Introduction and Specifications
Intel has pushed out many SSDs over the years, and unlike many manufacturers, they have never stopped heavily pushing SSD in the enterprise. They did so with their very first push of the X25-M / X25-E, where they seemingly came out of nowhere and just plunked down a pair of very heavy hitting SSDs. What was also interesting was that back then they seemed to blur the lines by calling their consumer offering 'mainstream', and considering it good enough for even some enterprise applications. Even though the die-hard stuff was left to the SLC-based X25-E, that didn't stop some consumers from placing them into their home systems. The X25-E used in this review came from a good friend of mine, who previously had it installed in his home PC.
With several enterprise class models out there, we figured it was high time we put them all alongside each other to see where things are at, and that's the goal of this particular piece. We were motivated to group them together by the recent releases of the DC S3500 and DC S3700 drives, both using Intel's new Intel 8-channel controller.
|X25-E||SSD 320||SSD 710||SSD 910*||DC S3500||DC S3700|
|Capacity||32, 64GB||40, 80, 120, 160, 300, 600GB||100, 200, 300GB||400, 800GB||80, 120, 160, 240, 300, 480, 600, 800GB||100, 200, 400, 800GB|
|Write (4k)||3.3k||23k (8GB span)||2.7k||18.7k||11k||32k|
- Since the SSD 910 is subdivided into 4 or 2 (depending on capacity) physical 200GB volumes, we chose to test just one of those physical units. Scaling can then be compared to other units placed into various RAID configurations. 910 specs were corrected to that of the single physical unit tested.
- All other listed specs are specific to the tested (bold) capacity point.
Starting with the good old X25-E, which pretty much started it all, is Intel's original SATA 3Gb/sec 10-channel controller. Despite minor tweaks, this same controller was used in the X25-M, X25-M G2, SSD 320 and SSD 710 Series. Prior to Intel releasing their own 6Gb/sec SATA controller, they filled some of those voids by introducing Marvell and SandForce controllers with the 510 and 520, respectively, but those two were consumer-oriented drives. For the enterprise, Intel filled this same gap with the 910 Series - a PCIe LSI Falcon SAS RAID controller driving 2 or 4 6Gb/sec SAS Hitachi Ultrastar SSDs. Finally (and most recently), Intel introduced their own SATA 6Gb/sec controller in the form of the DC S3500 and DC S3700. Both are essentially the same 8-channel controller driving 20nm or 25nm IMFT flash, respectively.
More to follow on the next page, where we dive into the guts of each unit.
We reported a few weeks ago that Intel was able to reproduce the 8MB firmware bug in it's lab and was working on a fix. Officially called the Bad Context 13x Error, the 8MB bug is a rather serious firmware issue that a small percentage of users ran into when their drives unexpectedly lost power due to improper shutdown procedures or power outage at an especially wrong time. Once the drives were powered on again, they reported a capacity of 8MB to its users, who were able to restore the drive using secure erase but not the data.
Fortunately, a fix is on its way very soon, as Computer World quoted Intel in stating "the new firmware update is in final validation testing and is targeted for release on Intel Communities within the next two weeks."
Further, users will be able to apply the firmware fix without needing to secure erase the drive; however, none of the lost data can be recovered. As with any drive, SSD or otherwise, be sure to perform regular backups to mitigate the amount of data one can lose in drive failure. Intel is also recommending that users ensure they shut down their computers properly and to avoid unplugging the SSD from a powered on machine.
Stay tuned to PC Perspective for more information on the Bad Context 13x Error as it develops. Until then, rest assured that a fix is on the way soon.
We've seen some recent mumblings about a corner case where inadvertent or improper power loss to an Intel 320 Series SSD would result in the drive getting stuch in an inaccessible mode where it appears as an 8MB drive. From what I've gathered, the issue seems rare and may be tied to some specific hardware configurations.
The SSD 320 we tested back in March (we couldn't get it to 'stick' in 8MB mode).
Intel is so confident in their new Intel 320 series solid state drives that they are extending the warranty from three to five years. The 320 series use 25 nm NAND flash memory, and have a claimed MTBF (mean time before failure) of 1.2 million hours.
According to the new warranty, Intel states that: "if the Product is properly used and installed, it will be free from defects in material and workmanship, and will substantially conform to Intel’s publicly available specifications for a period of five (5) years beginning on the date the Product was purchased." Naturally, it does not cover physical or other accidental damage. As SSDs are still relatively new technology, it is hard to gauge reliability in consumer systems over the long term, so it is nice to see that Intel is confident enough in it's 25nm flash technology to extend the warranty. Hopefully, this will influence other manufacturers to adopt longer warranties. You can read the full warranty details here.