Mushkin Reactor 512GB SSD Review

Mushkin's 1TB Reactor is among our Best Picks in SSDs. Today we look at the low-cost 512GB drive powered by Silicon Motion's four-channel SM2246EN.

Introduction

Mushkin originally released its Reactor at a single capacity point: 1TB. That model is currently our Budget Buy leader. It's an affordable, well-balanced SSD for anyone looking for acceptable performance at a low price.

Like the 1TB Reactor, Mushkin manages to position its newer 512GB model as the lowest-priced SSD in its capacity class on Newegg and Amazon. Nearly every aspect of the Reactor was designed to cut costs. The company even introduced an edge connector able to increase rigidity while shaving 10 to 12 cents from the bill of materials.

The drive uses Silicon Motion's proven SM2246EN controller paired with Micron's low-cost L95B 16nm flash. Mushkin was one of the first companies to utilize the SM2246EN, and we've since seen SanDisk, Crucial and a number of other vendors integrate it into their own budget-oriented products. The processor uses only four channels to the flash, so it's a low-cost part. But Silicon Motion squeezes a lot of performance out of the design. At the same time, it doesn't use much power.

Silicon Motion provides firmware as part of its solution, so companies working with the SM2246EN don't incur a lot of R&D resource drain. After the initial tooling and validation, they can take products to market quickly.

Mushkin now packages flash purchased in wafer form. This allows the company to take in several grades of NAND and use the best dies for solid-state drives. The lower-grade stuff goes into thumb drives and other flash-based products. But the Reactor uses Micron L95B 16nm NAND, which we've found to be faster than Toshiba's 15nm MLC and TLC flash. Micron has been selling L95B to third-party companies for around a year now. Yields are up, so it's plentiful and cheap.

Two other cost-cutting measures are used to make the Reactor more affordable. First, it ships in a blister pack without any accessories. We don't mind this since SSDs are robust and difficult to damage. Second is that previously-mentioned edge connector, designed by parent company Avant Technology.

Technical Specifications

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After introducing its 1TB Reactor, Mushkin decided to release two additional capacities: 256 and 512GB. Today we're testing the 512GB model.

All three are rated for the same generic performance specifications, though we suspect that the 256GB version is a little slower due to less interleaving. The 512GB model uses the same number of flash packages as the 1TB drive, with half as many dies per package. Still, performance should be nearly identical.

Silicon Motion controllers deliver very high sequential read performance. In fact, in many of our tests over the last year, they delivered the best sequential reads of any platform we compared. Sequential writes land about 80 MB/s lower than premium SSDs like SanDisk's Extreme Pro and Samsung's 850 Pro. With modern SSDs, you pay more for write speed and performance consistency.

Pricing, Warranty And Accessories

At the time of writing, Mushkin's 512GB Reactor was sold out at both Amazon and Newegg. We reached out to Mushkin for comment and were told:

"The Reactor 512GB will be back in stock at Newegg on Tuesday [June 2nd, 2015] for $159.99. The 256GB model is still in stock at $87.99 and the 1TB model is in stock as well at $339.99."

After a quick check, we confirmed that the Reactor 512GB we're testing today is the lowest-priced 512GB-class SSD at Newegg, though as of June 15th, it's selling for $10 more than Mushkin claimed. The 1TB model holds the same designation for its capacity class, and the 256GB model is priced competitively.

Mushkin's Reactor ships with a three-year warranty, but doesn't include an accessory package. We can't knock it for this, given the attractive price point. This is a value-oriented product that satisfies the industry norm for low-cost SSDs.

A Closer Look

Mushkin ships its Reactor drives in a blister pack to keep costs down. This shifts the responsibility for packaging to the company's distributors. Fortunately, SSDs are very robust and not particularly susceptible to shipping damage.

Mushkin uses a 7mm z-height chassis for the Reactor, so it fits in notebooks that require the thinner form factor. 

The mounting points are right where they need to be, making installation on a drive sled or desktop adapter bracket effortless. 

The SATA power and data connectors are a little different, as you can see. This is an interface that we expect to see on more products in the future, though.

Mushkin fully populates the Silicon Motion SM2246EN four-channel controller. The company also uses Samsung DRAM for the Reactor's page buffer.

The Silicon Motion SM2246EN has a thermal pad between it and the chassis, turning the metal enclosure into a sink for dissipating the controller's waste heat.

There are 16 packages of Micron L95B NAND; the controller is clearly utilized to its fullest on this drive.

