Corsair, perhaps better known for its power supplies, PC cases, and gaming gear than its storage hardware, threw itself into the now-crowded pool of flagship PCI Express solid-state drives (SSDs) with its Force MP500 drive earlier this year. This little speed demon has all the latest SSD technology that’s currently available, crammed into its tiny 22mm by 80mm footprint. Indeed, it’s been built to take on all the fastest consumer-grade SSDs currently on the market. And when we say it has all the latest technology, we mean it.
Not only is it rocking the “stick of gum” M.2 form factor, but it connects to the PCI Express interface, and uses four lanes (which is the current maximum). Like other leading-edge drives, it makes use of the relatively new NVMe protocol in concert with that interface, instead of the outdated AHCI protocol used by conventional Serial ATA-based SSD and hard drives.
These features allow it to run at speeds that well outrun any of the SATA drives on the market, and that’s the whole point. Over the past year or so, an entirely new crop of PCI Express drives have launched that leave the old SATA drives in the dust, and the Corsair MP500 is one of the newer ones to enter the fray.
Corsair has its work cut out for it, as it’s going up against some mighty fine SSDs. Its biggest competition is naturally Samsung’s latest-gen performance SSDs, the SSD 960 Pro and SSD 960 EVO, which are also PCI Express x4 and NVMe drives. It’s also facing some competition from Plextor’s newest M.2 SSD, the Plextor M8Pe, as well as the Toshiba OCZ RD400.
All of these drives are blazing fast and as good as it gets in the consumer-SSD world, with the only downside being they are a bit pricier than SATA-based SSDs. Like in all things having to do with performance-minded PC parts, you gotta pay if you wanna play, as it’s said on the streets. Luckily, as more of these types of drives enter the market, we’ll eventually see prices begin to decrease, because…well, capitalism.
Corsair is like most makers of SSDs, in that it doesn’t fabricate its own silicon; it has to purchase all the components needed from other companies, then combine them to create drives like the Force MP500. This is the case with most SSD manufacturers, but not the truly huge ones like Samsung, Intel, and Crucial/Micron, which have access to their own fabs (or special arrangements) and can make all or most of the parts themselves. For the Force MP500, Corsair has cooked up a recipe that uses Toshiba 15nm MLC NAND flash in conjunction with an eight-channel controller from Phison.
The combination of the two allows the Force MP500 to offer sequential-read speeds, according to Corsair, of up to 3GB per second and sequential-write speeds up to 2.4GB per second. Yes, that’s gigabyte, not gigabit; these drives are smokin’ fast, indeed. As a reminder, SATA drives top out at about 500MB per second, and that’s megabytes, so drives like the MP500 represent a theoretical five-fold increase in read speeds, and a four-fold one in write speeds. Those speeds won’t necessarily translate into real-world gains you can feel by a factor of 4x or 5x, but they do look good in benchmarks.
Corsair offers the Force MP500 in three capacities: 120GB, 240GB, and 480GB. The rated performance does kick up a bit as the capacity increases, but it really depends on what tool you’re using to measure it. The rated endurance also increases with the capacity, as the 120GB drive can handle a whopping 175 terabytes written (TBW), per Corsair, with the 240GB and 480GB models rated to withstand 349TBW and 640TBW, respectively. If you need some context on these numbers: They are all quite large, as a typical power user, Corsair estimates, might write 15TB to a drive in one year. So all three of these drive capacities offer more than enough endurance to last well beyond their three-year warranty.
The drive is complemented by Corsair’s downloadable SSD-software utility, which is dubbed Corsair SSD Toolbox. It allows for the usual-suspect routines, allowing you to secure-erase the drive, update the firmware, and see the drive’s health. Most people rarely, if ever, actually need to use these features, but it’s helpful that Corsair has covered the basics with its software utility. We’ve covered SSD Toolbox previously, and you can see screenshots and more in our review of the company’s Neutron XTi SSD. That said, some of the features were not yet activated for this NVMe drive, and presumably were there in the software as vestiges of how the software works with SATA drives. We couldn’t do a secure-erase through SSD Toolbox at this writing, for example.
When we wrote this in April 2017, the Force MP500 was running on Amazon for the following prices: 120GB for the $110 model, 240GB for $170, and the 480GB we tested for $259. These prices are competitive for the market they are in, and they should give the Samsung SSD 960 EVO a run for its money, assuming performance is in line with the spec sheet. Let’s dig into that.
If you’re new to the world of solid-state drives, a few things are worth noting when it comes to performance.
