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Crucial BX500 SSD Review - Fewer Components, Lower Prices

Crucial BX500 SSD Review - Fewer Components, Lower Prices

Crucial Removes the DRAM to Build a Lower-Cost Entry-Level SSD.

@ChrisRamseyer
Published Sat, Sep 22 2018 10:00 AM CDT   |   Updated Tue, Jun 16 2020 4:31 PM CDT

Introduction, Specifications, and Pricing

Manufacturing DRAMless SSDs make a lot of sense for some companies. Intel, Toshiba, and SanDisk/Western Digital all lack the ability to build DRAM. Samsung, SK Hynix, and Micron are the only three fabs with both NAND and DRAM manufacturing. The reason why these companies build and sell SSDs is to move the components they manufacturer, and in this case, it's NAND and DRAM. Why is Micron/Crucial selling a DRAMless SSD?

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I don't think Crucial had much of a choice in the matter. The BX series has always been an entry-level SSD with fewer features than the mainstream MX series. The MX500, for as good as it is, lost some long-standing features like hardware host power-loss protection (an array of capacitors). In addition, the MX500 entered the market with an aggressive price point that has only shrunk since the release.

There really isn't a lot of wiggle room left for Crucial to play with features to reduce component costs to squeeze the BX500 in the market under the MX500, without 4-bit per cell (QLC) or moving the BX500 to a DRAMless design. Our report on IMFT QLC production yields take QLC off the table for SSDs that start close to $25, so that leaves DRAMless and Silicon Motion, Inc's SM2258XT controller right in the middle.

The SM2258XT has shipped in competitor's SSDs for over a year and has a reputation for reliability. Crucial paired the controller with the latest 64-layer TLC, a combination we've yet to test. The other products with this controller utilized first generation (32-layer) Micron TLC.

We don't expect earth-shaking performance from the BX500, but with prices this low, anything above instant meltdown are positive.

Specifications

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Crucial doesn't think performance is the key selling factor for the BX500 series. This is the first consumer SSD from the company to omit any random performance details. You can look high and low, we did, and the random read and write performance isn't published anywhere. We really hope this doesn't start a trend and hopefully, no other manufacturer reads this review and gets any bright ideas. We're only letting this side once and we do it with a displeased frown.

Sequential performance looks great at 540 MB/s read and 500 MB/s write speeds. The performance is the same across the capacity range but write speeds comes from the higher SLC buffer and not the lower native TLC speed.

The BX500 is a basic SSD without user mode encryption, a feature most of us don't use even when available. The drive is simply an entry-level SSD used to accelerate your system performance over what's physically possible with a hard disk drive.

Pricing, Warranty, And Endurance

The price backs that assessment. The BX500 120GB starts the price at just $28.79. That's not even a teenager's lunch money in high school these days. What has this world come too?

The middleweight 240GB sells for $47.79 at the time of writing at Amazon and that only grows to $79.99 for the full-size 480GB.

Endurance is on the low-end with just 40 terabytes written (TBW) for the 120GB. The endurance doubles to 80 TBW for the 240GB but then collapse for the 480GB that only gains an additional 40 TBW instead of doubling again. That leaves the BX500 480GB with a 120 TBW rating. All three capacities carry a three-year warranty.

A Closer Look

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The BX series has been a reasonable no frills low-cost series, but Crucial took it even further with the BX500. The drives use a plastic housing that we can only call flimsy. The previous BX series used a paper-thin metal enclosure, but Crucial went third-world country this round. The material is nicer than the counterfeit Kingston drives we tested from China last year thanks to the embossed BX logo.

Inside we found the Silicon Motion, Inc. SM2258XT DRAMless controller paired with Micron 64-layer TLC flash memory on a quarter-length circuit board.

512GB Class Performance Testing

Product Comparison

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There are very few entry-level SSDs from providers known for tier 1 quality. If you go to Amazon, you will find several very low-cost SSDs from no-name companies. We tested the Inland Professional SATA III a few months back but only because it was in the top five selling SSDs on Amazon and the drives come from a reputable store, Microcenter.

We have four DRAMless SSDs in our 512GB class charts today. The BX500 goes against the HP S700 and Mushkin Source with all three using the same controller. The BX500 is the only model with 64L TLC. The other two utilize older 32L TLC. The Inland Professional SATA III uses newer 64L memory from Toshiba, but the memory uses Phison's S11 DRAMless controller.

