Crucial BX200 960GB & 480GB SSD Review
Even though their BX100 drives are not even a year old, Crucial has made the tough decision to EOL this award winning series and replace it with a new model: the BX200. This may seem like an admission of defeat for a highly respected product but nothing could be further from the truth. The BX100 still performs extremely well but the entry level SSD marketplace has been moving forward at such a quick pace that Crucial felt it was time to break with their typical release cadence. More to the point everyone from Samsung to OCZ are moving to a yearly refresh pace for a lot of their series and if Crucial had not kept up they would have been left in the dust.
The reasons for this stiff completion are varied and numerous, but boil down to one salient fact. More and more consumers are realizing the performance potential SSD have to offer and are moving away from HDDs. SSHD hybrids have slowed the flow but not by much when you consider the quick expansion of cloud storage solutions in lieu of localized data. Instead buyers are looking for relatively fast OS drives that offer more than enough storage space but do so without being absurdly expensive when compared to typical spindle-based options. This is indeed a tall order and has caused manufacturers to think outside the box.
We’ve seen that kind of thinking from a few manufacturers as of late. AData’s Premier series and OCZ’s Trion are just two drives among dozens that have been launched in an effort to capitalize upon the newfound purchasing power of budget-conscious users. Both offer performance numbers that used to be reserved for flagship drives while boasting affordable price points.
In the case of Crucial this means refreshing a relatively new series and going in a different direction for the replacement model. You see, even though the BX100 was rather inexpensive its price still tended to be too close for comfort to Crucial’s higher level MX200. This time around they’re focusing in on offering consumers nearly 500GB of space for about $150. Yup, that’s right; for the first time you will be able to purchase 500GB (technically 480GB due to over-provisioning) of SSD storage space for about thirty cents a GB! The same factors can be brought forward for the much larger 960GB model as well. Brilliant stuff.
In order to offer such a bargain basement price without sacrificing longevity Crucial started an in-house research project which resulted in the first ever TLC NAND-based drive that bears the Crucial name. More importantly the BX200 may be TLC based but still has the same endurance rating as its MLC NAND predecessor at 72TB. This is actually quite impressive since these types of designs aren’t exactly known for their endurance.
What really caught our eye is the 72TB of drive write endurance is based on a 90 percent full drive which makes this number extremely conservative to say the least. The only hitch is these 16nm ICs aren’t designed with the newer 3D NAND technology. Instead they are simply IMFT 'old school' NAND ICs that are (up to) quad die packs.
While this TLC NAND is technically the same as what IMFT offers to other companies, it is supposedly not the same quality. It is actually more accurate to say that this TLC NAND is not going to be found inside any other drive for the time being. Instead only the absolute best that Micron offers will go to the BX200 due to a stringent binning process.
Crucial has also taken advantage of the SMI's latest controller offering: the SMI2256. This controller made its debut inside the AData SP550 even though we felt that it wasn’t quite given its due in that particular drive. This controller RAIDs the NAND, has insane level of constant error checking, and is an all-round best in class option for the entry marketplace. Unlike AData, Crucial threw out the default firmware and as they said have baked in 'secret sauce' to fully optimize the controller for this particular NAND. This too is how Crucial boosted the endurance of the TLC modules to MLC levels.
On paper at least this is a potent combination and one that should have no issues on the durability side of the equation. The only potential hiccups lie on the performance side. Since the BX200 has a 4-channel design, and this is TLC NAND based drive, the performance is going to be an issue. However, as this model is meant to compete with SSHDs and other slow SSDs, there shouldn’t be too much of a problem for would-be buyers.
Further complicating things is that the BX200 series models are not all exactly the same. As you can see the 960GB model (on the right) has 16 TLC NAND ICs; whereas the 480GB has only 8 ICs (and the 240GB would only have 4). Obviously all the NAND ICs used throughout the BX200 series are the same density, but the NAND interleaving is directly proportional to the size of the drive. As all enthusiasts know just populating all channels of a controller is not enough, the interleaving (number of ICs per channel) can make a big difference in overall performance. Basically the 240GB would have 1 IC per channel (four layers of NAND), the 480GB would have 2 ICs per channels (eight layers of NAND), and the 960 would have 4 ICs per channel (sixteen layers of NAND).
In addition to all of this, the amount of RAM cache available to the controller varies from capacity to capacity as well. The largest model has two 256MB DDR3-1600 ICs for its buffer, while the 480GB (and most likely 240GB) has only one 256MB IC. Based on these factors we fully expect the 960GB to be faster than the 480GB. This may make it a touch harder for Crucial to succeed at their intended goal of offering a true “everyman’s drive”.
Before the benchmarks start, we do have to make mention of accessory bundle that Crucial sells separately. The aptly called SSD Install Kit is an upgrade kit which can be used with any Solid State Drive – this is why it is sold separately.
What this kit does is offer consumers a much more straightforward upgrade path. Simply plug the new drive into the USB adapter, plug the adapter into the system, install Acronis HD (a serial number comes with the kit) and clone your existing drive to the new drive. This is tailor made for users who don’t have a free SATA port, or even for laptops where only one drive can be used at a time. While it may not be quite as impressive as what Kingston offers, this kit only costs $24.99 and should be in every enthusiast’s toolbox. As an added bonus the SSD Install Kit also comes with a free SATA 6Gb/s cable and a 2.5” to 3.5” adapter plate. Not too shabby for 25 bucks.
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