Crucial MX500 review: Better value than Samsung’s 850 Pro

Crucial MX500

The MX500 is Crucial’s first SSD with flashy new 64-layer 3D NAND memory. This means that the data storage cells inside are stacked on top of one another, 64 deep. In comparison to 2D NAND, which only has a single layer of cells, 3D NAND has much higher storage density. This opens the door to potentially huge storage capacities, as well as making the NAND itself cheaper to produce for a certain capacity.

But why, you may ask, am I reviewing Crucial’s latest SSD tech in an old-school 2.5in SSD? Wouldn’t an NVMe drive’s faster interface give the NAND more of a chance to shine? In short, yes, it would. But not everyone has a motherboard with the requisite NVMe-compatible M.2 slot. After all, motherboards with M.2 slots only started appearing less than three years ago, and as long as my nearly-six-year-old gaming PC can still play The Witcher 3 at 60fps, it ain’t going anywhere. So let’s see what the new Crucial MX500 is capable of, and whether it can upset our previously established list of Best SSDs.

For those of us without an M.2 slot on our motherboards, a SATA SSD like the 2.5in model of Crucial’s MX500 is our only option. If you’re relying on a mechanical hard disk, fitting an SSD is the best upgrade you’ll ever make, but even if you’ve already gone solid-state, an upgrade could be a good idea. You may want a bit more space for increasingly huge AAA games, or fancy a speed boost: this new Crucial SSD is four times as fast in certain tasks than my old gaming PC’s 2012 Sandisk Extreme.

Crucial sent me the 500GB version of the SSD to review, and, at £115 / $135  (23p per GB or 27 cents per GB) it looks to be very well priced. The Samsung 850 Evo is £23 more / $46 more for the same capacity, and the new 860 Evo (which Katharine is just about to test) is £25 more or $35 more. The 250GB and 1TB versions of the MX500, meanwhile, come in at 27p per GB and 22p per GB – again, great value.

Crucial MX500 back

Crucial make it painless to upgrade your system without having to reinstall Windows, thanks to the included cut-down version of Acronis True Image. This reboots into its own mini operating system, then clones your current system disk to the new SSD. It worked flawlessly for me.

I used a couple of synthetic benchmarks to test the SSD. My test rig is an AMD Ryzen 7 1800X PC with an Asus Prime X370-Pro motherboard and 16GB of Crucial Ballistix Elite DDR4 RAM, so should be quick enough not to hold up the SSD. The first test was AS SSD, which performs a number of file transfer tests to check different aspects of a drive’s performance. I was most interested in the Sequential and 4K Random tests.

Sequential transfers 1GB of data to and from adjacent areas of an SSD’s storage, and is a best-case scenario when it comes to measuring SSD read and write speeds. It also produces the results closest to the ‘claimed speeds’ you’ll see on an SSD’s specs page. In this test, the MX500 read files at 514MB/s and wrote them at 498MB/s. These are excellent results, making the MX500 quicker than the Samsung 850 Evo’s 498MB/s and 453MB/s, and a few MB/s faster than the top-end Samsung 850 Pro. Both Samsung drives have just been replaced with the 860 Evo and Pro, however, and the new models are apparently a little quicker than the 850 range, but Katharine will have them in for testing soon.

MX500 graph

The AS SSD 4K Random benchmark again takes 1GB of data, but this time splits it into 4KB chunks and reads and writes it to random locations over the SSD’s surface. This test is an attempt to mimic an operating system’s behaviour, which relies on reading and writing all kinds of small files all over the place. The MX500 impressed in this test, too: 37MB/s when reading files and 73MB/s when writing is significantly quicker than what the 850 Evo managed, but around 30% slower than the expensive 850 Pro in the writing test.

This is a high-performance drive, so I wanted to subject it to a strenuous test. The CrystalDiskMark benchmark has a variation on the 4K Random test, called ‘Random 4K Queue 8 Thread 8’. This attempts to simulate the kind of workload a drive might see on a server or on a high-end workstation. The MX500 excelled in this strenuous test, reading files at 398MB/s and writing them at 372MB/s. This is as quick as the Samsung 850 Pro, and blows the 850 Evo out of the water.

