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Crucial MX200 500GB & 1TB SSD Review

AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
Last year Crucial's MX100 series introduced 128GBit 16nm MLC NAND to the marketplace and ultimately redefined the meaning of 'value' orientated SSDs. While there may have been some compromises in terms of sheer performance, the MX100’s durability, capacity and overall price was only matched by Samsung's TLC equipped drives. Even now, nearly a year after its launch, Crucial’s groundbreaking drives are still considered some of the best around.

The MX200 series is the newest addition to Crucial’s lineup and it is targeting a slightly more mainstream market. It is essentially supposed to replace the MX100 and M550 series while the entirely new budget 'BX100' series hits up a lower price point(expect a review of the BX100 soon!). While the MX200 supposed to take over from the MX100, its combination of 16mm 128GBit MLC NAND with a Marvell 9188 controller backstopped by extremely aggressive pricing makes this new mainstream series one serious competitor for the likes Samsung's 850, OCZ Vertex 460, and a whole host of other drives.


To keep with its aggressive pricing roots, the MX200 will be priced at $140, $250, and $470 for the 250GB, 500GB and 1TB models respectively. This range of prices puts it within grasp of most buyers while anyone who wants a true budget SSD should gravitate towards the BX100.

The MX200 is much more than a pretty face and some fancy specifications since there have been some feature-centric advances as well. Starting out at a high level, there’s MLC NAND, AES-256 encryption and Dynamic Write Acceleration, a technology that is found on some datacenter-class SSDs but is now being rolled into these new drives. It is supposed to drastically improve file transfers and the speed at which the SSD writes files to its NAND.

There are also a number of advanced additions like Exclusive Data Defense which guards against corrupt files, a new Adaptive Thermal Protection design for improved component cooling and Power Loss Protection which is supposed to protect against data loss in the event of a power interruption. Many of these were normally found on more expensive workstation and enterprise SSDs in the past but it looks like they are finally starting to trickle down into the home user market.

By combining a fast controller with advanced NAND and a bevy of bandwidth enhancements Crucial has been able to achieve sequential reads and write up to 555MB/s and 500MB/s, along with random reads and writes up to 100k and 87k IOPS on all file types. Also, the 1TB model has an endurance rating of up to 320 TBW.


Externally the new MX200 series look almost exactly like both the M550 and MX100 series before it. As with those Crucial models, the MX200 uses a full metal enclosure that uses the smaller 7mm Z-height 2.5” form-factor. This in conjunction with the included 2.5mm plastic spacer allows the MX200 to fit inside everything from UltraBooks to notebooks. Unfortunately, Crucial still does not include a 3.5" adapter plate, so installing inside a full size PC chassis may require purchasing this accessory separately. Luckily, most new cases come with 2.5" SSD mounting capabilities, and for those that don't, the adapters are only a few dollars. A full copy of Acronis True Image is included as well.


The MX200’s innards nearly mirror the layout seen on the MX100; there are 8-16 NAND ICs (eight for the 500GB, sixteen for the 1TB), 256-512MB worth of RAM cache (1 IC for 500GB, 2 IC for 1TB), and a Marvell '9188 controller. On first blush this does pose the question on what Crucial actually done to improve performance and justify moving this MX200 up from the initial MX100's more value-oriented positioning.


The real changes have been applied beyond what we’re able to see. Instead of simply using a more powerful controller, or other similar tricks that have been the de rigueur methods of separating seemingly similar models in the past, Crucial has instead opted for a more firmware based approach. Put simply 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.

This quasi SLC mode is what Crucial calls Drive Write Acceleration and it significantly boosts write performance of these MLC NAND modules. As an added benefit DWA also increases write endurance - up from 72TB to 320TB in the 1TB model. While Crucial is not the first to use this hybrid caching method, their implementation is actually one of the most impressive.

Unlike Samsung the portion of NAND which can be used in quasi-SLC mode can be increased or decreased based on the usage pattern the individual controller encounters and how much free space the controller 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.

Unfortunately 'DWA' does cost the drive capacity so for every Gigabyte of MLC NAND used in 'SLC' Mode, the drive has to dedicate two Gigabytes worth of NAND. This is why the MX200’s capacities are smaller than the MX100 series. In addition the NAND used in quasi-SLC mode is only for cache purposes and once the I/Os drop, all permanent data is then internally written to the 'slower' MLC NAND. If the write IOs continue the drive will start copying from SLC to MLC to free up space in real-time. This could potentially cause major slowdowns compared to non-DWA models, but these drives are not meant for servers where the I/O operations are continuous.

While this also technically doubles the total number of writes, in reality most writes to an SSD are temporary in nature and thus the amount of data that needs to be written to the MLC NAND modules is drastically reduced. More importantly the NAND working in SLC mode is much less fragile and can be written to significantly more times before 'breaking'.


On paper at least, DWA will do very little to boost performance for large capacity models but it should benefit slower, lower capacity drives. This is why even the smallest 250GB boasts performance very similar to that of its larger brethren, something the MX100 series could never do. In fact, for the larger capacity models the potential negatives actually outweight the potential gains. For this reason, DWA is supposedly not active on these larger 512GB and 1TB models - and only the 250GB model is confirmed to have DWA activated.