We wanted to fit the previous generation BX SSD in the comparison group, but that's not BX400. Crucial skipped fours in both the MX and BX series. We had to grab the BX300 with the SMI SM2258 with DRAM hanging off the controller and 32L MLC flash. The entry-level market has come a long way since August 2017.

The Plextor M8V also uses the SMI SM2258 controller but utilizes Toshiba 64L TLC memory.

Sequential Read Performance

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Entry-level SSD performance never looked so good. The BX500 hides under the results from other drives using the same controller. Flash is so fast, even the previous generation, that SATA sequential reads are capped by the interface and communication protocol. The BX500 is at the top of the queue depth 2 list, but only with a slight lead over the other drives.

Sequential Write Performance

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The 480GB BX500 doesn't seem to have an issue with sequential write bursts, either. Again we see most of the drives clustered together with the Plextor M8V as the only standout. Plextor has yet to bring this model to the US market, so it's not a drive can you easily order at Amazon or Newegg.

Sustained Sequential Write Performance

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Crucial didn't design the BX500 for transferring large movie files, music collections, or similar activities. This is a drive for casual computer users, what I call a FaceTwit or someone that doesn't process data, they just consume it through the web.

That said, the low price means more users will take a serious look at this series. The sustained write speed after the SLC buffer is much lower than we thought it would be. Getting outside of the SLC buffer while transferring sequential data (movies, music, and large block size data) rewards you with a 100 MB/s file transfer. This is lower than the other drives in the charts, even those with the same controller and previous generation memory.

Random Read Performance

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We were optimistic for the BX500. It uses the same memory as the MX500 and other drives with blisteringly quick random read performance. 64L memory from Micron has proven to be the best for 2017 when it comes to low read latencies. The BX500 doesn't reach 10,000 IOPS at QD1 and we're disappointed that it doesn't. The drive does get very close to 8,000 IOPS at QD1 and that is significantly more than any hard disk drive can achieve, even hybrid drives that pair flash and disk technologies.

Random Write Performance

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The random write performance is much higher than you might expect from a DRAMless SSD. The BX500 uses a large SLC buffer so you shouldn't even see performance loss under typical consumer-level workloads.

70% Read Sequential Performance

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The BX500 also performs well with mixed sequential workloads. There isn't a large performance increase as we ramp up the workload through queue depth, but 400 MB/s is a strong result for any SATA SSD.

70% Read Random Performance

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Mixed read / write random data is the most difficult task for DRAMless architectures. Here we see the main difference between the previous generation BX and the latest model that moved to TLC that has to stand on its own without a DRAM buffer for the table map data.

512GB Class Real-World Testing

Game Load Time

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Moving over to actual applications, we start with Final Fantasy: Stormblood load times. The BX500 480GB trails the previous generation by nearly a second. The new drive performs better than the other drives we are comparing it to today.

PCMark 8 Total Storage Bandwidth

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PCMark 8's Storage Test uses nine applications in ten tests to measure storage performance across a broad range of typical consumer workloads. The two SSDs with DRAM race past the DRAMless drives but that's only part of the story. Those two drives also cost more than the BX500 when you can find them. The 480GB BX500 leads similar drives, but most three of the four are very close together in performance.

PCMark 8 Extended Storage Test

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The PCMark 8 Extended Storage Test is outside of the wheelhouse for the BX500 target market. We still like to run a 24-hour workload that has proved to be a flash melting gauntlet of endurance destruction for low-cost SSDs. Needless to say, the DRAMless SSDs don't like the heavy data writes but do recover performance after given time to process background activities like garbage collection.

SYSmark 2014 SE System Responsiveness and Power Tests

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Briefly, the BAPCo SYSmark 2014 SE Responsiveness test measures the user experience through latency. For casual PC users, this is the most important real-world test of the Crucial BX500 and any other storage device. The BX500 performed quite well for a DRAMless architecture.

Notebook Battery Life

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The 480GB BX500 also performed well in a notebook. Our Lenovo Y700-17 gaming system saw over five and a half hours of office activities on a single charge.

256GB Class Performance Testing

Comparison Chart 2

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The Crucial BX500 240GB will see much more scrutiny than the 480GB model. In this section, we brought back the previous generation model, BX300, but also the modern mainstream SSD from the company, the MX500. The cost difference between the 240GB BX500 and the 250GB MX500 is just a little over $10. The overall cost isn't exactly lunch money, but the price difference is.

We could have included other mainstream SSDs in this group like the $58 Samsung 860 EVO but we let the MX500 represent the upper-performance class.

The other DRAMless SSDs in the 256GB product class come from HP (S700), and Inland Professional (2.5" SATA III). We also included the Seagate Barracuda SSD, a drive no one should actually consider at its current $65 price point.

