Introduction

Plextor as a brand has been around for quite a while, but most of our long-time readers are likely more familiar with the name as a purveyor of optical drives (especially 8-15 years back when optical drive performance actually mattered). For our younger audience, the name may be a relative unknown. However, Plextor is not a newcomer in the SSD market or component world in general.

Plextor’s history dates back almost a century as it is a subsidiary of Shinano Kenshi Corporation, which was founded in 1918. The actual Plextor brand was founded in 1990 and Plextor mainly manufactured optical disc drives in the 90s. (For a fun blast from the past, you can still find our old Plextor drive reviews.) Plextor’s product lineup has always been and is still heavily optical drive orientated but in March 2010, Plextor revealed their first SSD lineup: The PX-64M1s and PX-128M1S.

About a year later, Plextor released their second generation SSDs: the M2 Series. It was among the first consumer SATA 6Gb/s drives and was based on Marvell’s 88SS9174-BJP2 controller, which is the same controller used in Crucial RealSSD C300. Plextor is now on its third generation of SSDs and we finally have the chance to take a look at their M3 Series.

Before we go into the actual drive, let’s talk briefly about gaining popularity and generating revenue in the SSD world. There are essentially two ways for an SSD manufacturer to generate revenue. The first is to make a deal with a PC OEM and supply them with SSDs. This is a relatively safe way because OEMs rarely offer more than one or two SSD choices, so if a customer wants an SSD pre-installed, there is a good chance that the drive will be yours. Toshiba’s SSD business model is solely based on OEM sales for example, and having scored a good deal with Apple (they used to be the only supplier of SSDs for Macs, and still ship most of the SSDs used in Macs), they are selling millions of SSDs every year thanks to Apple’s success.

The downside of an OEM partnership is the difficulty of building one. If you look at the SSDs that OEMs offer, they are mostly made by Intel or Samsung. Reliability is far more important for PC OEMs than raw performance figures because when a consumer is buying a computer, he is buying the big picture and not a specific SSD. Nobody likes failures and it should be one of the OEM’s main goals to build a reliable machine to avoid a stained brand image.

Furthermore, Intel and Samsung are both fab owners and use their own proprietary controllers (except for Intel’s Series 520 SATA 6Gb/s SSDs, but the firmware is still custom). Owning a fab means you have total control over what you produce and sell, and also know what to expect in terms of yields. If there is a problem in production, you can focus the available NAND on your own SSD products and ship the leftovers to others. That guarantees a fairly stable supply of SSDs, while fab-less SSD makers are at the mercy of NAND manufacturers and their supply can fluctuate a lot.

Using custom firmware, and especially an in-house controller, removes additional overhead that is produced by a third party controller and firmware. If you go with a drive that uses a third party controller and firmware, when an issue arises you first report it to the manufacturer of the drive, who then reports it to the maker of the controller and/or firmware, and then there's a delay while you wait for the problem to be fixed. SandForce in particularly cannot be praised for the quickness of their firmware updates in the past, and hence it’s a safer bet for PC OEMs to go with a manufacturer who also designs the firmware as it’s easier to work out potential issues that might crop up.

If you can’t establish a relationship with a PC OEM, then you are left with selling SSDs through retailers. This is what most SSD OEMs do and some do it along with OEM sales. The retail market greatly differs from the OEM market. Your SSD is no longer part of the whole product—it is the whole product. That means your SSD has to sell itself. The best way is obviously to have a high performance yet reasonably priced SSD, as that is what buyers will see when buying a product. Reliability is another big concern but it's something you can't really use as a marketing tool because there aren't any extensive, unbiased studies.

The positive side is that if you have an SSD that is very competitive, it will also sell. In the OEM market, you may not get a lot sales if the end-product isn't competitive. Take for example the Razer Blade that we just reviewed. It uses Plextor's M2 SSD (see why I picked the Blade now? Note however that our review sample was an earlier unit that used a Lite-On SSD) but as we mentioned in our review, the Blade is too expensive for what you get. Plextor will of course get some SSD sales through Razer but due to the small niche of the Blade, it's not a gold mine.

As far as brand awareness for Plextor, I believe the reason for their relative obscurity of late has been the lack of media awareness and contacts. Their journey to become an SSD manufacturer has been rather abnormal. When you think of the history of other SSD manufacturers, they were mostly known for RAM before entering the SSD world. Being in the RAM market acts as a shortcut because you are likely to have relations with the media that are interested in your products, plus there is a good chance that people are already familiar with your brand. For optical drive manufacturers, the case is the opposite.

These days, optical drives aren’t tested and benchmarked as much as other components; it’s not a component where people pay a lot attention when building a computer. When most people don’t really care what you are making, it’s tough to create media contacts and build brand image. Coming up with a new product line won’t solve the problem overnight but give it some time and it may. This is essentially what has happened to Plextor—it has taken a few generations of SSDs before consumers and media started recognizing the new player in the game—and now it’s time for us to take a look at what they have been holding in their sleeves.

Plextor M3 and Test Setup
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  • magnetar - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    ... that the Intel 510 SSD also uses the Marvell 9174 controller. I'm pleased that the 510 is still included in many SSD reviews at AnandTech, although it is dismissed as old and slow by some enthusiasts.

