Crucial MX300 525GB and 1050GB SSD Review

The Crucial MX300 has moved out of the limited edition cycle and is now a retail, mainstream product. Armed with Micron's new 3D TLC, the highest density flash available, the series could redefine the mainstream SSD market with a new low price point.

We've been fairly hard on Crucial, and parent company Micron, over the last couple of years. As one of a handful of NAND flash manufacturers, we always expect a little more from Crucial just as we do Samsung, Toshiba and SK hynix. In years past, SSDs have mainly been a compromise between capacity and high performance. The next battleground is capacity, and for the first time in a long time, Crucial will lead the way.

Crucial started conservatively with its initial round of MX300 SSDs. First, we tested a limited edition 750GB model that the company released to show off its new 3D TLC NAND. Now we are back for another round with 525GB and 1050GB products, but the next round is rapidly approaching. On September 13, the MX300 will ship with a 2TB capacity point for $550.

That is as far as our timeline (or crystal ball) shows for retail Crucial SSDs, but we know the company will not stop there. Crucial has publicly stated that the second generation of its 3D NAND will begin sampling in early 2017. The next iteration will come quickly and double the density of MLC (to 512Gb per die) and TLC (to 768Gb per die).

The next die density increase will be similar what we see with the first generation 3D from IMFT; capacities will increase while reducing the cost of retail products. Today, the MX300 1050GB (1TB) sells for $269. It's a nice price decrease from where 1TB SSDs were just a few months ago. The story takes a twist, though. Due to a NAND shortage, the MX300 1TB is selling for more than the MSRP ($260).

The current shortage will work against Crucial's goal of reducing retail prices. We may see prices increase even more over the next few months. I wouldn't expect many amazing Black Friday sales like we've had over the last five years. For shoppers, Black Friday and the month leading up to the new year have been a great time to buy SSDs. We usually see prices fall in late November and stay at that level for the rest of the year. In January, new product announcements come and those products ship at slightly elevated prices over the previous generation, which tend to experience a nice discount as part of the cycle.

If we didn't have a NAND shortage, the MX300 would look even more attractive than it does now. Even at its current price, it's hard to beat the MX300 in overall value. Let's take a look at the fine details and then compare its performance with other products.

Specifications

The first specification that sticks out is the odd capacities in the MX300 product family. Crucial walked back the 1050GB's capacity rating at online retailers and simply lists the drive as a 1TB model. Users will get a little more capacity with each drive over standard 1TB products, and even more compared to competing 960GB SSDs.

The MX300 series ships with a Marvell 88SS1074 4-channel controller (codename Dean) with Low-Density Parity Check (LDPC). Crucial used Micron 384Gb three-bit per cell (TLC) NAND and DRAM to round out the vertical integration. The combination pushes the specifications up to 530 / 520 MB/s sequential read/write (all but the 275GB model). The random read/write performance weighs in at 92,000/83,000 IOPS. We're testing the 525GB and 1050GB drives, which share the same random performance specifications with the Limited Edition 750GB we tested in June.

Advanced Features

Crucial's MX series brings premium features to the mainstream market. Like previous MX models, the MX300 uses small surface mount capacitors, which do not provide full protection from host power failures, but instead protect the data at rest.

The MX300 also supports 256-bit encryption with support for Trusted Computer Group (TCG) Opal 2.0 and IEEE-1667. The latter is the same protocol used for Microsoft's eDrive.

The MX300 also supports some exclusive or advanced features listed below.

  • Dynamic Write Acceleration
  • Redundant Array of Independent NAND (RAIN)
  • Multistep Data Integrity Algorithm
  • Adaptive Thermal Protection
  • Active Garbage Collection
  • TRIM Support
  • Self-Monitoring and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T)
  • Error Correction Code (ECC)
  • Device Sleep Support (DEVSLP)

Pricing, Accessories And Warranty

We found a wide gap between Amazon and Newegg pricing while shopping for the MX300. Newegg currently features a lower price for all  MX300 models. The 1050GB drive sells for $269.99, and the 525GB is just $129.99. The Limited Edition 750GB drive came to market at $199 and currently sells for $183. The other MX300 products should come down in price in a few months when we get past the current NAND shortage.

