Crucial MX200 1TB SSD Review

Introduction

Crucial is the conservative SSD manufacturer. Its RealSSD C300 was the company's only performance leader. For years, Crucial would only release one SSD around the CES time frame, and that drive would remain on the market until the following CES when its successor was announced.

That strategy worked well for Crucial when each lithography node was used for longer than eleven months. But as manufacturing accelerated, the company modified its approach and tried to introduce a second-tier product. The first time this went off without a hitch was when the M550 improved upon the M500's performance, allowing both drives to coexist. The M550 is still selling today, positioned as the upper-tier product. But the new MX200 could easily change this.

Crucial's current SSD line-up looks like alphabet soup; you have the BX100, MX100, MX200 and M550. Before the MX200, its hierarchy was simpler with the BX at the low end, the MX in the middle and the M series up top. Ideally, the MX200 would replace the MX100. However, Crucial tells us that both offerings will remain available for now. Capacity- and performance-wise, the MX200 encroaches on the M550, even facilitating better notebook battery life thanks to its 16nm flash. 

A move to 16nm NAND isn't all the MX200 contributes to Crucial's portfolio. For the first time, the company is adding an SLC cache mode to its client SSDs. The MX200 series uses Dynamic Write Acceleration on the 2.5" 250GB model. The 500GB mSATA and M.2 drives also get the feature. Unlike Samsung's TurboWrite and SanDisk's nCache, which use fixed sizes for the SLC-like layers, Crucial's technology employs a dynamic volume that expands and contracts depending on the SSD's free space. Sadly, the 1TB model we're testing today doesn't benefit from Dynamic Write Acceleration. We'll have to wait for the M.2-based MX200 review to talk more about it.

Technical Specifications

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As mentioned, the only 2.5" model equipped with Dynamic Write Acceleration is the 250GB MX200. Crucial doesn't specify random I/O performance at low queue depths, but in our testing, the 250GB model produces just over 35,000 random write IOPS at a queue depth of one. The 1TB version scores just over 39,000 random write IOPS in the same test with Anvil's Storage Utilities. Crucial tells us that the 500GB and 1TB models don't need its SLC cache scheme to achieve excellent random write results, and our testing confirms that.

The MX200's other notable feature, again, is its 16nm MLC flash. The new lithography node allows Micron, Crucial's parent company, to manufacture more dies per wafer. This lowers cost, and the savings trickle down to the final retail product. After all, NAND flash is an SSD's most expensive component. Micron chose to shrink the 20nm node down to 16nm and remain at two bits per cell to compete with three-bit-per-cell flash from other vendors. MLC is widely considered superior in both sustained write performance and endurance. 

The 250GB MX200 has a 80TB Total Bytes Written (TBW) rating. That figure doubles with each step up in capacity. The 500GB model enjoys a 160TB rating and the 1TB drive is specified at 320TB TBW. For the 1TB model, that's 175GB per day for five years.

The MX200 checks several important feature boxes, and it's a real upgrade over the BX series if you find yourself needing the extras. Full hardware disk encryption is supported through TCG Opal 2.0 and IEEE-1667 (Microsoft eDrive). The MX200 uses a capacitor array to protect data at rest in the event of a power failure. And older Crucial protection schemes like RAIN are also included.

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Pricing And Accessories

The 250GB MX200 sells for less than $110 at the time of writing. Crucial's 500GB is available just under $200, while the 1TB implementation is offered at under $430. The 1TB BX100 we recently reviewed currently sells for $375, so there's a fairly wide gap between Crucial's hard drive replacement BX family and the high-end MX200. Crucial didn't release a 1TB-class MX100.

When Crucial announced the BX100 and MX200 SSDs at CES 2015, it also released its first software toolbox. Storage Executive lets you update your SSD's firmware, monitor SMART, secure erase the drive and even reset the PSID.

Crucial also includes Acronis' cloning software with its 2.5" MX200s. Customers receive an installation key in the box and can download the utility from crucial.com. You also get a 7 to 9.5mm adapter in the retail box, should you need it.

