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Intel SSD 311 (Larson Creek): Z68-Optimized

The Intel Z68 Express Review: A Real Enthusiast Chipset
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As part of Intel's Z68 launch, the company is introducing its SSD 311, which is supposed to offer an inexpensive way to buy into SSD caching.

Most cheap SSDs not only subject you to low capacity, but sparsely-populated NAND channels also result in disappointingly-low write performance, too. Take Intel's 40 GB SSD 320, for example. It boasts reasonable 200 MB/s read speeds, but sustained sequential writes top out at a meager 45 MB/s. The SSD 311 overcomes this problem by using higher-performance 34 nm SLC NAND. Of course, single-level cell flash is more expensive than the MLC elements that compose the SSD 320. So, the utilization of SLC requires a trade-off in capacity at a given price point.

SSDPricePrice Per Gigabyte
Intel SSD 320 40 GB
$94.99$2.37
Intel SSD 311 20 GB
$100$5.00


That little table above tells the story. Twenty gigs of SLC is going to cost you $100, the same as 40 GB of MLC NAND. But you're going to get way better performance.

Don't expect multiple capacities of the SSD 311. Intel only wants to hit one segment: the budget SSD that can barely take a 64-bit Windows installation, but is perfect for caching. It's not the cheapest drive out there, but it’s the most affordable SLC-based drive we've ever seen from Intel. Granted, $5/GB is outrageously high compared to the MLC drives you'd use in a boot volume. Intel is counting on the fact that you want better write performance that what a small MLC drive delivers, rather than more capacity.

When it comes to caching, both are important, but remember that in write-through mode, Smart Response Technology is writing to the hard disk and SSD simultaneously. If your inexpensive SSD is slower than your hard drive, performance can actually be lower on the cached combination versus a hard drive operating on its own. The SSD 311 helps ensure that a pokey MLC drive doesn't end up penalizing performance.

SSDNANDSequential ReadSequential WriteRandom ReadRandom WritePrice
Intel SSD 320 40 GBMLC200 MB/s45 MB/s30 000 IOPS3700 IOPS$94.99
Intel SSD 310 80 GBMLC200 MB/s70 MB/s35 000 IOPS6600 IOPS$99.99
Intel X25-E 32 GBSLC250 MB/s170 MB/s35 000 IOPS3300 IOPS$375
Intel SSD 311 20 GBSLC200 MB/s105 MB/s37 000 IOPS3300 IOPS$100


The SSD 311 uses Intel’s PC29AS21BA0 NAND controller, the same one seen on its SSD 310 drives. As we know, though, the controller is only one factor in SSD performance. Firmware and NAND are the other two important variables.

Though, Intel doesn’t break down its specifications, the SSD 311 features five NAND flash ICs, suggesting a more conservative five-channel architecture rated for up to 200 MB/s reads and up to 105 MB/s writes. Intel also claims 4K read IOPS of 37 000 and 4K write IOPs as high as 3300, which is slightly better than the random read and write performance of its 80 GB SSD 310. Performance-wise, it’s better to think of the 311 as an SLC-based version of the 310 instead of a cut down version of Intel's older enterprise-class X25-E.

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