Micron is the second company to the 3D NAND flash milestone, with today's release of the Crucial MX300 750GB Limited Edition. This follows on from two years ago when Samsung became the first manufacturer to ship SSDs with 3D NAND flash, the 850 Pro - a drive launched as a flagship high end drive and remains the fastest consumer SATA drive today. By contrast, the Crucial MX300 is intended to be a mainstream affordable SSD based on 3D TLC NAND, making the MX300 more of a direct competitor to the 850 Evo.

Micron's strategy for transitioning to 3D NAND is quite different from the path that Samsung took. Similar to other projects, Micron is once more partnered with Intel to produce this generation of flash memory, and their 3D NAND is different compared to Samsung in several ways. While the rest of the industry chose to combine the 3D NAND transition with a switch from a floating gate memory cell to a charge trap design, Intel and Micron's 3D NAND is still a floating gate design, making the end-point a 'simpler' two-step process. As a result, the capacity is also quite different: Samsung's 3D NAND debuted with a 32-layer but small 86Gb MLC die and 128Gb TLC, later followed up with a 128Gb MLC, whereas the Intel/Micron first effort on 32-layer 3D NAND is an MLC part with a capacity of 256Gb and a TLC part with 384Gb, making for a much larger die. While Samsung has continued to develop planar NAND alongside their 3D NAND and recently reintroduced planar NAND to their retail SSD family with the 750 EVO, Micron is committed to going all-3D with new products. To be clear however, Micron's existing planar NAND products won't be going away quickly (especially in the enterprise market).

The Crucial MX300 750GB

The MX300 was first made official at a Micron enterprise storage event with a release planned for April/early Q2. While the launch of the full range of drives was pushed back to allow for a new firmware revision with improved performance to go through a QA cycle, Micron is sticking with the original plan of first launching a limited edition single 750GB capacity, with the full range of capacities and M.2 versions to fill in over the rest of the year. With seven extra weeks of firmware work behind them, supplies of the 750GB MX300 may not be as limited as they would have been for an April launch, but availability could be temporarily constrained as the drives with the updated firmware make their way through the supply chain. Despite this, we also expect that a tight supply of the 3D TLC was a contributing factor in a staggered release, and as a result we start with the Limited Edition first.

750GB is not a typical capacity for a SSD, but the 384Gb (48GB) die capacity of Micron's 3D TLC makes it hard to hit the usual power of two drive capacity points without having a much larger overprovisioning ratio than is typical of a consumer drive. Instead, the MX300 line will probably be the first time we see TLC clearly resulting in an increase of capacity relative to MLC drives across the full range of products, rather than just offering a lower price per GB (and one extra capacity at the high end). Micron hasn't nailed down the final specifications for the other capacities of MX300, but we do know that the smallest drive will use six dies. This will give it a raw capacity of 288GB and the usable capacity may be around 275GB rather than something in the 240-256GB range. The largest (and last to launch) capacity will be in the neighborhood of 2TB. The 750GB model uses sixteen dies arranged in eight packages of two dies each for a raw capacity of 768GB.

In the past, when NAND transitions to a smaller lithography node and a larger die capacity, the reduction in die count has caused a decrease in available parallelism and thus lower performance for drives of the same capacity. Micron is offsetting this by partitioning their 3D NAND into a four plane design, where 128Gb planar flash chips are at most two plane designs. This allows for almost as many commands to be processed simultaneously by the 3D TLC, but will also lead to somewhat higher contention on the link between the controller and the flash.

Crucial MX Series Specifications
Capacity MX300 750GB MX200 500GB MX200 1TB
Form Factors 2.5" 2.5", mSATA, M.2 2.5"
Controller Marvell 88SS1074 Marvell 88SS9189
NAND Micron 384Gbit
32-layer 3D TLC
Micron 16nm
128Gbit MLC
DRAM 512MB 512MB 1GB
Sequential Read 530MB/s 555MB/s 555MB/s
Sequential Write 510MB/s 500MB/s 500MB/s
4KB Random Read  92K IOPS 100K IOPS 100K IOPS
4KB Random Write  83K IOPS 87K IOPS 87K IOPS
Dynamic Write Acceleration Yes Yes (mSATA and M.2 models only) No
DevSleep Power 4mW 2mW 2mW
Slumber Power 75mW 100mW 100mW
Max Power 5.2W 4.7W 5.2W
Encryption TCG Opal 2.0 & IEEE-1667 (eDrive)
Endurance 220TB 160TB 320TB
Warranty Three years
Price $199.99 (MSRP) $139.00 $269.94

Aside from adopting 3D TLC and upgrading to the latest in Marvell's long line of SATA SSD controllers, the MX300 offers all the usual features of the MX series: encryption support, SLC caching, partial power loss protection and a three year warranty. Performance and endurance specifications are down slightly from the MX200 due to the new hardware, but are still fine for a mainstream SATA SSD. The final decisions about overprovisioning for the other capacity models could mean they will have better endurance ratings than the MX200 of comparable capacity.