Here's a closer shot of the Reactor's edge connector. We spoke with Paul Goodwin, Chief Technical Officer at Avant Technology, about the new connector. Paul says he patented the interface, which uses the PCB for connectivity to power and data pins. This increases signal integrity and reduces build costs. Companies are able to license the design from Avant. We believe it saves between 10 to 12 cents per SSD. That may not sound like much, but in high volume, the savings add up quickly.

Data Type Comparison

Historically, only SandForce controllers were affected by the data you threw at them (they slowed when you hit them with incompressible information). However, new products hitting the market are subject to variance as well. We can easily identify performance differences using a range of entropy settings under Anvil's Storage Utility. The software lets us switch from 100% compressible to 100% incompressible to 46% (applications-grade) entropy.

The Reactor performs the same, regardless of the data you work with. This means you don't need to worry about using this drive under heavy multimedia workloads.

Sequential Read

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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.

As you can see, the SM2246EN controller is capable of delivering very high sequential read results, even at low queue depths. We single out QD2 for comparing performance between products.

At a queue depth of two, Mushkin's Reactor falls a little behind some of the other drives. At the same time, it's faster than several mainstream and performance-oriented SSDs. Expect to enjoy quick game level load times and speedy transfers from your Reactor SSD to other drives in your PC.

Sequential Write

Sequential write performance is noticeably lower than many of the other comparison drives.

Crucial's 500GB BX100 uses the same SM2246EN controller and Micron L95B NAND. Performance between the two is nearly identical, even though the BX100 has some of its flash reserved (over-provisioned) for background activity.

Random Read

The BX100's over-provisioning helps it perform a little better than the 512GB Reactor. The difference is small, but the edge does go to Crucial.

Both products would benefit from advanced caching algorithms like SanDisk's nCache (found in the Ultra II SSD). Micron recently announced tools available to third parties that work with L95B FortisFlash, but the Reactor shipped before those tools were available. pSLC cache mainly increases random write speed, but also has a slight positive effect on random read performance. 

Random Write

The QD1 random write performance from Mushkin's Reactor 512GB is down compared to many other drives on our chart. This is an area where FortisFlash would really help. Even SanDisk's Ultra II with three-bit-per-cell flash is faster at low queue depths, even though TLC has higher write latency. 

By QD2, the Reactor regains composure and outperforms the low-cost competition, going so far as to run with SanDisk's Extreme Pro 480GB. The recovery at QD2 appears to be part of an optimization effort to improve the user experience on SMI-controlled products.

Most users never push high queue depths. SSDs are so fast that it's nearly impossible to stack commands. Even if you're multitasking with several programs running, it's difficult to even hit QD8, since most applications hit the drive for a moment to get or write the data they need.

80% Sequential Read Mixed Workload

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

A handful of outstanding commands and some light preconditioning with 80% reads is one of the most relevant ways to measure both sequential and random performance. On this chart, we see that most of the drives fall into the same performance range with only a few outliers at QD4. Pay the closest attention to QD2 and QD4, even though we take our measurements out to enterprise-class levels.

At QD2, only the Samsung 850 Pro stands out with higher performance than the other SSDs in our comparison group. Several drives prove to be slower, but Mushkin's Reactor lands in the group of more average products.

80% Random Read Mixed Workload

The mixed-data random write test tells nearly the same story, though the group of drives in the middle is separated by a little more variation. Mushkin's 512GB Reactor is in the lower half, along with Crucial's BX100. The 850 Pro again demonstrates the best performance at QD2 and QD4, and when it comes to low-cost storage, Samsung's 850 EVO trails just behind the 850 Pro. Samsung's caching scheme, TurboWrite, really helps the TLC-based 850 EVO in this workload.

Sequential Steady State

Steady state measurements remove the advantage of pSLC caching. Intel's SandForce-controlled SSD 530 does well in this test, even with the 50% entropy setting we use.

The 512GB Reactor trails nearly every other drive on this chart. At the same time, it wasn't designed to perform well under such an extreme load.

Random Write Steady State

We can learn a lot from the random write steady state test, even if none of us will ever see this condition on a desktop. Here, we're looking for performance consistency. The Reactor delivers a steady stream of 4KB random writes, but spikes when the DRAM cache is able to accept some of the writes. The only part we don't like about this measurement is the low level of 4KB random write performance when the cache doesn't catch the data.

PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance

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

In our real-world tests, Mushkin's Reactor consistently falls to the bottom of the chart. It finishes many of these tasks within one second of some of the other drives, and normally that'd turn us off. But the Reactor's price helps us overlook its performance deficit.

