Micron has finally introduced a second consumer SSD with 3D NAND flash. Rather than a high-performance NVMe drive, they've brought back the entry-level BX product line for the Crucial BX300.

At Computex 2014, Micron introduced the Crucial MX100, the first SSD to use their 16nm MLC NAND. The MX100 was a hit with great performance and great pricing. It was followed up in 2015 by the Crucial MX200, which wasn't much of an improvement over the MX100. But at the same time, Crucial introduced a second product line with the BX100. Using the same 16nm MLC but a cheaper Silicon Motion controller, the Crucial BX100 continued to offer good performance for most purposes and was also the most power efficient SSD of its time.

Later in 2015, the consumer SSD market began to rapidly switch over to TLC NAND: consumers wanted cheaper SSDs, but only Samsung had usable 3D NAND, so planar TLC was the way to increase capacity. Micron introduced the Crucial BX200 in November 2015 as their first SSD to use TLC NAND. The BX200 successfully reduced price per GB, but sacrificed a great deal of performance and power efficiency in the process. The BX200's fate was sealed by drives like the ADATA SP550 that used faster and cheaper SK Hynix TLC to undercut the BX200's pricing while offering somewhat better performance.

Finally, in June 2016 Micron's 3D NAND was ready for mass market use, and the consumer SSD market's race to the bottom was put on hold. Micron introduced the Crucial MX300 using a high-performance Marvell controller like previous MX series SSDs, but using the TLC variant of their 3D NAND rather than MLC. The MX300 thus was serving as successor to both the MX200 and BX200, and it has done the job well with good performance and far better power efficiency than any previous TLC SSD (even considering Samsung's 3D TLC-based 850 EVO).

Crucial MX Series Specifications
Model MX100 MX200 MX300
Controller Marvell 88SS9189 Marvell 88SS1074
NAND Micron 16nm
128Gbit MLC
Micron 384Gbit
32-layer 3D TLC
Capacities 128GB-512GB 250GB-1TB 275GB-2TB
SLC Caching No Some Models Yes
Encryption TCG Opal 2.0 & IEEE-1667 (eDrive)
Warranty Three years
Write Endurance 72 TB 80-320 TB 80-400 TB
Launch Date June 2014 January 2015 June 2016

The main limitation of the Crucial MX300 stems from the odd capacity of Micron's 32-layer 3D TLC parts. The 32L TLC die is Micron's 32L 256Gb MLC operated as a TLC chip, yielding a capacity of 384Gb (48GB) per die. It is awkward to build SSDs with standard power of two capacities out of such chips, so Micron initially introduced the MX300 with a 750GB (768GB raw) capacity model. The rest of the MX300 lineup used capacities that were slightly above the standard sizes (eg. 525GB instead of 512GB), which still left the MX300 with more overprovisioning than a typical consumer SSD. The odd capacity effect is most pronounced with the smallest MX300, the 275GB model. Micron didn't go any smaller than that because a drive in the ballpark of 128GB would use only three TLC dies, wasting one of the four channels on most SATA SSD controllers.

Micron's upcoming second generation 3D NAND parts are designed with TLC in mind as the primary use, and Micron will be producing both 256Gb and 512Gb parts. But this new 64-layer 3D NAND is still ramping up in production. Intel has shipped limited quantities in their 545s, but most of the early 64L NAND is going to the enterprise SSD market.

That's where the new Crucial BX300 comes in. The BX300 brings MLC NAND back to the Crucial product line for the sake of making smaller capacity entry-level SSDs. The Crucial BX300 will be produced in capacities from 120GB to 480GB using Micron's 256Gb 32L 3D MLC. Micron is again using a Silicon Motion controller for the BX line, this time the SM2258. Micron has not opted to use the DRAMless SM2258XT variant and instead has equipped the BX200 with 256MB to 512MB of their own DDR3.

Crucial BX Series Specifications
Model BX100 BX200 BX300
Controller Silicon Motion SM2246EN Silicon Motion SM2256 Silicon Motion SM2258
NAND Micron 16nm
128Gbit MLC
Micron 16nm 128Gbit TLC Micron 256Gbit
32-layer 3D MLC
Capacities 120GB-1TB 240GB-960GB 120GB-480GB
SLC Caching No Yes Yes
Encryption None
Warranty Three years
Write Endurance 72 TB 72 TB 55-160 TB
Launch Date January 2015 November 2015 August 2017

On paper, the BX300 does not appear to be making any significant compromises to reach low price points. In some respects it is superior to the MX300, and it certainly seems like it will have lower profit margins for Micron. The BX300 may be the kind of product that only a vertically-integrated manufacturer like Micron can successfully bring to market in the midst of an industry-wide NAND shortage. ADATA uses the same controller and NAND in their SU900 and SX950 SSDs, but those are selling for significantly higher prices than the Crucial MX300, not lower. The BX300 may turn out to be a short-lived stopgap product to go after a segment of the market that the MX300 is ill-suited for. A replacement for both the MX300 and BX300 using 64L TLC will probably show up as soon as Micron can spare the NAND. Certainly by Computex in June 2018 we should expect a new product, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear about something at CES in January.

