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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  • Pr101 - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Yeah, you just happened to do a review when other ssds were low in price/on sale and the Plextor was high/not on sale. I'd also use m4 prices of the ones that come with a 2.5 to 3.5 bracket for comparison. Anyway, nice review... Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I checked the prices one week apart (updated the prices so they wouldn't be that old) and Plextor was the most expensive throughout this period. Other drives are actually more expensive now than they were a week ago. But yeah, the prices fluctuate a lot so it's fairly hard to recommend one just based on prices. Reply
  • SetiroN - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    For its bundle, warranty and overall performance (never at the top but in every case amongst the top drives), I'd easily consider this the best drive on the market.
    As much as I understand the reliability concerns, Plextor is well known for their quality control, and for them to offer 5 yrs I'm pretty sure you can feel safe about it. This is not OCZ we're talking about.

    TBH I find it silly to ask for a $10 discount when competitors are offering much less in terms of warranty and bundling.
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I'm not saying that the drive is not worth the extra $10, but it can be hard for a buyer to justify the extra. There are free utilities that do the cloning job as well (although shareware is usually easier to use). I also think that most consider 3-year warranty to be 'good enough'.

    Especially 64GB is all about price as you're already making a compromise by getting such a small SSD.
    Reply
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Shockingly after dealing with 2 failed attempts at using freeware (EASEus and another program) I ended up having sucess with the Windows 7 Image backup and built in drive manager.

    I was going from a new laptop 500GB HDD with about 92GB on it to a 128GB Crucial M4. First thing was to reduce the size of the partition on the 500GB to less than 128. This wasn't as easy as it sounded as apparently the page file gets randomly placed on the drive. in my case it was placed at the middle of the platter and so I couldn't shrink the 500GB partition down until I first temporarily set the page file to 0MB and then repartitioned. After figuring out that little quirk and repartitioning down to under 95GB I did a recovery image onto an external HDD (this was a laptop with a single drive bay).

    Then using the bootable recovery windows cd I simply swapped out the old 500GB drive for the new M4 SSD, booted with the recovery disk, pointed to the image on the external drive, and sat back and within the hour (very slow external HDD!) was back up and running perfectly.

    Sure some of those other pay-for programs are probably easier to use, but this one didn't require any additional software (other than downloading Windows recovery cd), and a bit of hair-pulling to work out the quirks.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I've used Clonezilla quite a few times, but I wish they would add a feature to allow you to shrink a clone to a smaller drive (assuming the data will all fit). You pretty much have to do the same thing you just mentioned: eliminate the swap file and hibernate file, resize the partition to less than your target size, then clone/ Reply
  • Rick83 - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    It would be interesting to see not only power consumption measures, but also max-load efficiency values.
    In the "race-to-idle" scenario, that we want to see on mobile hardware, it can often be beneficial to consume a little extra power during a short time span, but then allow the entire system to idle as early as possible.
    Knowing the Watts per Throughput ratio could be helpful, and allow an easier comparison of effective/actual power consumption.
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    I totally agree. Power consumption during sequential/random write does not give the big picture. A fast drive with high peak power consumption may consume less power overall because it does the job faster than a slower drive with lower peak power.

    Ideally, I think it would be the best to measure how much power was used during our Heavy/Light test suites, that would be a more real life scenario. How to do that accurately is another question, but I'll definitely keep this in mind :-)
    Reply
  • James5mith - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    Anyone who has been involved in computers since the time of the first CD burners knows Plextor. Their 16x10x40 CD-RW drives were the cream of the crop and highly prized. I still have one despite not having an IDE channel to plug it into. I just can't bring myself to toss it. Reply
  • Spawn73 - Thursday, April 05, 2012 - link

    You´d must´ve been living in a hole to not have heard of Plextor. They're famous for their high quality CD-burners.

    Couldn't the reviewer Wiki the company or something before making a blanket statement about a company being unknown?
    Reply

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