Original Link: http://www.anandtech.com/show/7803/intel-ssd-730-480gb-review



The days of Intel being the dominant player in the client SSD business are long gone. A few years ago Intel shifted its focus from the client SSDs to the more profitable and hence alluring enterprise market. As a result of the move to SandForce silicon, Intel's client SSD lineup became more generic and lost the Intel vibe of the X-25M series. While Intel still did its own thorough validation to ensure the same quality as with its fully in-house designed drives, the second generation SandForce platform didn't allow much OEM customization, which is why the SSD 520 and other SandForce based Intel SSDs turned out to be very similar to the dozens of other SandForce driven SSDs in the market.

The SSD market has matured since the X-25M days and a part of the maturing process involves giving up profits. Back in 2007-2008 the SSD market (both client and enterprise) was a niche with low volume and high profits, so it made sense for Intel to invest in custom client-oriented silicon. There wasn't much competition and given Intel's resources and know-how, they were able to build a drive that was significantly better than the other offerings.

The high profits, however, attracted many other manufacturers as well and in the next few years Intel faced a situation it didn't like: profit margins were going down, yet bigger and bigger investments had to be made in order to stay competitive in the client market. OCZ in particular was heavily undercutting Intel's pricing and big companies with technological and scale advantage like Intel tend not to like the bargain game because at the end of the day it's not as profitable for them. The enterprise market is a bit different in this regard because price is not usually the commanding factor; instead the focus is on reliability, features and performance, which made it an easy choice for Intel to concentrate its resources on covering that market instead.

For the majority of consumers this change in focus was negligible since the likes of Micron and Samsung had started paying attention to the retail consumer SSD market and Intel was no longer the only good option available. However, enthusiasts were left yearning for an Intel SATA 6Gbps design as many had built brand loyalty for Intel with the X-25M. In late 2012 the wishes materialized but to their disappointment only in the form of an enterprise SSD: the DC S3700. This verified that enterprise was Intel's first priority but given that it was a SATA 6Gbps rather than a PCIe design, it left hope for a more client-orientated in-house Intel solution. Fast-forward to today and that solution is now here. Please meet the SSD 730, Intel's new client flagship.

Adopting the platform from the DC S3500/S3700, the SSD 730 is Intel's first fully in-house designed client drive since the SSD 320. The SSD 730 is not just a rebranded enterprise drive, though, as both the controller and NAND interface are running at higher frequencies for increased peak performance. While the branding suggests that this is an enterprise drive like the SSD 710, Intel is marketing the SSD 730 directly to consumers and the DC S3xxx along with the 900 series remain as Intel's enterprise lineups. And in a nod to enthusiasts, the SSD 730 adopts the Skulltrail logo to further emphasize that we are dealing with some serious hardware here.

Capacity 240GB 480GB
Controller Intel 3rd Generation (SATA 6Gbps)
NAND Intel 20nm MLC
Sequential Read 550MB/s 550MB/s
Sequential Write 270MB/s 470MB/s
4K Random Read 86K IOPS 89K IOPS
4K Random Write 56K IOPS 74K IO
Power (idle/load) 1.5W / 3.8W 1.5W / 5.5W
Endurance 50GB/day (91TB total) 70GB/day (128TB total)
Warranty Five years
Availability Pre-orders February 27th - Shipping March 18th

Intel is serious about the SSD 730 being an enterprise-class drive for the client market as even the NAND is pulled from the same batch as Intel's MLC-HET NAND used in the S3700 and the endurance rating is based on JEDEC's enterprise workload. JEDEC's SSD spec, however, requires that client SSDs must have a data retention time of one year minimum whereas enterprise drives must be rated at only three months, which gives the S3500/S3700 a higher endurance. MLC-HET also trades performance for endurance by using lower programming voltages, resulting in less stress on the silicon oxide.

