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
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Like Anand I'm shocked Intel went this route. After touting the random read/write so heavily (and for good reason) they pull this stunt and look horrible. I'm an owner of an 80gig G2 and love it but have been in the process of justifying an upgrade so I can put the 80gig in my laptop. I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of sequential performance (just like I did with the G2 over other competitors), but this is a complete step backwards.

    And remember the review unit was the larger drive. Put the 120gig version in those benchmarks and the critical numbers that are so low to start with are only going to become much worse. Just like all of the previous releases due to high cost the majority of people will be purchasing the smaller-sized drives (most people bought Intel 80gig when 160gig was out, etc.).

    When you are competing on firmware only, and that firmware is not the best to begin with (in comparison to Sandforce), you have to be perfect, and in this case Intel just didn't produce.

    Very disappointed indeed.
  • Concillian - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    "After touting the random read/write so heavily (and for good reason) they pull this stunt and look horrible."

    They don't look horrible, they are 2nd or 1st in most of the real world tests, Improving on the G2 performance.

    Random performance is lower, but the real world tests demonstrate that random performance has reached a point where it is "enough" for typical workloads.
  • semo - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Whose real world are we talking about here? Average Joe "real world", mainstream "real world", enthusiast "real world"... you get the idea.

    As an average user (net browsing, office apps, flash gaming, etc...) this sort of performance is great. However, the same user would benefit just as much from a much cheaper 60GB SSD. The 510 is neither cheap overall or in $/GB sense. My "real world" is using VMs and lot's of tests involving high QDs and IOPS so this drive is not for me... At that price, capacity and performance, I don't know who this drive is for.
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    It's a bit surprising that the Crucial C300 (on the 6 GB/s) interface did so well in the real world benchmarks. This drive is a year old and still competitive. Newegg had them on sale a couple weeks ago for only $480.00. Which is a bargain compared to the $615.00 for the Intel 510. This is an interesting technology to watch, with lots of plot twists and upsets. I can't wait to see the crucial M4.
  • Lonesloane - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    I see the price point of the new Intel 510 drives extremely critical. Intel have always charged more than the competition and got away with it due to the fact that on the other hand there was the good quality, compatibility and reliablity of their SSD products.

    Now it seems like a clear win for Sandforce, especially if we take the superior write amplification of the sandforce controller, which is a big advantage regarding the reduced write cycles of the new 25nm NAND.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    You have to tell them to stop sending you Ferraris because no one buys Ferraris. The 120GB versions of both the OCZ and Intel drives are much more relevant, and we dont have the foggiest clue how they line up. And even if we did, we would not know how the 40/60/80 GB versions stack up against each other. I am currently shopping for a 40-60GB SSD and I cannot even to this day get a clear answer on which product is better (performance per dollar). And all of these drives have been out for at least year....
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Exactly. I posted above about this and it will seriously hurt Intel as the poor random read/write will only become worse.
  • Concillian - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    "I am currently shopping for a 40-60GB SSD and I cannot even to this day get a clear answer on which product is better (performance per dollar). And all of these drives have been out for at least year.... "

    This is a concern and all you really need to know is how they reduce capacity.

    They can do it by reducing the number of chips (usually will see a performance hit)
    They can do it by using the same number of chips, but each stores less (usually will perform about the same)

    When you look at the OCZ 25nm "debacle" it was this very decision that created the issue. The 25nm flash itself was not the problem (even though that got a fair bit of the blame)... it was how they implemented it. They used half the 25nm higher density chips in the drives, reducing performance. This also meant reserving one block for over-provision meant it was larger in size, so that ate into the usable capacity. The solution still uses 25nm chips, but they're the same number of chips as 34nm, so they perform at about the same level.

    There probably needs to be a chart at the beginning like the video card articles showing details for each drive. It would clear up any issues, as well as something that can be referred to in the future. I refer to the old video card reviews when looking for things like ROP / texture counts, memory bandwidth, speeds, etc... because those charts have really useful information in them.
  • jnmfox - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    We need a round-up of OS boot drives (40/60/80 GB). I love my 80GB G2 but I’m not interested in paying more than $200, hopefully less, for an SSD.
  • Stargrazer - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    I too would love to see the numbers for the 128(-ish) GB versions.

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now