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Intel SSD 510 Series SATA 6Gbps Solid State Drive
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Date: Mar 04, 2011
Section:IT/Datacenter
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

The solid state storage market continues to bristle with activity. Over the last couple of weeks, we have shown you two hot new SSDs from OCZ—the Vertex 3 and the Vertex 3 Pro--that offer stellar performance, thanks in no small part to their next-gen SandForce SF-2000 series controllers with native SATA 6Gbs support. And now, it is Intel’s turn to make a little noise in the space with new drives that boast similar SATA 6Gbps support.

To coincide with the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and the Intel Solution Summit that took place in Las Vegas this past week, Intel announced its brand new Solid State Drive 510 Series products. The new 510 Series SSDs build upon Intel’s successful X-25M series of solid state drives by offering native support for SATA 6Gbs interface speeds, with maximum reads in the 500MB/s range and write speeds of approximately 315MB/s—huge improvements over the previous generation. The features and specifications for the first two drives that will initially comprise the 510 Series line-up are as follows:

Intel Solid-State Drive 510 Series
Models SSDSC2MH120A2XX, SSDSC2MH250A2XX

Capacity: 120 GB, 250 GB
Components: Intel 34nm NAND Flash Memory
Multi-Level Cell (MLC)
Form Factor: 2.5-inch

  • Thickness: 9.5 mm
  • Weight: 80 ±2 grams

SATA 6Gb/s Sustained Bandwidth Performance
(Iometer* Queue Depth 32)

  • 250 GB:
    • Sequential Read: Up to 500 MB/s
    • Sequential Write: Up to 315 MB/s
  • 120 GB:
    • Sequential Read: Up to 450 MB/s
    • Sequential Write: Up to 210 MB/s

Read and Write IOPS
(Iometer Queue Depth 32)

  • Random 4 KB Reads: Up to 20,000 IOPS
  • Random 4 KB Writes: Up to 8,000 IOPS

Latency

  • Read: 65 us
  • Write: 80 us

Power Management

  • 5 V SATA
  • SATA interface power management
  • OS-aware hot plug/removal

Power 

  • 380 mW (TYP)
  • Idle: 100 mW (TYP)

 

Compatibility
  • Intel SSD Toolbox
  • Intel SSD Optimizer
  • Intel Data Migration Software
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology
  • SATA Revision 3.0
  • ATA8-ACS
  • SSD-enhanced S.M.A.R.T. ATA feature set
  • Native Command Queuing (NCQ)
  • command set
  • Data Set Management Command
  • Trim attribute

Temperature

  • Operating: 0o C to 70o C
  • Non-Operating: -55o C to 95o C

Reliability
Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate (UBER):

  • 1 sector per 10 to the 16th bits read

Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF):

  • 1,200,000 hours

Shock
(operating and non-operating)

  • 1,500 G/0.5 msec

Vibration

  • Operating: 2.17 GRMS (7-800 Hz)
  • Non-operating: 3.08 GRMS (7-800 Hz)

 


The Intel Solid State Drive 510 Series will be outfitted with 34nm Intel MLC NAND flash memory when introduced, although there’s a possibility future iterations will use newer, more advanced 22nm Intel NAND flash. Somewhat surprisingly, however, the drives will not be equipped with an Intel proprietary SSD controller, but rather a controller from Marvell, the 88SS9174 to be specific. This is the same controller that will be used in Micron's upcoming C400 series of drives and it's the same one used in Corsair's Performance 3 series products too.

It was somewhat surprising to hear that Intel wouldn't be using an Intel proprietary controller in this new series of drives, but the company has an explanation. In a Q&A document provided by Intel, they had this to say regarding the choice to use a third-party controller in their latest SSDs: “When Intel introduced its breakthrough SSD product line in 2008, the SSD controllers available did not meet Intel’s requirements, therefore Intel chose to develop its own proprietary controller in order to create a world-class line of compute quality SSDs. Since that time, third-party controller technology has improved considerably. Intel will consider using a third-party controller when it meets the needs of the product and Intel specifications and validation. In this case, we chose to use a third-party controller which met our needs.”

 

 
Intel SSD 510 Series 250GB Drive - Click to Enlarge

Intel's 510 Series solid state drives will initially be available in two capacities: 120GB and 250GB. The drive you see pictured here is the 250GB model. It uses the typical 2.5" form factor that's become commonplace in the mainstream SSD space and the internals are encased in a rigid, aluminum enclosure. With the drive disassembled, you can see the 16 34nm Intel MLC NAND flash memory chips, the Marvel 88SS9174 controller, and a 128MB Hynix DDR3 SDRAM which is used for caching purposes.