The MX300 series ships with a three-year warranty that Crucial limited by the amount of data you write to the flash. The MX300 525GB can write up to 160TB while the 1050GB can write up to 360TB over a three-year warranty period.

The drives ship with a key for Acronis True Image that you can download here. The software allows you to clone the data from another storage device to the MX300. Crucial's Storage Executive software works with this series, as well. The software allows you to monitor S.M.A.R.T. data, enable Momentum Cache (a DRAM-based cache system that uses system memory), secure erase the drive, update the firmware and manage the AES 256-bit encryption.

A Closer Look

Crucial removed the limited edition branding we found on the 750GB model. Other than the sticker, the packaging, drive and accessory package remained the same. The package lists the contents, warranty length, and a link to Crucial's software package.

The newly released models all look the same as the MX300 Special Edition 750GB we tested in June. Crucial figured out what side is the top of an SSD, so the stickers appear normal. This series, like most others shipping, uses the 7mm Z-height in a 2.5" form factor.

Both the 525GB and the 1050GB MX300 use the same Marvell 88SS1074 "Dean" 4-channel controller and Micron 3D TLC NAND. To reach the higher capacity, Crucial simply doubled the number of NAND packages rather than using the same printed circuit board and doubling the density of the NAND packages. The 1050GB drive also ships with more DRAM and capacitors, which help protect your data.

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  • hannibal
    Nice! Competition to 3d nand is just arriving! The Samsung did have monopoly too long time, now there is competition ones more.
    4
  • alextheblue
    Drives like this don't appeal as much to the enthusiast directly, but they still benefit everyone. Performance is plenty good for most mainstream systems, and as cost per GB decreases they displace HDDs in more OEM systems. This is great because it makes it a lot easier to suggest an SSD model to budget-minded purchasers. We're still not quite where I want to be, but getting there. In the not-so-distant future I can envision building a system with a next-gen NV boot drive and 3D TLC storage drive(s), taking the place of my current SSD/HDD setup.

    Oh, and I'm really hoping the cable part of the PCIe 4.0 standard takes hold. I'd rather go that route than multiple M.2 drives.
    5
  • FelixtheCat
    Thanks for the review - you have convinced me to keep my Samsung Evo 500GB!
    1
  • dstarr3
    Added to my Christmas list.
    1
  • bit_user
    Thanks for the benchies, Chris. I wish the SSD Charts would still be getting updated! (hint, hint)

    BTW, I always liked the end-to-end data protection features in Crucial's MX series. To my knowledge, they and Intel's 500-series drives are the only ones to offer this in the consumer segment. Is that (still) correct?
    0
  • CaedenV
    Man, I take my eyes of the SSD segment for a little bit and the whole landscape changed! I bought all of the SSDs in my house back when they were ~$1/GB. For what I paid for my 500GB of SSD storage I could be looking at 2TB next month. That is just crazy.

    I guess the real question in my mind is when I rebuild my rig in ~2 years will I go for a 500GB-1TB performance m.2? Or a larger 2TB SATA drive? Or, if things keep droping in price like this will I be able to afford both?
    Or better yet, will these drop in price enough to start replacing HDDs in my NAS box? Hmm... decisions decisions.
    0
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    Man, I take my eyes of the SSD segment for a little bit and the whole landscape changed!
    ...

    I guess the real question in my mind is when I rebuild my rig in ~2 years will I ...
    The next 2 years will make the previous 2 years look static, by comparison. Expect $/GB to drop much further, and significant performance improvements. nvDIMMs will be on the scene, too.

