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Micron P400m SSD Review: High Endurance MLC Is Here To Stay

Micron P400m SSD Review: High Endurance MLC Is Here To Stay
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Endurance. Reliability. Data protection. They're all important factors when it comes time to evaluate high-end storage technology. Micron's P400m, the company's latest enterprise-class SSD, is positioned to not only address those needs, but exceed them.

Look back to 2010, just a few short years ago. If you wanted a storage solution that was responsive, reliable, and robust, you probably turned to SLC NAND-based SSDs. They were inordinately expensive, but spending more was justified based on their performance and reliability.

But MLC NAND, which you typically find in desktop-oriented drives, has its own advantages, too. It's cheap, in part thanks to incredibly high production volumes, and it can already be found mated to cutting-edge controller designs. In fact, in 2009, according to Forward Insights, MLC accounted for 90% of the total solid-state capacity shipped. Of course, the trade-off is that MLC must endure high latencies, and can only offer endurance a fraction of what you get from SLC NAND. Even with lots of redundancy and low cost, MLC-based SSDs were just too unreliable for the workloads typical of an enterprise environment.

The industry was at a crossroads. With cloud computing on the rise and a trend toward big data, there quickly came a need for products that combined the benefits of SLC and MLC technologies, while minimizing their drawbacks. Would manufacturers try pulling down the production costs of SLC, or could they somehow make MLC memory behave more like single-level cell NAND?

As implausible as it might seem, the last few months seem to suggest that most companies involved in the enterprise space are choosing the latter path. With drives like Micron's new P400m and Intel's SSD DC S3700 (which we looked at in Intel SSD DC S3700 Review: Benchmarking Consistency), MLC-based offerings are showing up in spaces typically dominated by SLC.

But just as we've seen in the client space, no two enterprise customers are the same. There will always be a place for SLC NAND-based SSDs. Companies like Micron and Intel are instead betting that their affordable MLC-equipped drives can satisfy a majority of situations where pricier SLC-laden drives are currently used out of necessity.

The P400m is the latest addition to Micron's enterprise storage family. It replaces the RealSSD P300, an SLC-based workhorse, finding itself above the low-cost RealSSD P400e, but below the PCI Express-based RealSSD P320h, in Micron's stack.

At launch, the P400m will be available in three capacities: 100, 200, and 400 GB. Expect to pay about $3/GB for the 100 and 200 GB versions, while Micron says the 400 GB version should sell for around $900. These prices are for volume orders, but may change based on demand. The company also plans to sell its P400m family through its distribution channel.

Micron P400m
User Capacity
100 GB200 GB
400 GB
Interface
2.5"  6 Gb/s SATA
Sequential Read
380 MB/s
Sequential Write
200 MB/s310 MB/s
4K Random Read
52,000 IOPS54,000 IOPS
60,000 IOPS
4K Random Write
21,000 IOPS26,000 IOPS
Power Consumption(Active)4 W
5 W
Power Consumption (Idle)
0.75 W
Write Endurance
1.75 PB3.50 PB
7 PB
Encryption
None


When we first saw the P400m's spec sheet, we were immediately reminded of Intel's SSD DC S3700. They both address a similar customer, include high-endurance MLC memory, ship in similar capacities, and bear comparable pricing. Dig deeper, though, and you'll see that they're actually quite different. Because both products strive to satisfy similar segments, they should really go up against each other.

In that context, the P400m does come out of the gate looking a little underwhelming. Intel's SSD DC S3700, which posts sequential and random reads results of 500 MB/s and 75,000 IOPS across all capacities, respectively, should be able to outperform these numbers. As far as write performance goes, the S3700 takes a commanding lead at 200 GB and higher; the P400m looks like it might lead at the 100 GB capacity point.

Great drives aren't determined by their specifications, though. Lets take a closer look at what makes the P400m tick.

Display 16 Comments.
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  • 6 Hide
    Nintendo Maniac 64 , February 13, 2013 4:02 AM
    に?

    Seriously though, I wonder why Tom's doesn't run one of their basic "real-world" tests used on consumer SSDs (such as Tom's 7zip test) on one of these professional SSDs just so that we can get an idea how they compare to the consumer-level stuff.