  Intel SSD 730 Intel SSD 530 Intel SSD DC S3500 Intel SSD DC S3700
Capacities (GB) 240, 480 80, 120, 180, 240, 360, 480 80, 120, 160, 240, 300, 400, 480, 600, 800 100, 200, 400, 800
NAND 20nm MLC 20nm MLC 20nm MLC 25nm MLC-HET
Max Sequential Performance (Reads/Writes) 550 / 470 MBps 540 / 490 MBps 500 / 450 MBps 500 / 460 MBps
Max Random Performance (Reads/Writes) 89K / 75K IOPS 48K / 80K IOPS 75K / 11.5K IOPS 76K / 36K IOPS
Endurance (TBW) 91TB (240GB)
128TB (480GB)
36.5TB 140TB (200GB)
275TB (480GB)
3.65PB (200GB)
7.3PB (400GB)
Encryption - AES-256 AES-256 AES-256
Power-loss Protection Yes No Yes Yes

Continuing with the enterprise features, there is full power-loss protection similar to what's in the S3500/S3700. I'm surprised that we've seen so few client SSDs with power-loss protection. Given the recent studies of power-loss bricking SSDs, power-loss protection should make a good feature at least in the high-end SSDs.

With an enterprise platform comes its pros and cons. As the platform was originally designed for 24/7 running, there isn't any form of low-power state support. Hence even idle power consumption is a tremendous 1.5W and under load the power consumption can increase to over 5W. In fact, the SSD 730 needs so much power that it draws current from the 12V rail, which is usually only used by 3.5" hard drives. While our tests don't include temperature testing, the chassis also gets very hot and uncomfortable to touch under load. It's clear that the SSD 730 is not suited for mobile use and Intel is well aware of that. The target markets for the SSD 730 are enthusiasts and professionals who truly need the best-in-the-class IO performance.
 
Interestingly, the SSD 730 is available for pre-order from selected retailers today, which is something Intel has not done in ages. Shipments are scheduled to start on March 18th.

The controller is the same 8-channel design as in the S3500/S3700 but runs at 600MHz instead of the 400MHz of the S3500/S3700. It's coupled with sixteen 32GB (2x16GB) NAND packages with one of the dies designated for redundancy that protects against block and die level failures (similar to SandForce's RAISE and Micron's RAIN). This is still 64Gbit per die ONFI 2.1 NAND but compared to Intel's previous NAND, the NAND interface runs at 100MHz instead of 83MHz. As a result the bandwidth in each channel increases from 166MB/s to a maximum of 200MB/s (ONFI 2.x is a synchronous double-data-rate design), which may help in some corner cases. With an 8-channel controller the NAND interface doesn't usually play a major role because the SATA interface acts as a bottleneck and in the end we are still limited by the actual NAND performance.
 
Update: The SSD 730 actually uses 128Gbit NAND, which also expains the slow-ish write performance of the 240GB model.
 
As Intel switched to a flat indirection table design in the S3700, the SSD 730 needs way more cache than the old X-25Ms did and there are two 512MB DDR3-1600 packages to do the job. Furthermore, power-loss protection is provided by two 47 microfarad 35V capacitors.
 

Test System

CPU Intel Core i5-2500K running at 3.3GHz
(Turbo and EIST enabled)
Motherboard AsRock Z68 Pro3
Chipset Intel Z68
Chipset Drivers Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel RST 10.2
Memory G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-1600 4 x 8GB (9-9-9-24)
Video Card Palit GeForce GTX 770 JetStream 2GB GDDR5
(1150MHz core clock; 3505MHz GDDR5 effective)
Video Drivers NVIDIA GeForce 332.21 WHQL
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1080
OS Windows 7 x64

Thanks to G.Skill for the RipjawsX 32GB DDR3 DRAM kit



Performance Consistency

Performance consistency tells us a lot about the architecture of these SSDs and how they handle internal defragmentation. The reason we don’t have consistent IO latency with SSD is because inevitably all controllers have to do some amount of defragmentation or garbage collection in order to continue operating at high speeds. When and how an SSD decides to run its defrag or cleanup routines directly impacts the user experience as inconsistent performance results in application slowdowns.

To test IO consistency, we fill a secure erased SSD with sequential data to ensure that all user accessible LBAs have data associated with them. Next we kick off a 4KB random write workload across all LBAs at a queue depth of 32 using incompressible data. The test is run for just over half an hour and we record instantaneous IOPS every second.

We are also testing drives with added over-provisioning by limiting the LBA range. This gives us a look into the drive’s behavior with varying levels of empty space, which is frankly a more realistic approach for client workloads.