Something the pictures don't convey is the firmware used on the drive. While there's nothing stopping other SSD manufacturers from using essentially the same set of components to build and SSD with similar specifications, the work Intel has done to the firmware on the 510 Series SSD will differentiate it from other drives. The 510 Series SSDs will also likely benefit from Intel's compatibility testing and qualification process. So while the 510 Series isn't rife with proprietary Intel technology from the controller on up, it will ultimately differ from other products that may use similar components.

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Test Setup and IOMeter 1.1 RC

Our Test MethodologiesUnder each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations.  The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO, Vantage, and CrystalDiskMark benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 and SSD Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -

Audio -

Hard Drives -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7-2600K


Asus P8P67 Deluxe
(P67 Chipset)


NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285

4GB Patriot DDR3-1600

Integrated on board

WD Raptor 150GB (OS Drive)
Intel SSD 510 Series (250GB) x 2
OCZ Vertex 3 (240GB)
OCZ Vertex 2 (120GB)
Corsair Performance 3 Series (128GB)
Intel X25-M G2 (160GB)

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Intel 9.2.0.1021, iRST 10.1.0.1008
DirectX 11

NVIDIA GeForce 266.58

Benchmarks Used:
IOMeter 1.1.0 RC
HD Tach v3
ATTO v2.46
CrystalDiskMark v3.01 x64
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra 2011

 IOMeter
 I/O Subsystem Measurement Tool

As we've noted in previous SSD articles, though IOMeter is clearly a well-respected industry standard drive benchmark, we're not completely comfortable with it for testing SSDs. The fact of the matter is, though our actual results with IOMeter appear to scale properly, it is debatable whether or not certain access patterns, as they are presented to and measured on an SSD, actually provide a valid example of real-world performance for the average end user. That said, we do think IOMeter is a gauge for relative available bandwidth and response times with a given storage solution. In addition there are certain higher-end workloads you can place on a drive with IOMeter, that you really can't with most other benchmark tools available currently.

In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns; our Workstation pattern, with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and IOMeter's default access pattern of 2K transfers, 67% reads (34% writes) and 100% random access.

Our IOMeter results have the Intel 510 Series SSDs outperforming the 128GB Corsair Performance 3 drive which uses a similar controller; the deltas can likely be attributed to differences in firmware and the higher capacity of the Intel drives. Moving to a two drive RAID 0 setup improves performance here by about 40%. What's most interesting to note, however, is that previous-gen SandForce and Intel drives outperform the 510 SSD Series in random writes, and the upcoming SF-2000 based Vertex 3 is simply in another league.

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SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Next we ran SiSoft SANDRA, the the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run without formatting the drives and read and write performance metrics are detailed below.
 
SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Synthetic HDD Benchmarking

First of all, how about those RAID 0 scores? We're sure those are going to have some of you wanting to upgrade. But we digress. In terms of sequential transfers, it appears the Intel 510 Series SSD is competitive with the SF-2000 based Vertex 3 and a big step ahead of the previous-gen drives. Regarding writes specifically, however, the Vertex 3 has a marked advantage.

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ATTO Disk Benchmark
ATTO is another "quick and dirty" type of disk benchmark that measures transfer speeds across a specific volume length.  It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart.  We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes and a queue depth of 6 over a total max volume length of 256MB.  ATTO's workloads are sequential in nature and measure raw bandwidth, rather than IO response time, access latency etc. This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with default NTFS partitions in Windows 7 x64.

ATTO Disk Benchmark
More Information Here: http://bit.ly/btuV6w

 

Intel X25-M G2


OCZ Vertex 2


Corsair Performance 3 Series


OCZ Vertex 3



Intel SSD 510 Series


Intel SSD 510 Series RAID 0

The Intel 510 Series SSD offered the seconds best sequential reads and writes of the bunch. The 510 Series SSD finished significantly ahead of the previous generation drives in this benchmark, but the SF-2000 based OCZ Vertex 3 head a clear advantage across the board.

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CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks

CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark that tests both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers.  It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to SSD performance, best case being larger sequential transfers and worse case being small, random transfers. 