    In particular, Tom's always says that comparing one SSD to another is nearly moot point when you consider the magnitude of improvement an SSD has over a traditional HDD; it would be nice to know if these pro-level SSDs are of a similar magnitude of improvement over consumer SSDs or whether the difference is actually less.
  • -1 Hide
    blazorthon , February 13, 2013 5:41 AM
    Nintendo Maniac 64に?Seriously though, I wonder why Tom's doesn't run one of their basic "real-world" tests used on consumer SSDs (such as Tom's 7zip test) on one of these professional SSDs just so that we can get an idea how they compare to the consumer-level stuff.In particular, Tom's always says that comparing one SSD to another is nearly moot point when you consider the magnitude of improvement an SSD has over a traditional HDD; it would be nice to know if these pro-level SSDs are of a similar magnitude of improvement over consumer SSDs or whether the difference is actually less.


    The difference is much, much less in terms of performance difference. Tom's has told us this time and time again.
  • 4 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , February 13, 2013 6:49 AM
    Nintendo Maniac 64に?Seriously though, I wonder why Tom's doesn't run one of their basic "real-world" tests used on consumer SSDs (such as Tom's 7zip test) on one of these professional SSDs just so that we can get an idea how they compare to the consumer-level stuff.In particular, Tom's always says that comparing one SSD to another is nearly moot point when you consider the magnitude of improvement an SSD has over a traditional HDD; it would be nice to know if these pro-level SSDs are of a similar magnitude of improvement over consumer SSDs or whether the difference is actually less.


    In desktop loads, very very less difference.
    In server loads, huge difference. Plus, these server SSD's wil maintain high speeds even after large amounts of data is continuously being written.
  • 2 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , February 13, 2013 6:55 AM
    theoretical question : how much life would 100% provisioning give ? So you ship a 512GB MLC drive, but the usable is only 256GB. The rest 256GB is for getting better wrtite endurance.
    How would this compare to a true SLC SSD ?
  • -1 Hide
    blazorthon , February 13, 2013 7:19 AM
    mayankleoboy1theoretical question : how much life would 100% provisioning give ? So you ship a 512GB MLC drive, but the usable is only 256GB. The rest 256GB is for getting better wrtite endurance. How would this compare to a true SLC SSD ?


    It'd probably still be inferior overall and not even be cheaper at that point. Over-provisioning is only good for mitigating MLC's disadvantages over SLC AFAIK, not replacing SLC.
  • 1 Hide
    blazorthon , February 13, 2013 7:23 AM
    mayankleoboy1In desktop loads, very very less difference.In server loads, huge difference. Plus, these server SSD's wil maintain high speeds even after large amounts of data is continuously being written.


    Even in server workloads, there are many desktop drives where the performance difference is still not great. For example, Vector is right up there at the tops of the charts with Samsung 840 Pro in performance and many cheaper alternatives are often not far behind in performance. Endurance is another matter, but that wasn't the question. If you want a seriously significant performance difference like with HDDs versus cheap consumer SSDs, you have to consider SSD RAID and/or extreme PCIe storage.

    Also, many consumer drives have no trouble keeping performance over time with lots of data written. That's also not an enterprise-only feature.
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , February 13, 2013 12:10 PM
    edit
  • 0 Hide
    drewriley , February 13, 2013 12:41 PM
    mayankleoboy1theoretical question : how much life would 100% provisioning give ? So you ship a 512GB MLC drive, but the usable is only 256GB. The rest 256GB is for getting better wrtite endurance. How would this compare to a true SLC SSD ?


    Some back of the napkin calculations - If you have a consumer 512GB MLC SSD with no over-provisioning, and the MLC was high grade consumer, you could expect 5K P/E cycles. In order to mimic the P400m, which is 35K P/E cycles, the usable space would be ~75GB. By dong that, you would be paying roughly $7/GB for usable storage(assuming you paid $512 for your consumer drive). For SLC, you are looking at 17GB of usable space and $30/GB.

    No matter how you look at it, consumer grade MLC will never get close to eMLC and SLC in terms of write endurance, unless the price goes down by orders of magnitude compared to eMLC and SLC.
  • 2 Hide
    drewriley , February 13, 2013 12:54 PM
    blazorthonEven in server workloads, there are many desktop drives where the performance difference is still not great. For example, Vector is right up there at the tops of the charts with Samsung 840 Pro in performance and many cheaper alternatives are often not far behind in performance. Endurance is another matter, but that wasn't the question. If you want a seriously significant performance difference like with HDDs versus cheap consumer SSDs, you have to consider SSD RAID and/or extreme PCIe storage.Also, many consumer drives have no trouble keeping performance over time with lots of data written. That's also not an enterprise-only feature.


