Page 2:Technical Specifications
Page 3:Pricing, Warranty And Accessories
Page 4:A Closer Look
Page 5:Data Type Comparison
Page 6:Sequential Read
Page 7:Sequential Write
Page 8:Random Read
Page 9:Random Write
Page 10:80% Sequential Read Mixed Workload
Page 11:80% Random Read Mixed Workload
Page 12:Sequential Steady State
Page 13:Random Write Steady State
Page 14:PCMark 8 Real-World Software Performance
Page 15:Total Storage Bandwidth
Page 16:PCMark 8 Advanced Workload Performance
Page 17:Latency Test
Page 18:Notebook Battery Life
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.