Plextor is one of those OEMs who have quietly been making their way into the SSD market. They don't have an aggressive marketing engine like for example OCZ does. Their drives are not featured on NewEgg's front page or advertised on most technology sites. If you have read our Plextor M3 review, you might remember that I had not even heard of Plextor before they contacted me. Older users may remember the name Plextor from times when optical drives were relevant, but for years Plextor was out of the spotlight because optical drive performance stopped being relevant for the majority of people and Plextor didn't really have any other products. In 2010, Plextor's ship took a new destination and that was the SSD market.

SSD prices have been dropping significantly over the last couple of years. Especially in the last few months, there have been lots of discounts. For example, the 128GB Vertex 4 had suggested retail price of $179 when it was released in April. Right now it's selling for $120 at NewEgg. That's 33% reduction in price in less than four months. Even more extreme example would be Crucial's m4. When it was originally released in April 2011, the 512GB version had a suggested retail price of $1000. Currently the exactly same drive retails for $400 at NewEgg, and there have been sales bringing the price down as low as ~$350.

The drop in prices has also increased consumer interest in SSDs. You no longer need to spend half of your entire PC budget on an SSD large enough to hold more than just your OS. With more buyers looking for SSDs, there is room for more manufacturers as well. SandForce's licensing strategy has allowed pretty much any hardware company to enter the SSD market, the most recent entrant being MSI. While SandForce SSDs are good in performance and are usually competitively priced, they are all more or less the same (Intel's custom firmware enabled SF drives being the exception). In the end, there are very few SSD OEMs that have truly unique SSDs. Unique in this context means that you at least have your own firmware. Intel, Samsung, Micron/Crucial, OCZ, Toshiba, SanDisk and of course Plextor are probably the most known manufacturers with their own firmware and even controller in some cases. These OEMs also happen to be the largest in the channel SSD market, which is no coincidence. 

While Plextor is still far away from gaining Intel or OCZ status in the SSD world, they are on the right path. We were very pleased with Plextor's M3 and M3 Pro when we reviewed them. Performance was great and both drives were backed by a 5-year warranty (more on reliability in a bit). The only real complaint we had was about pricing, which was not necessarily enough competitive to keep up with the constant price drops. Of course, there were sales that brought the M3's price down to the level of other SSDs, but in most cases you still had to pay premium if you wanted a Plextor SSD.

The M5S that we'll be looking at today is all about cutting costs while still providing the same performance and (hopefully) reliability that the M3 and M3 Pro provided. Without further delay, lets start off with a specification table:

Plextor M5S Specifications
Model PX-64M5S PX-128M5S PX-256M5S
Raw NAND Capacity 64GiB 128GiB 256GiB
Usable Capacity 59.6GiB 119.2GiB 238.5GiB
Number of NAND Packages 8 16 16
Number of Die per Package 1 1 2
NAND Micron 25nm synchronous MLC NAND
Controller Marvell 88SS9174-BLD2
Cache 128MB DDR3 256MB DDR3 512MB DDR3
Sequential Read 520MB/s 520MB/s 520MB/s
Sequential Write 90MB/s 200MB/s 390MB/s
4K Random Read 61K IOPS 71K IOPS 73K IOPS
4K Random Write 25K IOPS 51K IOPS 70K IOPS
Warranty 3 years
MSRP $100 $160 $300

The 128GB and 256GB models are nearly identical to the M3 in terms of performance. There are some minor changes but the only notable one is a 30MB/s increase in sequential write speed for the 256GB model. The 64GB model, on the other hand, has gone through some serious performance reshuffling: sequential write has dropped from 175MB/s to 90MB/s and 4K random write from 40K IOPS to 25K IOPS. 

Comparison of NAND Interfaces
  ONFi Toggle-Mode
Manufacturers IMFT (Intel, Micron, Spectec), Hynix Toshiba/SanDisk, Samsung
Version 1.0 2.0 2.x 3.0 1.0 2.0
Max Bandwidth 50MB/s 133MB/s 200MB/s 400MB/s 166MB/s 400MB/s

Plextor couldn't tell us why they switched NAND suppliers for the M5S but I believe it has to do with price and supply. Remember that the M5S is all about cutting costs. Often times compromises have to be made in order to cut costs sufficiently. In this case, the 64GB model has compromised performance while the bigger capacities continue to run at roughly the same speeds.

A Word on Reliability
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  • Kristian Vättö - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    The prices were taken two days ago on July 16th, so some may have changed already. The idea is to provide some kind of idea of pricing, that's all. As you noticed already, prices change all the time so the table is only useful for a few days, hence I don't see a point in making a Europe table as well.
  • Rick83 - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    While geizhals/skinflint is a convenient tool, outside of Germany things usually get much more expensive.
    Occasionally a good deal in the UK, but component prices in France are often 10% higher, making even the 15 euro shipping appear attractive in some cases....
  • scbdpa - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    So would you recommend the m3pro or m5s to a user looking to buy a plextor ssd (128gb)?
  • Kristian Vättö - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    If price is not a concern, the M3 Pro. It's noticeably faster and carries a 5-year warranty.
  • scbdpa - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    price is not the problem. What about if the machine doesn't support TRIM (a standalone audio recorder)?

    still get the 3pro, or get the m5s with the better garbage collection?

  • name99 - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Depending on what you're doing, an EXTREMELY important characteristic is power. Not idle power, but peak power (which is usually hit during sustained writes). In spite of what some people think, this number, for current SSDs, is usually substantially higher than the equivalent number for a 2.5" HD.

    So I'd say figure out what's the max sustained power your audio recorder can provide and use that to make your decision. If you don't know, anything below 2.5W (which is what USB-2 provides, and what most 2.5" HDs target) is safe, anything above that and you may be setting yourself up for random crashes.
  • kmmatney - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    I don't see why one would buy this over the Crucial M4. If I understand correctly, they They both use the same NAND and a similar marvell controller. It looks liek the Plextor firmware is tweaked for better performance, but I don't think there would be any real-life difference. FYI - I have both a Samsung and a Crucial 256GB SSD in my laptop (2 bays) and I can say for certain that their real-life performance is identical.
  • sheh - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    How do you estimate the write amplification?
  • shodanshok - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    Quote, I'm interested on this.

    Moreover, it is a very pleasant surprise that Plextor managed to both deliver better write amplification and more aggressive garbage collector, as they are usually mutually exclusive.

  • Kristian Vättö - Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - link

    I can't disclose our testing methods (they are kind of like our "trade secrets") but the basic formula for calculating WA is data written to the flash divided by data written by host. For example, if you go and copy a 1GB folder to the SSD and and the SSD ends up writing 3GB, WA would be 3x.

    Keep in mind that our WA estimation is a worst case scenario, not average WA.

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