Crucial BX300 Specifications
Capacity 120GB 240GB 480GB
Form Factors 2.5" 7mm
Controller Silicon Motion SM2258
NAND Micron 256Gbit 32-layer 3D MLC
DRAM (DDR3) 256MB 256MB 512MB
SLC Write Cache 4GB 8GB 16GB
Sequential Read 555 MB/s 555 MB/s 555 MB/s
Sequential Write 510 MB/s 510 MB/s 510 MB/s
4KB Random Read  45k IOPS 84k IOPS 95k IOPS
4KB Random Write  90k IOPS 90k IOPS 90k IOPS
Encryption No
Write Endurance 55 TB 80 TB 160 TB
Warranty Three years
MSRP $59.99 $89.99 $149.99

The Crucial BX300 is Micron's first MLC-based consumer SSD since the Crucial MX200. With the MX200, Micron experimented with using SLC caching on smaller capacities and had mixed success—peak performance was boosted a bit, but at the cost of creating more background work for the controller that hurt sustained workloads. For the Crucial BX300, Micron is using relatively small fixed-size SLC caches. Sequential performance and random write performance are rated the same across all three capacities, while random read performance is reduced a bit for the 240GB and is cut in half for the 120GB model. The rated write endurance numbers are probably chosen simply to be lower than the ostensibly higher-end MX300 model, rather than being based on actually lower expectations for drive lifetime. The MX300 does have lots of overprovisioning with which to reduce write amplification, but the BX300 has a reasonable amount too and the advantage of inherently higher endurance from using MLC instead of TLC.

Gallery: Crucial BX300

For this review, the our 480GB Crucial BX300 will primarily be compared against:

AnandTech 2017 SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1703
Linux kernel version 4.12, fio version 2.21
AnandTech Storage Bench - The Destroyer
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  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    SSD prices at Microcenter dropped by about 25% over the weekend (850 EVO 500GB for $139) and Amazon and Newegg are also down a bit, I assume the NAND shortage is over? Just clearing inventory? I'm really happy to see MLC back in the mix! Time to upgrade the last of the mechanical computers... Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    Oh no it is not. They are gonna milk that cow until Chinese NAND gets to the market. And then they will short the price.

    On a side note, way to go Crucial - making quality products with MLC flash, with endurance worse than that of TLC flash. It is quite the achievement.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    On the bright side, it is good to see that the competition is finally catching up to samsung SATA SSDs. Be that a couple of years after they stopped developing SATA SSDs. Reply
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    I think Chinese production of NAND and DRAM will be by new companies operating in new foundries. Volume production probably won't be reached until 2019, and can we really be sure of what to expect when it does? Reply
  • leexgx - Saturday, September 02, 2017 - link

    you do know that endurance actually means warranty void if you use more than the endurance rating, MLC drives norm have endurance levels of PB of data before issues start to happen

    love the BX100 for its near 0 power use when idle but it does choke a little under high load meaning i actually notice it slightly when its struggling but still its many times faster then a HDD witch can get tied up under medium loads (like windows update and store)

    be nice if they can replicate that on the BX300 (should be better than the BX100 due to SLC cache and improved controller )
    Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    The NAND shortage is definitely not over. That won't abate until some time in 2018.

    I couldn't say if it was clearing inventory, a short-term deal, or something else, but right now there's no reason to believe any kind of price cuts will stick.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    So what you're saying is "get it while it's hot"? Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Wednesday, August 30, 2017 - link

    Yup. Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    I picked up a 480GB Muskin Reactor Armor3D for $139 _very_ recently dropped from $149. Like you, I was wondering if the NAND shortage was coming to an end, but Ryan is in a good position to know these things so maybe there's just a good deal on at the moment. Reply
  • Alexvrb - Tuesday, August 29, 2017 - link

    MLC or not the TLC Evo is still the better performing drive. If you're buying a ~250GB model the Evo is hands down the best option. At 500GB-1TB capacities there are a couple of cheaper options that are tempting but the Evo is still the best deal for the money IMHO until you hit 2TB class drives, where the MX300 really shines. Reply

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