Making SSDs Even Cheaper
Update: We've updated the article with new testing with the 960GB BX500.
SSDs are dirt cheap this holiday season because the market is flooded with excess flash and companies are getting more aggressive with pricing. Prices have declined so drastically that you can now supercharge your PC with 500GB of flash for a mere $70 or pay roughly half that for 250GB. Now there's almost no excuse to use an HDD for your operating system and applications, and new drives like the Crucial BX500 are designed to bring prices even lower.
Crucial's BX500 is the successor to its popular BX300 line of SSDs. Like the company's mainstream MX500 brand, the BX500 skips over the 400-naming scheme. But, unlike the MX500, the BX500 doesn't offer much of an upgrade path over its predecessor.
The BX series is a streamlined, no-frills SSD with fewer accessories and features than the MX series. Crucial launched the BX series to tempt buyers into purchasing flash when other options in the market were too expensive. The original BX100 came with 16nm planar (2D) MLC flash and a Silicon Motion (SMI) controller. That was Crucial’s first SSD with an SMI controller, and that trend continues with the BX500. The new SSD uses the new SM2258XT four-channel SSD controller paired with Micron’s latest 64-Layer 3D TLC flash.
The base SM2258 is a good SATA SSD controller, and it offers impressive performance and reliability if it’s paired with the right flash. But it needs an expensive DRAM package for caching.
The SM2258XT, known as the XT model, combats this by removing the need for DRAM. This allows the SSD to store the critical flash translation layer directly on the flash instead of in a DRAM buffer. This lowers prices by a few dollars, but it also results in lower performance. NAND isn't as fast as DRAM, and the constant read/write modifications to the flash translation layer are a strenuous task. As a result, performance can be rather unflattering–even falling into hard drive territory.
New Controller and 96-Layer Flash
Crucial’s new BX500 might be a good choice if you’re in search of a new low-cost SSD to store your games library. While it’s not a top performer, it outpaces HDDs with speeds of up to 540/500 MB/s of read/write throughput. It's also pretty cheap with a price of just 0.13 cents per GB, though it isn't quite as cheap as some of its competition.
Flash pricing has plummeted drastically in the past few months, making higher-capacity SSDs much more affordable. You can now buy 1TB SSDs for as little as $100 (or less if you happen to snag a sale). This has driven up demand for higher capacities so much that Crucial released a 960GB model for its BX500 line.
The 960GB BX500 is not the fastest drive on the market, but Micron’s latest 96-Layer 3D TLC flash and a new SM2259XT controller help make it one of the cheapest. That means the 960GB BX500 has game storage written all over it.
That’s why selling the 960GB BX500 is a great move, but we feel Crucial shouldn’t have stopped there. While the 1TB capacity is on sale now, an additional 2TB option would have surely gained more sales at the right price.
|Product||Crucial BX500 120GB||Crucial BX500 240GB||Crucial BX500 480GB||Crucial BX500 960GB|
|Capacity (User / Raw)||120GB / 128GB||240GB / 256GB||480GB / 512GB||960GB / 1024GB|
|Form Factor||2.5" 7mm||2.5" 7mm||2.5" 7mm||2.5" 7mm|
|Interface / Protocol||SATA 6.0 Gb/s / AHCI||SATA 6.0 Gb/s / AHCI||SATA 6.0 Gb/s / AHCI||SATA 6.0 Gb/s / AHCI|
|Controller||Silicon Motion SM2258XT||Silicon Motion SM2258XT||Silicon Motion SM2258XT||Silicon Motion SM2259XT|
|NAND Flash||Micron 64L TLC||Micron 64L TLC||Micron 64L TLC||Micron 96L TLC|
|Sequential Read||540 MB/s||540 MB/s||540 MB/s||540 MB/s|
|Sequential Write||500 MB/s||500 MB/s||500 MB/s||500 MB/s|
|Endurance||40 TBW||80 TBW||120 TBW||240 TBW|
Crucial’s BX500 provides up to 540/500 MB/s of sequential read/write throughput, but that can drop to an average of just 100 MB/s during a sustained workload. Crucial doesn't disclose random 4K IOPS performance, likely due to unimpressive performance, but we'll measure it on the following pages.
The BX500 is available in 120GB, 240GB, and 480GB capacities, just like the BX300 did before it. The BX500 currently sells for ~$0.22-per-GB for the 120GB model and $0.15-per-GB for the 480GB.
A three-year warranty and affordable prices designate the BX500 an entry-level SSD, but its rather low write endurance epitomizes its rank. The BX500's endurance rating starts at 40 TBW (Terabytes Written) and spans up to 120 TBW. Those are among the lowest endurance ratings on the market. Surprisingly, the BX500's endurance is even lower than its predecessor.
Crucial’s BX500 comes in a 2.5” 7mm form factor and communicates with the host system via a SATA 6Gb/s link. The new 960GB model comes with the same performance rating of up to 540/500MB/s read/write. The drive features a 3-year warranty but has twice the endurance (up to 240TBW).
Crucial includes Acronis True Image HD and Crucial’s own SSD toolbox, Crucial Storage Executive, with the BX500 SSDs.
True image enables end users to quickly and safely migrate their data from their old drive to their new BX500. You can also perform system backups with it, too. Crucial’s Storage Executive is also a handy tool. With it, you can update your firmware, monitor your SSD, and enable momentum cache, which Crucial states can help improve performance up to 10x in some cases.
A Closer Look
The BX500’s case consists of thin metal and plastic. That keeps it lightweight, but the plastic gives it a cheap feel, which stands in stark contrast to its predecessor and the MX series. It connects to the host via a SATA 6GB/s connection.
Taking the casing apart reveals a 1/4 sized PCB, which is another way to reduce costs while still keeping compatibility with the 2.5" form factor. The SM2258XT resides near the connector for the best signal, and the 64-Layer 3D TLC flash is distributed among four emplacements (two on each side). Raw NAND capacity is 51GB, but after over-provisioning, the user addressable space is just 480GB. That drops to 446GB of addressable space after you format the drive in Windows.
The BX500 features a plastic casing that simply snaps together to hold the small 1/4 sized PCB within. This helps to reduce weight and material cost but leaves it with a low-quality feel. And, unlike most other SSDs, there are no thermal pads to help dissipate heat from the controller.
Four Micron 96-Layer TLC flash packages are distributed in pairs on each side of the PCB. After factory provisioning, the 960GB model leaves you with a total usable space of 894GB within Windows.
The four-channel SMI SM2259XT controller sits near the SATA connector. While similar to the previous SM2258XT, this model comes with some data path improvements to boost performance.
The Silicon Motion SM2259XT SATA controller uses a DRAM-less architecture, so there is no need for a DRAM package. Instead, the critical mapping information is stored and modified on the flash. While this helps reduce BOM cost and allows for lower prices overall, it can drastically reduce performance, which you will see on the following pages.
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