A Closer Look at the MX200 1TB

The box lists the package contents and some very general information, but lacks performance data and warranty length.

The MX200 uses a different chassis than the MX100 and M550. Crucial's newer design resembles what we saw from the BX100, though there are subtle differences in the way the PCB sits inside.

Crucial finally figured out that the pretty label goes up on top, while the information label (with the model, part and serial numbers) belongs on the bottom of the drive.

Like most modern client-oriented SSDs, the MX200 fits into a 7mm-tall form factor for compatibility with Ultrabooks requiring the thinner z-height.

Crucial uses sixteen NAND flash packages in total, with eight on each side of the PCB. A row of capacitors helps keep data at rest secure in the event of a host power failure.

A Marvell 88SS9289 eight-channel controller is responsible for processing information. This is the same controller that Crucial uses on its MX100 and M550.

As mentioned, Crucial employs 128Gb dies of Micron's 16nm MLC flash.

The MX200 uses two 512MB DRAM packages to cache table data. One is located next to the Marvell controller and the other, pictured here, is on the reverse side of the PCB.

Sequential Read

The table below contains the comparison units for today's review:

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To read about our storage tests in-depth, please check out How We Test HDDs And SSDs. Four-corner testing is covered on page six.

The MX200's sequential read performance follows the same profile as Crucial's M550. The MX200 and M550 share the same controller, so this really doesn't surprise us. In its 1TB form, the MX200 doesn't benefit from an SLC cache layer. Thus, the main difference between both Crucial drives is their flash. One uses 20nm NAND and the other comes with flash manufactured at 16nm.

Sequential Write

The MX200 is a little faster than the M550 in sequential writes at a queue depth of one. But by the time we stack 32 commands, both SSDs perform nearly identically. 

Random Read

The MX200's random read performance lands in the middle of today's most popular 1TB SSDs. It's very fast, but can't break into the 10,000 IOPS range at a queue depth of one. That's a nice separator between the highest-end drives and the next tier below.

Random Write

Even without an SLC cache layer to buffer random writes, the MX200 performs well at low queue depths. It slides further back at high queue depths, though most of us will never get into this range in the real world. If you compare the top five SSDs, the difference in high queue depth random write performance is trivial at best.

80% Read Sequential Mixed Workload

Our mixed workload testing is described in detail here, and our steady state tests are described here.

The 1TB MX200 tops our sequential mixed workload chart. The M550 follows closely behind. Frankly, seeing two Crucial products at the top surprised us, given the results from previous tests with individual workloads.

80% Read Random Mixed Workload

The MX200 also scores well in our random mixed workload test. There, the drive delivers the second-best performance at a queue depth of two, just behind Samsung's 850 Pro 1TB.

Sequential Steady State

Very few client SSDs stand out in steady state testing. Our sequential metric is one that few companies optimize for, and an SLC-like cache doesn't positively affect the results since it's either full or not buffering data.

The MX200 shows up amongst the second tier of products. Surprisingly, Crucial's BX100, with half as many channels to the controller, fares better in this test. Silicon Motion builds that drive's firmware and does a really good job focusing on sequential performance.

Random Write Steady State

The MX200 behaves better than we thought it might in this test. The performance is consistent, with very little deviation from the highest to lowest points once steady state is achieved. These are the numbers we'd expect from flagship products and not mid-tier products like the MX family.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software

For details on our real-world software performance testing, please click here.

Service Times

The MX200's high mixed workload and sequential performance translates to similarly impressive scores in our real-world software tests. Crucial's drive consistently lands in the upper tier with daily use software.

Throughput Performance

Looking at the total throughput of the same tests, combined, the 1TB MX200 falls slightly behind Samsung's 850 Pro and EVO products. Even an enthusiast won't notice a difference between the drives at this level, though. MyDigitalSSD's BP4 is the exception.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload

To learn how we test advanced workload performance, please click here.

