A few years back the easiest way to improve performance on a personal computer would be to add more RAM, the volatile memory that allows your computer to store instructions and data during runtime. This is because back then more RAM was a premium feature on most home computers - and unless you had a nice gaming rig or a video editing station, RAM was a premium cost when buying a new PC.
RAM prices went down over the years and sure enough most computers now come out with 4 GB or 8 GB. Also operating systems are more efficient, processors are faster than event - even adding after market RAM is cheaper than before.
Storage turned to be the next easy way to improve performance. It started with adding larger caches to HDD, the permanent storage peripheral - the one where data and programs are stored when you shutdown your computer. Slowly the rise of SSD was the next big thing and again, with time, prices came down enough for people to either replace existing solutions or buy new systems with SSD pre-installed.
There is no discussion the biggest slowdown on your computer will be storage these days. The amount of data in and out is staggering and so is the requirements for faster access. The mechanical spinning discs (HDD or Hard Drive Disk) rely on arms that move a reading head over disc rotating at incredible speeds but there's a limit on the speed these arms can move around to reach the right sector on the disc at the right time to retrieve some data. And if data is scattered all over the drive then it will take longer - you can see this on how long it takes to load your computer's operating system when starting up, or how long it takes to run some programs. Add to this data traffic a feature on how your computer's operating system manage to use more memory than physically available (hint: it stores the overflow on your HDD) and things can get really slow.
The SSD (Solid State Drive) solved this problem by implementing storage on a purely electronic drive - no different than your USB key but with more smarts, better peripheral interface with higher performance and higher capacities.
Crucial (a Micron brand) is a big player in this market and has released many consumer-orientated SSD models over the years, focusing on the aftermarket with its 2.5" and 3.5" models. That is, until now, as the company has released its the Crucial P1, its first SSD on a NVMe M.2 form factor, ideal for laptops, modern servers and desktop computers.
The Crucial P1 comes in 500 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB models. According to their datasheet the max sequential read speed is pretty close for each model (1900, 2000 and 2000 MB/s respectively) while sequential write varies by model (950 MB/s on the 500 GB model, and higher 1700 and 1750 MB/s on the 1 TB and 2 TB mnodels respectively).
If you don't know, the M.2 format is just a bit larger than a chewing gum pack. Most modern laptops or small factor computers will have a M.2 slot already but desktop and servers may need an adapter. So, to test the Crucial P1 I got a M.2 to PCIe adapter, which allows me to add this SSD to my HPE Proliant ML110 Gen 10 system I use as my desktop at home (even though it's a server-class hardware).
Installation was very easy - attaching the Crucial P1 to the adapter and installing the bundle into the desktop took only a few minutes. No cables need and instantly recognised as a new drive. I then used the supplied Acronis disc copy software to duplicate my original c: drive.
Once the data was copied I enabled boot from this drive by default, which automatically changed its assigned letter to C: and my original C: was now lower in the ranks (I have another two very karge HDD in the available bays so this was now G:).
If you have a laptop and is replacing the existing C: drive you might need an external adapter via USB to duplicate the drive. Or if you are using a desktop you might check if boot from PCIe is even an option - this certainly worked on my HPE Proliant ML110 Gen 10 but this option wasn't available on a friend's HPE Microserver Gen 8 box.
Once I changed the setting in the BIOS and booted the system I was just presented with the same old Windows system - but instead of the original 150 GB SSD storage on C: I now had 1 TB. So far, so good.
I then started exploring - Crucial offers the Storage Executive, a software to help manage your SSD, including firmware updates and S.M.A.R.T information about the drive. It also offers two options that may be of interest - Over-Provisioning and Momentum Cache.
Over-Provisioning is a feature that allows you reserve some space for the SSD controller use only. This space is then available if the controler decides it needs it to level fill (to avoid cell wear) or performance maintenance. Ideally you would use this before the drive is partitioned because it will use space at the end of the drive to store this data - and this space is no longer accessible to the user.
The Momentun Cache is basically your standard cache, implemented at driver level. It should really be used if you have a battery-powered computer, such as a laptop or a UPS-backed desktop. I have not used the cache option on my desktop.
The Crucial P1 uses QLC (four bit per cell (QLC) NAND flash memory) which allows high storage density on a small footprint. According to reports Crucial and Intel share some of the technology used on this drive, with some firmware changes implemented by Crucial.
Crucial provides expected numbers for life performance. The company says the MTTF is 1.5 million hours and the 1 TB drive I have here should be good for up to 200 TB total bytes written (TBW) - or 109 GB a day for five years. Similarly the 500 GB drive is rated at 100 TBW (54 GB/day) and the 2 TB drive is rated at 400 TBW (219 GB/day).
In terms of performance I am really surprised (should I, really?) as this change had a huge impact on overall system speed. First there is the drive itself but also important was replacing the original 150 GB SSD connected via a SATA interface with the Crucial P1 connected via a PCIe interface.
Sequential read test of 1GB file yeld a 1600 MB/s which is very close to the rated speed, while a sequential write test was a lot lower than quoted, 786 MB/s. Interestingly the 4k IOPS (64 threads) was pretty much exactly what the specs promised, with 166500 Read IOPS and 246000 Write IOPS results.
Now compare this with the original SSD that gives me 181 MB/s (Read) and 152 MB/s (Write) results (44400 Read IOPS, 37350 Write IOPS) and you will understand why I said the Crucial P1 made such a difference on my desktop performance. Thoroughly recommended upgrade - covering both storage space and performance results requirements.