We've been saying it for years, if you're building a new computer or upgrading an old one, an SSD should be at the top of your list. For budget builds or older systems that means something like Crucial’s MX300, a SATA drive that offers extreme snappiness for a reasonable price.
Those building more extreme desktop systems will no doubt be aiming for an NVMe SSD. The PCI Express bus provides much more bandwidth for unleashing these high-speed storage devices. However, not all NVMe drives are created the same, and we saw that last year when checking out Intel’s hopeless SSD 600p. That drive was plagued by poorly sustained write performance, which would see it drop even below hard drive-like performance.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Samsung SSD 960 which has set the bar in terms of price and performance. To date nothing can compete with the 960 Pro series and the 2TB version has been my weapon of choice for months now. The more affordable 960 Evo series is also really good, though I feel like if you are going to spend this much money on a high-speed SSD, you might as well ensure that it uses MLC NAND and not the slightly less reliable TLC stuff.
One of the few companies that have tried (and got close) to dethroning Samsung at the peak of their game is Corsair. Back in January we checked out their Force Series MP500 480GB. In short, the MP500 was a great-all rounder boasting decent performance and a high endurance rating. The downside was pricing. At $325 it matched the 512GB 960 Pro but it was slower, and thus a tough sell.
Six months later, pricing has improved and the MP500 is far more competitive. The top 480GB model costs $0.53 per gigabyte ($255) whereas the 960 Pro 512GB comes in at a slightly higher $0.58 and can be had for $300.
The Corsair MP500 took advantage of Phison’s PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe SSD controller dubbed PS5007-E7, along with Toshiba's 15nm MLC NAND. Other brands released their own drives using this controller, among them the Patriot Hellfire M2 and PNY CS2030.
More recently, in mid-March Zotac came out with the Sonix which also sports the Phison controller and Toshiba MLC memory. However they opted for the half-height half-length PCI Express 3.0 x4 form-factor rather than the more compact M.2.
It was expected that other brands such as Corsair, Patriot, Mushkin, PNY and Kingston would soon offer similar products. So it comes as little surprise that Corsair has just released a HHHL (half-height half-length), PCI Express 3.0 x4 SSD, once again using the Phison PS5007-E7 controller and 15nm Toshiba MLC memory.
Which begs the question. Is this just the MP500 on a PCIe adapter card? Well, it’s a little more than that. This isn't an M.2 drive mounted on an adapter card, rather the components are directly mounted to the PCB and this comes with a few advantages that I will touch on shortly.
For now let’s talk specs, the Neutron Series NX500 comes in either 400GB or 800GB capacities, both using the HHHL form factor. Meanwhile, the MP500 series offers 120GB, 240GB and 480GB capacities using the M.2-2280 form factor.
Both use the same PCIe 3.0 x4 interface, Phison controller and 15nm MLC NAND flash memory. The DRAM cache capacity has been upgraded, previously the 480GB MP500 sported a 512MB cache, the NX500 400GB has been upgraded with a 1GB cache while the 800GB model gets a 2GB cache, both make use of DDR3 memory here.
As you might expect the sequential read and write speeds are the same, 3GB/s read coupled with 2.4GB/s write. The random read and write IOPS performance has been improved by 20 - 30%, the NX500 series offers up to 300,000 IOPS when reading and 270,000 when writing. Power consumption and endurance is the same, except for the larger 800GB model which comes with an impressive endurance rating of 1396 TBW. Finally, the warranty period has been upgraded from 3 years to a more competitive 5 years, so that’s great to see.
So you may be wondering what’s new here?
Frankly in terms of specifications, not much except for the form factor, but that’s kind of a big deal. Although the M.2 form factor is all the rage now and support is as strong as it’s ever been, those new X299 boards take advantage of multiple drives and the upcoming X399 boards are set to do the same.
However this small, compact form factor while very impressive is brutal on the components. Heat is the main issue here and getting rid of it is the problem. With no room for adequate cooling, keeping controllers cool is a real challenge and it’s something most M.2 drives fail to do, making them unsuitable for sustained throughput.