Each of the three graphs has its own purpose. The first one is of the whole duration of the test in log scale. The second and third one zoom into the beginning of steady-state operation (t=1400s) but on different scales: the second one uses log scale for easy comparison whereas the third one uses linear scale for better visualization of differences between drives. Click the buttons below each graph to switch the source data.

For more detailed description of the test and why performance consistency matters, read our original Intel SSD DC S3700 article.

  Intel SSD 730 480GB Intel DC S3500 480GB Intel SSD 530 240GB SanDisk Extreme II 480GB Seagate 600 480GB
Default
25% Spare Area - -

Thanks to the enterprise DNA in the SSD 730, IO consistency is outstanding. We are looking at S3500 level consistency here, which isn't surprising given the similarity between the two. The faster controller and NAND interface mainly help with peak performance but IO consistency is built deep into the architecture of the drive. The only drive that can really challenge the SSD 730 is OCZ's Vector 150 while even the SanDisk Extreme II falls short once it reaches steady-state. Also of note is that Increasing the OP yields a healthy boost in performance and the SSD 730 actually manages more IOPS than the S3700 even though it has slightly less OP (25% vs 28%).

  Intel SSD 730 480GB Intel DC S3500 480GB Intel SSD 530 240GB SanDisk Extreme II 480GB Seagate 600 480GB
Default
25% Spare Area - -

Here you can see the differences a bit better with the linear scale. The SSD 730 manages around 15K IOPS compared to a slighly lower 10K IOPS on the SanDisk Extreme II. With the increased overprovisioning, the SSD 730 is in a class of its own, maintaining a minimum 30K IOPS.

  Intel SSD 730 480GB Intel DC S3500 480GB Intel SSD 530 240GB SanDisk Extreme II 480GB Seagate 600 480GB
Default
25% Spare Area - -

TRIM Validation

To test TRIM, I filled the drive with incompressible sequential data and proceeded with 120 minutes of incompressible 4KB random writes at queue depth of 32. I measured performance with Iometer after issuing a single TRIM pass to the drive.

Intel SSD 730 Resiliency - Iometer Sequential Write
  Clean After TRIM
Intel SSD 530 240GB 351.3MB/s 402.9MB/s

TRIM definitely works as performance is actually higher than after a secure erase.



AnandTech Storage Bench 2013

Our Storage Bench 2013 focuses on worst-case multitasking and IO consistency. Similar to our earlier Storage Benches, the test is still application trace based—we record all IO requests made to a test system and play them back on the drive we're testing and run statistical analysis on the drive's responses. There are 49.8 million IO operations in total with 1583.0GB of reads and 875.6GB of writes. As some of you have asked, I'm not including the full description of the test for better readability, so make sure to read our Storage Bench 2013 introduction for the full details.

AnandTech Storage Bench 2013 - The Destroyer
Workload Description Applications Used
Photo Sync/Editing Import images, edit, export Adobe Photoshop CS6, Adobe Lightroom 4, Dropbox
Gaming Download/install games, play games Steam, Deus Ex, Skyrim, Starcraft 2, BioShock Infinite
Virtualization Run/manage VM, use general apps inside VM VirtualBox
General Productivity Browse the web, manage local email, copy files, encrypt/decrypt files, backup system, download content, virus/malware scan Chrome, IE10, Outlook, Windows 8, AxCrypt, uTorrent, AdAware
Video Playback Copy and watch movies Windows 8
Application Development Compile projects, check out code, download code samples Visual Studio 2012

We are reporting two primary metrics with the Destroyer: average data rate in MB/s and average service time in microseconds. The former gives you an idea of the throughput of the drive during the time that it was running the test workload. This can be a very good indication of overall performance. What average data rate doesn't do a good job of is taking into account response time of very bursty (read: high queue depth) IO. By reporting average service time we heavily weigh latency for queued IOs. You'll note that this is a metric we've been reporting in our enterprise benchmarks for a while now. With the client tests maturing, the time was right for a little convergence.