I also did a couple of (less scientific) game loading tests, using a stopwatch. With the MX500 fitted, my test PC could load a round of Plunkbat in 7.88 seconds, compared to 8.12 seconds for the Samsung 850 Pro. Such a small difference is likely to be human error. I also timed loading an 8×8-player map in Men of War: Assault Squad 2, with one human player and 15 bots. The MX500-equipped PC was ready to play in 16s, but I had to wait 19s for the 850 Pro.

The MX500 is an excellent SSD, which is fast across the board and good value, too. If you went out and bought it now, you’d be happy. However, we’ve yet to test the latest SATA competition: Samsung’s 860 Evo and 860 Pro, which, although more expensive, may well also be faster than Crucial’s effort. If you’re looking for the ultimate in performance, you may want to wait for the verdict on Samsung’s new drives before you dive in, but the Crucial MX500 is still a fine SSD in its own right.

8 Comments

  1. emotionengine says:

    After all, motherboards with M.2 slots only, started appearing less than three years ago

    This isn’t quite accurate. The first widely available motherboards with M.2 slots were to my knowledge ASUS ROG models released way back in 2013 on Intel’s Z87 chipset (link to asus.com), although that one used a PCIe 2.0 x1 lane from the PCH to connect to the system. Asrock soon followed in with models that had the M.2 connect via PCIe 2.0 x2 direct from the CPU, and motherboards released from early 2014 onwards with Z97 chipsets often included M.2 slots with full NVMe support. This is relevant to my own situation, as my four-year-old Haswell mobo still offers support for a shiny new M.2 NVMe SSD. Chances are I’ll just upgrade to one of those when my trusty 840 EVOs don’t cut it anymore (mostly not an issue for games, I might add, but multimedia work pushes them to their limits these days :/).

    • Obi-Sean says:

      You can also just purchase a PCIe card that plugs into one of your PCIe slots.
      link to smile.amazon.com

      The biggest concern should be PCIE lanes though. Typical processors only come with 16x and generally all go the video card (assuming you don’t have a sound, capture card, etc already using PCIe). If you dedicate 4x to the NVMe you only give your video card 8x. It won’t matter soo much between 16x and 8x, but it’s something to consider.

      • emotionengine says:

        Of course. I didn’t bother to mention that add-on cards for M.2 slots are available if your mobo doesn’t have one, the original review would have done well to reiterate that.

        As for the PCIe lanes, it depends on how the mobo manufacturer has implemented them. I have a Gigabyte Z97X-UD5H and the 16 CPU lanes are all reserved for the graphics card(s), while the NVMe PCIe is linked to the chipset, which offers an additional 8 lanes.

  2. Person of Interest says:

    I also timed loading an 8×8-player map in Men of War: Assault Squad 2, with one human player and 15 bots. The MX500-equipped PC was ready to play in 16s, but I had to wait 19s for the 850 Pro.

    This is the most significant game load time difference I’ve read between two SSD models in any review. Tech Report has a 20% load time spread between the best and worst models, but only on one load-time test out of eight, and even that test is suspect because it places the Samsung 850 EVO 256GB and 1TB models on opposite ends of the performance spectrum (and paradoxically claims the larger drive is slower despite having better official specs).

    All this benchmarking is a bit silly. Really, the most important measure is what fraction of your Steam library can fit on your SSD, because the (real or imagined) difference in load times between models is minuscule compared to the time to download and install a game on-demand.

    • fish99 says:

      With the move function in Steam you can move the games you’re not currently playing onto a big mechanical drive and then just move them back when you want to play them.

      The other solution is just to buy multiple SSDs, or buy bigger SSDs. Personally I have around 1.5TB of games installed on 5 SSDs and about 1TB of games stored on mechanical.

  3. racccoon says:

    Great review thx :)

  4. GDorn says:

    Eh.

    I’ll wait for 4D NAND.

  5. Solidstate89 says:

    It doesn’t really compete against the 850/860 Pro though because it uses TLC NAND instead of MLC. I’d definitely get this over the EVO series of SSDs though.