    You are correct. Many drives, such as the 840 PRO, would perform great on the enterprise performance tests. There are also a lot of consumer drives that would have problems over time if they aren't allowed to TRIM every so often. We limit the scope of our testing because the main use cases for these drives are enterprise. Will some companies use them in workstations, absolutely. The same can be said for high-end RAID cards too. Nearly every consumer drive would perform very poorly when you take into account write endurance and other enterprise features.
  • 0 Hide
    themdg , February 13, 2013 3:06 PM
    This technology is moving so fast...hard to keep up. I feel like these articles could use that line from Tommy Boy and get the same point across (to me, at least).

    "These hard drives are really cool...you're not even gonna believe it..."
  • -2 Hide
    sanilmahambre , February 13, 2013 5:19 PM
    Oh boy! this awesome ssd is the best in the world.
  • 0 Hide
    dalethepcman , February 13, 2013 7:44 PM
    The funny thing about "consumer" ssd performance for enterprise is that HDD bandwidth was never a problem that faster drives could solve, seek time and iops were. The reason bandwidth was never a problem is that even using traditional spinning drives you could easily max throughput of a 16gb/s fiber channel (that's only 100 drives.)

    Although these devices seem to be targeted for enterprise use, ill be sticking with 3par for the foreseeable future.
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , February 14, 2013 5:31 PM
    Nintendo Maniac 64に?Seriously though, I wonder why Tom's doesn't run one of their basic "real-world" tests used on consumer SSDs (such as Tom's 7zip test) on one of these professional SSDs just so that we can get an idea how they compare to the consumer-level stuff.In particular, Tom's always says that comparing one SSD to another is nearly moot point when you consider the magnitude of improvement an SSD has over a traditional HDD; it would be nice to know if these pro-level SSDs are of a similar magnitude of improvement over consumer SSDs or whether the difference is actually less.


    they will get back to you on that in 5 years as this article is about durability of this drive mostly with new firm ware and higher binned modules.

    it's the difference between recreational paintball quality and tournament winter paintball grade. not about speed, just reliability in the long term. the article even states the 300MB up/down per second transfer speeds in the specs if you care to read.
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , February 14, 2013 5:39 PM
    forgot to mention, in paintballs they're all great coming right out of the factory, but with rec ball the shells aren't as thick and degrade after 3 months and tend to break in your barrel or breach both rec and winter tournament grade will develop flat spots it's just a matter of how bad and after how long. the rec is made with a thin shell and the tournament is made with thicker shell, winter grade is double shelled. to get a thicker double shell is optimal but that decreases the chances of them breaking open and in
  • 0 Hide
    mark0718 , February 18, 2013 2:44 AM
    Re mayankleoboy1 and others:
    Some consumers MLCs ship seem to run a SLC if only half of the space is allocated and
    seem to automatically switch to MLC as more space is used and not freed by TRIM.
    Thus, the consumer can buy a large drive but only partition a few MB less than the stated
    capacity and get SLC performance until/unless he needs more capacity.

    Note: while the read and write performance seems to be as good as real SLC, it isn't
    known to the public what the endurance is.

    The reason why a consumer might want to configure the way is the "enterprise" SLC stuff
    (and even some "enterprise" MLC stuff) costs 10 times as much as consumer stuff,
    so using only half available space is still only 1/5 the cost of "enterprise".

    It also isn't publically know if the endurance of the cells is the same if operated as
    SLC. (My quess is that the endurance would be higher.)
  • 0 Hide
    blazorthon , February 18, 2013 1:45 PM
    mark0718Re mayankleoboy1 and others: Some consumers MLCs ship seem to run a SLC if only half of the space is allocated andseem to automatically switch to MLC as more space is used and not freed by TRIM.Thus, the consumer can buy a large drive but only partition a few MB less than the statedcapacity and get SLC performance until/unless he needs more capacity.Note: while the read and write performance seems to be as good as real SLC, it isn'tknown to the public what the endurance is.The reason why a consumer might want to configure the way is the "enterprise" SLC stuff(and even some "enterprise" MLC stuff) costs 10 times as much as consumer stuff, so using only half available space is still only 1/5 the cost of "enterprise". It also isn't publically know if the endurance of the cells is the same if operated asSLC. (My quess is that the endurance would be higher.)


    Te consumer MLC drives, even when used in that way, are still far from equaling enterprise SLC, let alone beating it. Also, consumer SSDs that do anything like that such as Vertex 4 and Agility 4 don't adjust based on the capacity of the drives IIRC. As I recall, they constantly rewrite the data as MLC regardless of the capacity used to avoid the issue of huge speed bumps as the drives fill past certain capacity points known to some older firmware versions.