Total Storage Bandwidth

In this chart, we average throughput from the previous tests. The benchmark runs each workload three times over roughly one hour, measuring performance in many of the applications we all use on a daily basis.

As we saw in the individual results, Mushkin's 512GB Reactor lands at the bottom of the list. It's a lot faster than a hard drive, so there's something to be said for that. The 256GB model isn't even priced too far from mechanical storage at around $88.

PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance

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

Under our various workloads, the Reactor trails the other SSDs we tested.

Latency Test



The service time results give us more cause for concern. Under heavy loads, Mushkin's 512GB Reactor isn't the drive you want crunching data. Its latency is just too high.

Under light workloads, the Reactor recovers somewhat, but falls in with a pack of competing models. On the bright side, at least it costs less.

Notebook Battery Life

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

One environment where the 512GB Reactor fares well is in your notebook, running on battery power. It allows our Lenovo T440 to stay mobile longer than any other drive in our chart. This test is a corner case, sure. But when you're watching Windows' power meter tick down, it suddenly matters a lot more and the Reactor becomes the drive to own.

We're happy to report that Mushkin doesn't sacrifice performance under battery power either. All SSDs slow down somewhat, but some drives suffer more than others.

Conclusion

In a perfect world, everyone would have the highest-performing SSD available to drop into their notebook and enthusiast-class desktop. Sadly, most of us are on more limited budgets. SSDs remain premium performance components. Even though price per gigabyte is way down compared to a few years ago, cost still isn't comparable to mechanical storage. Entry-level SSDs like Mushkin's 512GB Reactor deliver around 10 times the performance of a hard drive. But sometimes the extra expense just isn't in the cards.

Mushkin's Reactor really does a good job of pushing solid-state storage down to more affordable price points. Given modest performance and low cost, this drive is one of the best values we've seen. Just remember that it's not going to be as fast as some of the more enthusiast-oriented SSDs we review.

SSDs are also more reliable than disk drives. This is a selling point that resonates with many users. The reliability increase more than doubles in a notebook environment. Desktop users still benefit from lower latency and higher throughput. The Reactor doesn't ship with a desktop adapter bracket, so owners of older PCs need to consider mounting options. Some low-cost SSDs priced just above the Reactor do come bundled with adapters. Those products usually employ older controller technology that doesn't deliver the same random and incompressible speed, though.

Mushkin's Reactor sits right on top of the happy median line. Anything that costs less at this capacity point is going to be a mechanical hard drive, and everything above forces you to spend more without a corresponding increase in space.

MORE: Best SSDs For The Money
MORE: Latest Storage News

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

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20 comments
    Your comment
  • SuperVeloce
    Those 512 and 1TB are made perfectly for my steam folder, cheap and large. Now we need to wait for someone to launch it to EU market
  • jessterman21
    Been eying this drive and the BX100 500GB for a few months now - waiting to pull the trigger on whichever's cheaper. The extra latency worries me, but in a gaming/media rig should it really matter? Those two drives are literally the same in all other tests.
  • Eggz
    Cool. This seems like a pretty good option for a gaming computer. I wouldn't use it for a photo editing rig, or any other media-based computer (especially not database oriental computing), but games are pretty easy on drives, and these come in at a decent price while offering plenty of storage space.
  • agentbb007
    Tough sell considering the 500GB Samsung 850 Evo is $178 on Amazon with free prime shipping and seems to give better performance, unless I'm missing something?
  • Saberus
    Granted it's not the absolute best, but it's not bad, especially at the price. I think the edge connector is a brilliant idea, and wonder why there aren't more companies using it, it eliminates a point of failure where the solder joints were.
  • geopirate
    agentbb007 this drive is $88 for 500gb vs your $178 (less than half the cost) that won't be noticeably slower in a typical usage environment. Is that what you're missing?
  • geopirate
    agentbb007 this drive is $88 for 500gb vs your $178 (less than half the cost) that won't be noticeably slower in a typical usage environment. Is that what you're missing?
  • SuperVeloce
    nope, $88 is for 256gb
  • zodiacfml
    I checked, the 850 EVO is cheaper.
  • shrapnel_indie
    1397049 said:
    I think the edge connector is a brilliant idea, and wonder why there aren't more companies using it, it eliminates a point of failure where the solder joints were.


    I guess because in some ways its so old school. (It saved money back then too.) Back in the "Home Computer" days card-edge connectors were used for expansion connections (on one side of the connection.) Retro consoles used it too with game carts. The PC used it then, and even still today, for expansion AND adding graphics. Back in the day Floppy drives, primarily 5.25" and larger used such a connection for data (and a molex for power.)

