Last year Intel introduced the SSD Pro 1500, the company's first SSD for the business segment. The business market is different from the typical client market in the sense that businesses tend to value security and manageability over performance and price. According to a study performed by the Ponemon Institute, the average cost of a lost corporate laptop is around $50,000, which consists of lost intellectual property, data breaches and legal costs. The same study highlights that on average, 2.32% of corporate laptops are lost in one year with the total cost of lost laptops being $6.4 million per organization on average. As a result of the cost, It is obvious that companies want to minimize the damages since the value of the data is constantly increasing and so is the number of devices we carry with us.

The easiest and most efficient way to protect data is to encrypt it. While the Pro 1500 used the same SandForce SF-2281 controller as Intel's client SSDs, the Pro 1500 brought support for hardware accelerated encryption in the form of TCG Opal 1.0 compliance. The benefit of Opal is the fact that it utilizes the drive's built-in hardware encryption, which is more secure than software encryption (for instance software can always corrupt or be negated by malware) and does not degrade performance. Additionally, Opal is much easier to manage than ATA passwords because ultimately all management is done by software, meaning that all the benefits of software encryption are present (e.g. remote wiping and other IT admin features). 

With the Pro 2500 Intel is updating the Opal spec to 2.0 as well as adding support for the IEEE-1667 standard, which is required for Microsoft eDrive. The Opal 2.0 spec adds some manageability features (like support for more administrators and users per device) and it also brings support for varying block sizes. Moreover, Intel is also including a new SSD Pro Administrator Tool with the Pro 2500 that brings PSID revert functionality.

Similar to the Pro 1500, Intel's vPro technology is supported in the Pro 2500. vPro and Intel's Setup and Configuration Software allow for remote management of the whole system including the encrypted drive, which makes the life of an IT administrator much easier since there is no need to physically access the device.

Another difference compared to the Pro 1500 is that the Pro 2500 will also be available at retail. The Pro 1500 was limited to OEMs and SIs, which is why we never got to review the drive. Intel said that initially it was easier to go through the OEMs to make sure the system shipped with the necessary software for Opal encryption, but nowadays the software support is much better.

Intel SSD Pro 2500 Specifications
Capacity 120GB 180GB 240GB 360GB 480GB
Form Factors 2.5" 2.5", M.2 2280 & M.2 2260 2.5" & M.2 2280 2.5"
Controller SandForce SF-2281
NAND SK Hynix 64Gbit 20nm MLC
Sequential Read 540MB/s 540MB/s 540MB/s 540MB/s 540MB/s
Sequential Write 490MB/s 490MB/s 490MB/s 490MB/s 490MB/s
4KB Random Read 24K IOPS 41K IOPS 41K IOPS 45K IOPS 48K IOPS
4KB Random Write 80K IOPS 80K IOPS 80K IOPS 33K IOPS 37K IOPS
Idle Power 5mW (DevSleep) / 55mW (Slumber)
Max Power 3.4W 4.0W 4.9W 5.5W 5.8W
Encryption TCG Opal 2.0 + IEEE-1667 (eDrive)
Endurance 36.5TB (20GB/day for 5 years)
Warranty Five years

Given that we are dealing with an SF-2281 based drive, the performance figures do not present any surprises. With compressible data even the 120GB model achieves nearly 500MB/s in sequential writes, although what is notable is that when going above 240GB the random write performance takes a rather substantial hit. This is unique to SandForce and I have seen it with other drives as well but I am not sure what exactly is causing it. I am guessing that the decrease is due to SandForce's NAND mapping table design and structure because the size of the table increases with capacities. Since SandForce does not use any external DRAM for caching of the NAND mapping table, the table size is limited and likely needs a lot more defragmentation and optimization at the higher capacities to fit in the controller's integrated SRAM cache.

Probably the most interesting tidbit of the Pro 2500 is the usage of SK Hynix NAND as this is the first time Intel is sourcing third party NAND from someone other than Micron. Bringing on SK Hynix as a new supplier will not change Intel's commitment to IMFT nor will it affect Intel's supply agreement with Micron -- it is simply an effort to guarantee sufficient NAND supply in the future. Intel already experienced some NAND shortage over the past year, so an additional NAND source is necessary as the demand for SSDs continues to grow. 

Intel's contract with SK Hynix includes pre-packaged and pre-validated NAND, although Intel still does their own additional validation to ensure that the NAND meets the same quality standards as their own NAND. Intel also guaranteed that the SK Hynix NAND is SKU specific and they will not be using multiple NAND suppliers in one product. In other words, buyers do not have to beware that the NAND in the Pro 2500 or any other Intel SSD is going to change without a notice. Currently Intel is only using SK Hynix NAND in the Pro 2500 but there will be more products with SK Hynix NAND in the future.

Our 240GB sample has a total of sixteen NAND packages with each package having two 64Gbit (8GB) dies inside. Since the Pro 2500 is a SandForce drive, the capacity of one die is dedicated to RAISE parity to protect against page and block level failures. 

Playing With The SSD Pro Administrator Tool

The SSD Pro Administrator Tool is a simple command line utility for IT administrators that is provided with the Pro 2500. The main function of the tool is to provide IT administrators with a way to perform a PSID revert in case the encryption key is lost. The PSID is a 32-character code that is printed on back of the SSD and basically, without the PSID and the PSID revert tool, the SSD would be a brick in case the encryption key is lost. Obiously all the data in the drive will be lost but the drive itself can be repurposed. 