    The Samsung SSD Magician is the "gold standard" of SSD support programs? Personally I prefer Intel's SSD Toobox, the 3.0 version of course. I use both, and they are excellent, I've never had a problem with either of them. I like Intel's Toolbox UI over Samsung's Magician, the latter running in the background when not in use for some reason. Magician has more functions than the Toolbox, so has it beat in that aspect. Both allow firmware updates in the Windows environment... priceless!
    Reply
  • LokutusofBorg - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    Yeah, I noticed this too. That part of the article should be updated to say "Intel's 510 and 520 series..." or some such. Reply
  • sunsin - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    Kristian, I compared the result with Intel SSD 520
    Intel SSD 520 240GB Clean 284.5 MB/s After Torture 162.9 MB/s After TRIM 162.9 MB/s
    Plextor M3 256GB Clearn 328 MB/s After Torture 302.1 MB/s After TRIM: 327.1 MB/s

    The Plextor M3 has way better performance than Sandforce based SSD where the TRIM will never restore the clean performance. This does mean that Plextor will be better option for long term use.

    In addition, you mentioned that Sandorce based SSD will be a better choice for OS without official TRIM support, please provide some comparative figure to support this. The After Torture performance for Plextor vs Sandforce can be 302.1 vs 162.9 MBs. The win by 80%. Please explain why you always suggest Sandforce based SSD For OS without TRIM?
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    First off, we use different methods for TRIM testing on SF and non-SF drives. Non-SF drives are filled and tortured with compressible data as that is what HD Tach uses. SF drives, on the other hand, are filled and tortured with incompressible data and then benchmarked with AS-SSD which uses incompressible data as well. The length of the torture can vary as well. Hence you can't directly compare the results.

    In the case of Intel 520 and Plextor M3, Intel 520 was tortured for 60 minutes and it still managed a speed of 162.9MB/s. The numbers you have for Plextor are after 20 min torture. I also included a graph of 60min torture and the average write speed dropped to 54.9MB/s. Does this make sense to you now?

    SandForce's advantage is extremely low write amplification: http://images.anandtech.com/graphs/graph5529/44082...

    When you write less, there is also less garbage collection to do. Here is one graph that Anand linked earlier which compares TRIM/GC of drives: http://images.anandtech.com/graphs/graph5719/45462...

    However, like I noted in the TRIM part, there should be absolutely no problem in running M3 in an OS without TRIM. IF you are an extreme user and you'll be constantly hammering the drive under OS with no official TRIM support, then a SandForce drive may be a better solution. Most people's workload isn't like that and any decent SSD should do the job.

    I maintain a huge SSD sticky at MacRumors and I've only seen a few users complain about performance degradation, and nowadays we would consider those SSDs to be ancient anyway. Besides, if the performance degrades, you can always enable TRIM temporarily in OS X and TRIM the drive, then disable TRIM.
    Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Monday, April 09, 2012 - link

    Note that the "Steady State 4KB Random Write Performance" graph has highly misleading results.

    The steady-state 4KB QD=32 random write performance of the Vertex 3 when tested with random data streams (as the industry-standard SNIA protocol specifies) is only about 30MB/s, not 159MB/s as anandtech.com's graph incorrectly shows. You can see the correct results in either of these reviews:

    http://www.xbitlabs.com/articles/storage/display/m...

    http://www.storagereview.com/plextor_pxm3p_ssd_rev...

    It is disappointing for anandtech.com to get a simple test like this so very wrong.
    Reply
  • kissfan003 - Saturday, April 07, 2012 - link

    Plextor an unknown... Dang, I'm old... They were the best optical drive "back in my day"... Reply
  • ejiggyb - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Plextor used to be the only one for me, way back when Adaptec software was the king. That became Roxio. I had 3 different models they all became junk after a little use. They would automatically change speed if i was ripping a CD down to 2 speed unless I held the open button for a few seconds before I put in the CD. I spent a pretty penny for all them. To bad, I was a huge fan. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    "As far as brand awareness for Plextor, I believe the reason for their relative obscurity of late has been the lack of media awareness and contacts. Their journey to become an SSD manufacturer has been rather abnormal. When you think of the history of other SSD manufacturers, they were mostly known for RAM before entering the SSD world."

    While I wont argue that Plextor is/is not in the RAM business. Since when in the context of this article has Plextor been known for it's RAM products ? The general audience here being computer enthusiasts, and not Electronic Engineers. Even then, being in embedded design myself ( as a very serious hobby ) I can not say with all honesty that I have even heard of a Plextor memory chip/stick.

    I think most/all power users that have been around over the last 10+ years would agree that Plextor is most noted for it's optical drives. Specifically the bit for bit copy models. Like another reader, I own a UW SCSI UltraPlex myself, and it is still going strong to this day. Though admittedly, it has not been very useful for years.
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    I was specifically talking about other SSD manufacturers. Think e.g. OCZ and Crucial, both are RAM manufacturers. Plextor's journey is abnormal because they never made RAM or other components, only ODDs. I was not claiming that Plextor is a RAM manufacturer. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Sunday, April 08, 2012 - link

    Ah ha. I see now. *Other* SSD manufactures . . My mistake.. Sorry.

    So looking at things from that perspective.

    Plextor started off as the go to brand for many people where optical drives were concerned. Their CD writers / readers were second to none.. Often far exceeding the competition in performance, and features.

    Now days, like anyone else. It seems Plextor is only interested in making throw-away ( reference design ) products. No more pride in the brand.

    Going by the information given to us in your review, it seems perhaps Plextor is trying to put effort into at least this product, With great results ( so it seems ). Perhaps even trying to regain their good name of the past,

    With the above said, I think I would have to give Plextor a pass. Simply because their recent track record says one thing to me( by recent i mean the last several years ). *Money*. Not the end user, not even their good reputation. That goes back to your comments about the cost as well.

    Happily, I would love to be proven wrong. However, I would not hold my breathe passed 6 months where software support is concerned.

    Thank you for your non condescending response Though, I probably deserved it heh.
    Reply

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