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Crucial MX200 250GB SSD Review

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Crucial’s MX200 series has proven to be a great all-round drive series with excellent performance metrics and an accessible price point. When we reviewed it both the 500GB and 1TB versions were covered and now we’re rounding things out with a review of the more affordable MX500 250GB.

Having access to an entire lineup of SSDs gives a unique perspective into how each compares against one another. Typically, due to a number of factors like interleaving and slight NAND differences, performance increases as capacity gets into higher ranges. The last things customers want is to buy into an SSD line based upon the performance of larger drives and end up with a slower drive. Some manufacturers have been able to overcome the inherent limitations of lower capacity drives by instituting clever firmware optimizations and architectural changes.

intro.jpg


In the case of Crucial’s MX200, we have something called Dynamic Write Acceleration (or DWA) which is supposed to level the playing field and allow even the 250GB drive in this review to nearly equal the benchmark numbers put forth by the 1TB model. This feature isn’t even implemented on the 500GB and 1TB versions so it will be interesting to see how it works in this case.

One definite benefit of going “down market” with the MX200 is price. The 250GB version is just $115, or 46 cents per GB which puts it well within reach of budget-focused yet lower performing competitors. Two other things that should also be noted are NAND endurance and Crucial’s stated bandwidth numbers. While endurance does get reduced in parallel with capacity, both random read/write performance and sequential bandwidth are supposedly constant across all MX200 SSDs.

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Externally there are very few clues to tell consumers that this model has the added DWA technology baked into its firmware. As with the larger models it makes use of an all metal 7mm high, 2.5" case that is nearly denude of any color. Also like the large version, this less expensive MX200 comes with a handy plastic 2.5MM adapter spacer but, just as with the other MX200s, it does not come with a 3.5" adapter plate.

board1_sm.jpg

Internally the MX200 250GB version almost mirrors the layout of the 500GB MX200. There are 8 NAND ICs (each has half the capacity of the ones found on its more capacious sibling), a single 256MB RAM cache, a Marvell 9188 controller, and numerous super-capacitors for consumer grade Data Loss Protection. It also supports TCG Opal 2.0, eDrive encryption, DevSleep capabilities, just like the 500GB MX200. However, unlike the 500GB capacity version, Dynamic Write Acceleration is activated in the firmware but this cannot be seen by the naked eye.

board2_sm.jpg

For those who did not read the 500GB and 1TB MX200 review Dynamic Write Acceleration means that the controller can use a portion of the NAND to act in quasi SLC mode to cache write IOs, and during slow periods then write the 'cache' to NAND tasked for standard MLC mode. In theory this should boost write performance and help make up for the lack of NAND interleaving that the 250GB suffers from. As an added benefit DWA also increases write endurance from a theoretical 72TB to 80TB.

bottom_sm.jpg

While Crucial is not the first to use this hybrid caching method, their implementation is actually one of the most impressive. The portion of NAND which can be used in quasi-SLC mode can be dynamically increased or decreased based on the usage pattern the individual controller encounters and how much free space it has to work with. Instead of simply dedicating an arbitrary about of NAND for caching Crucial's DWA uses up to 50% of the free capacity for SLC write caching. This review will show precisely how much an impact this one change to the firmware can have on overcoming lack of NAND interleaving.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
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Messages
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Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our test-bed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Windows 7 load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being an Intel DC S3700 800GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD, Anvil Storage Utilities and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus Z97 Deluxe motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition. All drives were tested using AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i7 4770K
Motherboard: Asus Z97 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, Intel 910 800GB
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB: 1.33
Intel 520: 400i
SanDisk Extreme 240GB: R211
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: M206
Intel 335 180GB: 335
SanDisk Extreme 2 240GB: R1311
Seagate Pro 600: B660
OCZ Vector 150 240GB: 1.2
Vertex 460 240GB: 1.0
Intel 7230 240GB: L2010400
Samsung 840 Pro 256GB:DXM06B0Q
Crucial MX100 512GB: MU01
Crucial M550 512GB: MU01
Plextor M6e 256GB: 1.03
AMD R7 240GB: 1.0
Crucial MX200: MU01
Crucial BX100: MU01
OCZ Vector 180 240/480/960GB: 1.0