    BTW, M.2 doesn't necessarily connote NVMe. Although, by the time you upgrade, it'll probably be the norm.
    0
  • 10tacle
    I have the 500GB EVO 850 and am happy with it, but if I were looking for a new SSD, the 1050 would be on my short list for a 1TB drive. Absolute raw performance numbers are not be as important to me as having that extra 50GB which is an entire Steam game install these days.
    0
  • c0rr0sive
    I can't wait for the day that I can replace all my 4TB and 8TB disks with some solid storage, right now I can either go with enterprise grade disks for $7800, or go the SSD route for about $9800. Soon, hopefully soon it will be cheaper to go SSD for my needs.
    0
  • CRamseyer
    The MX300 2TB is coming out of testing tomorrow morning. It will be interesting to see it compares to other products shipping today.

    As always, thanks for reading and the comments.
    1
  • clifftam
    I like how low cost shows up both for the pro and the con :).

    Can't wait for the 1 TB SSD to drop even more.
    0
  • CaedenV
    Anonymous said:
    [The next 2 years will make the previous 2 years look static, by comparison. Expect $/GB to drop much further, and significant performance improvements. nvDIMMs will be on the scene, too.

    BTW, M.2 doesn't necessarily connote NVMe. Although, by the time you upgrade, it'll probably be the norm.

    Well, all of the M.2 I am considering are all NVMe ;)

    I would love to see nvDIMM tech like 3D x point, or HMC to come to the consumer space, but I am pretty sure it won't be coming in any useful way for another 5+ years. In the short term is it just a server tech. Once they get the price down I think we will see 32-64GB dimms for use in consumer PCs to replace both RAM and SSDs, but it will be a cheaper version that is only a bit faster than SSDs. To get this tech cheap enough for consumer use, and large enough to replace SSDs in the enthusiast market (250+GB) I think we will have a very long wait.
    0
  • TJohn
    Good grief... talk about fast technical evolution. Now I have to start figuring out what to do with my existing SSDs. I have the need for speed and space. Free coasters? Again?
    1
  • rmse17
    Where are all of the 3D NAND MLC drives? I see everyone paddling the TLC, but isn't only Samsung selling the 3D MLC in their PRO lineup?
    0
  • CRamseyer
    Outside of a few corner cases, MLC for the consumer is dead. Several companies have said it behind closed doors. I'm not ready to buy a TLC drive other than an 850 EVO and I know many of you feel the same way.
    0
  • kalmquist
    The low random read performance of the MX300 at queue depth 1 (compared to the 850 EVO) cannot be due to the number of channels or the number of dies. In that benchmark the SSD is only performing one read at a time. When the 750GB version of the MX300 was released, I was thinking that the difference was in the speed of the flash. But with the newer firmware tested in this review, the MX300 does quite well in some of the other benchmarks, so I'm now guessing that Micron's flash is as fast as Samsung's.

    If it's not the flash, the only other alternative I can see is controller overhead. The difference between 7620 IOPS (the MX300) and 10855 IOPS (the 850 EVO) is 39 microseconds per operation. I can believe that the Marvell controller is slower than Samsung's controller, but an additional 39 microseconds per read operation is a lot of time.
    1
  • CRamseyer
    We will have a better look at the flash in a few days. We have the Intel 600p NVMe with IMFT TLC and the Samsung PM961 also with NVMe and TLC.
    0
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    The low random read performance of the MX300 at queue depth 1 (compared to the 850 EVO) cannot be due to the number of channels or the number of dies. In that benchmark the SSD is only performing one read at a time.
    For all the benchmarks included in articles like this, random read perf at low queue depths is the main stat that users actually feel. For everything else, OS-level prefetching, caching, and write buffering do a good job of hiding the performance of the underlying storage from end users.

    Obviously, sequential read/write matters, but is often interface-constrained.
    0
  • max0x7ba
    Sequential read performance chart 2 (the bar chart) is an example of misleading statistics: the top bar is more than twice as long as the bottom bar, although the real difference between them is around 15%,
    0
  • bit_user
    Anonymous said:
    Sequential read performance chart 2 (the bar chart) is an example of misleading statistics: the top bar is more than twice as long as the bottom bar, although the real difference between them is around 15%,
    Yeah, I noticed that. Well, the axis is labelled, so it's not that bad.

    I think they were trying to illuminate the differences - not skew the article one way or another. Because all of the drives are near the interface speed, they're all pretty similar in this benchmark.
    0