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Crucial MX300 750GB SATA III SSD Review

Crucial MX300 750GB SATA III SSD Review

Crucial drops their first 3D TLC NAND powered SSD, the MX300. The MX300 should be more powerful than recently released 2D TLC SSDs. Let's take a look.

@JonCoulterSSD
Published Tue, Jun 14 2016 1:00 AM CDT   |   Updated Thu, Jul 30 2020 4:20 PM CDT
Rating: 87%Manufacturer: Crucial

Introduction, Specifications, Pricing and Availability

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Over the years, Crucial has built a reputation for delivering top performing SSDs. When SSDs first began appearing in the consumer space, Crucial was first to leverage the SATA III interface. At the time, Crucial's RealSSD C300 set the world ablaze with unmatched performance over a 6Gb/s interface, thus cementing Crucial as a go to choice for top performing consumer-based non-volatile storage solutions.

Fast-forward to today. Today, SSDs are mainstream and the primary focus has changed from all-out performance to cost and capacity. With performance becoming a secondary factor for the majority of mainstream users, TLC (Triple Level Cell or 3-Bit per cell) based SSDs are quickly becoming the norm. TLC SSDs offer higher capacity at a lower cost than their MLC (Multi Level Cell or 2-Bit per cell) counterparts. When TLC first hit the scene, endurance was the primary concern. MLC flash generally sported an endurance rating of 3000 P/E (Program/Erase) cycles, while TLC flash checked in at about 500 P/E cycles. Today the endurance concerns of TLC-based SSDs have been put to rest through advances in error-correcting code and the implementation of pseudo SLC (Single Level Cell or 1-Bit per cell) caching technology.

With endurance concerns out of the way, NAND fabs could now focus primarily on cost per gigabyte. To lower cost, NAND fabs began focusing on lithography shrinkage. Shrinking lithography produces more die per wafer which in-turn lowers cost per gigabyte. However, as lithography shrinks new barriers are created including re-tooling fabs, lower performance, and a further reduction in endurance. Lithography shrinkage for planar (2D) NAND flash has reached a point of diminishing return, and the path forward is vertical or 3D. This is accomplished by going vertically into the body of the die by standing the NAND string on its end, rather than shrinking the cell's length and width. Think of it as a skyscraper building, you get a massive amount of floor space with a minimal footprint. By going 3D, lithographic scaling is no longer a primary factor for cost reduction. Instead, it becomes a factor of how many transistors you can stack on a single vertical string.

Combining TLC and 3D NAND flash technologies produces today's lowest cost, high density solid state storage solutions, furthering mainstream SSD adoption. Crucial, Micron's consumer arm, today launches their first 3D flash product; the MX300. Crucial's MX300 750GB SSD is a Micron 3D TLC flash equipped 2.5"x7mm SATA III SSD. Crucial is second to market with consumer-based 3D flash-based SSDs, the first was Samsung with their 850 series SSDs. Micron's 3D flash differs from Samsung's in a number of ways. Micron has carried proven floating gate technology over into their 3D flash. Micron feels that utilizing existing floating gate technology provides a proven foundation that limits design variables, ultimately increasing the reliability and quality of their 3D flash designs. Additionally, Micron has placed the CMOS under the array which significantly reduces the overall footprint of Micron's 3D flash packages.

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Micron's 3D TLC packs a density of 384Gb on a single die. This is currently the industry's highest density 32 tier 3D NAND die. We are delighted that another NAND manufacturer has entered the 3D arena. Competition will undoubtedly serve to further innovation and drive costs lower, which is win win for the end-user.

Samsung has been in the 3D game for some time now, and this is Crucial/Micron's first generation 3D SSD. The MX300 isn't going to unseat Samsung's 3D based SSDs and become the performance leader today. Crucial understands this fact which is why the MX300 is being marketed as a mid-level performing SSD. With this in mind, we aren't going to compare Crucial's MX300 to Samsung's 850 series 3D flash-based SSDs, all of which are high-level performers, we will instead compare the MX300 to value based planar TLC products including Crucial's own BX200. We feel this will give us some perspective on how Micron's 3D TLC flash compares with their own 16nm planar TLC flash as well as Toshiba's and SKHynix's latest planar TLC flash. Hopefully we will see some clear advantages to Micron's low-cost 3D TLC flash over low-cost planar TLC flash.

