Back in the summer of 2016, Crucial released the successor to its popular MX200 drive. The MX300 left behind the 16-nm planar MLC we knew and loved in its predecessors for IMFT’s then-newfangled 3D TLC NAND. Despite our initial misgivings concerning the move from MLC to TLC, the MX300’s 3D chops were enough to ensure that its speeds kept up with the older drive. Just a couple of months ago, Crucial took the wraps off of the next drive in the MX line, the MX500.
As you can see, little has changed on the exterior. But it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Like the MX300, the MX500 is built on IMFT’s 3D TLC NAND, but this time it’s stacked 64 layers high instead of a mere 32. And a Silicon Motion chip has displaced the Marvell controller which ran the show before. More on that in a second. The MX500 is available in 250-GB, 500-GB, 1-TB, and 2-TB capacities. We’ve got the 500-GB and 1-TB models on hand to play with.
|Capacity||Max sequential (MB/s)||Max random (IOps)|
We wasted no time in breaking open our toys. The top side of each drive is identical; eight NAND packages are arranged neatly behind the controller and 512 MB of DRAM. Each package houses two of Micron’s 64-layer, 256-Gb 3D TLC dies.
The controller is a Silicon Motion SM2258 with Micron-customized firmware. We’ve seen the SM2258 paired with Micron NAND before in a couple of Adata products, but the last Crucial-branded drive we touched with Silicon Motion gear inside was the somewhat uninspiring BX200. But that drive included planar TLC and an aging SM2246EN controller, so don’t despair for the MX500 just yet.
The back of the MX500 500 GB PCB
The other side of the 500-GB drive’s PCB is completely barren, while the 1 TB’s underside is a bustling metropolis.
The back of the MX500 1 TB PCB
Another eight of the same 3D TLC packages and an additional 512 MB of DRAM give the 1-TB drive a simple doubling of the 500 GB’s loadout.
As we’ve become accustomed to in Micron’s MX series, the MX500 enjoys burst write speed boosts courtesy of Dynamic Write Acceleration. It also benefits from the same hardware-accelerated encryption capabilities the MX300 had, adhering to the TCG Opal specs and IEEE-1667 standards. Crucial also highlights the MX500’s power-loss protection in case your system isn’t already guarded by a UPS.
Micron’s suggested launch prices were $140 for the MX500 500 GB and $260 for the MX500 1 TB, but each drive has already taken a ten-dollar haircut at Newegg. The MX500 drives are backed by a five-year warranty, unless you manage to exceed the respective endurance ratings of 180 and 360 terabytes written over the guarantee period.
The enthusiast SATA storage scene is in sore need of a challenge to Samsung’s market dominance. Let’s see if the MX500 can fill the role.
IOMeter — Sequential and random performance
IOMeter fuels much of our latest storage test suite, including our sequential and random I/O tests. These tests are run across the full capacity of the drive at two queue depths. The QD1 tests simulate a single thread, while the QD4 results emulate a more demanding desktop workload. For perspective, 87% of the requests in our old DriveBench 2.0 trace of real-world desktop activity have a queue depth of four or less. Clicking the buttons below the graphs switches between results charted at the different queue depths.
Our sequential tests use a relatively large 128-KB block size.
The MX500 drives’ sequential reads are about as fast as SATA allows. Writes are also quick, but they can’t keep up with the very fastest SATA drives like Samsung’s higher-capacity 850- and 860-series units. Across the board, the MX500 makes substantial gains over the MX300, though.
Random read response times are markedly improved over the MX300, but write response times are about the same.
So far, so good. The MX500 isn’t setting any records, but it is putting out the strong SATA performance we expect of Crucial’s MX series.
Sustained and scaling I/O rates
Our sustained IOMeter test hammers drives with 4KB random writes for 30 minutes straight. It uses a queue depth of 32, a setting that should result in higher speeds that saturate each drive’s overprovisioned area more quickly. This lengthy—and heavy—workload isn’t indicative of typical PC use, but it provides a sense of how the drives react when they’re pushed to the brink.
We’re reporting IOps rather than response times for these tests. Click the buttons below the graph to switch between SSDs.
The 500-GB drive’s sustained performance is straightforward. Dynamic Write Acceleration keeps its speeds strong for about the first hundred seconds before speeds decline to steady-state. The 1-TB drive’s performance is similar, but it spends another 150 seconds or so oscillating before finally collapsing to its steady state. Both drives’ performance peaks quite high for SATA drives. Let’s see just how high now.
Quite high, in fact. The MX500 500 GB claims the highest peak random-write speed we’ve yet seen from a SATA drive. More importantly, both drives come close to doubling the steady-state write rate of their predecessor.
