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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  • ckryan - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Very true. And again, many 60/64GB could do 1PB with an entirely sequential workload. Under such conditions, most non-SF drives typically experience a WA of 1.10 to 1.20.

    Reality has a way of biting you in the ass, so in reality, be conservative and reasonable about how long a drive will last.

    No one will throw a parade if a drive lasts 5 years, but if it only lasts 3 you're gonna hear about it.
  • ckryan - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    The 40GB 320 failed with almost 700TB, not 400. Remember though, the workload is mostly sequential. That particular 320 40GB also suffered a failure of what may have been an entire die last year, and just recently passed on to the SSD afterlife.

    So that's pretty reassuring. The X25-V is right around 700TB now, and it's still chugging along.
  • eva2000 - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Would be interesting to see how consumer drives in the tests and life expectancy if they are configured with >40% over provisioning.
  • vectorm12 - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Thanks for the insight into this subject Anand.

    However I am curios as to why controller manufacturers haven't come up with a controller to manage cell-wear across multiple drives without raid.

    Basically throw more drives at a problem. As you would be to some extent be mirroring most of your P/E cycles in a traditional raid I feel there should be room for an extra layer of management. For instance having a traditional raid 1 between two drive and keeping another one or two as "hot spare" for when cells start to go bad.

    After all if you deploy SSD in raid you're likely to be subjecting them to a similar if not identical number of P/E cycles. This would force you to proactively switch out drives(naturally most would anyway) in order to guarantee you won't be subjected to a massive, collective failure of drives risking loss of data.

    Proactive measures are the correct way of dealing with this issue but in all honesty I love "set and forget" systems more than anything else. If a drive has exhausted it's NAND I'd much rather get an email from a controller telling me to replace the drive and that it's already handled the emergency by allocating data to a spare drive.

    Also I'm still seeing 320 8MB-bugg despite running the latest firmware in a couple of servers hosting low access-rate files for some strange reason. It seems as though they behave fine as long as the are constantly stressed but leave them idle for too long and things start to go wrong. Have you guys observed anything like this behavior?
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    I've read some reports of the 8MB bug persisting even after the FW update. Your experience sounds similar - problems start to occur when you power off the SSD (i.e. power cycling). A guy I know actually bought the 80GB model just to try this out but unfortunately he couldn't make it repeatable.
  • vectorm12 - Monday, February 13, 2012 - link

    Unfortunately I'm in the same boat. 320s keep failing left and right(up to three now) all running latest firmware. However the issues aren't directly related to powercycles as these drives run 24/7 without any offtime.

    I've made sure drive-spinndown is deactivated as well as all other powermanagement features I could think of. I've also move the RAIDs from Adaptec controllers to the integrated SAS-controllers and still had a third drive fail.

    I've actually switched out the remaining 320s for Samsung 830s now to see how they behave in this configuration.
  • DukeN - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    One with RAID'd drives, whether on a DAS or a high end SAN?

    Would love to see how 12 SSDs in (for argument's sake) an MSA1000 compare to 12 15K SAS drives.

  • ggathagan - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    Compare in what respect?
  • FunBunny2 - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link


    I've been thinking about the case where using SSD, which has calculable (sort of, as this piece describes) lifespan, as swap (linux context). Have you done (and I can't find) or considering doing, such an experiment? From a multi-user, server perspective, the bang for the buck might be very high.
  • varunkrish - Thursday, February 9, 2012 - link

    I have recently seen 2 SSDs fail without warning and they are completely not detected currently. While I love the performance gains from an SSD , lower noise and cooler operation, i feel you have to be more careful while storing critical data on a SSD as recovery is next to impossible.

    I would love to see an article which addresses SSDs from this angle.

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