Cru­cial BX500 120GB

Cru­cial blows it with this bar­gain-base­ment SSD

Maximum PC - - in the lab - –JEREMY LAIRD

WE’RE BIG FANS

of Cru­cial’s SATA SSDs. In fact, it’s been our go-to brand in this seg­ment of the solid-state mar­ket for years. Its MX500 is our de­fault rec­om­men­da­tion for those want­ing a big, re­li­able, and rea­son­ably fast SATA SSD.

So, when we say it’s blown it with the BX500, we take no plea­sure in bash­ing what is gen­er­ally a very good brand. But hang on, what ex­actly is the BX500? It’s a new bud­get 2.5-inch SATA SSD, and first im­pres­sions are promis­ing.

For starters, it’s based on the same 64-layer 3D TLC NAND mem­ory as the MX500. In other words, it’s not a QLC drive, with all the con­cerns over per­for­mance and dura­bil­ity that would im­ply. What’s more, Cru­cial rates even this bot­tom-feed­ing 120GB drive at 540MB/s for reads and 500MB/s for writes. That’s within 10MB/s of even the beefi­est 2TB MX500. Im­pres­sive.

The BX500 also uses a vari­ant of the SMI SM2258 con­troller—again, sim­i­lar to the MX500. So, what’s the prob­lem? Our sus­pi­cions were first aroused by Cru­cial’s fail­ure to quote ran­dom rather than se­quen­tial per­for­mance num­bers. Even the de­tailed data sheet omits ran­dom per­for­mance. Odd. The 40TB of claimed write en­durance isn’t ex­actly con­fi­dence in­spir­ing, ei­ther.

A closer look at the SMI SM2258 chip re­veals some­thing im­por­tant: It’s the SM2258XT, the suf­fix in­di­cat­ing this is the so-called DRAM-less ver­sion. Put sim­ply, omit­ting a DRAM cache is an easy way to save a few bucks. But at what cost to the drive’s per­for­mance?

In terms of se­quen­tial through­put in syn­thetic bench­marks, the BX500 isn’t too ter­ri­ble. It hits the claimed spec for reads, while writes of 238MB/s are down on the claims, but still look tol­er­a­ble. The syn­thetic 4K ran­dom per­for­mance doesn’t look all that bad, ei­ther.

CLIFF NOTES All of which demon­strates how syn­thetic tests don’t al­ways cap­ture a drive’s true char­ac­ter. Dur­ing our pre-test rou­tine, which in­cludes fully filling the drive, then delet­ing the data, the true hor­ror of what Cru­cial has done emerged. Copy a multi­gi­ga­byte file to the BX500, and it looks dandy at first, hum­ming along just be­low 500MB/s. But af­ter about 1.5GB’s worth of trans­fer, the rate falls off a cliff, then os­cil­lates be­tween 10MB/s and 80MB/s.

The ini­tial drop al­most cer­tainly re­flects the point at which the drive’s SLC cache is ex­hausted. In­evitably on such a small, cheap drive, that cache is lim­ited. Even then, the post-cache per­for­mance is hideous, a fact that prob­a­bly re­flects the fur­ther lack of a DRAM cache.

It’s not clear how larger drives from the BX500 port­fo­lio per­form; it’s also avail­able as 240GB and 480GB. Likely, you get a bit more SLC cache with the larger drives that will ob­scure the poor per­for­mance a bit longer. But you’ll hit the un­der­ly­ing crap­i­ness soon enough.

This is for buy­ers who choose based on a com­bi­na­tion of price and su­per­fi­cial specs. It’s dirt cheap, the head­line read and write speeds look de­cent, so why not save a few bucks? The im­pact of that saving is cat­a­strophic. You can’t buy a 120GB MX500, but the 240GB BX500 is just $10 cheaper than the 250GB MX500, the lat­ter be­ing a bit big­ger, and a far more con­sis­tent per­former.

We could ar­gue you get what you pay for, so buy­ers only have them­selves to blame. But it’s rea­son­able to make as­sump­tions about the ba­sic qual­ity of a drive from Cru­cial with­out need­ing to dig deep into the tech­ni­cal doc­u­ments or even read a review. The BX500 falls short of those ex­pec­ta­tions. This drive is un­wor­thy of the brand.

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