Marvell 9174 Drive Controller review

Read this article for the review of the drive controller Marvell 9174. Know the features, specifications and review of the Marvell 9174 Drive Controller and know about its performance and efficiency in real time conditions

Amazingly, the Marvell 9l74 drive controller used in these drives has been on the market for close to two years, having first appeared in Crucial's C300 in the summer of 2010. There have been minor updates to the controller since then, but these have mostly been to add compatibility or different kinds of NANO rather than additional performance. It's testament to its abilities, then, that SATA 6Gbps SSDs still use it, especially when two-year-old tech is so often scrapped.

Despite the controller's proven record, relatively few SSD manufacturers use the Marvell controller. Crucial's M4 range is the most obvious, but Intel's 510 line of SSDs, as well as Corsair's Performance series, also use the same 9174 drive controller in either its BLD2 (Crucial) or BKK2 (all others) guise. The reason so few manufacturers use the Marvell 9l74 controller is because Marvell only supplies the controller, not the firmware, leaving individual manufacturers the job of refining performance and stability. The controller itself is a dual-core ARM chip.

Crucial's M4 range of SSDs pairs the 9174-BLD2 controller with a 256MB DRAM chip. As Micron, Crucial's parent company, is a major NAND producer, it's no surprise to find 25nrn Micron NAND inside The 512GB, 256GB, 128GB and 64GB versions all use l6 NAND chips of varying die densities. The number oldie per module also has a distinct impact on performance, and both the 128GB and 64GB offer lower write speeds as a result. Having been on the market for close to a year, Crucial has recently updated the M4 drives to a smaller 7mm-deep housing to better accommodate the laptop upgrade market. Apart from the slimmer housing, though, the original and 'new' versions of the drive are otherwise identical.

While it uses the same controller, the Corsair Performance Pro is a very different drive indeed. The 9174-BKK2 controller is joined by a pair of high-speed 256MB 1,333MHz DDR3 DRAM cache chips and uses eight 36nm Toshiba toggle NAND modules, each with a capacity of 32GB. The use of toggle NAND rather than ONFi memory can grant additional performance, but also increases the price due to the lower production yields. It's a tantalizing combination, though, pairing a proven controller with high-performance NAND and a tonne of high-speed cache.

Having been on the market for so long, the Crucial M4 range has received a number of firmware updates, the latest of which is version 0309. Crucial's firmware updates are deployed via a bootable ISO and are extremely simple to use. However, there's no offer of a software suite or utilities package. Meanwhile, the Corsair Performance Pro similarly forsakes a software support package, and as recent arrival on the SSD market, it has yet to receive a firmware update; after all, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

Testing in AS-SSD saw the Crucial M4 family deliver excellent sequential read speeds of around 510 MB/sec, with sequential writes being similarly quick; the M4 256GB hit a peak of 278.5MB/sec. although the limited 64GB drive only managed 110MB/sec;a speed matched by many hard disk drives. Conversely, 4KB single-queue-depth testing saw the smaller drive trump the higher capacity versions when it came to read speeds, with the 128GB and 64GB drives producing over 27MB/sec. compared with the 22MB/sec from the 256GB and 512GB versions. In fact, the Crucial M4 64GB proved the fastest drive of any in this particular test.

With 64-queue-depth testing, the smaller drives again trumped the 256GB and 512GB versions, producing read speeds between 255MB/sec and 273MB/sec, compared to the larger drives' 150MB/sec.

It was much the same in CrystatDiskMark, with the 64GB and l28GBversions of the M4 offering higher 4KB random read speeds, and the 256GB and 512GB offering higher 4KB random write speeds. Overall, the entire range of Crucial M4 drives accounts well for itself, offering well-balanced sequential and 4KB random performance regardless of queue depth; only the write speed limitations of the 64GB version singles it out as appreciably slower.

Corsair Performance Pro, however, is really surprising. In AS-SSD, its sequential read speed was a little slow at around 473MB/sec (a result mirrored in CrystatDiskMark); however, at every other metric, it excelled, with outstanding sequential write speeds that surpass even those of the Samsung SSD830. Its 64-queue-depth 4KB random write speeds in AS-SSD were also superb, with a speed of 253MB/sec being the highest on test.

This was repeated in CrystalDiskMark, where its 32-queue-depth 4KB random write speed was a mighty 256.2MB/sec, with read speeds to match as well.

Crucial M4 range has again proved to be fast, well-rounded and great value dries. At current prices, the Crucial M4 256GB has slipped to only 98p per gigabyte and was the only drive that was able to make it under that magic €1 per gigabyte mark, with the 5l2GB and 128GB versions not too far behind. Credit must also be given to the Corsair Performance Pro — its stellar performance distinguished it as the fastest all-round drive on test. Only a price of €1.28 per gigabyte prevented it from victory, which ultimately goes to the Crucial M4 256GB.

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