Intel's SSD 520 in the Enterprise

I went through the basic premise of SandForce's controller architecture in our review of the 520. By integrating a real time data compression/deduplication engine in the data path of the controller, SandForce can reduce the number of physical writes it commits to NAND. It's an interesting way of combating the issue of finite NAND flash endurance. It works very well on desktop systems (BSOD issues aside), and for many enterprise workloads it should do similarly well. By writing less, you can get more endurance out of your NAND, making it an ideal technology for use in the enterprise where NAND endurance is more of a concern.

The limitations are serious however. You cannot further compress something that is already compressed and data sets that are truly random in makeup can't be compressed either. If your enterprise workload triggers either of these conditions, or if you're working with encrypted data, you're not going to get a big benefit from SandForce's technology.

There are still a lot of enterprise workloads (including portions of ours) that just revolve around reading and writing simple text (e.g. pages of a review, or tracking banner impressions). For these workloads, SandForce could do quite well.

Intel's SSDs have often been used in datacenter environments, including the consumer drives for reasons I've already described. Armed with a full set of Intel SSDs I put all of them through our newly created Enterprise SSD suite to see how well they performed.

Enterprise SSD Comparison
  Intel SSD 710 Intel X25-E Intel SSD 520 Intel SSD 320
Capacities 100 / 200 / 300GB 32 / 64GB 60 / 120 / 180 / 240 / 480GB 80 / 120 / 160 / 300 / 600GB
NAND 25nm HET MLC 50nm SLC 25nm MLC 25nm MLC
Max Sequential Performance (Reads/Writes) 270 / 210 MBps 250 / 170 MBps 550 / 520 MBps 270 / 220 MBps
Max Random Performance (Reads/Writes) 38.5K / 2.7K IOPS 35K / 3.3K IOPS 50K / Not Listed IOPS 39.5K / 600 IOPS
Endurance (Max Data Written) 500TB - 1.5PB 1 - 2PB Not Listed 5 - 60TB
Encryption AES-128 - AES-256 AES-128
Power Safe Write Cache Y N N Y
Temp Sensor Y N N N

It's worth pointing out that the Intel SSD 520 and 510 are both 6Gbps drives, while many servers deployed today still only support 3Gbps SATA. I've provided results for both 3Gbps and 6Gbps configurations to showcase the differences.

The Test

Note that although we debuted these tests in previous reviews, the results here aren't comparable due to some changes in the software build on the system.


Intel Core i7 2600K running at 3.4GHz (Turbo & EIST Disabled)


Intel H67 Motherboard


Intel H67

Chipset Drivers:

Intel + Intel RST 10.2

Memory: Qimonda DDR3-1333 4 x 1GB (7-7-7-20)
Video Card: eVGA GeForce GTX 285
Video Drivers: NVIDIA ForceWare 190.38 64-bit
Desktop Resolution: 1920 x 1200
OS: Windows 7 x64
Case Study: SSDs in AnandTech's Server Environment Enterprise Storage Bench - Oracle Swingbench
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  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Given enough spare area and a good enough SSD controller, TRIM isn't as important. It's still nice to have, but it's more of a concern on a drive where you're running much closer to capacity. Take the Intel SSD 710 in our benchmarks for example. We're putting a ~60GB data set on a 200GB drive with 320GB of NAND. With enough spare area it's possible to maintain low write amplification without TRIM. That's not to say that it's not valuable, but for the discussion today it's not at the top of the list.

    The beauty of covering the enterprise SSD space is that you avoid a lot of the high write amp controllers to begin with and extra spare area isn't unheard of. Try selling a 320GB consumer SSD with only 200GB of capacity and things look quite different :-P

    Take care,
  • Stuka87 - Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - link

    Great article Anand, I have been waiting for one like this. It will really come in handy to refer back to myself, and refer others too when they ask about SSD's in an enterprise environment.
  • Iketh - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Anand's nickname should be Magnitude or the OOM Guy.
  • wrednys - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    What's going on with the media wear indicator on the first screenshot? 656%?
    Or is the data meaningless before the first E4 reset?
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Great article Anand, very interesting stuff!
  • ssj3gohan - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    So... something I'm missing entirely in the article: what is your estimate of write amplification for the various drives? Like you said in another comment, typical workloads on Sandforce usually see WA < 1.0, while in this article it seems to be squarely above 1. Why is that, what is your estimate of the exact value and can you show us a workload that would actually benefit from Sandforce?

    This is very important, because with any reliability qualms out of the way the intel SSD 520 could be a solid recommendation for certain kinds of workloads. This article does not show any benefit to the 520.
  • Christopher29 - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Members of this forum are testing (Anvil) SSDs with VERY extreme workloads. X25-V40GB (Intel drive) has already 685 TB WRITES ! This is WAY more than 5TB suggested by Intel. They also fill drives completely! This means that your 120GB SSDs (limited even to 100GB) could withstand almost 1 PB writes. One of their 40GB Intel 320 failed after writting 400TB!
    Corsair Force 3 120GB has already 1050TB writes! You shoul reconsider your assumptions, because it seems that those drives (and large ones especially) will last much longer.

    Stats for today:
    - Intel 320 40GB – 400TB (dead)
    - Samsung 470 64GB – 490TB (dead)
    - Crucial M4 64GB – 780TB (dead)
    - Crucial M225 60GB – 840TB (dead)
    - Corsair F40A - 210TB (dead)
    - Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 60GB – 480TB (dead)
    - Corsair Force 3 120GB – 1050TB (1 PB! and still going)
    - Kingston SSDNow 40GB (X25-V) (34nm) - 640TB

  • Christopher29 - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    PS: And also interestingly Force 3 (that lasted longest) is exactly SF-2281 drive? So what is it in reality Anand, does this mean that SF do write less and therefore SSD last longer?
  • Death666Angel - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    In every sentence, he commented how he was being conservative and that real numbers would likely be higher. However, given the sensitive nature of business data/storage needs, I think most of them are conservative and rightly so. The mentioned p/e cycles are also just estimates and likely vary a lot. Without anyone showing 1000 Force 3 drives doing over 1PB, that number is pretty much useless for such an article. :-)
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    I agree. In this case, it's better to underestimate than overestimate.

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