Despite its lack of DWA, the 1TB model does boast twice the onboard cache compared to the MX100 series and all MX200 drives boast TCG Opal 2.0, eDrive encryption, DevSleep, and Flush in Flight capabilities. As an added bonus they also now include enhanced Thermal Protection capabilities that will lower the operating speed of the drive if it is reaching critically high temperatures. This will be of limited to value to most customers but it is another layer of protection against sudden - and catastrophic - drive failure. Whether or not all these features are enough to justify this new series slightly higher price per Gigabyte remains to be seen.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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5,274
Test System & 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
Angelbird Adler 640GB: AA3.15
Vertex 460 240GB: 1.0
ADATA SP920 512GB: MU01
Intel 7230 240GB: L2010400
Samsung 840 Pro 256GB:DXM06B0Q
Crucial MX100 512GB: MU01
Crucial M550 512GB: MU01
Plextor M6e 256GB: 1.03
Plextor M6s 256GB: 1.03
Kingston HyperX Fury 240GB: 5.60
AMD R7 240GB: 1.0
Crucial MX200: MU01

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
Kingston HyperX Fury 240GB - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND

LAMD controller:
Corsair Neutron GTX - Toggle Mode NAND
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

Novachips NVS3600A controller:
Angelbird Adler - ONFi 2 NAND

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

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Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
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/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/write.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


As you can see the performance both capacities offer is very, very good for the mainstream marketplace. However, its obvious that these drives do <i>not</i> have DWA activated in their firmware. During continuous write testing to the entire drive, neither the 500GB model nor the 1TB model exhibited the typical multi-step performance levels. If DWA was active the write performance should have started out phenomenally high, then stepped down to decent levels as the cache buffer was filled and the controller swapped over to pure MLC NAND.

After this step-down performance would then go even lower as the controller starts to internally cross write data from the SLC cache to MLC NAND while still accepting write operations from the testing program to free up space for more data.

Instead of these three distinctive performance levels we saw a nearly perfect line from start to finish which is indicative of MLC only mode writes. This is a shame, but not that unexpected as DWA really is not needed on drives with high capacity NAND interleaving.
 
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AkG

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Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
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.



Once again there was no obvious boosting of write performance in either capacity that would have indicated DWA being active. By the same token the MX200 drives do display very good performance levels that easily classify them as 'mainstream' and not 'value' SSDs. The 500GB was slightly inferior to the 1TB in both read and writes, but the variances between the two drives were rather small.
 
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AkG

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5,274
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.




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.


Once again both the 500GB and 1TB model post extremely good results. If nothing else this should remove any doubt about whether or not Crucial was justified in labeling the new MX200 series as a mainstream drive as they are faster than the older M550 series.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


<i>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.</i>
<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/mx200/asd_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />

<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/mx200/asd_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


<i>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.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/mx200/anvil_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/mx200/anvil_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

Once again the large, medium, and even deep queue depth small file performance is decent but neither drive shows any bursts of 'brilliance'. Both capacities do post very respectable numbers that are overall better than even the M550 series.

Taking a closer look at the results we can see that if you are interested in pure performance the 1TB capacity model would be a <i>slightly</i> better choice, but either one would offer mainstream consumers a great option. For a series that has its roots firmly planted in the value end of the marketplace, that is indeed noteworthy improvement in performance.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
Windows 7 / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance


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.



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 fared in the Adobe crucible!


Obviously Crucial has worked hard to refine their firmware for these new 16nm NAND ICs and it shows in the end results.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
Firefox Performance / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


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.




Real World Data Transfers


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.




We really do not have anything negative to say about these drives. Once again the 1TB model is slightly faster than the 500GB model but such differences are small enough to make them equal in both Firefox and real world transfer test suites.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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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.



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.



These drives react just as if they were released before Crucial had introduced DWA. This means the Marvell 9188 controller is left to fend for itself and it still has performance problems when filled to capacity. The drop-off is quite pronounced st some points. At 75% and below, the performance differences between most mainstream drives are minor at most. If you are concerned about long term performance, consider the 1TB to be a 750GB model and the 500GB to be a 375GB model.
 
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AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,274
Conclusion

Conclusion


The SSD market used to be absolutely cluttered with the offerings from dozens of different companies and an endless swarm of rebranded drives. Things have rapidly changed to the point where only a handful of the strongest companies are still around and as a result, overall quality has increased while prices for end users have gradually fallen. There’s no better example of this new market segmentation than Crucial’s new MX200.

When taken at face value, the MX200 really doesn’t have much going for it. By and large its internals point towards a simple modernization (or rebrand if you like) of the nearly year-old MX100 but there’s so much more to it than that. Crucial’s firmware team now have a lot more experience with IMFT's 16nm 128GBit NAND and they have put that experience to good use. Performance has been optimized in a big way as has endurance and it’s that longevity that will likely cause potential buyers in this price bracket to give the MX200 a long, hard look.

While we didn’t see any evidence of its use on the 500GB and 1TB versions, Crucial’s Dynamic Write Acceleration will likely play a large role in the MX200’s appeal for lower-capacity versions. It’s truly dynamic nature puts it head and shoulders above similar technologies from the likes of Samsung and SanDisk. Meanwhile, the MX200 also includes features like Flush in Flight and advanced thermal protection abilities which broaden its appeal in a segment that doesn’t usually get such niceties.

Amongst all the positive points we still see some flashes of the old MX100. While the MX200 in 1TB and 500GB capacities is plenty fast, that initial speed demon mentality quickly falls by the wayside with an approximate 30% performance drop-off by the time the drives hit 50% capacity. This can be traced back to the Marvell 9188 controller which just can’t keep up with newer alternatives in the throughput retention department.

Crucial’s MX200 500GB and 1TB SSDs may not be perfect drives, they offer an absolutely awesome blend of features, longevity and performance into a package that is very affordable for folks who want SSD speeds without sacrificing a ton of capacity. It sets the bar to an extremely high level, one that has been achieve through the intelligent use of existing technology along with well targeted optimizations. Put this one at the top of your buying list!

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/mx200/dam_good.jpg" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/mx200/di.png" border="0" alt="" /> <img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/mx200/DGV.gif" border="0" alt="" />
</div>
 
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