Our final IOMeter test examines performance scaling across a broad range of queue depths. We ramp all the way up to a queue depth of 128. Don’t expect AHCI-based drives to scale past 32, though—that’s the maximum depth of their native command queues.
For this test, we use a database access pattern comprising 66% reads and 33% writes, all of which are random. The test runs after 30 minutes of continuous random writes that put the drives in a simulated used state. Click the buttons below the graph to switch between the different drives. And note that the P3700 plot uses a much larger scale.
The 500-GB drive’s transaction rate scales more or less linearly until QD8. The 1 TB sticks it out till QD16 before flattening off. Both scale much more noticeably than the MX300 did, as the next graphs will make obvious.
Across our database test, the MX500 puts up much sharper slopes than the old MX300 gave us. We rarely expect consumer SATA drives to exhibit a whole lot of scaling as queue depth increases, but the MX500 does a decent job of it.
The MX500 has run our gauntlet of synthetics without revealing any major flaws, showing almost uniform advancement over 2016’s MX300. Now for some real-life challenges.
TR RoboBench — Real-world transfers
RoboBench trades synthetic tests with random data for real-world transfers with a range of file types. Developed by our in-house coder, Bruno “morphine” Ferreira, this benchmark relies on the multi-threaded robocopy command build into Windows. We copy files to and from a wicked-fast RAM disk to measure read and write performance. We also cut the RAM disk out of the loop for a copy test that transfers the files to a different location on the SSD.
Robocopy uses eight threads by default, and we’ve also run it with a single thread. Our results are split between two file sets, whose vital statistics are detailed below. The compressibility percentage is based on the size of the file set after it’s been crunched by 7-Zip.
|Number of files||Average file size||Total size||Compressibility|
The media set is made up of large movie files, high-bitrate MP3s, and 18-megapixel RAW and JPG images. There are only a few hundred files in total, and the data set isn’t amenable to compression. The work set comprises loads of TR files, including documents, spreadsheets, and web-optimized images. It also includes a stack of programming-related files associated with our old Mozilla compiling test and the Visual Studio test on the next page. The average file size is measured in kilobytes rather than megabytes, and the files are mostly compressible.
RoboBench’s write and copy tests run after the drives have been put into a simulated used state with 30 minutes of 4KB random writes. The pre-conditioning process is scripted, as is the rest of the test, ensuring that drives have the same amount of time to recover.
Let’s take a look at the media set first. The buttons switch between read, write, and copy results.
The media set results mirror what we saw in our QD1 and QD4 sequential results. The MX500’s reads live at the very edge of SATA’s potential performance. Both drives exhibit read speeds about 10% higher than the MX300’s. The drives’ writes are strong too, but again, there’s a small set of SATA drives that can put up even better numbers.
Now for the work set.
The story is much the same for this test. The MX500 puts up large improvements over the MX300 on the read side and smaller improvements on the write side.
The MX500 reads, writes, and copies files close to as well as any SATA drive can. Our last set of tests will see how quickly it can boot up Windows and load various applications.
Until now, all of our tests have been conducted with the SSDs connected as secondary storage. This next batch uses them as system drives.
We’ll start with boot times measured two ways. The bare test depicts the time between hitting the power button and reaching the Windows desktop, while the loaded test adds the time needed to load four applications—Avidemux, LibreOffice, GIMP, and Visual Studio Express—automatically from the startup folder. Our old boot tests focused on the time required to load the OS, but these new ones cover the entire process, including drive initialization.
The MX500 drives boot Windows a tad faster than the MX300 did, whether bare or loaded.
Next, we’ll tackle load times with two sets of tests. The first group focuses on the time required to load larger files in a collection of desktop applications. We open a 790-MB 4K video in Avidemux, a 30-MB spreadsheet in LibreOffice, and a 523-MB image file in the GIMP. In the Visual Studio Express test, we open a 159-MB project containing source code for the LLVM toolchain. Thanks to Rui Figueira for providing the project code.
The MX500s tend toward the lower side of these load-time graphs, but there are only sub-second differences between their results and the MX300’s.
Those slow times for Batman may hurt the MX500 drives in our final reckoning, but otherwise the drives seem to handle loading games as well as any of their competitors.
With great boot times and mostly good load times, the MX500 drives have proven to be perfectly suited to primary storage purposes. That’s it for our testing, so flip the page for our test methods or skip ahead to the conclusion.
