Final Words

I've been a fan of SandForce's technology since it first showed up in OCZ's Vertex 2 Pro in late 2009. Performance has never been an issue with SandForce and because of the fact that the controller writes less than its competitors, the controller and drives based on it are well behaved over months of use. The biggest issue with SandForce has always been a lack of validation compared to other, bigger players like Intel and Samsung. SandForce relies on its partners to do a lot of the validation and testing that would normally be internalized at its competitors. Until now, SandForce hasn't really had a partner large enough to really throw a ton of resources at drive validation. Now that SandForce is under the LSI umbrella things may change, but until then we finally have a well validated SF-2281 drive: the Intel SSD 520.

I'm still curious to see if other bugs crop up but if Intel hasn't found anything else after twelve months of testing I'm willing to bet that either the SF-2281 is irreparably broken or the 520 is going to be a reliable SSD.

I only have one data point where the 520 behaves better than other SF-2281 based drives, but that alone is a perfect example of what you pay for with Intel. This is exactly what we've been waiting for. If you want the absolute fastest SSD on the market today, the Intel SSD 520 is the only drive to get. If you're put off by the price, Samsung's SSD 830 is an excellent alternative.

I'm going to save this next bit for a future article, but have a look at the 520's performance in our enterprise workloads compared to the Intel SSD 320:

Enterprise SSD Performance
  Oracle Swingbench MS SQL DailyUpdates MS SQL WeeklyMaint
Intel SSD 320 300GB 56.5 MB/s 207.3 MB/s 230.4 MB/s
Intel SSD 520 240GB 67.2 MB/s 376.7 MB/s 418.1 MB/s

The 320 is actually widely used in servers as it's very reliable and can last a good amount of time with the right amount of over-provisioning. The 520 just destroys it. The bigger benefit is that if you're dealing with a workload that's not already compressed, the 520 will guarantee you much better drive longevity than the 320 thanks to the fact that it's simply not writing as much data to NAND. If you're looking for an affordable way to get a ton of IOPS for your enterprise workloads, Cherryville may be your ticket...

Power Consumption
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  • frank1985 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    I am a customer of this guy, and I had to return my $240 Corsair Force 2 drive/paperweight *11 days* after purchase (at which point I traded it in for his old OCZ Vertex2 which has been running without issue).

    Like Iketh, the fact that you can't recover performance with TRIM is a showstopper for me. I'm going to stick with the 320 series drives - they might be slower, but TRIM does what it's supposed to.
    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Monday, July 23, 2012 - link

    The TRIM issue worries me too. Sounds like it's even worse than on Micron/Crucial's M4?

    My 320's been great, though annoyingly the 600GB version is MASSIVELY more than the 480GB 520, or the 512GB M4...possibly because of this issue?
    Reply
  • Ratman6161 - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - link

    I have an OCZ drive based on the SF22xx. For the first month it was nothing but trouble. Then with the release of the 2.15 firmware, suddenly all the problems went away like magic. It could simply be that OCZ paid the price for being early adopters and released to the market a product that really should have been a Beta version. Now that it has the firmware that it should have had from the beginning, everything is fine.

    Intel has waited until the product is more mature so its no surprise they aren't seeing these problems
    Reply
  • Wolfpup - Monday, July 23, 2012 - link

    Did you read the article? Intel explicitly fixed problems still present in other firmware. Reply
  • ckryan - Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - link

    The Samsung 830 is maybe the finest consumer drive released in all of 2011. There is no shame in going Samsung, and in my mind, it's a fine alternative to almost every drive out there.

    Samsung and Micron probably have to wonder how Intel gets all the press about their NAND being better. As far as I can tell, Samsung's 27nm Toggle in the 830 is pretty damn good. The Micron NAND used in Micron's own drives is fantastic, and of course Intel's top shelf NAND is good too. But only Intel gets the press for having excellent NAND in it's own drives.

    I don't think enough emphasis is placed on the NAND. You can't get a clear picture of NAND quality through benchmarking.
    Reply
  • krumme - Monday, February 6, 2012 - link

    Exit Intel from the controller market. No wrapping in reliability, as rightfully as it is, can change that fact seen from here.
    Anyway, Intel can earn on the memory, as was probably the plan from day 1. We will see how profitability is here in 5 years time.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, February 6, 2012 - link

    I still get a kick out of how a relatively tiny startup company makes better performing parts than the chipzilla that is Intel. Good call working with them. Reply
  • Makaveli - Monday, February 6, 2012 - link

    What I think you are missing is that Intel doesn't because they don't have to or care to. Intel is a huge company with equally big profit margins to maintain for their shareholders. The SSD market is still a small compared to the other things they dabble in. And yes they produced a controller in the past but I don't think the Money and R&D was worth it for them to continue based on the profits needed to keep them interested. We already know they make a ton of money selling nand as is.

    So to sum it up they could easily put out a controller that would be superior but just don't care too at the moment.
    Reply
  • Kevin G - Monday, February 6, 2012 - link

    Intel's plan was to gain control of the entire SSD product: from flash (joint venture with Micron), to the controller and to the firmware. It does appear that their original plan has fallen apart due to delays with their custom controllers which has forced them to use 3rd party controllers.

    I wouldn't say that Intel has stopped investing into developing their own controllers though. Intel can offer a level of integration that no other vendor can offer: direction integration into an x86 SoC. I strongly suspect that the successor to Haskwell and future Atom SoC will come with a direct ONFI connectivity backed by an internal Intel controller.

    At that point in time, I suspect that SSD controllers will become akin to what discrete GPU's are today: a midrange or high end item for consumers.
    Reply
  • NitroWare - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - link

    People forget Intel was one of the innovators in bringing MATURE Flash to consumer technologies.

    Intel Desktop and OEM motherboards have used their surface mount flash chips for PC BIOS since 1996. This setup provided a recovery mode to get out of BIOS corruption. To this day, excluding motherboards with dual BIOS no motherboard has the same robust recovery system as Intel boards do.

    If the recovery mechanism fails then there is a more serous failure anyway.

    At the time other vendors were still using older DIP socket EEPROM and some still do now , only changing to serial format ROM.

    Even for current ASUS Flagship ROG boards, the best failsafe they offer is a socketed BIOS.

    Intel offered those Turbo Boost Flash cards several years ago for the 1156 motherboards and laptops which did not take off. They also championed Hybrid HDD for portables.

    So I think Intel know what they are doing with solid state, but yes eventually the technology will become commodity
    Reply

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