    If that patent ever gets challenged, I dunno if it will hold-up because of all of that. In Modern storage though, the connector is, currently, unique though.
  • RedJaron
    330834 said:
    If that patent ever gets challenged, I dunno if it will hold-up because of all of that. In Modern storage though, the connector is, currently, unique though.
    Depends on how the patent was written, if they included those old drives and devices in existing art, and such. The US patent office is so overwhelmed right now anyway, you could submit a patent for canned tuna and they'd probably grant it to you just to reduce the paperwork on their desks.
  • Saberus
    330834 said:
    1397049 said:
    I think the edge connector is a brilliant idea, and wonder why there aren't more companies using it, it eliminates a point of failure where the solder joints were.
    I guess because in some ways its so old school. (It saved money back then too.) Back in the "Home Computer" days card-edge connectors were used for expansion connections (on one side of the connection.) Retro consoles used it too with game carts. The PC used it then, and even still today, for expansion AND adding graphics. Back in the day Floppy drives, primarily 5.25" and larger used such a connection for data (and a molex for power.) If that patent ever gets challenged, I dunno if it will hold-up because of all of that. In Modern storage though, the connector is, currently, unique though.


    I remember the old game carts and floppy drives. Floppy drive cables always felt a mile long and useless clutter with all them connectors. I've even worked on an ST-506 and ESDI drive just because they had a couple in my training lab. Both were beyond dead, sadly. Old Compaq Proliant servers had SCSI drives mounted on carriers that ended in an edge connector that looked much like an ESDI connection, probably a direct decendant.
  • soldier44
    Ordered another 850 pro for raid ftw.
  • JackNaylorPE
    Love this ....

    "Entry-level SSDs like Mushkin's 512GB Reactor deliver around 10 times the performance of a hard drive."

    In benchmarks, yes.... in day to day real world usage, no. Looking at the "real world tests" in the article, the differences challenge stop watch accuracy.


    1330141 said:
    Ordered another 850 pro for raid ftw.


    After 7 or 8 RAID-less years, I gave it another try with two 840 Pros. After 3 months of headaches, broke the array and system speed increased.

    Two SSSDs in RAID 0 will get your name on website leader boards for benchmarks, but is useless, even detrimental, on the desktop except in very specialized applications

    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ssd-raid-benchmark,3485-13.html

    Quote:
    One SSD on its own scores again in the contrived tests we put together. The performance differences when we boot up and shut down Windows 8, then fire up different applications, are marginal at best and not noticeable in practice. Single drives actually manage to outperform the striped arrays some of the time, even. If you're planning an upgrade and want to know whether to buy a couple of 128 GB drives and put them in RAID 0 or just grab a single 256 GB SSD, for example, the answer still seems clear enough to us: just grab the large drive and use one. Using Samsung's 840 Pros as an example, a pair of 128 GB drives will run you $300 on Newegg right now. The 256 GB model sells for $240 (maybe that's why it's out of stock currently). There's also the issue of reliability. If one drive in a RAID 0 configuration fails, the entire array is lost. At least for a primary system drive, one SSD on its own is safer.
  • jessterman21
    35894 said:
    Love this .... "Entry-level SSDs like Mushkin's 512GB Reactor deliver around 10 times the performance of a hard drive." In benchmarks, yes.... in day to day real world usage, no. Looking at the "real world tests" in the article, the differences challenge stop watch accuracy.


    Are you referring to the latency? It's the only thing keeping me from buying this vs. the BX100.

    Quote:
    Been eying this drive and the BX100 500GB for a few months now - waiting to pull the trigger on whichever's cheaper. The extra latency worries me, but in a gaming/media rig should it really matter? Those two drives are literally the same in all other tests.
  • JackNaylorPE
    I'm referring to how long it takes to get something done start - finish..... when having this discussion previously I was referred to a youtube video which proved that SSDs significantly speeded up opening applications. In the video, the poster timed booting windows with like 35 applications in his startup folder. I hardly thought that constituted a real world test.

    On most builds, I usually create a backup OS install on the HD in a 128GB partition to serve as a backup in case the primary OS gets fudged or HD dies.. Users are hugely disappointed when they try the alternate boot and can discern little observable difference in either boot with boot time, application performance and gaming.

    I have done quite a few drives for peeps with budget limitations using SSHDs where they were going to "add a SSD" some time down the line. Some don't ever bother .... many do and the result has been "eh .... no bigga deal".