For starters: If you’re upgrading from a standard spinning hard drive, any modern SSD will be a huge improvement, speeding up boot times and making programs launch more quickly. Most of today’s SSDs make use of the SATA 3.0 interface (also called “6Gbps SATA”), and they can be implemented as laptop-style 2.5-inch drives (in the same shape as hard drives), or as M.2 gumsticks like this one.
The drive we’re looking here, though, is an M.2 drive, and not one that uses the SATA interface. (Note that some M.2-form-factor drives do run over the SATA bus.) This one makes use of both the PCI Express bus (employing four PCI Express lanes, usually dubbed “x4”) and the new NVMe protocol.
Support for both is key. At this point, it’s mostly high-end laptops and convertibles, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4Dell XPS 13Ryzen 7 1700X. Note, though, that some motherboards may support PCI Express drives, but only at PCI Express x2 speeds, and some may support PCI Express x4 speeds, but not NVMe.
In other words, be very sure what your system or board supports before buying, because no one wants to buy a super-fast drive only to find out it won’t run—or won’t run at the fastest possible speeds—in your existing system. Over the next few years, we expect support for these features to become much more common, but at the moment buying the best M.2 drive that your system can handle is still a bit of a minefield. For a thorough explainer, see our guide The Best M.2 Solid-State Drives, Tested.
Before we get to our performance comparisons, it’s worth pointing out that we’ll be pitting the Force MP500 against a slew of similar and not-so-similar drives. Of course, we included the other PCI Express/NVMe drives we’ve tested to date: the Samsung SSD 960 EVOSSD 960 ProIntel 750 SeriesToshiba OCZ RD400Crucial MX300. The slower SATA-based drives don’t have a hope of competing with the Force MP500 or other NVMe drives on most of our tests. They are there to provide context around the performance differences between those more common drives and the much faster PCI Express/NVMe-based options.
PCMark 8 Storage Test
The Storage Test is a subtest under Futuremark’s larger PCMark 8 benchmarking suite. It employs a different approach to drive testing than pure speed tests like AS-SSD, which we’ll get to below. PCMark 8 runs a series of scripted tasks (dubbed “traces”) that simulate everyday PC operation under programs like Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and popular games. The result is a proprietary numeric score; the higher the number, the better. This score is useful in gauging general performance versus other drives.
We haven’t tested all of our drives we’ve reviewed on PCMark 8, so this is just a taster. The Corsair Force MP500 is squarely in the hunt, as it’s close to the same score as the popular Samsung SSD 960 EVO drive, which is what most drives in this class are aiming for; it’s considered to offer the most appetizing blend of price and performance. Another interesting tidbit is that the Intel 750 Series drive is right alongside the M.2 NVMe lot, which is impressive for the others because the Intel 750 used to be the fastest consumer-feasible SSD on the planet. Newer drives have muscled in on its exclusive status, but it’s certainly no slouch.
AS-SSD (Sequential Read Write Speeds)
This test uses the AS-SSD benchmark utility, which is designed to test SSDs (as opposed to traditional hard drives). It measures a drive’s ability to read and write large files. Drive makers often quote these speeds, as a theoretical maximum, on the packaging or in advertising.
Sequential speeds are important if you’re working with very large files for image or video editing, or you play lots of games with large levels that take a long time to load with traditional hard drives. Again, we secure-erase all SSDs before running this test.
Here, we see the Corsair Force MP500 landing solidly in the second tier of M.2 NVMe SSDs we’ve tested (which ends, above, with the ADATA drive). It’s not quite as fast as the Samsung and Intel drives, but neck-and-neck with slightly older PCI Express NVME drives like the Samsung SSD 950 Pro, Toshiba OCZ RD400, and Plextor M8Pe. This puts the Corsair drive in fairly solid company, but it’s decidedly mid-pack.
The results of the sequential-write test largely mirror those of the read test, which shows Samsung silicon way out in front and the rest of the PCI Express drives battling for third place. The Corsair Force MP500 performed reasonably well, almost tying with the older Toshiba OCZ RD400 drive at 1.2GB-per-second write speeds. That’s a far cry from its advertised speeds of 2.4GB per second, but AS-SSD never shows the drives in their best light, because it uses data sets that are not compressible, which is why we run it.