Test notes and methods
Here are the essential details for all the drives we tested:
|Adata Premier SP550 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2256||16-nm SK Hynix TLC|
|Adata Ultimate SU800 512GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2258||32-layer Micron 3D TLC|
|Adata Ultimate SU900 256GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2258||Micron 3D MLC|
|Adata XPG SX930 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||JMicron JMF670H||16-nm Micron MLC|
|Corsair MP500 240GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Phison 5007-E7||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Crucial BX100 500GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2246EN||16-nm Micron MLC|
|Crucial BX200 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2256||16-nm Micron TLC|
|Crucial MX200 500GB||SATA 6Gbps||Marvell 88SS9189||16-nm Micron MLC|
|Crucial MX300 750GB||SATA 6Gbps||Marvell 88SS1074||32-layer Micron 3D TLC|
|Crucial MX500 500GB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2258||64-layer Micron 3D TLC|
|Crucial MX500 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2258||64-layer Micron 3D TLC|
|Intel X25-M G2 160GB||SATA 3Gbps||Intel PC29AS21BA0||34-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 335 Series 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||SandForce SF-2281||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 730 Series 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Intel PC29AS21CA0||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel 750 Series 1.2TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Intel CH29AE41AB0||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Intel DC P3700 800GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Intel CH29AE41AB0||20-nm Intel MLC|
|Mushkin Reactor 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Silicon Motion SM2246EN||16-nm Micron MLC|
|OCZ Arc 100 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||A19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|OCZ Trion 100 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC58||A19-nm Toshiba TLC|
|OCZ Trion 150 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC58||15-nm Toshiba TLC|
|OCZ Vector 180 240GB||SATA 6Gbps||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||A19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|OCZ Vector 180 960GB||SATA 6Gbps||Indilinx Barefoot 3 M10||A19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Patriot Hellfire 480GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Phison 5007-E7||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Plextor M6e 256GB||PCIe Gen2 x2||Marvell 88SS9183||19-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Samsung 850 EV0 250GB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MGX||32-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 850 EV0 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MEX||32-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 850 Pro 512GB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MEX||32-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung 860 Pro 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Samsung MJX||64-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung 950 Pro 512GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung UBX||32-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung 960 EVO 250GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung Polaris||32-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 960 EVO 1TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung Polaris||48-layer Samsung TLC|
|Samsung 960 Pro 2TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung Polaris||48-layer Samsung MLC|
|Samsung SM951 512GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Samsung S4LN058A01X01||16-nm Samsung MLC|
|Samsung XP941 256GB||PCIe Gen2 x4||Samsung S4LN053X01||19-nm Samsung MLC|
|Toshiba OCZ RD400 512GB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Toshiba TC58||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Toshiba OCZ VX500 512GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC358790XBG||15-nm Toshiba MLC|
|Toshiba TR200 480GB||SATA 6Gbps||Toshiba TC58||64-layer Toshiba BiCS TLC|
|Toshiba XG5 1TB||PCIe Gen3 x4||Toshiba TC58||64-layer Toshiba BiCS TLC|
|Transcend SSD370 256GB||SATA 6Gbps||Transcend TS6500||Micron or SanDisk MLC|
|Transcend SSD370 1TB||SATA 6Gbps||Transcend TS6500||Micron or SanDisk MLC|
All the SATA SSDs were connected to the motherboard’s Z97 chipset. The M6e was connected to the Z97 via the motherboard’s M.2 slot, which is how we’d expect most folks to run that drive. Since the XP941, 950 Pro, RD400, and 960 Pro require more lanes, they were connected to the CPU via a PCIe adapter card. The 750 Series and DC P3700 were hooked up to the CPU via the same full-sized PCIe slot.