Sequential Read Performance

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The BX500 had a dip at queue depth 2, where we record results for the bar chart. We ran the tests a few times and the dip persisted at that workload but for the most part, the 240GB BX500 performs nearly as well as the comparison drives.

Sequential Write Performance

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Unlike the Barracuda SSD, the MX500 didn't have any issues with the sequential write test using data bursts. The SLC buffer is strong enough to absorb the incoming large block size data.

Sustained Sequential Write Performance

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Moving over to longer sequential data writes, here we fill the entire drive while monitoring the performance. This allows us to see how much data you can move to the drive before hitting what we call native TLC performance. The BX500 has a much smaller bugger compared to the MX500. The latter is also twice as fast after the buffer fills.

Random Read Performance

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Native TLC write performance isn't why we like the MX500 over the BX500 for just a few dollars more. The random read performance is why we think the MX500 is a superior drive compared to just about every other SATA SSD sold new today.

In this capacity, the MX500 has amazing value. In the introduction, we stated the MX500 didn't leave a lot of room for Crucial to wedge a BX series product in using the old playbook.

For most users and especially those Crucial targets for the BX500, random read performance is the most important performance area. The 240GB BX500 performs well here, but for a few dollars more, you could have an SSD with performance great.

Random Write Performance

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The SLC buffers increase random write performance so much that we rarely even need to look beyond the surface of the results. The BX500 has a large buffer so we never have to worry about random writes slowing your desktop workload performance.

70% Read Sequential Performance

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The 240GB BX500 loses around 50 MB/s of mixed sequential performance from the 480GB model. The MX500, on the other hand, leads the drives tested at QD2 and surpasses 400 MB/s through the queue depth range.

70% Read Random Performance

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Again, we see very low mixed random performance with the BX500. For casual PC users, this will not be an issue. Users multitasking with multiple programs should be more concerned as the low mixed performance can lead to increased latency.

256GB Real-World Performance

Game Load Time

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For the price, the 240GB BX500 performs well in our game load time test. It takes close to 1 second longer to load the levels compared to the MX500 but is faster than many of the other low-cost drives selling today.

PCMark 8 Total Storage Bandwidth

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Widening the application scope to nine other applications and summarizing the results in an easy to digest throughput score tells a different tale. The BX500 delivers nearly half the application throughput compared to the 250GB MX500.

PCMark 8 Extended Storage Test

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As we mentioned with the 480GB capacity, Crucial didn't design this series for extended heavy workloads. We'll just pass over this test designed measure performance under strenuous conditions.

System Responsiveness and Power

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Crucial BX500 SSD Review - Fewer Components, Lower Prices 113 | TweakTown.com

Before the Barracuda SSD distracts you from missing the power rating, we want to explain the drive has an issue with our Lenovo Y700-17 gaming notebook that doesn't allow us to measure watt hour power consumption accurately.

When we stay within the confines of the entry-level SSDs, the BX500 looks good in our responsiveness test. It is likely the best 256GB class entry-level SATA SSD shipping today.

Notebook Battery Life

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In the same notebook, but with MobileMark software to measure battery life, the 240GB BX500 only scored an average result of just over 320 minutes on-battery time.

Final Thoughts

Crucial's new entry-level SSD is a mixed bag depending on what capacity and price point you're shopping for. The series gives us a better-than-disk experience that is good enough for the majority of the population, but in the same vein, it's not for everyone.

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With such a small price difference between the 240GB BX500 and 250GB MX500, we can't recommend the entry-level drive. The MX500 is one of, if not the best overall SATA SSD shipping today. Not spending a few dollars more to get the full MX500 user experience should be a crime or at least a mistake you shouldn't make.

Moving up the capacity range and the story isn't much different. When we first wrote this review, we expected the 500GB MX500 to be at or near the launch price of $139.99. At the time of writing, the 500GB MX500 sells for just $89.99, $10 more than the BX500.

We expect the BX500 price to shrink rapidly with the mainstream MX500 so close. At the current price, the 500GB MX500 is a stronger value and delivers a better user experience.

Until the fabs bring QLC to market, there isn't a need to continue the good, better, best cadence unless the divide is between SATA and NVMe. The BX500 uses the same flash as the MX500, and that makes up most of the cost of these drives. Once yields improve companies can go back to building two and three-tier strategies, but with the same flash and minimal price differences, the lower tier products are a waste of time unless you really think saving $10 for inferiority is a viable option.

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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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