Intel’s SSD 510 Powered by Marvell

At IDF 2008 Intel presented a session that discussed its SSDs and what made them better than the competition. Allow me to quote, ahem, myself:

“Intel's SSD design attempts to be different in the three key areas that determine SSD performance: Flash, Firmware and Controller.”


“The Firmware and Flash-to-SATA controller are both made by Intel, whereas most SSD makers use off the shelf components and FPGAs for their designs. Intel claims that its expertise in microprocessor and platform design allows for much higher levels of performance out of its SSDs.”

Now allow me to contrast what Intel told me at IDF 2008 with the reality of today in 2011.

The “G3” we’ve all been waiting for will still come. That’ll be Intel’s first 25nm SSD and it should carry specs similar to what we already published. However the focus of the drive will be the mainstream. To take care of the high end Intel created a new drive: the Intel SSD 510 (codename Elmcrest) and it uses a Marvell 9174 6Gbps controller.

Intel's SSD 510 based on Marvell's 88SS9174 controller

Everyone has access to the same NAND that Intel does, but in the past it was controller microarchitecture and firmware that gave Intel the edge. With the 510, the advantage has been reduced to just firmware.

The Marvell 9174 is the same controller Micron uses in its C400 and the same controller in Corsair’s Performance Series 3 SSDs. In fact, I recently received a Corsair P3. Pop off the lid and you’ll see the very same controller Intel is using in the 510:

Corsair's P3 SSD, note the controller similarity

Talk to SandForce and they’ll tell you that the controller itself doesn’t matter - it’s the firmware that matters the most. That’s definitely true to an extent, although I can’t help but feel like you need both microarchitecture and firmware to get the absolute best performance.

Although the controller is sourced from Marvell the firmware and validation are entirely Intel’s. As a result you shouldn't expect the 510 to perform identically to other Marvell based drives.

Intel is also quick to point out that despite using a 3rd party controller, the 510 has to go through Intel’s rigorous validation and testing. Reliability and quality should be no different than any other Intel SSD.

I asked Intel if this was a permanent thing - if we should always expect it to license controllers from third parties for its high performance SSDs. Intel responded by saying that the Marvell controller made sense given the hole in its roadmap, however this is not a long term strategy. While we may see more Intel SSDs based on 3rd party controllers, Marvell’s controller is not a permanent resident in Intel’s SSD roadmap - it’s just here on a student visa.

Paired with the Marvell controller is a 128MB Hynix DDR3-1333 SDRAM. This is technically the largest DRAM to appear on an Intel SSD to date. Even the old X25-M G2 only had a 32MB DRAM on board.

The 510 currently only supports 34nm Intel NAND rated at 5,000 p/e cycles. There are two capacities offered: a 120GB and a 250GB. Intel sent us the 250GB version which has 256GB of 34nm Intel NAND spread out across 16 NAND packages. That’s 16GB per package and 4GB per 34nm die.

Remember the GiB/GB conversion math that’s used to mask spare area in SSDs. With 256GiB of NAND on board and 250GB of storage area promised by the drive, there’s actually only 232.8GiB of user addressable space on the 250GB drive. This puts the percentage of spare area at 9%, an increase over the 6.8% spare area common on the X25-M.

The 120GB drive has even more spare area than the 250GB drive. With 128GB of 34nm NAND on board, the 120GB Intel SSD 510 has 111GiB of user addressable space for a total spare area of 12.7%.

Intel’s rated performance for the SSD 510 is as follows:

Intel SSD Comparison
  X25-M G2 160GB SSD 510 120GB SSD 510 250GB
NAND Capacity 160GB 128GB 256GB
User Capacity 149GB 111GB 232GB
Random Read Performance Up to 35K IOPS Up to 20K IOPS Up to 20K IOPS
Random Write Performance Up to 8.6K IOPS Up to 8K IOPS Up to 8K IOPS
Sequential Read Performance Up to 250MB/s Up to 400MB/s (6Gbps) Up to 500MB/s (6Gbps)
Sequential Write Performance Up to 100MB/s Up to 210MB/s (6Gbps) Up to 315MB/s (6Gbps)
Price $404 $284 $584

Ironically enough the SSD 510 fixes the X25-M’s poor sequential performance but trades it for lower random performance. On paper the 510’s random performance is decidedly last-generation. And honestly the rated performance of the 120GB isn’t particularly interesting. The 120GB drive will have fewer NAND die available, and SSDs achieve their high performance by striping data requests across as many NAND die as possible - hence the lower performance specs.

Pricing is set at $284 for the 120GB drive and $584 for the 250GB drive. Intel’s SSD 510 is available today and Newegg marks the two up to $315 and $615 respectively.

The Bundle

Intel sent over the desktop installation kit bundle for the 510. Included in the box is a 3.5" adapter kit, a 6Gbps SATA cable (3Gbps cables of sufficient quality should work fine though) and a 4-pin molex to SATA power adapter:

The 510 also works with Intel's SSD Toolbox, which makes tasks like secure erase super simple:

Introduction A Word on Reliability & The Test
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  • aarste - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Those graphs on the TRIM test look nothing remotely close to ATTO, which I use. I checked HDTach as well and it wasn't that, but close.

    What app was it?
  • mino - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Please, be so king and include a fast HDD (say a WD Velociraptor) in EVERY SSD benchmark.

    While most readers here understand the difference between SSD and HDD, including a single fast HDD would make the article useful also as a reference/datapoint when talking to not-so-techy people.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Then people would complain because the numbers are so small as to be unreadable
  • nerex - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Maybe I missed it, but i didn't see any discussion of the power usage of the new drives- according the intel press releases, the new drives use 380mW/100mW active/idle and the G2 drives only use 150mW/75mW active/idle.

    This means the new drives would actually be worse on laptop battery life, correct?
  • DigitlDrug - Saturday, March 5, 2011 - link

    Hi Anand,


    Power consumption figures would be great for us laptop users!

    I find it interesting that a number of these drives report consumption of up to 3watts and others are in the mw range when browsing the Egg.

    Some clarity on power consumption would be a great addition.

    As always, great review!
  • ClagMaster - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    The Intel SSD 510 is not a bad drive but it cost more than a Vertex 2 or 3.

    The Intel Toolbox, and extensive compatablity and reliability testing are major pluses.

    The SSD is still an extravagance for desktops though I can see its a no-brainer for laptops because of power conservation. Unless the cost per gigabyte is less than $0.80/gigabyte, the performance gain does not offset the mechanical harddrive.
  • neotiger - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    I.e., an epic FAIL product priced at a premium to competing products that are far superior.

    What misguided priorities from Intel. People shell out the big bucks for SSD's for their RANDOM IO performance, NOT sequential IO. So the geniuses at Intel decided to release a "next gen" product that actually has WORSE performance than the last gen product. Really?

    I'm speechless. The really sad part about this fiasco is that most people will still buy this piece of crap over far superior competing products just because it's Intel.

    Just like NetBurst all over again.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, March 3, 2011 - link

    Did you actually look at the real-world results? the 510 is almost twice as fast as the G2 160GB in some tests.
  • poohbear - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    nice review, but you're talking & comparing the Vertex 3 and this new drive, but where's the vertex 3 on the market? its not even released, its months away from release if im not mistaken? the C400 will be released before it, so what's the point of comparing tech today with tech months away from release (and in the SSD world months is a very long time!)
  • sor - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    FWIW, we've deployed literally hundreds of X25-E drives, and our failure rate is well over 1%, closer to 2%. Usually they drop link, try to renegotiate at 1.5Gbps, and fail, so it's more likely the controller than a wear-out issue.

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