AT Storage Bench 2013 - The Destroyer (Data Rate)

Even though the performance consistency on the SSD 730 is great, it's only mediocre in our Storage Bench 2013. The write performance of SSD 730 is class-leading but as our Storage Bench has more read than write operations, the SSD 730 loses to drives with better read performance. Whether the drive should focus on read or write performance is a question with no single correct answer because it's workload dependent. The heavy enterprise workloads the SSD 730 platform was designed for tend to be more aggressive in writes, so giving up some read performance makes sense there and carries over into the consumer version.

AT Storage Bench 2013 - The Destroyer (Service Time)



Random Read/Write Speed

The four corners of SSD performance are as follows: random read, random write, sequential read and sequential write speed. Random accesses are generally small in size, while sequential accesses tend to be larger and thus we have the four Iometer tests we use in all of our reviews.

Our first test writes 4KB in a completely random pattern over an 8GB space of the drive to simulate the sort of random access that you'd see on an OS drive (even this is more stressful than a normal desktop user would see). I perform three concurrent IOs and run the test for 3 minutes. The results reported are in average MB/s over the entire time. We use both standard pseudo randomly generated data for each write as well as fully random data to show you both the maximum and minimum performance offered by SandForce based drives in these tests. The average performance of SF drives will likely be somewhere in between the two values for each drive you see in the graphs. For an understanding of why this matters, read our original SandForce article.

Desktop Iometer - 4KB Random Read

Desktop Iometer - 4KB Random Write

Desktop Iometer - 4KB Random Write (QD=32)

The SSD 730 isn't the fastest in peak performance because that's irrelevant in the enterprise space. We are still looking at decent random write performance and the random read performance is actually surprisingly good.

Sequential Read/Write Speed

To measure sequential performance I ran a 1 minute long 128KB sequential test over the entire span of the drive at a queue depth of 1. The results reported are in average MB/s over the entire test length.

Desktop Iometer - 128KB Sequential Read

The same goes for sequential performance: the 730 is an average performer with focus on consistency.

Desktop Iometer - 128KB Sequential Write

AS-SSD Incompressible Sequential Read/Write Performance

The AS-SSD sequential benchmark uses incompressible data for all of its transfers. The result is a pretty big reduction in sequential write speed on SandForce based controllers.

Incompressible Sequential Read Performance

Incompressible Sequential Write Performance



Performance vs. Transfer Size

ATTO is a useful tool for quickly benchmarking performance across various transfer sizes. You can get the complete data set in Bench. ATTO illustrates the poor-ish read performance of the SSD 730 quite well. The SSD 730 is the slowest drive in this comparison and doesn't match the other drives until an IO size of 1024KB. Write performance on the other hand is average, although it should be noted that at the smallest IO sizes the drive is very slow for some reason. I'm guessing this is just a matter of optimization as enterprise workloads don't usually go to IO sizes smaller than 4KB.

Click for full size



AnandTech Storage Bench 2011

Back in 2011 (which seems like so long ago now!), we introduced our AnandTech Storage Bench, a suite of benchmarks that took traces of real OS/application usage and played them back in a repeatable manner. The MOASB, officially called AnandTech Storage Bench 2011 - Heavy Workload, mainly focuses on peak IO performance and basic garbage collection routines. There is a lot of downloading and application installing that happens during the course of this test. Our thinking was that it's during application installs, file copies, downloading and multitasking with all of this that you can really notice performance differences between drives.

We tried to cover as many bases as possible with the software incorporated into this test. There's a lot of photo editing in Photoshop, HTML editing in Dreamweaver, web browsing, game playing/level loading (Starcraft II & WoW are both a part of the test) as well as general use stuff (application installing, virus scanning). We've included a large amount of email downloading, document creation and editing as well. To top it all off we even use Visual Studio 2008 to build Chromium during the test.

The test has 2,168,893 read operations and 1,783,447 write operations. The IO breakdown is as follows:

AnandTech Storage Bench 2011 - Heavy Workload IO Breakdown
IO Size % of Total
4KB 28%
16KB 10%
32KB 10%
64KB 4%

Only 42% of all operations are sequential, the rest range from pseudo to fully random (with most falling in the pseudo-random category). Average queue depth is 4.625 IOs, with 59% of operations taking place in an IO queue of 1. The full description of the test can be found here.