We used the following system for testing:
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4690K 3.5GHz|
|Platform hub||Intel Z97|
|Platform drivers||Chipset: 10.0.0.13
|Memory size||16GB (2 DIMMs)|
|Memory type||Adata XPG V3 DDR3 at 1600 MT/s|
|Audio||Realtek ALC1150 with 126.96.36.19944 drivers|
|System drive||Corsair Force LS 240GB with S8FM07.9 firmware|
|Storage||Crucial BX100 500GB with MU01 firmware
Crucial BX200 480GB with MU01.4 firmware
Crucial MX200 500GB with MU01 firmware
Intel 335 Series 240GB with 335u firmware
Intel 730 Series 480GB with L2010400 firmware
Intel 750 Series 1.2GB with 8EV10171 firmware
Intel DC P3700 800GB with 8DV10043 firmware
Intel X25-M G2 160GB with 8820 firmware
Plextor M6e 256GB with 1.04 firmware
OCZ Trion 100 480GB with 11.2 firmware
OCZ Trion 150 480GB with 12.2 firmware
OCZ Vector 180 240GB with 1.0 firmware
OCZ Vector 180 960GB with 1.0 firmware
Samsung 850 EVO 250GB with EMT01B6Q firmware
Samsung 850 EVO 1TB with EMT01B6Q firmware
Samsung 850 Pro 500GB with EMXM01B6Q firmware
Samsung 950 Pro 512GB with 1B0QBXX7 firmware
Samsung XP941 256GB with UXM6501Q firmware
Transcend SSD370 256GB with O0918B firmware
Transcend SSD370 1TB with O0919A firmware
|Power supply||Corsair AX650 650W|
|Case||Fractal Design Define R5|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 Pro x64|
Thanks to Asus for providing the systems’ motherboards, to Intel for the CPUs, to Adata for the memory, to Fractal Design for the cases, and to Corsair for the system drives and PSUs. And thanks to the drive makers for supplying the rest of the SSDs.
We used the following versions of our test applications:
- IOMeter 1.1.0 x64
- TR RoboBench 0.2a
- Avidemux 2.6.8 x64
- LibreOffice 4.3.2
- GIMP 2.8.14
- Visual Studio Express 2013
- Batman: Arkham Origins
- Tomb Raider
- Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Some further notes on our test methods:
- To ensure consistent and repeatable results, the SSDs were secure-erased before every component of our test suite. For the IOMeter database, RoboBench write, and RoboBench copy tests, the drives were put in a simulated used state that better exposes long-term performance characteristics. Those tests are all scripted, ensuring an even playing field that gives the drives the same amount of time to recover from the initial used state.
- We run virtually all our tests three times and report the median of the results. Our sustained IOMeter test is run a second time to verify the results of the first test and additional times only if necessary. The sustained test runs for 30 minutes continuously, so it already samples performance over a long period.
- Steps have been taken to ensure the CPU’s power-saving features don’t taint any of our results. All of the CPU’s low-power states have been disabled, effectively pegging the frequency at 3.5GHz. Transitioning between power states can affect the performance of storage benchmarks, especially when dealing with short burst transfers.
The test systems’ Windows desktop was set at 1920×1080 at 60Hz. Most of the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.
Crucial’s MX500 duo delivers just the sort of performance we expect out of an enthusiast SATA drive. Read speeds and sustained write speeds are much improved over the MX300, but burst writes and load times weren’t quite so clear of a victory. On the whole, we expect the two drives to land close to where the MX300 did in our rankings. We distill the overall performance rating using an older SATA SSD as a baseline. To compare each drive, we then take the geometric mean of a basket of results from our test suite. Only drives which have been through the entire current test suite on our current rig are represented.
The 1-TB drive lands right in line with the MX300 750 GB, and the 500-GB model unsurprisingly trails slightly behind. This is squarely in the high-performance SATA band, just a sliver behind the substantially pricier Samsung 860 Pro 1 TB. This is just where Crucial wants these drives to be.
It’s a bit of a shame that the MX500 didn’t land ahead of the MX300 in our overall rankings, but reducing our test suite to a single index value naturally glosses over each drive’s individual strengths and weaknesses. I have no doubt that the MX500 is a better drive than the MX300, but our geometric mean doesn’t give any more weight to a 10% better performance in real-world file transfer speed, for example, than to a 10% slower load time in Batman. Regardless of its relative prowess against it predecessor, the MX500 has more than enough grunt to leave us impressed.
Now, let’s take a moment to consider its value proposition.
Not bad at all. The MX500 drives are quite far off to the left for their vertical height. In other words, they’re good values. The MX500 500 GB’s $130 price tag works out to 26 cents per gigabyte, and the MX500 1 TB’s $250 sticker comes out to 25 cents per gigabyte. These costs per gig come close to challenging Mushkin’s Reactor 1TB, which has been an unstoppable force for a very long in terms of sheer bang-for-buck. The fact that the the MX500 1 TB matches the 860 Pro 1 TB’s performance for a little over half its price highlights how strong of a contender the Crucial is. Only those with strongest vendettas against TLC performance or endurance need splurge for the high-end Samsung.
Crucial MX500 1 TB
While there’s not much new or groundbreaking to the MX500, there’s also not much to complain about. The drive’s read performance skirts the line of what’s possible over the SATA interface, and its write performance isn’t too far behind. Crucial has succeeded in releasing another 3D TLC drive worthy of the MX name at an easily digestible price, and that’s more than enough to notch another TR Recommended award. Look for this drive in System Guides to come.