Unfortunately I could not get eDrive to work on my system in order to try the PSID revert because without active Opal encryption, the PSID revert command will not run at all. I really hate how difficult it is to get eDrive working because of all the requirements. With third party encryption tools, enabling Opal encryption should be as simple as flipping a switch but with eDrive that is certainly not the case (at least with a typical DIY desktop -- corporate PCs may be a different story).

Another feature in the tool is for enabling eDrive. By default, the eDrive support is not enabled (i.e. listed as 'False') but enabling it only requires a single command. The command will not actually enable the eDrive BitLocker encryption but will rather just make the drive "eDrive ready" as Intel calls it. To enable hardware accelerated BitLocker encryption, you will have to do the same steps as with any other eDrive capable drive. Intel told me that the reason behind eDrive support being disabled by default is that during the Windows install process, BitLocker encryption will automatically be enabled if the drive and the rest of the platform support eDrive (like many corporate laptops do). As many businesses use third party encryption software, having BitLocker encryption on by default would just slow down the initial install process, so Intel decided to disable eDrive and have an option to enable it if needed.

Test System

CPU Intel Core i5-2500K running at 3.3GHz (Turbo and EIST enabled)
Motherboard AsRock Z68 Pro3
Chipset Intel Z68
Chipset Drivers Intel 9.1.1.1015 + Intel RST 10.2
Memory G.Skill RipjawsX DDR3-1600 4 x 8GB (9-9-9-24)
Video Card Palit GeForce GTX 770 JetStream 2GB GDDR5 (1150MHz core clock; 3505MHz GDDR5 effective)
Video Drivers NVIDIA GeForce 332.21 WHQL
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1080
OS Windows 7 x64

Thanks to G.Skill for the RipjawsX 32GB DDR3 DRAM kit

Performance Consistency & TRIM Validation
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  • npz - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    For the TRIM issue, do you mean that the performance still remains cut in half after TRIM if you fill the drive with incompressible data?

    I can think other situations outside of software encryption where it would be the case, such as using the drive as a cache for some filesystems (ZFS, linux lvm). The drive can be filled with various and mostly random binary data. Or some applications like databases support dedicated cache devices (and the app or db could itself already use compression).
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    That is correct. Even with TRIM, the performance does not fully recover. Reply
  • hojnikb - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    Is there an indepth explaination on why does sandforce lose write performance over time ?

    Is it because they are using compression or is TRIM simply poorly implemented ?
    Reply
  • hahmed330 - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    This SSD doesn't deserve the prefix pro... Reply
  • JellyRoll - Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - link

    "the Pro 2500 is another example of Intel's lack of interest and innovation in the client space."
    That is an interesting comment, based upon that fact that this drive isn't intended to address that space, period. I think there might be a bit of a lack of understanding between the two markets.
    The business-class SSD market is growing very fast right now, and Intel is wise to address it. Who wouldn't? Haven't you noticed every other SSD player is entering this very same space? Perhaps there is a reason for that. Businesses are looking for different metrics than an obviously consumer-slanted writer understands. Reliability above performance, extended and proven track record (SF) makes it much easier to get through qual cycles. There are so many aspects of this market that the Pro addresses, but were ignored.
    ...and there's more, "The problem is that TCG Opal 2.0 and eDrive will never become consumer friendly features if manufacturers do not include them in their client drives, which is what happens if there is a separate business lineup."
    Again, the focus on consumer market, where no other SSD manufacturer is developing these for the consumer market for a reason. These features often add export restrictions, which are totally unneeded for the consumer segment, where maybe 1% will utilize those features, even with broad acceptance.
    Reply
  • stickmansam - Thursday, July 31, 2014 - link

    Just saying but Samsung has those features, Crucial, Adata, Corsair and maybe PNY and Transcend, maybe OCZ? Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, July 31, 2014 - link

    "Haven't you noticed every other SSD player is entering this very same space?"

    Not everyone is. Out of the big players, only SanDisk's and Intel's strategy is to separate the client and business SSDs. Samsung and Crucial are going with an all-in-one approach by implementing the security features to their client SSDs.

    Reliability is always a moot point because there is no sufficient data to back it up. Sure Intel has always been reliable but the days of Intel being the only reliable OEM are far behind. Crucial, Samsung and SanDisk can certainly match Intel in terms of reliability.

    It's true that I'm not an IT admin but the points Intel are using to sell the drive (security features and reliability) aren't unique.
    Reply
  • Michael REMY - Thursday, July 31, 2014 - link

    I have to say I have never been a fan of business SSDs. They tend to be just consumer SSDs with a couple of software features to justify the higher price tag and this is the case with the Pro 2500.


    you forget to think as a IT/pro manager : what it matters the more is the price in time. And this "pro" version have a longer warranty than usual public version. In firms, Money always counts more than performances, specially on long time term.
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, July 31, 2014 - link

    The SSD 530 carries the same 5-year warranty and if warranty really counts, then the 850 Pro is the king with its 10-year warranty (Extreme Pro has 10 years too but no security features). Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Thursday, July 31, 2014 - link

    go to Zolt's site, http://www.storagesearch.com/ and take a look at who's really making real Enterprise SSD. If you recognize even 1% of the names, I'll eat my hat. It's a pork pie, so I suppose it'll taste good, if need be. Reply

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