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Plextor M7V SSD review: A first foray into TLC NAND
By Kenny Yeo - 10 Jul 2016

Introduction

An Insight into Plextor

Although the market for SSDs is growing very quickly thanks to falling prices of NAND memory, it has become increasingly difficult for brands without their own NAND manufacturing facilities to stand out.

Samsung, is the undoubtedly leader in the SSD space, and has captured a market share of around 42%. Trailing a long way behind with around 9% to 10% is SanDisk. Followed by a motley crew of brands like Kingston, Toshiba, and of course, Plextor. According to the latest reports, Plextor’s market share currently stands at around 11%, which makes them a reasonably significant player in the industry.

The Plextor M7V is the company's first SSD to use TLC-NAND.

There are two main challenges for brands like Plextor who do not own NAND foundries. Firstly, because they have to buy NAND chips from other manufacturers like Toshiba, SanDisk or Samsung, they cannot afford to compete on price.

Secondly, because they do not manufacture or develop their own NAND chips, they cannot introduce new innovations on the NAND front. Samsung, for example, introduced their own V-NAND two years ago, and it has been a stellar hit for them, spawning the super-fast SSD 950 Pro and the economical but still quick SSD 850 Evo.

What this means is that they have to find other ways to innovate and create value. For Plextor, this means optimizing their drives to run as fast and as reliably as they can with their own in-house developed firmware. This philosophy has given birth to Plextor-developed technologies such as PlexNitro and PlexTurbo. In addition, Plextor also subjects its drives to rigorous testing, beyond what the competition does, to assure users of their reliability.

 

Introducing the M7V

In a bid to offer their SSDs to a wider audience, Plextor has finally embraced TLC NAND and created the M7V. TLC NAND SSDs are generally more affordable to produce because of their denser NAND chips. Since TLC NAND stores three bits of data per cell, this means that more NAND dies can be harvested from a single wafer, which translates to lower manufacturing costs.

The Plextor M7V will also be offered in the smaller M.2 2280 form factor.

However, TLC NAND is not without its problems. We have written about this extensively in our review of the Samsung SSD 840 Evo, one of the earliest TLC NAND SSDs. But in a nutshell, because of its denser structure, it suffers from poorer write speeds and also endurance. Samsung has done well to mitigate these shortcomings with its technologies, and many other brands have followed suit. Today, competitors like OCZ, Crucial, Toshiba, and even Sony, have SSDs with TLC NAND.

Inside, Plextor has called upon flash memory giants Toshiba to provide their newest 15nm TLC NAND. And on the controller front, Plextor is sticking with Marvell, specifically the Marvell 88SS1074B1. Since Plextor neither manufactures or designs its own NAND or controller, users should expect to see this combination of NAND and controller in other entry-level SSDs soon.

The M7V will also utilize SATA 6Gbps as its interface. The M7V will be offered in 128GB, 256GB and 512GB capacities, and it will also be available in two form factors: regular 2.5-inch and also M.2 2280.

Like all other SSDs in this price segment, the Plextor M7V also uses a SATA 6Gbps interface.

However, where Plextor really differentiates itself is in its custom firmware and exclusive technologies, so let’s talk through some of them now.

PlexNitro is a cache acceleration technology developed specially for TLC NAND SSDs. TLC NAND SSDs have always used cache acceleration technologies to boost performance and this usually means setting aside a certain amount of memory to function as a SLC NAND write cache. Plextor doesn’t specifically mention how PlexNitro works, but it did say that unlike other cache technologies, PlexNitro doesn’t set aside memory for the cache. In other words, you get the full capacity of the SSD. So a 256GB M7V will have exactly 256GB of free space, unlike its competitors which might offer only 250GB or 240GB.

A peek at the Marvell 88SS1074B1 on the M.2 variant of the Plextor M7V.

Another technology that will interest users is PlexTurbo. Much like Samsung’s RAPID mode, PlexTurbo accelerates a drive performance by utilizing unused system memory as a cache. Since accessing DRAM is many times faster than accessing the SSD drive, performance is boosted throughout. However, note that PlexTurbo needs lots of memory to work and Plextor recommends 32GB of RAM (gasp!) for PlexTurbo to work its best.

Apart from PlexNitro and PlexTurbo, the M7V also features other Plextor technologies such PlexVault and PlexCompressor. The former is a security feature that lets you store and hide data from others, which is useful if your system is shared with others; while the latter is a special technology that automatically compresses seldom used data to free up space on the drive. Finally, there's PlexTool, which is Plextor's drive management utility. It lets users monitor, manage their drives; and provides a quick and easy way for users to update their drives' firmware.

PlexTool lets users monitor, manage their drives; and provides a quick and easy way for users to update their drives' firmware.

Plextor SSDs also stand out for their reliability. For some time now, pre-production units of Plextor’s SSDs are rigorously tested to ensure they perform without a hitch before they can be approved for retail. This include a 100% burn-in and aging test; a 48-hour long sustained read and write test; 250 times boot cycle test; and a 4000 times idle recovery test. This explains why Plextor drives are generally regarded by many enthusiasts to be one of the most reliable around.

7.5
  • Performance 7
  • Features 8
  • Value 9
The Good
Lots of nifty features like PlexVault and PlexCompressor
Decent sequential read and write speeds
High claimed endurance for TLC-based SSD
Very attractive price
The Bad
No support for hardware encryption
Erratic performance especially on 4K workloads
No accessories
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