    As a geek, I love SSDs ... as a business Owner, even one whose primary computer usage is for CAD, I can in no way make a case for SSDs from a productivity standpoint. The human factor is far more limiting than the storage subsystem.
  • Saberus
    35894 said:
    I'm referring to how long it takes to get something done start - finish..... when having this discussion previously I was referred to a youtube video which proved that SSDs significantly speeded up opening applications. In the video, the poster timed booting windows with like 35 applications in his startup folder. I hardly thought that constituted a real world test. On most builds, I usually create a backup OS install on the HD in a 128GB partition to serve as a backup in case the primary OS gets fudged or HD dies.. Users are hugely disappointed when they try the alternate boot and can discern little observable difference in either boot with boot time, application performance and gaming. I have done quite a few drives for peeps with budget limitations using SSHDs where they were going to "add a SSD" some time down the line. Some don't ever bother .... many do and the result has been "eh .... no bigga deal". As a geek, I love SSDs ... as a business Owner, even one whose primary computer usage is for CAD, I can in no way make a case for SSDs from a productivity standpoint. The human factor is far more limiting than the storage subsystem.


    As a tech, it makes me cringe when the users in my company tend to walk briskly while carrying an open, running laptop that's got an HDD. It doesn't matter how many times they're told otherwise, they insist a hard drive had to be defective from the factory when it inevitably dies. They all make the same excuse, "But it's portable!" At least with an SDD, it's not -quite- as cringe inducing.
  • jessterman21
    1397049 said:
    As a tech, it makes me cringe when the users in my company tend to walk briskly while carrying an open, running laptop that's got an HDD. It doesn't matter how many times they're told otherwise, they insist a hard drive had to be defective from the factory when it inevitably dies. They all make the same excuse, "But it's portable!" At least with an SDD, it's not -quite- as cringe inducing.


    OMG right? They shut it (which doesn't even induce sleep mode because we use docking stations) put it in their laptop bag and throw it in their passenger seat, and the still-running drive slowly dies from the heat and g-forces...
  • logainofhades
    Battery life alone makes me want this drive, for my laptop. It will still be worlds faster than my old 5400rpm 640gb.
  • JackNaylorPE
    435198 said:
    1397049 said:
    As a tech, it makes me cringe when the users in my company tend to walk briskly while carrying an open, running laptop that's got an HDD. It doesn't matter how many times they're told otherwise, they insist a hard drive had to be defective from the factory when it inevitably dies. They all make the same excuse, "But it's portable!" At least with an SDD, it's not -quite- as cringe inducing.
    OMG right? They shut it (which doesn't even induce sleep mode because we use docking stations) put it in their laptop bag and throw it in their passenger seat, and the still-running drive slowly dies from the heat and g-forces...


    The heads should park themselves when not in active use. Even desktop drives do this. One of the reasons that consumer drives don't do well in server applications is they may burn thru those rated parking cycles in < a year. Of course when open, you may not have initiated active usage but that doesn't mean OS hasn't. Heck someone could be downloading Windows 10 from your lappie as you walk across the room....so no, not recommended and much safer to close the lid.

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/8764/seagate-enterprise-nas-hdd-wd-red-pro-gets-a-competitor

    Quote:
    Seagate consumer drives since the 7200.10-12 up to the Cuda' XT have very aggressive head parking (called load cycles) and they are rated at 250,000-500,000 load/unloads. I've seen drives rack up 90,000+ load/unloads in months if you use them for heavy access (seeding torrents.) NAS\RAID drives have firmware that often completely disables head parking (smart powersaving parameter 0xC1:255)


    But in sleep mode, you are fine.

    Desktop HDs are designed for 250 - 350 G ... lappies at 900 G

    http://www.techarp.com/showarticle.aspx?artno=84&pgno=4

    Quote:
    Shaking or moving a computer that has been put into the Hibernate or Sleep mode will damage its hard disk drive. Truth : This myth is based on the misconception that a computer that has been put into the Hibernate or Sleep mode (also known as Suspend or Stand By) is able to resume operation so quickly because the hard disk drive is actually still spinning. The truth is in Hibernate and Suspend modes (as well as the newer Hybrid Sleep mode), the hard disk drive is completely powered down. The difference is in the Hibernate and Hybrid Sleep modes, the computer's entire memory contents are copied to the hard disk drive, which doesn't happen in Sleep mode. Because the hard disk drive is powered down in all three power saving modes, shaking or moving the computer will not damage the hard disk drive