More SSD Bang For Your Buck - Crucial Launches The BX200
In the past 5 years few markets have exploded in the way that demand has for Solid State storage. From revenues of $5bn in 2011, worldwide shipments are expected to top $20bn in 2016, close to 40% of the total storage market. So, whilst there is still room for growth, competitive pressures have meant that products and pricing evolve at an extremely fast pace.
Ten months ago US-based semi-conductor titan Micron Technology segmented Crucial's SSD product range into two distinct lines. Catering to performance-oriented consumers is the MX-series, currently headed by the MX200, which focusses on high-end IOPS numbers under the restrictions of the SATA III interface. On the flip side is the BX-series of value-oriented SSDs, a range which is highly driven by ‘bang for your buck’.
Normally you’d expect these ranges to be augmented by new products over time, refreshed perhaps every couple of years. However the pace of technology and needs of the market have meant that the time is already ripe for Crucial to replace the first generation BX100, and today they’re ushering in its replacement: the BX 200.
The BX200 SSD
Much as we enthuse over how SSD storage improves the whole experience of using a PC – whether it be in gaming, general productivity or just overall system responsiveness – the cost of such drives has tended to put ‘normal’ (i.e. true entry-level) users off. It is one thing to declare ‘oh, it’s like breathing new life into your system’, quite another to make the hard £/GB choice many will make when opting to use traditional spinning disk media. This equation was acute not that long ago, when 'value' SSDs were just hitting £2 per GB compared to 5p per GB for a mechanical drive, but things are very different today.
The BX200 is the first consumer SSD from Crucial to use less costly Triple-Level-Cell (TLC) NAND, rather than the slightly older MLC NAND used in the performance-class MX200. Crucial will be the first to admit that they’re not the first to introduce TLC NAND drives into this market, but they felt that the wait was necessary in order for the technology to prove itself both in terms of reliability. Not only that, it needed to become clear that MLC NAND was no longer the best choice for the value-oriented market.
Crucial’s BX200 is really designed to push the performance benefits of SSDs into as many homes and PCs as possible, and does that by driving value to the consumer. Now, with the release of Windows 10 and Intel’s Skylake platform, new systems can opt for an SSD as a true HDD replacement rather than making a compromise between the two. The introduction of the BX200-series of drives means that consumers building new or upgrading current systems will routinely be able to take advantage of sub-£25 per 100GB pricing at multiple price points, whilst being backed by a huge international brand.
The BX200 is the first Crucial SSD to make use of TLC NAND – in this instance the 16nm variety – rather than the thus-far more common MLC NAND of the BX100 and MX100. TLC NAND technology has a number of trade-offs which make it more suitable for the entry-level class of drives, most notably a lower manufacturing cost alongside lower Random Read IOPS performance. Additionally active power requirements are higher, necessitating more aggressive power management at idle and sleep states. You might say that it’s a step backward in performance, but a step forward in value.
Paired with the copious amounts of TLC NAND is an SMI 2256 controller, which Crucial have found to be a perfect fit for the value segment. Firmware updates tend to be only when necessary these days, but can be performed without destroying the underlying data being stored. Additionally thanks to Crucial’s Storage Executive software even entry-level consumers have access to advanced features such as DRAM Caching and configurable overprovisioning.
Despite the change in NAND technology the BX200 still boasts a figure of 1.5m hours MTBF, emphasising the expected reliability of the drive. This is backed by Cruicial’s excellent warranty scheme, which for UK consumers is based in Scotland.
The BX200 is a mainstream drive, and as a result is only available in 2.5” form factors with the SATA III interface. A 7.5mm thickness makes it suitable for all but slimline laptops, plus a standard 2mm spacer continues to be shipped with the drive for installation in older laptop designs.
Entry-level consumers will tend to fixate on pricing, despite the technical challenges involved in moving to TLC-NAND whilst retaining high durability and reliability, but in this regard Crucial don’t disappoint.
At an MSRP of £66.49 (inc. V.A.T.) for the 240GB model the BX200 really does hit the right note in terms of being a great entry-level option, providing ample room for OS, Office suite, and considerable ‘spare’ storage for games. This is the type of flexibility not provided by 120GB drives of the past, where you’d often offload more to a secondary drive by necessity.
As attractive as the 240GB is, the 480GB is in a real sweet-spot in terms of bang for your buck. Sitting at just £116.99 you’re getting better than 25p/GB, and 480GB is ample storage for the vast majority of consumers (and no small number of gamers either). At this size most users will be able to ‘install and forget’, never really needing to worry about running out of space and perhaps eschewing any additional system storage entirely.
By contrast, the 960GB model is a more considered purchase. Still boasting excellent <25p/GB value for effectively a terabyte of performance storage, consumer needs often don’t stretch this far and £243.99 is a relatively large investment. Nonetheless business users with comparatively high storage requirements, or simply anyone with an extensive Steam library, will still welcome an option that doesn’t break the bank.
Note also that the prices listed are MSRP; UK retailers are free to price the drive lower, as you may see from pre-order listings from today. We also appreciate the fact that Cruicial’s UK RMA service is based in Scotland rather than the EU mainland, which makes for a much faster turn-around time for warranty-repairs and replacements in the unlikely event that they’re needed.
Crucial’s BX200 drives aren’t a revolution in performance, but not all major developments are. By offering new price points for entry-level SSDs backed by a major NAND manufacturer the choice of going down this route rather than slower mechanical storage will be easier than ever.
You can read our take on the 960GB Crucial BX200 in our latest storage review: http://www.vortez.net/articles_pages/crucial_bx200_review,1.html.