From the exterior the MX300 appears virtually identical to a MX200. Opening it up to look at the PCB, we see a full size circuit board with plenty of room for more NAND, but Micron won't actually need more than the 8 packages in this drive for even the largest 2TB class model. This 750GB drive stacks just two dies per package; a 2TB class drive would need at most six dies per package, but stacking 8 or 16 dies per package is common when dealing with smaller NAND chips and especially smaller form factors. The pads for the power loss protection capacitors are almost all populated.

The 750GB Crucial MX300 comes with a MSRP of $199.99. On a price per GB basis, this puts it on par with the current actual retail prices for the MX200 and we expect competition can drive the MX300 price down further. It will probably take up position near the top of the budget planar TLC segment of the market and be cheaper than all but the best sale prices on MLC drives. So while at first glance the MX300 might appear to be the natural match against the 850 EVO, Micron is clearly aiming lower in price.

In addition to the Crucial MX200 and 3D TLC based 850 EVO, the MX300 will compete against the top performing planar TLC drives like the SanDisk X400, which is based on the same Marvell 88SS1074 controller used in the MX300.

AnandTech 2015 SSD Test System
CPU Intel Core i7-4770K running at 3.5GHz
(Turbo & EIST enabled, C-states disabled)
Motherboard ASUS Z97 Pro (BIOS 2701)
Chipset Intel Z97
Memory Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 2x8GB (9-10-9-27 2T)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4600
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1200
OS Windows 8.1 x64
Performance Consistency
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  • Impulses - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    Most users are still served fine by lower cost SATA drives and they'll probably remain common for years to come... And nobody is using SATA Express, wouldn't be surprised if it disappears from mobos, stillborn interface.

    M.2/PCI-E vs SATA is almost like 7,200+ RPM vs 5,400 RPM at this point.
  • Adam-James - Thursday, June 16, 2016 - link

    "And nobody is using SATA Express..."

    That's part of the problem. Why is this a state of affairs that we're OK with? To me, the fact that no manufacturer has yet released, or has future plans to release, a SATA Express drive is infuriating, and even more so when they continue to put out AHCI SATA drives. That every flash manufacturer is so satisfied with the status quo and uninterested in improving the technology they sell is outrageous. And they're following the same pattern with U.2 - I've read about at least one executive who had the gall to claim his company wasn't adopting it for their SSD line because consumers "aren't interested." The industry might be satisfied with mediocrity, but we shouldn't be.
  • Impulses - Friday, June 17, 2016 - link

    I don't think it's about mediocrity on the manufacturer's party... It's just a mediocre interface. M.2/U.2 are far better suited for next gen drives, and if you don't need that kinda performance (and most people don't) then SATA is fine. SATA Express represents an awkward middle ground that would potentially bottleneck next gen PCI-E/M.2 drives, so it seems the industry just said "why bother?".
  • KAlmquist - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

    1. Samsung's accomplishment with the 850 EVO looks even better today. I was expecting that the Intel/Micron product would be as good as the Samsung 3D NAND when it finally came to market. But it appears that the 1.5 year old Samsung 3D TLC NAND is faster than the 3D TLC NAND that Intel/Micron has just introduced.

    2. Fifteen months ago we were hearing claims that Intel/Micron 3D NAND would have "disruptive pricing." Currently, the 750GB MX300 sells for its list price of $200. Last October, hypothetical 750GB BX-100 SSD would have cost $232. (This price is computed by averaging the price of the 500GB and 1TB models.) That's a 14% price decrease over eight months, which is significant, but hardly "disruptive." Perhaps we will see some aggressive pricing in the future, once production ramps up, but for now "disruptive pricing" isn't happening.

    We can hope that Toshiba/SanDisk 3D NAND (which should appear this year) will prove more exciting. There's also SK Hynix, which as far as I know is currently using its 3D NAND only in enterprise products.
  • Impulses - Wednesday, June 15, 2016 - link

  • ST33LDI9ITAL - Friday, June 17, 2016 - link

    Name other SSD's at this price point that also have power protection and full encryption/edrive support....
  • ST33LDI9ITAL - Sunday, June 19, 2016 - link

    Exactly... it's not all about performance... features matter too. This drive has good performance, good feature set, and good prices. It is an all around great mainstream drive.
  • dananski - Friday, June 17, 2016 - link

    Makes me so glad to have gotten a BX100 when they came out. Why can't they pull off something like that again? The budget drive that competed with Samsung on general performance and beat everything on power consumption.
  • ZapNZs - Sunday, June 19, 2016 - link

    Are the endurance specs correct? It seems unlikely the TLC in the MX300 will be anywhere near the MX200, even regardless of capacity differences.
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - link

    Yes, the endurance specs are correct. I can't say for sure that the MX300 specs are equally conservative as the MX200 specs, but the whole point of 3D NAND is to enable a return to larger memory cells that are more like the ones from the early days of the SSD revolution, where even tiny drives had high endurance ratings because they had P/E cycle ratings that were five or six digits long instead of three or four. 3D NAND makes it possible to have big memory cells and still have a lot of them on one chip.

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