous recent reviews on OCAU because it isn't in the standard 2.5" form factor we're used to seeing. This instead is an M.2 drive, a form factor which has been making its way into desktop PCs over the last few years but so far hasn't usurped the 2.5" drive. It takes the form of an exposed PCB with gold-finger electrical connectors at one end. It's compact and therefore suitable for portable and SFF systems as well. This specific drive uses QLC 3D NAND memory, which in (very) short provides higher-density storage, making it cheaper.
The drive came in a smart but fairly plain retail pack. Inside the package was just the drive itself with a small warranty and "Getting Started" leaflet which pretty much just directs you to go to their website. Installation is simple if you have an M.2 socket on your motherboard, or you can use a PCIe adapter if needed.
It's worth noting that M.2 compatability and installation is not as straightforward as a 2.5" SATA drive, where you can be reasonably confident that any drive you can physically connect to your controller will work - even if possibly at a slightly lower speed than you're expecting, if you have a 6GB/s drive and only a 3GB/s controller, for example. But you should check whether your motherboard or controller supports only AHCI M.2 drives, or the newer NVMe M.2 drives. We still see from time to time in the OCAU forums a thread from someone asking why their new drive isn't detected by their motherboard, and sometimes it's just a matter of changing some BIOS settings. But unfortunately sometimes the answer is simply that they bought the wrong type of drive - usually a newer NVMe drive which doesn't work on their AHCI-only motherboard.
The other factor to consider relates to PCI Express bandwidth. Given the M.2 socket (particuarly for NVMe) gives the drive direct access to the PCIe infrastructure, you need to make sure you are providing it with enough bandwidth to get the most out of it. Our testbed PC is a good example of this. It uses an ASUS Z97-A motherboard which does have an onboard M.2 socket, and that socket does support NVMe drives. However, due to being a couple of years old, from back when consumer M.2 was a relatively new thing, and the peculiarities of its chipset, it only provides PCIe 2.0 X2 to the onboard M.2 socket. That's obviously an issue when this drive says right there on the sticker on the top that it wants PCIe 3.0 X4. Fortunately there are inexpensive M.2 to PCI Express slot adapters which let you connect these SSDs to your motherboard via the normal slots. Of course this chews up one slot, but if you're looking for storage bandwidth it makes sense to spend the few extra bucks to more than double the speed. Indeed in my testing I found the M.2 drives topped out at about 700MB/s in the onboard socket but both hit around 2000MB/s in the PCIe adapter. So naturally all testing of M.2 drives in today's review was done in the adapter card and not in the motherboard socket.
Speaking of performance, let's get down to numbers. Testing this drive was a little tricky as I don't have any other NVMe drives to compare it to. However, I do have a 256GB Samsung SM951, an AHCI M.2 drive which was the bees knees a couple of years ago. This is the boot drive of the testbed PC so has been used over the last couple of years and does have some space taken up by system files. I also threw in the T-Force Delta R RGB SATA SSD I reviewed last week. But neither of these are really a fair direct comparison to this drive, so treat them as a general representation of their respective type of drive, to put this new NVMe drive into some kind of context. As mentioned earlier, the testbed PC uses an ASUS Z97-A with the M.2 drives being tested in a PCIe socket adapter to give them the PCI 3.0 x4 they require. The SATA drive was plugged into one of the normal onboard 6GB/s SATA ports. This PC has 8GB of RAM, running Windows 10.
Let's start with the usual sequential read/write speed test using CrystalDiskMark and AS SSD:
Interesting results here, with the older Samsung drive drawing slightly ahead in the read tests, but falling substantially behind in the write tests. The SATA drive is left far behind, and again, it's only included to show you what you can expect from M.2 compared to traditional SATA. It's worth noting that Crucial rate the P1 1TB to 2000MB/s read and 1700MB/s write on the product page, which is pretty much bang-on what we saw in CrystalDiskMark.
Onward to the PCMark Vantage HDD Suite. This is an older benchmark now but still valid for storage testing as it replays traces from various real-world activities including virus scanning, video editing, importing media to a media player and loading applications.
The NVMe drive starts to really stretch its legs here. The older AHCI drive certainly beats the SATA drive, but in places it's closer to the SATA results than the NVMe ones.
For a final real-world test I simply copied a folder of test data from each drive onto itself, and timed how long it took with a stopwatch. Each test was repeated twice to confirm the results. It's a low-tech approach but should give an idea of what to expect in the real world. The data set this time was comprised of several large video files from 1-3GB, lots of smaller media files, a few application installation directories and several thousand smaller photo files around 2-3MB each. In total, about 5100 files totalling just under 30GB.
This file copy result is quite similar to the earlier sequential test, although the speeds certainly fluctuated as the different file sizes were copied over. Still, the two M.2 drives left the SATA drive pretty much dead in the water, with the Crucial P1 consistently slightly ahead of the Samsung.
One concern I've seen expressed about M.2 drives relates to the drives lacking any cooling, and exhibiting thermal throttling under load. Our test setup has a 90mm fan blowing in the direction of the M.2 adapter card, so unsurprisingly I didn't see any evidence of throttling. As a further test I turned the fan off and ran the file copy test 5 times in a row on the P1, giving it over 5 minutes of continuous high load, but each run was completed within a second or so of the others, so again I didn't see any thermal issues. Today was quite a cool day in the AggCave, with torrential rain roaring down outside all day, so maybe it would be more of an issue inside a fiery gaming PC at the height of summer. But again, I didn't see any thermal issues during testing.
In our performance testing, this drive handily held its own - although we weren't comparing it with direct competitors. This drive will stay in our testbed PC so the opportunity for more appropriate comparisons will hopefully arise over time. If nothing else, this review should convince you that your next drive should be an NVMe one rather than a traditional SATA drive, if storage speed interests you.
The idea behind this drive is that by using QLC NAND it will provide a budget option for large, decent-performance NVMe drives. So we shouldn't expect it to be beating specialised high-performance drives from other manufacturers. Indeed, a quick browse around the web shows other NVMe M.2 1TB drives that outperform this Crucial P1. That would be fine if the P1 were substantially cheaper than those drives, but unfortunately the P1 really doesn't seem to be that price-competitive at the moment, at least not on Australian shores so soon after launch. It's widely available at about the AUD$350 mark, and for that money, or even a little less, there are other 1TB M.2 NVMe drives available that simply out-perform this one.
So. If you want a 1TB M.2 NVMe drive from a big-name manufacturer with a 5-year warranty then the Crucial P1 may well be the drive for you, but the price will have to drift down a bit over time before it becomes really compelling.
Feel free to discuss this review in this thread!
All original content copyright James Rolfe.
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