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests
  
Intel SSD 510 Series
 
 
 Intel SSD 510 Series RAID 0
 

OCZ Vertex 3
 
 

Corsair Performance 3 Series
 

OCZ Vertex 2
 

Intel X25-M G2

The Intel SSD 510 Series drives showed strong performance in the CrystalDiskMark tests. Here, the 510 Series SSD actually outperformed the Vertex 3 in the sequential and 512K block size tests, although the OCZ drive finished well ahead of the 510 Series with 4K transfers, regardless of the queue depth.

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HD Tach Performance
Simpli Software's HD Tach is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives, flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device being tested."

HD Tach v3
More Info Here: http://www.simplisoftware.com
 
Intel SSD 510 Series
 
Intel SSD 510 Series RAID 0
 

OCZ Vertex 3
 
 

Corsair Performance 3 Series
 

OCZ Vertex 2
 

Intel X25-M
 

The Intel SSD 510 Series drive put up excellent numbers in the HD Tach benchmark, besting all of the previous-generation drives by a fair margin. But the upcoming SF-2000 based OCZ Vertex 3 was ultimately the best performer in every category according to HD Tach.

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PCMark Vantage HDD
We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance module for its pseudo real-world application measurement approach to testing. PCMark Vantage offers a trace-based measurement of system response times under various scripted workloads of traditional client / desktop system operation. From simple Windows start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel more comfortable that these tests reasonably illustrate the performance profile of SSDs in an end-user / consumer PC usage model.

This series of Vantage tests will stress read performance in real-world usage models, with a broad mix of sequential and random read transactions of both small and large file sizes.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com



According to this first batch of tests from PCMark Vantage's hard disk benchmark suite, the Intel 510 Series SSD offers performance somewhat better then previous generation drives in a few tests, but somewhat worse in others. The mixed results are a directly related to the 510 Series' improved sequential transfers, but somewhat diminished performance in regard to random reads. The OCZ Vertex 3 drives had a clear advantage here and RAID 0 had a minimal impact on performance.
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PCMark Vantage HDD (Cont.)
The following PCMark Vantage HDD tests are more write intensive (with the exception of the application loading test) and in some cases stress the Achilles' Heel of the average storage subsystem, that being random write performance.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

In the remaining PCMark Vantage tests, the Intel SSD 510 Series drive fares a bit better versus the previous generation, beating them all in every test except for the WMP test, but the OCZ Vertex 3 still finishes well ahead.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Intel SSD 510 Series drive performed well overall, but its performance is not without compromise. The 250GB SSD 510 Series drive we tested offered excellent sequential read performance and very strong sequential write performance, that was only bested by OCZ’s upcoming Vertex 3 (note: the 120GB SSD 510 Series will offer somewhat lower performance than the 250GB model). In terms of random reads and writes, however, the Intel 510 Series SSD actually falls short of the mark set by some previous generation SSD offerings. If we strictly compare the SSD 510 Series to Intel’s previous gen G2 drive, it’s clear Intel drastically improved sequential performance at the expense of random reads and writes.

As we mentioned earlier, the Intel 510 Series solid state drives will initially be available in two capacities: 120GB and 250GB. The 250GB model will be priced at about $584 (in 1K quantities), while the 120GB capacity model will arrive at about $284. Those prices put the Intel SSD 510 Series drives in the ~$2.35 per gigabyte price range, which makes them roughly 33% more expensive than some of today’s more popular solid state drives (OCZ’s SandForce-based Vertex 2 can be had for about $1.75 per GB). In terms of its sequential read and write performance, justifying the additional cost in light of previous-gen drives is very easy—the Intel SSD 510 Series’ sequential performance is very good. Random reads and writes, however, are a different story. In more real-world usage situations, like those simulated by PCMark Vantage, the Intel SSD 510 series drive offered only mild improvements and in a couple of tests actually finished behind previous-gen drives.

If you've got or are planning to build a new system that will feature a SATA III / 6Gbps interface it's worth considering an Intel SSD 510 Series drive, especially if you work with large files constantly. The SSD space is hot right now though, so if you don't have the SATA III ports in a current rig, necessary to let the SSD 510 Series spread its wings, it's probably worth waiting a bit to see what Micron, OCZ, Corsair and others have in store in the coming months. The Intel SSD 510 Series drives seem like a solid offering, but based on our tests they don't clearly stand out in light of competing offerings like the Intel's X-25 Series did when it initially arrived.

 

  • Strong Sequential Performance
  • Benefits From Intel's QC Labs

 

  • Random Reads / Writes
  • IOPS performance vs. Newer Drives

 



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