Specifications

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Currently, Crucial's MX300 is available in one capacity and one form factor; a 750GB 2.5"x7mm cased design. Specifications: Sequential Read/Write 530/510 MB/s. Random Read/Write: 92K/83K IOPS at QD32. TBW: 220TB. MTTF: 1.5 Million hours. Hardware encryption: AES 256-bit encryption, TGC Opal 2.0-compliant, IEEE-1667-compliant, Microsoft eDrive.

Crucial backs the MX300 with a three-year limited warranty. Crucial included a key for downloadable Acronis HD cloning software. Please refer to the above product flyer for Advanced Features built into the MX300. The 750GB MX300 carries an MSRP of $199.99.

Drive Details

Crucial MX300 750GB SATA III SSD

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In typical Crucial fashion, the MX300 ships in a flip top box. The top of the packaging is grey themed, features an image of the drive and informs us that the enclosed SSD is a limited edition 750GB capacity.

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The back of the flip top box is all white. The contents of the packaging are listed and the drive's limited three-year warranty is advertised.

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Inside of the box, the drive itself is cradled in a clear plastic tray for protection. Crucial includes a stick-on plastic spacer and a printed download guide with an Acronis HD key.

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The top half of the drive's all-aluminum enclosure features a colorful manufacturer's label.

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The bottom half of the drive's enclosure features another manufacturers label that lists the drive's model number, serial number, shipping firmware, and PSID number along with other various bits of relevant information.

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Liberating the drive's PCB from its enclosure is no easy task. The PCB itself snaps into the enclosure and the enclosure snaps together. The MX300 is a completely screw less design. The blue colored PCB is a full length design. This side of the PCB houses four Micron 3D TLC flash packages, which indeed do have a reduced footprint, the drive's Marvell 4-channel controller, and Micron DRAM cache package.

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This side of the PCB houses an additional four Micron 3D flash packages.

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A detailed view of the drive's tiny Marvell 88SS1074 4-channel flash processor. Crucial utilizes their own custom firmware to power the controller.

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A detailed view of one of the drive's eight Micron 3D flash packages. Each flash package has a RAW capacity of 96GB for a total RAW capacity of 768GB.

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A detailed view of the drive's Micron DDR3 1600MHz cache package.

Test System Setup and Drive Properties

Jon's Consumer SSD Review Test System Specifications

We would like to thank ASRock, Crucial, Intel, Corsair, RamCity, IN WIN, and Seasonic for making our test system possible.

Drive Properties

Crucial MX300 750GB SATA III OS Disk 75% Full

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The majority of our testing is performed with our test drive as our boot volume. Our boot volume is 75% full for all OS Disk "C" drive testing to replicate a typical consumer OS volume implementation. We feel that most of you will be utilizing your SSDs for your boot volume and that presenting you with results from an OS volume is more relevant than presenting you with empty secondary volume results.

System settings: Cstates and Speed stepping are both disabled in our systems BIOS. Windows High-Performance power plan is enabled. Windows write caching is enabled, and Windows buffer flushing is disabled. We are utilizing Windows 10 Pro 64-bit OS for all of our testing except for our MOP (Maxed-Out Performance) benchmarks where we switch to Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit.

Synthetic Benchmarks - ATTO & Anvil's

ATTO

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.47

ATTO is a timeless benchmark used to provide manufacturers with data used for marketing storage products.

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Sequential read/write transfers max out at 536/513 MB/s. Both figures exceed Crucial's given maximum sequential performance. Maximum read performance is achieved at 1MB transfers, maximum write at 256KB transfers. Keep in mind this is our OS volume, and it is filled to 75% of its total capacity.

Sequential Write

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The MX300 displays a nice performance curve with superior small file write performance up to 16KB transfers. Beyond 16KB transfers the MDD BP5e and TRION 150 lead the field.

Sequential Read

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This is our first indication that the MX300 is more of a write centric SSD. Sequential read performance comes in at the bottom of our test pool. Crucial's own BX200 displays a better sequential read performance curve.

Anvil Storage Utilities

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.1.0

Anvil's Storage Utilities is a storage benchmark designed to measure the storage performance of SSDs. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests; you can run a full test or just the read or write test, or you can run a single test, i.e. 4k QD16.

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Scoring

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Anvil's scoring gives a good indication of a drive's overall performance. In terms of overall score, the MX300 outperforms the SP550, TRION 100 and the BX200 handily. A score of 4,913 gives us a good indication that the MX300 is a solid mid-level performer exactly as it is marketed by Crucial. If we focus in on write scoring we can see that the MX300 delivers the second best write score of the bunch.

