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Intel SSD 710 Series Solid State Drive Review
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Date: Mar 13, 2012
Section:Storage
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

Intel’s X25-M (mainstream) and X25-E (enterprise) solid state drives proved to be very popular in their respective target markets. As our testing showed back in the day, these drives offer excellent performance, and as time in the field would tell, they were quite reliable as well.

On the desktop / mainstream front, Intel has since launched a number of popular new solid state drives based on a few different controller designs, including those from SandForce, Marvell, and Intel themselves. Things are much slower moving on the enterprise front, however, where stability and reliability are paramount. The X25-E remained Intel’s flagship enterprise-class SSD for a couple of years, which is an eternity in technology-time. A few months back though, Intel launched a new enterprise-class SSD that was designed to offer the reliability and performance of the X25-E, but at higher capacities and a lower cost per GB. That solid state drive is the Intel SSD 710, of which we’ll be showing you here today.

There are a number of differences between the Intel X25-E and SSD 710 series which we’ll cover a bit later, but the biggest change is the move from SLC NAND to compute-quality (to use a term coined by Intel) MLC NAND flash. The move to MLC NAND significantly lowers costs, but in traditional solid state drives, MLC NAND isn’t nearly as durable. Intel has a few tricks up its virtual sleeve to address the issue of durability with the SSD 710 series, however.

Intel SSD 710 Seriess Solid State Drives
Specifications & Features

Although there isn’t a hard and fast rule that’ll determine the longevity and reliability of an average SSD, their typical write endurance ranges from a handful to a few dozen terabytes on a 100 – 300GB drive. With Intel’s enterprise-class solid state drives like the X25-E and SSD 710 series, that write endurance number jumped into the few hundred terabytes to 1-2 petabyte range, which is a fancy way to say these enterprise class drives can handle many, many more write-cycles than a typical SSD.

 
Intel SSD 710 Series Enterprise-Class Solid State Drive

According to Intel, the out-of-the-box write endurance for the 200GB SSD 710 series drive we’ll be showing you here is up to 1.0 petabyte. This number can be changed by overprovisioning and based on workload, however. If the Intel SSD 710 series drive is overprovisioned by 20 percent, for example, it can achieve 1.5 PB write endurance on 4K writes and up to 3 PB on 8K writes.

If you take a look inside the Intel SSD 710 series drive, you’ll see it strongly resembles the mainstream SSD 320 series drive we showed you here, as the two feature the same Intel controller design. With the SD 710 series though, Intel has modified the firmware for enterprise-class workloads and paired the controller to higher-quality NAND.

 

The flash memory used in the SSD 710 series is Intel “compute-quality” 25nm Multi-Level Cell (MLC) SSD NAND with High Endurance Technology, or HET. If you’re unfamiliar with the term HET, Intel HET combines NAND silicon enhancements and management techniques to extend the write endurance of MLC-based solid state drives. Intel HET is essentially a term used to describe the combination of Intel-developed firmware, the Intel controller, and high-cycling NAND that’s optimized for endurance. Firmware enhancements from Intel include optimized error avoidance techniques; write amplification reduction algorithms, and system-level error management beyond the normal industry Error Correction Code (ECC) standards.

In addition to high-endurance, the Intel SSD 710 also offers security related features, i.e. built-in encryption capabilities, power-loss protection, and surplus arrays of NAND, for further long-term reliability.

One of the drawbacks to using Intel’s own controller is that the SSD 710 series drive doesn’t have a SATA III interface and won’t offer performance that’s much better than the X25-E. The 710 Series offers writes of up to 210 MB/s, with random 4K writes up to 2,700 Input / Output Operations Per Second (IOPS). The drive also offers sequential reads of up to 270 MB/s and random 4K reads up to 38,500 IOPS.

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Test Setup, IOMeter 1.1 RC and SANDRA

Our Test Methodologies: Under 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. Out testbed's motherboard was updated with the latest BIOS available as of press time and AHCI (or RAID) mode was enabled. The SSDs were secure erased and left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO, PCMark 7, and CrystalDiskMark benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system, ensured at temp and prefetch data was purged, 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 P8Z6-V Pro
(Z68 Chipset, AHCI Enabled)

NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285

4GB Kingston DDR3-1600

Integrated on board

WD Raptor 150GB (OS Drive)
Samsung SSD 830 (256GB)
OCZ Vertex 3 MaxIOPs (240GB)
Corsair Force GT (240GB)
Crucial M4 (256)
OCZ Octane (512GB)
Intel SSD 520 (240GB)
Intel SSD 520 (200GB)

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 x64
Intel 9.2.0.1030, iRST 10.5.1027
DirectX 11

NVIDIA GeForce 275.33

Benchmarks Used:
IOMeter 1.1.0 RC
HD Tune v4.61
ATTO v2.47
AS SSD
CrystalDiskMark v3.01 x64
PCMark 7
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 throughput within 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.

In terms of total IOps, the SSD 710 series drive, whether running single or in a two drive RAID 0 configuration, trailed the other drives we tested. As the queue depth increased, the SSD 710 series drive's performance typically got better (or remained flat), but overall it trailed the other drives here.