Throughput Tests

Under heavier workloads, the MX200 ends up just under Samsung's 850 Pro and SanDisk's Extreme Pro, the two fastest consumer SSDs available. Crucial's 1TB MX200 doesn't use the lower-capacity model's dynamic SLC cache layer, and that really hurts performance during the recovery phase.

Latency Tests

The other day I was at a four-way stop sign with several cars waiting to proceed. The time it took for one car to pass through the intersection and for the next to start made me thing about latency and how we react to it. One car waiting a second or two longer than necessary is enough to get me upset. A second here, a second there. The inefficiency is enough to drive you crazy.

The few seconds I spent at that intersection didn't have anything to do with how long it took me to get home. Stop lights, filling up the tank and grabbing a cup of coffee took much more time. But you don't remember those events; you remember waiting for other drivers to find their gas pedals.

We often read that modern 6Gb/s SSDs perform the same, and that you can't really tell one from the others. In daily use that is often true. But when you move beyond the normal tasks, some products simply do better than others. Updating Windows or installing a game after it downloads are great examples of workloads that let one drive stand out from another. The third chart above represents the four-way intersection.

Notebook Battery Life

For more information on how we test notebook battery life, click here.

Crucial's MX200 distinguishes itself from the M550 when it comes to milking time from your notebook's battery. When we first tested the 1TB M550, we had to run this test several times to verify that its dismal results were accurate. Crucial managed to rectify the M550's issue this time around, even though both SSDs use the same controller.

The drives included in our chart all perform similarly with the CPU, DRAM and other system buses running at a reduced rate. On battery power, none of the drives really establish a performance advantage.

Conclusion

The MX100 wasn't a performance powerhouse, but Crucial sold boatloads of them. As a flash manufacturer, Crucial's focus is on volume and not all-out performance. The company wants to sell its memory products in stable platforms at low prices. This trend started with the M500 and carries over today. 

The MX200 follows suit. It's not a next-gen drive that will pin you back in your seat. No, the MX200 is a sensible SSD that caters to budget-bound power users looking for more than a hard drive replacement without spending 75 cents per gigabyte for flagship performance. Sadly though, Crucial goes too conservative with the MX200. Its 250GB model is the only 2.5" drive with an emulated SLC caching technology. Our tests with the full line-up show that the two largest SSDs write random data faster than that 250GB implementation; however, we can't help but think the technology would have pushed the bigger drives to the performance levels expected in 2015. TurboWrite (Samsung) and nCache (SanDisk) both offer amazing results. They work even better when the writes are spread to more dies in the higher-capacity models.

Crucial's Storage Executive software tames the firmware updating process, but its not perfect yet. We haven't been able to get the tool to update drives that are not the primary system disk (C:\). Otherwise, the utility is a nice, albeit long overdue addition. Crucial doesn't do anything innovative with the software that hasn't been done before by a competitor.

The MX100 and MX200 will coexist, at least for now. At the time of writing, the MX200 with its less expensive flash is priced similarly as the MX100. The 16nm node enables MLC NAND that delivers higher sustained writer performance than 2D planar TLC. But Samsung's 850 EVO uses 3D TLC with a sustained sequential write speed of 400 MB/s. In comparison, the 1TB MX200 only achieved 285 MB/s in our testing. Sealing the MX200's fate is the fact that Samsung's 1TB 850 EVO also benefits from RAPID Mode DRAM cache, the same software features and a $30 price advantage. It's almost comical that Crucial's 1TB model costs more than Samsung's expensive 3D V-NAND TLC drive.

It almost seems like Crucial is launching new SSDs to compete with Samsung. But sales volume doesn't come from a wide selection of SSDs. Just ask OCZ how well that worked. There are currently so many products in the line-up that most customers (even the power users) don't know the difference between them. Crucial's portfolio is so confusing that it's almost faceless. BX100, MX100, MX200...whatever. Which one costs the least on Amazon? If you are shopping for a mid-range 1TB SSD right now, the answer is Samsung's 850 EVO. 

Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • Nuckles_56
    I'm quite impressed by this drive, I'd have to say that crucial pulled the rabbit out of the hat this time
  • Soul_keeper
    I appreciated the critical honesty in this review.
    The conclusion pretty much sums it up.
  • twztechman
    I came to the same conclusion about a month ago and got a 1T Samsung EVO for $370. I have to admit some confusion over the Crucial Line of drives as I was considering a purchase. In my mind, the biggest competitor is/was the Mushkin Enhanced Reactor 1T which got a good review and a recommendation over at Anandtech back in February. Those drives are frequently on sale for $339 which makes them a really good value with good performance.

    I will say my old Cruical M4 256 has been a rock solid drive and is being re-purposed as a boot drive in one of my secondary systems.
  • ubercake
    I would say Crucial is going to stress reliability over all-out speed. They usually put out a high-quality reliable product. Most people appreciate this when it comes to storage. On the other hand, the warranty could be longer. 3-year warranties are not very competitive when it comes to the most reliable drives. I personally don't consider SSDs with less than a 5-year warranty in my systems.
  • FritzEiv
    Internet Explorer is presently (early Thur morning 4/30/15) inducing an occasional crash on this article (or perhaps the other way around; a debate for another day). We're looking into the issue and hope to have it resolved shortly. Apologies.

    Fritz Nelson, Editor-in-chief
  • logainofhades
    Wouldn't mind having this drive, for my laptop. Only reason I would consider a 1tb is in my laptop. 500gb would be plenty for my desktops, as I have plenty of HDD storage.
  • alidan
    Quote:
    I would say Crucial is going to stress reliability over all-out speed. They usually put out a high-quality reliable product. Most people appreciate this when it comes to storage. On the other hand, the warranty could be longer. 3-year warranties are not very competitive when it comes to the most reliable drives. I personally don't consider SSDs with less than a 5-year warranty in my systems.


    in a perfect world i would be swapping drives out after a year or so and keeping the old drive as a backup, with ssd, i think this would be the best way to go.
  • mapesdhs
    I can't help but feel that when it comes to pricing, manufacturers
    are holding back. What are they waiting for? Just ditch the
    pointless entry level 64GB models, move on already. Annoys me
    when I see a 128GB priced at X, with the 64GB version at
    something like 85% of X, because... reasons!

    Given the shifting demands of users as video moves to HD and
    beyond, games take up ever more space, people storing lots
    of stuff from their phones, music, etc., surely it's time the
    industry went sideways and set 250GB/256GB as a new
    baseline (then maybe it'll feel like it's 2015 in at least one
    respect; where's the jetpack I was promised as a kid? :)
    I guess they won't though because as long as people are still
    buying the lower capacity models, presumably there's money
    to be made. Just wish one of them would break ranks and go
    for it, then the others would follow. IMO if a midrange 256GB
    goes below a certain price point, sales will skyrocket, more
    than making up via volume for the lower price (a bit like the
    way hardback books have a price above which most people
    won't buy them).

    Interesting btw, here (UK) at 250GB, the 850 EVO is exactly
    the same price as the MX200.

    Ian.

    PS. Chris, one of the article subheaders is wrong, ie. where it
    says, "A Closer Look at the MX100 1TB" - presumably that
    should be 'MX200'. ;)
  • CRamseyer
    Thanks Ian, we fixed that one earlier today.

    In response to your statement. You might have noticed we don't list 128GB models in the Best of Monthly anymore. I don't plan on reviewing any 128GB models either.

    When we move to 256Gbit die the entry point will be 512GB and the 256GB drives will fall off. The 128GB drives till have a place in the market right now for business users and Facetwit Surfers but that group rarely reads performance reviews when shopping for a commodity product.
  • mapesdhs
    1888934 said:
    In response to your statement. You might have noticed we don't list 128GB models in the Best of Monthly anymore. I don't plan on reviewing any 128GB models either.


    Very wise. I know some have moaned, but it's for the best. As long as
    consumers keep buying lesser capacities, manufacturers will stall the
    advancement of newer tech if they think they can keep making more
    money from older entry products.


    1888934 said:
    When we move to 256Gbit die the entry point will be 512GB and the 256GB drives will fall off. ...