AnandTech Storage Bench 2011 - Heavy Workload

Heavy Workload 2011 - Average Data Rate

AnandTech Storage Bench 2011 - Light Workload

Our light workload actually has more write operations than read operations. The split is as follows: 372,630 reads and 459,709 writes. The relatively close read/write ratio does better mimic a typical light workload (although even lighter workloads would be far more read centric). There's lots of web browsing, photo editing (but with a greater focus on photo consumption), video playback as well as some application installs and gaming.

The I/O breakdown is similar to the heavy workload at small IOs, however you'll notice that there are far fewer large IO transfers.

AnandTech Storage Bench 2011 - Light Workload IO Breakdown
IO Size % of Total
4KB 27%
16KB 8%
32KB 6%
64KB 5%

Light Workload 2011 - Average Data Rate

Again, the SSD 730 comes up with relatively uninspiring performance in this lighter, older workload. If your usage patterns are relatively tame, a drive designed for enterprise usage scenarios may be more than you need and may actually end up performing slower than "lesser" drives in day-to-day use—not that you'd likely notice, as most decent SSDs are now at the point where to normal users they're all plenty fast.



Power Consumption

As I mentioned in the first page, the SSD 730 doesn't support any low-power states and hence idle power consumption comes in quite high at 1.34W. For a desktop this isn't an issue but it's clear that the SSD 730 isn't suitable for mobile use. Load power consumption isn't as terrible, but it's still relatively high.

Drive Power Consumption - Idle

Drive Power Consumption - Sequential Write

Drive Power Consumption - Random Write



Final Words

It's great to see that Intel has not forgotten the enthusiast market. While the SSD 520 and SSD 530 weren't bad SSDs, they didn't exactly fill the shoes of X-25M—they were just another batch of SandForce drives, with more generally better validation. With the SSD 730 Intel finally provides a solution that's capable of filling the shoes that have been left empty for more than two years. However, the SSD 730 doesn't provide anything substantial in the terms of performance like the X-25M did.

The performance consistency of the SSD 730 is brilliant but nothing we've not seen from other OEMs before, and the consistency comes at the cost of peak performance. Even though consistency is an important metric regardless of the workload, I would say peak performance is still the dominant factor in most cases as client IO tends to happen in bursts, whereas in enterprises it's more of a constant flow of IO requests.

On top of that, the SSD 730 lacks some features that other high-end drives have. There is no TCG Opal 2.0 or eDrive support to enable proper hardware encryption, which is something that's slowly becoming a norm. Many companies and governments require encryption in all drives they use and that's a market the SSD 730 misses, although that was never its target market. Another weakness is the high power consumption, although neither that or the lack of encryption support plays a big role in the desktop market.

However, given that laptops and other portables cover most of the market nowadays, I feel it's not the best choice to completely rule that market out. Much like the Skulltrail platform whose logo adorns the SSD 730, this targets a very specific enthusiast niche, and the prices not surprisingly are going to be higher than "typical" consumer SSDs.

NewEgg Price Comparison (2/25/2014)
  240/256GB 480/512GB
Intel SSD 730 (MSRPs) $249 $489
Intel SSD DC S3500 $300 $605
Intel SSD 530 $180 $399
Intel SSD 335 $200 N/A
OCZ Vector 150 $210 $445
OCZ Vertex 460 $190 $360
Samsung SSD 840 EVO $190 $300
Samsung SSD 840 Pro $215 $410
Crucial M500 $136 $275
SanDisk Extreme II $233 $450
Seagate SSD 600 $130 $380

MSRPs are fairly high but as usual should be taken with a grain of salt. We are definitely dealing with premium pricing (though nothing close to the enterprise prices) but the SSD 730 is still rather competitive with the other high-end drives. Intel likely views the OCZ Vector 150 and SanDisk Extreme II as direct competitors and is hence pricing the SSD 730 accordingly.

All in all, the SSD 730 is a competitive option for users who seek maximum performance consistency but don't care about power consumption or encryption support. You'll have to sacrifice peak performance and the lack of an M.2 PCIe option may further limit the appeal in the long run. Given Intel's track record and the best-in-class endurance, the SSD 730 is best for the no-compromise enthusiasts and professionals who really need a reliable and consistent drive.

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