Crucial announced worldwide availability of its next-generation solid-state drive late last month. Known simply as the "m4," the company's latest entry is hailed as the successor to its award-winning RealSSD C300, promising to deliver more speed and higher capacities. Despite those claims, we can't help but feel the m4 has some big shoes to fill.

The C300 was somewhat of a milestone for the consumer SSD market, being the only flash drive available with SATA 6Gb/s support for quite some time. Whereas most SSD makers opted for the SandForce SF-1200 controller with a peak read rate of 285MB/s, the C300 could hit speeds of 355MB/s courtesy of its Marvell "Van Gogh" 88SS9174 chip.

On top of excelling at sequential throughput, the C300 provided strong random performance when working with files of all sizes, making it a well-rounded contender. However, it's been more than a year since the RealSSD C300 landed, and a lot has changed in that time. Above all, the latest SandForce SATA 6Gb/s controllers have been a real game changer.

OCZ has undoubtedly delivered the finest SandForce-based product in the current generation. Powered by the SF-2281, the Vertex 3 (240GB) offers read and write speeds of up to 550MB/s and 520MB/s. Needless to say, the drive blew us away when we reviewed it last month, earning our "Outstanding!" award after topping our real world speed tests.

While the Vertex 3 is representing things on the SandForce front, Intel has recently launched its performance-oriented SSD 510 Series, touting reads and writes of 500MB/s and 315MB/s. The 510 Series surprised us a bit as it's outfitted with Intel's dated 34nm MLC NAND flash chips and a Marvell 88SS9174 controller instead an Intel-made chip.

Interestingly, Crucial has also decided to equip its m4 drives with the Marvell 88SS9174 controller, though the company has opted for more cost-effective 25nm flash memory. As a result, the 256GB model is currently fetching $1.95 per gigabyte, while the 250GB version of the Intel SSD 510 Series is considerably more expensive at $2.40 per gigabyte.

Considering its intended price point, we shouldn't expect the m4 to dethrone the OCZ Vertex 3 and perhaps not even Intel's SSD 510. Nonetheless, we could be in for a pleasant surprise if Crucial's newest contender delivers performance in excess of what the RealSSD C300 did in its heyday, so let's press on and find out what the m4's made of.