Update: I'll be answering questions about the S3700 live from this year's SC12 conference. Head over here to get your questions answered!

When Intel arrived on the scene with its first SSD, it touted superiority in controller, firmware and NAND as the reason it was able to so significantly outperform the competition. Slow but steady improvements to the design followed over the next year and until 2010 Intel held our recommendation for best SSD on the market. The long awaited X25-M G3 ended up being based on the same 3Gbps SATA controller as the previous two drives, just sold under a new brand. Intel changed its tune, claiming that the controller (or who made it) wasn't as important as firmware and NAND.

Then came the 510, Intel's first 6Gbps SATA drive...based on a Marvell controller. Its follow-on, the Intel SSD 520 used a SandForce controller. With the release of the Intel SSD 330, Intel had almost completely moved to third party SSD controllers. Intel still claimed proprietary firmware, however in the case of the SandForce based drives Intel never seemed to have access to firmware source code - but rather its custom firmware was the result of Intel validation, and SandForce integrating changes into a custom branch made specifically for Intel. Intel increasingly looked like a NAND and validation house, giving it a small edge over the competition. Meanwhile, Samsung aggressively went after Intel's consumer SSD business with the SSD 830/840 Pro, while others attempted to pursue Intel's enterprise customers.

This is hardly a fall from grace, but Intel hasn't been able to lead the market it helped establish in 2008 - 2009. The SSD division at Intel is a growing one. Unlike the CPU architecture group, the NAND solutions group just hasn't been around for that long. Growing pains are still evident, and Intel management isn't too keen on investing heavily there. Despite the extremely positive impact on the industry, storage has always been a greatly commoditized market. Just as Intel is in no rush to sell $20 smartphone SoCs, it's similarly in no hurry to dominate the consumer storage market.

I had heard rumors of an Intel designed 6Gbps SATA controller for a while now. Work on the project began years ago, but the scope of Intel's true next-generation SATA SSD controller changed many times over the years. What started as a client focused controller eventually morphed into an enterprise specific design, with its scope and feature set reinvented many times over. It's typical of any new company or group. Often times the only way to learn focus is to pay the penalty for not being focused. It usually happens when you're really late with a product. Intel's NSG had yet to come into its own, it hadn't yet found its perfect development/validation/release cadence. If you look at how long it took the CPU folks to get to tick-tock, it's still very early to expect the same from NSG.

The true 3rd generation Intel SATA SSD controller

Today all of that becomes moot as Intel releases its first brand new SSD controller in 5 years. This controller has been built from the ground up rather than as an evolution of a previous generation. It corrects a lot of the flaws of the original design and removes many constraints. Finally, this new controller marks the era of a completely new performance focus. For the past couple of years we've seen controllers quickly saturate 6Gbps SATA, and slowly raise the bar for random IO performance. With its first 6Gbps SATA controller, Intel does significantly improve performance along both traditional vectors but it adds a new one entirely: performance consistency. All SSDs see their performance degrade over time, but with its new controller Intel wanted to deliver steady state performance that's far more consistent than the competition.

I originally thought that we wouldn't see much innovation in the non-PCIe SSD space until SATA Express. It turns out I was wrong. Codenamed Taylorsville, it's time to review Intel's SSD DC S3700.

Inside the Drive
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  • JonnyDough - Thursday, November 15, 2012 - link

    There are a ton of new technologies that could replace NAND. There might even be a "betamax" or "HD DVD" in there that miss the mark and lose out to some better or cheaper tech. We'll just have to wait and see what comes to market and catches on. It won't be mere enthusiasts or gamers who decide, it will be the IT industry. It usually is.
  • mckirkus - Tuesday, November 6, 2012 - link

    On interesting point to note is that if you run benchmarks on a RAMDisk, you get random 4k write IOPS in the neighborhood of 600MB/s. So in that regard, flash has a long way to go before the 6Gbit/s limitations of SATA 3.0 really hurt enterprise performance.
  • extide - Tuesday, November 6, 2012 - link

    I am not sure I understand this. First of all random 4K against a ramdisk will be HIGHLY dependent on the hardware, and I am sure you could see wayy better numbers than 600MB/sec. Also, 600MB/sec is pretty close to 6Gbit/sec, anyways.
  • jwilliams4200 - Friday, November 9, 2012 - link

    I think mckirkus is trying to say that there is a lot of headroom before sustained 4KiB random I/O SSD throughput will saturate a SATA 6Gbps link.

    For example, the sustained QD32 4KiB random write speed for the S3700 is apparently less than 150MB/s (35K IOPS). It will need to double and double again before it saturates a 6Gbps SATA link
  • mayankleoboy1 - Saturday, November 10, 2012 - link

    How long do we have to wait before SATA Express drives and interface get commercial ?
  • justaviking - Saturday, November 10, 2012 - link

    If I read this the "Update" section correctly, Oracle recommends modifying their settings to change the way the log files are written.

    Would it be possible to re-run the the Swingbench tests using the modified settings? I'd love to see how performance changes, especially on THIS drive, and then also on some others for comparison purposes.
  • blackbrrd - Saturday, November 10, 2012 - link

    I am guessing most people will run their Oracle database behind a raid card with some nvram to cache, which would remove the problem if the raid controller combined the writes. It would be interesting to see the performance behind a typical raid controller card with nvram cache.
  • iwod - Sunday, November 11, 2012 - link

    I am a regular Anandtech Reader, ( actually it is on my RSS Feeds so i read it everyday ) and i dont ever record Anand doing a Review on Toshiba SSD. So when i saw the performance of the MK4001 i had to look it up in Google to know it is an SAS SLC Enterprise SSD.

    The article did eventually have a brief mention of its Spec. But i thought it was very late in the article. Would have help it the spec was actually listed out before hand.

    It seems to me the Magic is actually in the software and not the hardware. A 1:1 mapping of NAND data Address table making Random Read and Write a consistent behaviour seems more like Software magic and could easily be made on any other SSD Controller with enough amount of RAM in it. The only hardware side of things that requires this tweak is ECC Memory.

    And again we are fundamentally limited by Port Speed.
  • mmrezaie - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    I agree!
  • alamundo - Monday, November 12, 2012 - link

    Given the enterprise focus, this drive seems to be competitive with the Intel 910 PCI card. It would be interesting to see the 3700 benchmarked against the 910.

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