Samsung MDX controller:
Samsung 840 Pro 256GB- Custom firmware w/ 21nm Toggle Mode NAND

SandForce SF1200 controller:
OCZ Vertex 2 - ONFi 2 NAND

SandForce SF2281 controller:
Intel 520 - Custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND

LAMD controller:
Seagate 600 Pro - Custom firmware w/ Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell 9183 controller:
Plextor M6e 256GB- Custom firmware w/ 21nm Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell 9188 controller:
Plextor M6s - Custom firmware w/ 21nm Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell 9187 controller:
Crucial M500 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
SanDisk Extreme 2 - Custom firmware w/ 19nm eX2 ABL NAND

Marvell 9189 controller:
ADATA SP920 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
Crucial M550 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
Crucial MX100 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
Crucial MX200 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND

Barefoot 3 controller:
OCZ Vector 150 (M00) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND
AMD R7 (M00) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND w/ custom firmware
OCZ Vector 180 (M00) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND

SMI 2246EN controller:
Crucial BX100 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND

Intel X25 G3 controller:
Intel 730 - Custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


<i>For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/MX200_250GB/read.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Write Performance


<i>For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/MX200_250GB/write.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

The slightly lower write performance requires a bit of explanation. Dynamic Write Acceleration temporarily transforms a portion of the NAND to work in 'SLC' mode and uses it for temporary writes. For normal consumer workloads this is an optimal solution, as temporary/ transitory 'garbage' writes are never actually written to the MLC NAND cells. Instead the controller simply cleans the 'garbage' writes from the more durable SLC mode NAND portion, and then reuses this NAND for short term storage of writes.

Unfortunately, the controller never actually knows when DWA is an optimal solution and when it is not. Instead it considers <i>all</i> writes as temporary in nature and only figures a given write request is long term 'at-rest' data when it is <i>proven</i> to be. This assumption of guilt means that in a synthetic <i>full</i> drive write test the first third (approximately) of the test provides excellent numbers that are every bit as good as the larger MX200 models.

During the next third the controller starts to realize that it is encountering an unusual scenario and starts transferring some of the data from the SLC NAND to the MLC NAND, while still accepting new write requests to the SLC NAND and RAM buffer. This increase in concurrent writes slows the overall performance down somewhat but thanks to the RAM buffer the results are still quite good and better than they could have been if the technology was disabled. This scenario lasts for about another third of the test.

However, when all the SLC NAND has been filled, the RAM buffer is at capacity, and the writes are <i>still coming</i> in the controller becomes overwhelmed and performance plummets to basically SATA 3Gb/s levels. This creates a very unique three step performance result and is why the averages above are quite low and the minimum performance results absolutely tank. This is also the largest negative to using a variable size for the quasi-SLC mode NAND, and why most others who utilize similar techniques use a set amount for SLC mode. It is also why such synthetic tests do not provide a clear picture of the MX200 250GB's performance.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second.

atto_w.jpg

atto_r.jpg


Now that we are back to a more common synthetic scenario, the MX200 250GB posts some very decent numbers. Thanks to Dynamic Write Acceleration boosting the write performance consumers would be hard pressed to tell that this drive had half the capacity as its larger counterparts. This is something that the previous MX100 256GB model could never, ever boast.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.

cdm_w.jpg

cdm_r.jpg


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.

pcm7.jpg


Once again the results are indeed lower than the other capacities, but the results are nevertheless very impressive. In fact, the MX200 250GB is able to hold its own against the MX100 512GB.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.

