Intel's SSD 311 20GB: Designed to Cache

Although SRT supports any SSD, Intel created a brand new drive specifically for use as a cache with Z68 platforms. This is the Intel SSD 311, codenamed Larson Creek:

The SSD 311 uses the same controller as Intel's X25-M G2, SSD 310 and SSD 320 drives:

The big difference here is the SSD 311 comes with 20GB of 34nm SLC NAND. If you remember back to the SSD Anthology, SLC NAND is architecturally identical to MLC NAND. With half the number of data stored per NAND cell SLC NAND not only lasts longer than MLC NAND but it also is much faster, particularly for writes.

As a cache that'll be constantly written to, SLC NAND isn't a bad decision on Intel's part. Intel insists that the move wasn't motivated by reliability but rather write performance.

A quick look at the performance of the SSD 311 shows that it packs a lot of punch for being a small 20GB drive with only 5 of 10 NAND channels populated:

Iometer—128KB Sequential Write

Iometer—128KB Sequential Read

Iometer—4KB Random Write, 8GB LBA Space, QD=3

Iometer—4KB Random Write, 8GB LBA Space, QD=32

Iometer—4KB Random Read, QD=3

The SSD 311 basically offers the performance of a 160GB X25-M G2 but with fewer NAND channels and a much lower capacity.

Remember this is SLC NAND so despite only being a 20GB drive, it's priced more like a 40GB MLC drive: Intel expects the SSD 311 to retail for $110. Thankfully you aren't locked in to only using Intel drives as Smart Response Technology will work with any SSD.

SSD Caching Application & Game Launch Performance: Virtually Indistinguishable from an SSD


View All Comments

  • cbass64 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Who says you can't use your old 100 or 256GB SSD as an SRT device? The article clearly states that you can use whatever size drive you want. Up to 64GB of it will be used for cache and the rest can be used for data. If you have more than 64GB of data that you need to have cached at one time then SRT isn't the solution you should be looking into.

    As for OS can't seriously think Intel would wait until they had this running on every platform imaginable before they released it to the public, can you? This is the first version of the driver that supports it so of course it will have limitations. You can't expect a feature of a Windows-only driver to be supported by a non-Windows OS. I'm sure this feature will be available on Linux once Intel actually makes a Linux RST driver.
  • futrtrubl - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    And don't forget that if you don't partition the rest of the space on the SSD it will use it for wear levelling, which will be even more important in this situation. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    I still dont get why western digital doesnt take 4GB of SLC and solder it onto the back of their hard drive controller boards. It's not like they dont have the room. Hopefully now they will do that. 1TB +4GB SLC all for under $100 in one package, with 2 sata ports. Reply
  • mamisano - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Seagate has the Momentus 500gb 7200rmp drive with 4GB SLC. It's in 2.5" 'Notebook' format but obviously can be using in a PC.

    I am wondering why such a drive wasn't included in these tests.
  • jordanclock - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Because, frankly, it sucks. The caching method is terrible and barely helps more than a large DRAM cache. Reply
  • Conficio - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    What is the OS support on those drivers (Windows?, Linux?, Mac OS X?, BSD?, Open Source?, ...)?

    Does the SRT drive get TRIM? Does it need it?

    "With the Z68 SATA controllers set to RAID (SRT won't work in AHCI or IDE modes) just install Windows 7 on your hard drive like you normally would."???

    Is there any optimization to allow the hard drive to avoid seeks? If this all happens on the driver level (as opposed to on the BIOS level) then I'd expect to gain extra efficiency from optimizing the cached LBAs so as to avoid costly seeks. In other words you don't want to look at LBAs alone but at sequences of LBAs to optimize the utility. Any mention of this?

    Also one could imagine a mode where the driver does automatic defragmentation and uses the SSD as the cache to allow to do that during slow times of hard drive access. Any comment from Intel?
  • Lonesloane - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    What happened to the prposed prices? If I remember correctly the caching drive was supposed to cost only 30-40$?
    Now with 110$, the customer should better buy a "real" 60GB SSD.
  • JNo - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link


    It's interesting, Anand has a generally positive review and generally positive comments. Tom's Hardware, which I generally don't respect nearly as much as Anand, reviewed SRT both a while back and covered it again recently and is far less impressed as are its readers. I have to say that I agree with Tom's on this particular issue though.

    It is *not* a halfway house or a cheaper way to get most of the benefit of an SSD. For $110 extra plus the premium of a Z68 mobo you may as well get an SSD that is 40-60GB bigger than Larson Creek (or 40-60GB bigger than your main system SSD) and just store extra data on it directly and with faster access and no risk of caching errors.

    For those who said SRT is a way of speeding up a cheap HTPC - it doesn't seem that way as it's not really cheap and it won't cache large, sequential media files anyway. For those who said it will speed up your game loadings, it will only do so for a few games on 2nd or 3rd run only and will evict if you use a lot of different games so you're better off having the few that count directly on the SSD anyway (using Steam Mover if necessary).

    For your system drive it's too risky at this point or you need to use the Enhanced mode (less impressive) and to speed up your large data (games/movies) it's barely relevant for the aforementioned reasons. For all other scenarios you're better off with a larger SSD.

    It's too little too late and too expensive. The fact that it's not worth bothering is a no brainer to me which is a shame as I was excited by the idea of it.
  • Boissez - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Could one kindly request for the numbers from both the 64GB C300 and 20GB sans harddisk 311 to be added. It would give a good idea of the performance hit one could expect for using these in SRT vs as a standalone boot drive. Reply
  • Boissez - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    First sentence should be: "Could one kindly request for the numbers from both the 64GB C300 and 20GB 311 sans harddisk to be added?"... sorry Reply

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