Transfer speeds according to IOMeter were also below the other drive, though is all fairness the SSD 710 series is about reliability and consistencey, and with its older, slower SATA interface, it won't be able to match the peak transfer speeds of the latest solid state drives on the market.

SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Synthetic HDD Benchmarking

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 and read and write performance metrics are detailed below.

Whether running in a single or dual drive configuration, the SSD 710 series drive trailed the pack in the SiSoft SANDRA physical disk benchmark.

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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 I/O 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



In a single drive configuration, the Intel SSD 710 series drive trails the pack once the transfer size increases past the 8K mark. The dual-drive RAID 0 setup, however, hangs tough with some of today's faster drives.

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HD Tune Benchmarks
EFD Software's HD Tune is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tune is a hard disk utility with many functions. It can be used to measure the drive's performance, scan for errors, check the health status (S.M.A.R.T.), securely erase all data and much more." The latest version of the benchmark added temperature statistics and improved support for SSDs, among a few other updates and fixes.

HD Tune v4.61
More Info Here: http://www.hdtune.com

The HD Tune benchmark tells much of the same story CPU utilization and access times were right in line with the other drives we tested, but the Intel SSD 710 series drive's maximum transfer and burst rates trailed the competition.

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CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks

CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark that tests both sequential and random small and mid-sized file transfers. It provides 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

A pair of Intel SSD 710 series drives running in a RAID 0 configuration offers performance inline with the latest SATA III drives according to CrystalDiskMark. A singe drive trails the pack, but offers good performance nonetheless.
 

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AS-SSD Compression Test

Next up we ran the Compression Benchmark built-into AS SSD, an SSD specific benchmark being developed by Alex Intelligent Software. This test is interesting because it uses a mix of compressible and incompressible data and outputs both Read and Write throughput of the drive. We only graphed a small fraction of the data (1% compressible, 50% compressible, and 100% compressible), but the trend is representative of the benchmark’s complete results.

AS SSD Compression Benchmark
Bring Your Translator: http://bit.ly/aRx11n



It didn't compete with the other drives in terms of its transfer speeds in the AS-SSD Compression benchmark, but the Intel SSD 710 series drive offered flat, consistent performance with all data types, whether compressible or not.

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PCMark 7 Storage Benchmarks
We really like PCMark 7's Secondary Storage benchmark module for its pseudo real-world application measurement approach to testing. PCMark 7 offers a trace-based measurement of system response times under various scripted workloads of traditional client / desktop system operation. From simple application start-up performance, to data streaming from a 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, more so than a purely synthetic transfer test.

Futuremark's PCMark 7 Secondary Storage
http://www.futuremark.com

Although the synthetic transfer speed tests show the Intel SSD 710 series drive in a negative light versus other modern SSDs, the trace-based PCMark Vantage tests tell a different story. Yes, the Intel SSD 710 series drives, whether running in singly or in RAID 0, trailed the pack, but the delta in PCMark 7's overall storage score is nowhere near as large as the deltas in the transfer tests.

An SSD's overall performance is determined by latecies, consistency, and transfer speeds. And in two of those three categories, the Intel SSD 710 series drive is competitive.

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Our Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: Although the Intel SSD 710 series drive doesn’t offer transfer speeds as high as current SATA III drives, its performance was nonetheless still good. In terms of latency and IOps, the SSD 710 series is competitive with other solid state drives and, like other SSDs, it decimates any high-speed SAS or SATA hard drive. Its performance is also consistent with all data types. The Intel SSD 710 series performs best (relatively speaking) with more taxing, random access workloads, with high queue depths.


The Intel SSD 710 Series

Intel SSD 710 series is priced at $649 for the 100GB version, $1,289 for the 200GB version, and $1,929 for the 300GB drive. All of the drives carry a 3-year warranty and are widely available. If you’ve done any shopping for consumer-grade solid state drives those, those prices will likely be a huge shock. If, however, you’re a current X25-E user or have shopped for high-end SAS hard drives, the SSD 710 series’ pricing will seem more reasonable. Whereas the X25-E was only available in 32GB and 64GB capacities, for about $12 per/GB, the SSD 710 series offers up to a 300GB capacity for “only” about $6.43 per / GB. High-end SAS hard drives in the 300GB range hover around the $500 price point currently. However, it would take multiple SAS hard drives running in a RAID configuration to offer the kind of transfer speeds and IOps the SSD 720 series can, and even then hard drive latency wouldn't even come close to the fast response times of one of these SSDs.

The Intel SSD 710 series isn’t about ultra-high transfer speeds, but rather stability and long-term reliability. Considering Intel was able to bring the cost per gigabyte way down for an enterprise-class drive, while significantly increasing capacities, and maintaining competitive endurance, the SSD 710 should be successful in its target market. If you need high-speed access to mission-critical data in the enterprise, within a standard 2.5” form factor, the Intel SSD 710 series is worthy of consideration. Desktop users need not apply.

  • Intel Reliability
  • 3-Year Warranty
  • Lower Cost Per GB than X25-E
  • Good Randon Write Performance
  • Expensive
  • Relatively Low Sequential Transfers
  • No SATA III



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