(Anvil) Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale

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Because QD8 is still within consumer range, we feel the MX300 delivers overall the second best performance of the drive's in our test pool.

(Anvil) Write IOPS through Queue Scale

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Great performance at QD1-2 is what we want to see and in this respect, the MX300 delivers the goods. At queue depths above two, the Phison S10 powered BP5e and TRION 150 lead the field.

Synthetic Benchmarks – CDM & AS SSD

CrystalDiskMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

CrystalDiskMark is disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4k and 4k queue depths with accuracy. Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at QD4.

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The MX300, for some unknown reason. chokes a bit on CDM's data pattern. The MX300 is easily outperformed by the rest of the drives in our test pool on read portion of this particular test.

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The MX300 display's particularly robust performance at 4K QD1, which is what we consider to be the most important aspect of this test.

AS SSD

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.7.4739.38088

AS SSD determines the performance of SSDs. The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD.

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AS SSD is a demanding test, and the MX300 is able to digest the data generated quite well. The BP5e and TRION 150 are particularly fond of AS SSD and outpace the competing drives in our test pool. Looking at the write scores, the MX300 again displays evidence that it is a write centric SSD.

Benchmarks - Vantage, PCMark 7 & PCMark 8

Moderate Workload Model

We categorize these tests as indicative of a moderate workload environment.

PCMark Vantage - HDD test

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.0.0

The reason we like PCMark Vantage is because the recorded traces are played back without system stops. What we see is the raw performance of the drive. This allows us to see a marked difference between scoring that other trace-based benchmarks do not exhibit. An example of a marked difference in scoring on the same drive would be empty vs. filled vs. steady state.

We run Vantage three ways. The first run is with the OS drive 75% full to simulate a lightly used OS volume filled with data to an amount we feel is common for most users. The second run is with the OS volume written into a "Steady State" utilizing SNIA's guidelines. Steady state testing simulates a drive's performance similar to that of a drive that been subjected to consumer workloads for extensive amounts of time. The third run is a Vantage HDD test with the test drive attached as an empty, lightly used secondary device.

OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used

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OS Volume 75% Full - Steady State

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Secondary Volume Empty - FOB

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There's a big difference between an empty drive, one that's 75% full/used, and one that's in a steady state.

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The important scores to pay attention to are "OS Volume Steady State" and "OS Volume 75% full." These two categories are most important because they are indicative of typical of consumer user states. When a drive is in a steady state, it means garbage collection is running at the same time it's reading/writing. This is exactly why we focus on steady state performance.

The MX300 is really able to deliver the goods at 75% full and lightly used. When we steady-state the drive it does take a bit of a beating falling by 12K. Capacity has always played a role in this testing with smaller capacity drives doing a bit better than their higher capacity counterparts. The 750GB MX300 in this case may be dealing with a bit of reverse capacity disadvantage so to speak.

PCMark 7 - System Storage

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.4.0

We will look to Raw System Storage scoring for evaluation because it's done without system stops and, therefore, allows us to see significant scoring differences between drives.

OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used

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The MX300 is able to deliver better performance than all but the SP550.

PCMark 8 - Storage Bandwidth

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.4.304

We use PCMark 8 Storage benchmark to test the performance of SSDs, HDDs, and hybrid drives with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and a selection of popular games. You can test the system drive or any other recognized storage device, including local external drives. Unlike synthetic storage tests, the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.

OS Volume 75% Full - Lightly Used

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PCMark 8 is the most intensive moderate workload simulation we run. With respect to moderate consumer type workloads, this test is what we consider the best indicator of a drive's performance. When we evaluate the performance of TLC SSDs we place a great deal of importance on two particular tests; this test and our write transfer testing. The MX300 is able to deliver excellent moderate workload performance easily outperforming the competing SSDs in our test pool.

Benchmarks (Secondary) - IOPS, Response & Transfer Rate

Iometer – Maximum IOPS

Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014

We use Iometer to measure high queue depth performance. (No Partition)

Max IOPS Read

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Max IOPS Write

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Max IOPS figures land right on factory specification. The MX300 delivers the highest write IOPS of the SSDs in our test pool.

