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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  • sulu1977 - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Years ago I read that SSDs can easily last a lifetime of normal use, and if they fail, you never lose any data. Now I'm getting the feeling that they can have a higher failure rate than mechanical HDs. This is very disturbing. What's the real truth here?
  • sheh - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    What worries me is the data retention period. The JEDEC JESD218A standard requires, when powered off, only 1 year of retention for Client class drives, and 3 months for Enterprise. This can be higher or lower depending on temperature. I suppose real flash exceeds that, and I suspect drives actively "refresh" stored data when they're powered on, but that's just a guess.

    I'd like to see an AnandTech article on SSD reliability, including retention, write endurance, trends as manufacturing processes get smaller, SLC/MLC/eMLC/TLC, etc.
  • sulu1977 - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Just curious; how many of you would be willing to put priceless photos on a SSD and store it in a drawer for 5 years?
  • sheh - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    There's a lack of info on data retention, so no.
  • flensr - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    How come SSDs seem to always come in 9.5mm when that means you can't use them in many of the newer thin laptops? a 7mm drive can come with a super cheap plastic shim that would make them fit into a 9.5mm chassis, but you can never fit a 9.5mm drive into a 7mm chassis. 9.5mm is a stupid size for an SSD, period. If the SSD is put into a desktop, tower, or HTPC case then the height doesn't even matter at all, and 7mm drives can fit into any laptop using the 2.5" format, normal, slim, or even the less common 12mm height ones.

    Reviews ought to point out that these 9.5mm drives are totally worthless for upgrading many many laptops now that the slim drives are becoming much more common. Maybe the SSD manufacturers will figure out that there is really no reason at all to make ANY 9.5mm drives, since a simple plastic adaptor will make a 7mm drive fit snugly into a 9.5mm chassis while maintaining compatibility with many more laptops overall.
  • scbdpa - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    the m3 pro is 7mm. maybe the m5pro will be, too
  • ggathagan - Thursday, July 19, 2012 - link

    Why the vitriol?
    It makes you sound like a 12-year-old gamer on Xbox Live.

    He states the thickness on the 3rd page of the review.
    Given that there are many,many more laptops that CAN use the thicker drives, I don't know why you feel that extra attention needs to be given to that particular spec.

    While it may be over the minimum thickness needed for an SSD, the size has been around ever since the laptop hard drive has existed.
    I suspect that whoever 1st brought this type of SSD to market simply stuck with the same form factor and everyone else just followed suite.
    I doubt a different height was even considered until notebook manufacturers started getting serious about notebook thickness and someone had a light bulb go off in their head.
  • flensr - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    Why the vitriol? You prove my point completely in your post. None of your "reasons" make any sense if they put any thought into it, and a 7mm drive would fit into ALL laptops, not just "many many more". So a smart intelligent design choice would lead to compatibility with "all", rather than not thinking about it at all which leaves a growing number of potential customers with a sharply reduced set of options.

    Hmm. I think that just about defines "stupid" when it comes to marketing and design. Hence, my description of the design as "stupid".

    As for what it "sounds like", you sound like a fanboi defending a stupid no-thought-involved design choice simply because the stupid decision doesn't impact you personally yet. You can try to explain it away all you like, but the fact remains that building 9.5mm SSDs excludes a growing percentage of the potential SSD customer base for no reason.

    Making it worse, even among companies that do sell 7mm height drives, there is no standard for putting this in the specs. One or two sellers list "7mm" as a height, some go with something like "0.28 inches", and at least one simply describes their drives as "thin enough for slim profile laptops".

    I'd have purchased at least 3 SSDs for my laptops by now, except that every time I start looking I find some lower-end ones listed as 7mm, some overpriced ones listed as "super slim on a diet!!!111one", and some with no thickness listed whatsoever that are out of stock yet which I know from a good review are the right size. After a while I put a "notify me" flag on one and give up. That's 3 drives I didn't purchase because the SSD manufacturers are building and marketing drives that exclude me, for no real technical reason. It is as if they don't want me to buy their drives. So I haven't yet. Maybe someday I'll go shopping for an SSD that got a good review, and it'll be competitively priced and have right in the specs "7mm height", and it'll be in stock. I'll buy right then. So far it's been a fight just to identify what size the drives actually are because they keep using the weird 9.5mm height for most drives and seem intent on hiding which drives are 7mm.
  • waldojim42 - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    Not sure what specs you need for a 7mm drive, but the M3 is 7mm and fits my W520 perfectly.
  • JellyRoll - Friday, July 20, 2012 - link

    The excuse for not disclosing the calculation method for write amplification is weak, at best.
    This calls into question the trustworthiness of the data. Any website that uses 'secret' methods of measurement should be called into question. Does the measurement method favor certain controllers, or types of NAND? Or does advertising revenue affect the results?

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