asd_w.jpg

asd_r.jpg


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


Much like AS-SSD, Anvil Pro was created to quickly and easily – yet accurately – test your drives. While it is still in the Beta stages it is a versatile and powerful little program. Currently it can test numerous read / write scenarios but two in particular stand out for us: 4K queue depth of 4 and 4K queue depth of 16. A queue depth of four along with 4K sectors can be equated to what most users will experience in an OS scenario while 16 depth will be encountered only by power users and the like. We have also included the 4k queue depth 1 results to help put these two other numbers in their proper perspective. All settings were left in their default states and the test size was set to 1GB.

anvil_w.jpg

anvil_r.jpg


The more we test the MX200, the more we are impressed with what Crucial has been able to create. Obviously DWA is working, and obviously the results speak louder than words on how well it can work.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
IOMeter

IOMETER


<i>IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,32k,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/MX200_250GB/iom.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

As with the write performance results, the IOMeter results do need a bit of explanation. First and foremost, this drive is not meant for workstation environments and as such lower than expected performance is not a deal breaker. In fact, it was fully expected. What is interesting is that at lower queue depths the controller and RAM cache is actually large enough to keep the results within the realm of reasonable.

Once the queue depths get deeper than a veritable puddle Dynamic Write Acceleration does negatively - and noticeably- impact performance. This is why the results so quickly flat line and why the MX200 250GB is the least optimal capacity of the MX200 series for workstation type scenarios.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Windows 7 Boot / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up & Boot Time A/V Scan


When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. Where Windows 7 has become nearly ubiquitous for solid state drive enthusiasts we have chosen Windows 7 64bit Ultimate as our Operating System. In previous load time tests we would use the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer the case. We have not only added in a secondary Anti-Virus to load on startup, but also an anti-malware program. We have set Super Anti-Spyware to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line.

boot.jpg



Adobe CS5 Load Time


Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible!

adobe.jpg


As with most of the synthetic test results even experienced consumers would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the MX200 250GB the more expensive 500GB capacity version. That is quite impressive, and it is all thanks to Dynamic Write Acceleration.
 
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SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Firefox Performance / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance



<i>Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worst case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/MX200_250GB/ff.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Real World Data Transfers


<i>No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it cannot really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/MX200_250GB/copy_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/MX200_250GB/copy_lg.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Once again these result belie the fact that this is a Marvell controller based SSD that only has one layer of NAND on each of the controllers 8-channels. This really makes the MX200 250GB something special - as Marvell controllers really need better interleaving than this to perform optimally. With that being said, there really isn't much different between any of the drives in these areas which is likely due more to SATA limitation than anything else.
 

SKYMTL

HardwareCanuck Review Editor
Staff member
Joined
Feb 26, 2007
Messages
12,841
Location
Montreal
Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing if a solid state drive will behave differently when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity.

Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.

data_pcm7.jpg



Real World Results

For a real world application we have opted for our standard Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance test.

data_boot.jpg


When the MX200 250GB starts hitting higher levels of capacity saturation, Dynamic Write Acceleration becomes as useful as a blender in a power outage. This was expected as the firmware reduces the amount of NAND used its hybrid SLC mode depending on how much free space the drive has. Basically, the controller will always try and convert 50% of free NAND into SLC mode. This means when the drive is less than 50% full DWA has free reign, but once that 50% mark is reached DWA is reduced to approximately 25%. At 75% it only has 12.5%, and at 90% only a mere 5% (at best) is put aside for the technology. This reduction has a direct impact on overall performance.

At 75% capacity consumers will notice a difference in performance between the 250GB and 500GB models. At 90% DWA is all but ineffectual and the 250GB's relative performance tanks.

Crucial could have minimized this large variance in performance if they had simply increased the over-provisioning or increased the RAM buffer. For example if this MX200 was billed as a 240GB drive instead of having 250GB on tap it would have left an additional 10GB for the controller to use for DWA.
 
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