Iometer – Disk Response

Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014

We use Iometer to measure disk response times. Disk response times are measured at an industry accepted standard of 4K QD1 for both write and read. Each test runs twice for 30 seconds consecutively, with a 5-second ramp-up before each test. We partition the drive/array as a secondary device for this testing.

Avg. Write Response

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Avg. Read Response

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Contrary to what we've seen to this point, the MX300 delivers the best read response; by a good margin no less. The SP550 just edges out the MX300 for the best write response.

DiskBench – Transfer Rate

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.6.2.0

We use DiskBench to time a 28.6GB block (9,882 files in 1,247 folders) composed primarily of incompressible sequential and random data as it's transferred from our DC P3700 PCIe NVME SSD to our test drive. We then read from a 6GB zip file that's part of our 28.6GB data block to determine the test drive's read transfer rate. Our system is restarted prior to the read test to clear any cached data, ensuring an accurate test result.

Write Transfer Rate

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Read Transfer Rate

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Of all the tests in our regimen, the write portion of this test, we feel is the most important when evaluating TLC SSDs. We have to look no further than Crucial's own BX200 to see exactly why. When an SSD can't even write a large chunk of data as fast as even low performing spinning disk drives, it's not something we will ever be able to recommend to our readers. The MX300 delivers excellent sustained write performance easily outperforming the rest of the drives in our test pool. This testing clearly displays the superiority of 3D flash.

Benchmarks (Secondary) - PCMark 8 Extended

Futuremark PCMark 8 Extended

Heavy Workload Model

PCMark 8's consistency test simulates an extended duration heavy workload environment. PCMark 8 has built-in, command line executed storage testing. The PCMark 8 Consistency test measures the performance consistency and the degradation tendency of a storage system.

The Storage test workloads are repeated. Between each repetition, the storage system is bombarded with a usage that causes degraded drive performance. In the first part of the test, the cycle continues until a steady degraded level of performance has been reached. (Steady State)

In the second part, the recovery of the system is tested by allowing the system to idle and measuring the performance after 5-minute long intervals. (Internal drive maintenance: Garbage Collection (GC)) The test reports the performance level at the start, the degraded steady-state, and the recovered state, as well as the number of iterations required to reach the degraded state and the recovered state.

We feel Futuremark's Consistency Test is the best test ever devised to show the true performance of solid state storage in an extended duration heavy workload environment. This test takes on average 13 to 17 hours to complete and writes somewhere between 450GB and 14,000GB of test data depending on the drive. If you want to know what an SSDs steady state performance is going to look like during a heavy workload, this test will show you.

Here's a breakdown of Futuremark's Consistency Test:

Precondition phase:

1. Write to the drive sequentially through up to the reported capacity with random data.

2. Write the drive through a second time (to take care of overprovisioning).

Degradation phase:

1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 10 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 8 times, and on each pass increase the duration of random writes by 5 minutes.

Steady state phase:

1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 50 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.

Recovery phase:

1. Idle for 5 minutes.

2. Run performance test (one pass only).

3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.

Storage Bandwidth

PCMark 8's Consistency test provides a ton of data output that we use to judge a drive's performance.

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We consider steady state bandwidth (the blue bar) our test that carries the most weight in ranking a drive/arrays heavy workload performance. Performance after Garbage Collection (GC) (the orange and red bars) is what we consider the second most important consideration when ranking a drive's performance. Trace-based steady state testing is where true high performing SSDs are separated from the rest of the pack.

In a steady-state, the MX300 is outperformed by the BP5e, TRION 150 and TRION 100; all three of which are benefiting from 8-channel controllers, higher OP ratio and more aggressive flash maintenance. The MX300 responds well to idle time and quickly recovers to a high level of performance.

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We chart our test subject's storage bandwidth as reported at each of the test's 18 trace iterations. This gives us a good visual perspective of how our test subjects perform as testing progresses. This chart sheds more light on how the drives perform as they progress through the testing phases.

Total Access Time (Latency)

We chart the total time the disk is accessed as reported at each of the test's 18 trace iterations.

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Disk Busy Time

Disk Busy Time is how long the disk is busy working. We chart the total time the disk is working as reported at each of the tests 18 trace iterations.

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When latency is low, disk busy time is low as well.

Data Written

We measure the total amount of random data that our test drive/array is capable of writing during the degradation phases of the consistency test. Pre-conditioning data is not included in the total. The total combined time that degradation data is written to the drive/array is 470 minutes. This can be very telling. The better a drive/array can process a continuous stream of random data; the more data will be written.