    Hooray!! It would be great if everything could shift to 512GB minimum,
    but I can't see that happening this year. Too many are still happy to
    buy 256GB units. I'm looking for a 512GB atm, but what feels to me
    to be an 'acceptable' price isn't even enough for an Arc. I'm building a
    PC for someone soon, a typical pro user who isn't that bothered about
    the tech nerdyness of it all and doesn't know what stuff costs now.
    Their immediate feeling of a sensible boot drive capacity was 512GB,
    which is hardly surprising given they've been using an old Dell 650 with
    a 300GB SCSI disk for some time. Despite the speed, I'm sure a
    256GB SSD would feel too much like a downgrade.

    I had a look at Scan's 3XS pro-user systems recently, was surprised
    at how many of the top-end models (costing high thousands) only
    have 256GB SSDs. Surely not enough these days, though at least
    they were mostly using Samsung EVO/Pro models.

    Seems like in so many areas of tech now, it's all just gradual
    percentage increases year after year. Nobody does anything to break
    the mould. So much for all the big research headlines in the last 20
    years promising huge breakthroughs in storage, etc. Sums up the
    mediocre CPU speedups we've had since SB, similar MO. I get Intel
    not forging ahead, no competition, they don't have to, but one would
    think with SSDs there'd be scope for at least one maker to really
    hurl the cat among the pidgeons somehow. Insert a CinemaSins
    Jeremy-style *sigh*. :}


    1888934 said:
    ... Facetwit Surfers ...


    That made me laugh. :D

    I use 128s for system testing, but that's all. After installing the
    benchmarks I use, a 128 is basically full, especially if it's in a
    system that has a lot of RAM (bigger paging file) or a 'pro' build
    (Viewperf12 uses so much space). Indeed, for a system with
    64GB RAM, a 128 is perfect as a dedicated paging file device.

    Ian.
  • Techn0Smile
    The 1TB is worth more than my graphics card...
  • A_J_S_B
    I think articlwe writter forgot to give importance in the conclusions to the power failure feature of MX200....IIRC, MX100 and BX100 don't have it or are VERY limited w/o capacity to save data in-flight.

    This is a must have for me.
  • mapesdhs
    Personally I think it's high time site reviewers started prodding SSD makers to include full PLP in all SSDs, not just the odd one or two. It's bizarre that models like the M500 and M550 have it, yet supposedly 'high-end' consumer models like the Samsung Pro editions do not.

    Ian.
  • CRamseyer
    None of the Crucial M/MX drive had real in flight PLP. I tested all of those drives as well as the OCZ Vector with Ulink's DriveMaster software and they all failed the accepted industry wide standard test. Off the top of my head I think it was created by JEDEC but don't quote me on that. I don't run the test very often because so few products give us reason to do so.

    Full PDP is an enterprise feature that is rarely seen on client drives. From memory, the only full PDP client drive I remember testing was a Corerise SF-2291 when a few companies used CapXX. The CapXX setup had a few downsides. The capacitors would lose charging capacity within 2 years if memory serves me right. They also didn't like high temperatures.

    I take that back, I think the Intel SSD 730 (client version of the DC S3500) had full PDP. I'd have to look at the DriveMaster 2012 results again to verify.
  • mapesdhs
    You've missed my point, this PLP concept should not be just an Enterprise feature, not anymore. It should be standard on all SSDs, period. I'm tired of what ought to be essential features being treated like luxury ideas and costed accordingly.

    Also, are you talking about the Vector or the newer Vector 180? The old Vector of course doesn't have any PLP (never had any problems with mine though, despite quite a few sudden power-offs while testing stuff), while the Vector 180 quite openly only has a partial mechanism. The M550 is supposed to have decent PLP, did it fail the test too? I wouldn't touch the MX models though.

    Ian.
  • unityole
    nice write up man, SSD still pretty competitive performance still keep climbing although really no where else to push for SATA format. when will we see a 4k read pass 100MB/s and write passes 250 1 drive