We also report AS-SSD’s Overall Score, which is derived from these AS-SSD tests and several others…
In case there was any doubt where the Force MP500 lands in the SSD hierarchy, the AS-SSD Overall Score re-iterates its mid-pack status. In this test, it’s clearly not as fast as the newer Samsung SSD 960 drives (or Intel’s 750 Series), but it is definitely one of the faster drives in the second step on the podium. In fact, it scored almost the exact same as the Samsung SSD 950 Pro drive overall, which isn’t too shabby though at the same time, is illustrative of Samsung’s dominant place in the SSD firmament: Corsair’s drive is relatively new, while the SSD 950 Pro came out in late 2015.
Crystal DiskMark (QD32 Testing)
Crystal DiskMark also uses incompressible data for testing, which stresses most modern SSDs quite a bit since they rely on data compression to achieve their maximum level of performance. This particular test is designed to replicate the duties of an SSD located inside a Web server, as it’s asked to perform a smattering of small reads, which are 4K in size. While it’s reading these files, a queue of 32 outstanding requests is lined up. That’s typical of a high-volume Web server, which has to fulfill requests that all come in at the same time from various clients.
In this test, the Corsair Force MP500 was basically tied with the Toshiba OCZ RD400 drive, hitting 604MB per second in what is a perhaps too-grueling benchmark. The faster SSDs were able to deliver speeds in the upper 600MB range, so the MP500 isn’t too far behind, but again, it’s in the middle tier of drives of its kind as opposed to the upper echelon.
The Force MP500 performed well in this test, as most of the drives were able to dish out around 600MB per sec, and the Corsair drive hit 591MB. Interestingly, most of the PCIe/NVMe drives performed very similarly on this test, the Samsung SSD 950 Pro aside, so it looks like for these drives at queue depth 32, there’s not much more to squeeze out of them. To Corsair’s credit, the Force MP500 was a solid step faster than its rival, the Toshiba OCZ RD400.
AS-SSD (4K Read Write Speeds)
This test, also a part of the SSD-centric AS-SSD benchmark, measures a drive’s ability to traffic small files. Often overlooked, 4K performance, particularly 4K write performance, is important when it comes to boot speed and program launch times.
When booting up and launching programs, many tiny files get accessed and edited frequently. The faster your drive can write and read these (especially dynamic link library, or DLL, files in Windows), the faster your OS will “feel.” Since small files like these get accessed much more often than large media or game-level files, a drive’s performance on this test will have a greater impact on how fast the drive feels in everyday use.
The Force MP500 had its best showing yet in this test, which bodes well for its use in desktop PCs that read small files from the OS all day long. It was the fastest drive amongst established brands, with only the Team Group T-Force Cardea drive eclipsing it. Interestingly, in this test we see that PCIe drives have scant advantage over SATA drives, as the much older Samsung SSD 850 EVO was just 1MB per sec slower than the Corsair drive, while beating its much higher-spec’d siblings. Still, the Corsair drive performed extremely well in this test.
Though the Corsair drive was able to run up front in the read portion of this test, it was a backbencher in the write portion, and finished in the neighborhood of the mid-level PCIe SSDs from previous years. This is similar to its earlier results, so it does appear to be a solidly mid-level SSD in comparison to its PCIe-based rivals.
Corsair is known for delivering high-quality products, and the Force MP500 falls into that class. But competing in the SSD space is a lot harder than in keyboards or power supplies.
The Force MP500 thus is a solid PCIe SSD that won’t disappoint, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher when comparing it to the pack. It’s not entirely competitive with the latest PCIe SSDs from Samsung, and the drives that it does compete with all came out at least a year ago. It’s fast, but the PCI Express SSD market is red hot right now in terms of competition, and whenever a new drive arrives the question becomes, “Is it faster than the Samsung SSD 960 EVO?” In the Corsair Force MP500’s case, that’s a “no,” which then leads to the next question, “Well, then, is it at least less expensive?”
That’s also a “no,” as the drives are priced roughly the same. And that leads into the hardest question of all: “Why would I choose this drive over the Samsung?” The answer to that question: You probably should buy the Samsung SSD 960 EVO, unless the price has dropped a fraction, or you’re a Corsair brand loyalist.
Maybe you have a Corsair case and CPU cooler, and like the company’s products. If that’s the case, you will love the Force MP500. And indeed, in real-world, day-to-day use, all NVMe SSDs we’ve used feel similarly speedy. It’s only when you get into sustained writes or reads that the subtle differences emerge. But for everyone else that just wants the best SSD for the money, that title still goes to the Samsung SSD 960 EVO. Corsair’s Force MP500 is a very serviceable PCIe/NVMe SSD, but it needs some nitro, or a price drop, to make it a more compelling buy.
ComputerShopper may earn affiliate commissions from shopping links included on this page. To find out more, read our complete Terms of Service.