Intel SSD 910 PCI Express SSD Performance Review

Introduction and Specifications

A couple of years back we attended an IDF event in San Francisco, and among other disclosures, behind closed doors the company was showing off a PCI Express-based SSD with current generation Intel NAND Flash and based on an array of SandForce controllers.  As it turns out, that product never saw the light of day and was more of a demonstration and proof of concept vehicle for Intel than anything else.  We've heard rumblings of Intel PCI Express SSD devices since then but nothing materialized until very recently when Intel stepped out with a full-fledged product announcement of their SSD 910 family of Solid State Drives.

Of course, with the significant traction PCI Express SSDs have started to gain in the market, it was about time Intel offered up a solution of their own.  In this arena, though there have been a few "prosumer" or high-end workstation-targeted solutions launched from the likes of OCZ and Fusion-io, the large majority of products in this class of SSD are targeted to the Datacenter and the Enterprise.  The Intel SSD 910 is definitely in the latter camp.  With an MSRP of $1929 for 400GiB of capacity and $3859 for an 800GiB card, even mainstream performance enthusiasts would have a hard time justifying the cost, though at about $4.82 per GB you could see a high-end workstation professional, with large datasets to crunch, making the justification perhaps.

That said, as you'll see in the pages ahead, where the new Intel SSD 910 really excels is in datacenter applications with literally thousands of concurrent IO requests that would otherwise wreck havoc with lower bandwidth solutions.
Intel SSD 910 800GB PCI Express SSD
Specifications & Features

         ** MSRP:  400GB - $1929; 800GB - $3859
         5 Year Limited Warranty

First things first.  If you're a specification scanner that doesn't like to read beyond checkbox items like IOPS, we'll point out that those performance numbers are measured on a full LBA span of the drive.  We actually saw significantly better numbers as you'll see in the benchmark data ahead. 

What's perhaps more interesting is the max sustained read/write bandwidth of the SSD 910, at 2GB/sec and 1GB/sec, respectively.  Intel also offers a high performance mode for the SSD 910, which can be toggled in software, that increases the card's power draw but also increases write bandwidth to a max of 1.5GB/sec.  On paper, the product competes with some of the fastest PCI Express SSD solutions on the market, though it can't quite match OCZ's Z-Drive R4, which notably is quite a bit more expensive ($4599 for 800GiB currently) than the Intel product.

Finally, if you weren't looking closely enough, what may have sneaked past you are the SSD 910's Lifetime Endurance specifications.  You're reading the numbers correctly; that's 7 Petabyte and 14 Petabyte endurance for the 400GiB and 800GiB drives, respectively.  Intel claims up to 10 full drive writes a day for 5 years, which is a 30x improvement over the company's standard SATA SSDs.

So you get the drift; blinding speed, yes, but enterprise-class, mission critical endurance to go with it. Lest we digress any further, let's dig into the intimate details of Intel's new SSD 910 PCI Express Solid State Drive.

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