The Samsung SSD 960 Evo which I have on hand for this example goes from an idle temperature of ~30 degrees to over 60 degrees within a minute of sustained data transfer, and at this point write performance is throttled back heavily. That said, the throttling doesn't help put temperatures in check and in our 100GB transfer test temps peak at 90 degrees.
So while it’s possible to write around 20GB of data at over 1.5GB/s, going beyond that reduced throughput to around a third of the original performance.
Moving to the Neutron NX500, we started the 100GB transfer test with a drive temp of 34 degrees, pretty much what we saw from the Evo.
However by the end of the test, both the write and read tests, the drive temp never exceeded 49 degrees and we never saw any kind of throttling. So, for sustained writes over 20 GB the NX500 was actually more than twice as fast as the 960 Evo, and the same will be true for the SSD 960 Pro.
Granted, it’s unlikely most of you will often move more than about 20 GB worth of data in one hit, but when you do the NX500 will perform better.
The simple explanation for this is passive cooling. The Neutron NX500 has a huge chunk of aluminum strapped onto the front of the PCB and is connected to the surface of the Phison controller using a thermal pad. So while you will have to sacrifice a PCI Express expansion slot, you do so in favor of getting maximum performance under all conditions.
Let’s jump into the benchmarks for a few more quick tests...
First up I checked out the sequential read and write performance in AS SSD Benchmark and here the NX500 provided very similar results to the MP500, as expected. Corsair claims the same sequential performance for both the 400GB MX500 and 480GB MP500.
The 4K-64 thread performance was also very similar, the NX400 was slightly down on the MP500 here, though these results are pretty close to margin of error stuff.
Access time performance is a little off. The write results are much the same for both the NX400 and MP500, while the newer NX400 lacks a little when it comes to read access time, that said the results aren't bad.
Moving to our on-disk copy test results the NX500 again demonstrates MP500-like performance.
It edged ahead in the game copy test, though only by a 5% margin. I should note that neither of these tests move more than 3GB worth of data, so throttling won’t be a problem here. The idea here isn’t to move around large volumes of data but instead hit the drives with a mixture of small and large, compressed and non-compressed files.
Finally, we have the 7-Zip file extraction test which does work with a large 38 GB archive. As you can see where the Samsung 960 Evo was previously good for well over 1GB/s, it now drops down to 660 MB/s for the average transfer speed. However, the NX500 was still quite a bit slower and despite avoiding any throttling issues, it is unable to make a step forward from the MP500, an SSD which clearly doesn't suffer from throttling issues.
Windows 10 Boot
Loading Windows the Corsair NX500 took 5.4 seconds, which is longer than the 4.4 seconds the MP500 too,k but better than the 6.3 seconds the 960 Evo takes.
Call of Duty Level Load Time
The Call of Duty Infinite Warfare level load time took just 8.1 seconds. The 960 Evo took 8.4 seconds and the MP500 11 seconds, so a good improvement over the MP500 here.
Wrapping Up the Corsair Neutron NX500
I’m coming away with similar feelings to my MP500 review and I guess that makes sense as they are very similar products. The Corsair drives suffer from no real weaknesses, they're blistering fast, but given the nearly matching price, Samsung drives are still a tad faster.
Even power users won’t notice the difference between the MP500 and 960 Pro for the vast majority of workloads. The same is true when looking at the NX500, it’s another solid all-rounder and under prolonged torture it won’t buckle, though neither did the MP500.
Once again the issue here is the asking price. The NX500 400GB that we just reviewed will be sold for $320 and while that’s better than the Zotac Sonix, it’s significantly more than the current asking price of the MP500 480GB and Samsung 960 Evo 500GB, in fact, it’s more expensive than the 960 Pro 512GB as well.
Pros: The Corsair NX500 is a great SSD that offers solid performance, runs cool, has excellent endurance and comes with a competitive 5 year warranty.
Cons: It needs to be at least 20% cheaper to recommend it over Corsair's own MP500 or Samsung drives.