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Overprovisioning and write latency are the biggest factors that determine the outcome of this portion of the test. The MX300 manages to write a large amount of random data in 470 minutes.

Benchmarks (Secondary) – 70/30 Mixed Workload

70/30 Mixed Workload Test (Sledgehammer)

Version and / or Patch Used: Iometer 2014

Heavy Workload Model

This test hammers a drive so hard we've dubbed it "Sledgehammer". Our 70/30 Mixed Workload test is designed to simulate a heavy-duty enthusiast/workstation steady-state environment. We feel that a mix of 70% read/30% write, full random 4K transfers best represents this type of user environment. Our test allows us to see the drive enter into and reach a steady state as the test progresses.

Phase one of the test preconditions the drive for 1 hour with 128K sequential writes. Phase two of the test runs a 70% read/30% write, full random 4K transfer workload on the drive for 1 hour. We log and chart (phase two) IOPS data at 5-second intervals for 1 hour (720 data points). 60 data points = 5 minutes.

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What we like about this test is that it reflects reality. Everything lines up, as it should. Consumer drives don't outperform Enterprise-Class SSDs that were designed for enterprise workloads. Consumer drives based on old technology are not outperforming modern Performance-Class SSDs, etc.

The MX300 takes more time to drop into a steady-state due to its larger capacity. We see the drop into steady state occur at 420 seconds into the run. Overall the MX300 outperforms the rest of the field.

Maxed-Out Performance (MOP)

Maxed-Out Performance

This testing is just to see what the drive is capable of in an FOB (Fresh Out of Box) state under optimal conditions. We are utilizing Windows Server 2008 R2 64-bit for this testing. Same Hardware, just an OS change.

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Final Thoughts

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Micron's 3D flash has been on our radar for about a year now. Crucial's MX300 is the first end product to employ Micron's innovative 3D flash, and we are pleased with the results; especially when we take into consideration that the MX300 is a first-generation product. Crucial is marketing the MX300 as a mid-level performer and we believe that's exactly what it is. Our results show that the MX300 isn't a synthetic powerhouse, and that's fine by us, because it does deliver good performance where we believe it matters most; moderate workloads. We only need to look at our standard PCMark 8 testing to see that the MX300 is indeed more powerful than the vast majority of planar-based TLC SSDs.

When evaluating TLC-based SSDs, we really focus in on sustained write performance. In our opinion, every SSD should be able to, at the very least, deliver sustained write performance that matches or exceeds that of the fastest consumer-based spinning HDDs currently on the market. All SSDs do deliver a vastly superior end-user experience when utilized as an OS disk, due to much greater random performance than any spinning hard disk can deliver. However, tasks such as installing large games and transferring large amounts of data are common everyday tasks for most users. This is why we need to see a minimum of 200 MB/s sustained write performance from any SSD for it to even be considered for a TweakTown recommendation. At 374 MB/s of sustained write performance, or 3.6x that of the BX200, the MX300 easily meets our requirement for write performance.

At TweakTown, user experience while running the test subject as our OS disk is a big factor in determining whether or not it will receive a TweakTown recommendation. The user experience delivered by Crucial's MX300 is very good. Our system booted quickly, programs launched extremely fast, and the MX300 handled multi-tasking very well. Overall, Crucial's MX300 delivers an excellent SSD experience. With an MSRP of just 26.7 cents per gigabyte for 3D flash, we feel Crucial's MX300 750GB SATA III SSD is attractively priced at launch.

Crucial's MX300 750GB SSD is TweakTown recommended.

Pros:

  • 3D Flash
  • Sustained Write
  • Moderate Workloads
  • Build Quality
  • Data Protection

Cons:

  • Read Performance
  • Heavy workloads
TweakTown award
Performance85%
Quality including Design and Build95%
General Features90%
Bundle and Packaging80%
Value for Money85%
Overall87%

The Bottom Line: Micron's innovative 3D flash, robust security features, and exceptional sustained write performance make Crucial's MX300 an excellent choice for your next upgrade.

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Jon became a computer enthusiast when Windows XP launched. He was into water cooling and benching ATI video cards with modded drivers. Jon has been building computers for others for more than 10 years. Jon became a storage enthusiast the day he first booted an Intel X25-M G1 80GB SSD. Look for Jon to bring consumer SSD reviews into the spotlight.

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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