Update 3/22/2018: We have updated the article with testing of the 2TB, 512GB and 256GB MX500 models. The new models begin on page two. Our conclusions have also been updated on page six.

The SSD industry has been in a race to the bottom of the barrel, but due to the NAND shortage, we’ve often been given the bottom without the price drops to match. Micron’s new 64-layer NAND, which makes its way into the Crucial MX500, promises to tip the scales in the other direction with competitive performance and superior pricing.

For years, we’ve overlooked the Crucial brand for our enthusiast recommendations. We’ve felt let down by the company that introduced us to the C300, which was the world’s first SATA 6Gbps SSD. Since then, Crucial’s consumer SSDs have trailed the competition, and the performance gap between Crucial and other tier-one manufacturers has grown. Some of Crucial’s products even have similar performance to SSDs coming from tier-two and tier-three manufacturers. It isn’t just the performance that links Crucial SSDs to products from companies you most likely have never heard of; in some cases, the components inside the drives are identical.

But now Micron, Crucial’s parent company, has a revamped leadership team, many of which led SanDisk before it was sold to Western Digital. Familiar names are popping up in press releases, LinkedIn profiles have changed, and with the new blood comes a new spirit. Micron’s conservative past is far from over, but suddenly there is an enthusiasm that we haven’t seen in some time.

Micron’s new 64-layer 3D NAND powers the MX500, and it’s a needed upgrade. The previous-gen 384Gbit die presented challenges. Some SSD vendors populated fewer channels on the SSD controllers so the drives would adhere to “normal” capacity points. The problem, which stemmed from the unconventional die capacity, cropped up with numerous NVMe SSDs armed with the SMI SM2260 controller. Those controllers provide eight channels to the flash, but the odd die capacity forced companies to use just six. That led to reduced performance.

In early 2016, we learned that Micron’s second-gen 3D NAND would use a 768Gbit die. The company pulled that goal back in favor of a more traditional 256Gbit capacity that vendors can use to populate all the channels on commodity SSD controllers fully. That should help to boost performance. The company also has a massive 512Gbit die coming in the future.

Micron made other changes to the new 64-layer memory that improves both performance and cost. The new second-gen die is physically 30% smaller than the first generation. That allows the company to yield more die per wafer, which reduces cost. The engineering teams have also developed new algorithms that improve performance by altering the way the data is distributed in the NAND cells.

The MX500 is Crucial’s first consumer SSD to come armed with Micron’s newest NAND, and it has the 850 EVO squarely in its sights. Today, we’ll see if Crucial hit the target with a true Samsung 850 EVO competitor.

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