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Is Intel's SSD 910 Right For Your Enterprise Application?

Intel SSD 910 Review: PCI Express-Based Enterprise Storage
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Determining the right SSD for your enterprise application is a daunting task. The variables that must be taken into account are too numerous to list, and many of them are at odds with the others. When you add in the fact that enterprise-oriented drives are purchased in much higher quantities over longer life-cycles, picking the right one becomes a very critical decision.

Intel's SSD 910 is like the Swiss Army knife of PCIe-based SSDs. It isn’t class-leading in any one test or specification, but it consistently performs well in every metric we use for evaluating high-end storage products. It strikes a great balance between performance, endurance, physical dimensions, and cost. 

We were particularly surprised during the write endurance testing. After spending some time with Intel's SSD 710, we thought we knew what to expect from HET MLC flash. But we were wrong. Intel's SSD 910 nearly doubles the SSD 710's observed P/E cycles. Admittedly, write endurance testing isn’t an exact science. Taking 1% of off one drive isn’t exactly statistically significant. But it gives us a general indication of how the drive performs. And it's reliable enough to tell that SLC-based SSDs are still king when it comes to write endurance, so long as you're willing to pay a much higher price.

Beyond reliability, the SSD 910 performs well, too. In our testing, the 800 GB version posted 225 000 read IOPS, which is well above its 180 000 rating. The 400 GB version did well too, pushing past 110 000 IOPS when it's only specified for 90 000. Write performance was almost as good, and each configuration easily achieved its specifications. Sequential read and write performance lived up to our expectations, too. 

We also found that unless you are performing large-transfer sequential writes, there really isn’t much reason to use Maximum Performance mode. If you are, though, you get huge sequential write performance improvements at the expense of a slightly hotter-running card.

Admittedly, we were initially concerned about power consumption and heat dissipation, which normally go hand-in-hand. Our testing shows that, while you need to be aware your server's power delivery and cooling, that's no more true here than with any other device. In fact, any add-in card that draws 25 W and is passively cooled can be expected to behave in much the same way. Intel is just very up-front with its data.

Summing It All Up

After spending a few weeks with the SSD 910 (in addition to older enterprise-oriented drives from Intel), we have two critical takeaways. First, the company almost always specifies its enterprise-class hardware for worst-case situations, which we appreciate. Second, the drives always meet or exceed their specifications. And, really, isn’t that the highest compliment that you can give an enterprise device?

With that said, there isn’t much use in crowning any one SSD the best. The key is whether a given device is right for your specific application. Based on its specifications, we weren’t sure how well the SSD 910 would hold up against other PCIe-based SSDs. Over the course of our testing, though, it became clear that Intel's rookie PCIe-based effort is much more than the sum of its parts.

If you need massive IOPS at any cost, this isn’t the right drive for you. If you need write endurance at any cost, this isn’t the right drive for you.  But, if you have a defined workload where you need good write endurance at a good price point, this could be a very attractive solution, indeed.

Does Intel catch up to other vendors selling PCIe-based SSDs with its SSD 910? Decidedly, yes. Our only concern is one of timing. Might other manufacturers be preparing to leapfrog Intel in the next few months? OCZ and Micron already announced PCIe-based SSDs with direct PCIe-to-NAND connectivity (no SATA/SAS controller needed), random I/O performance close to 1 000 000 IOPS, and throughput exceeding 3 GB/s. We'll have to wait and see if that means Intel will be playing catch-up.

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  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , July 3, 2012 5:36 AM
    that is one fast Sequential read speed. It to bad that they will be $1000+ market and out of reach of all but the server/ workstation crowd
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , July 3, 2012 5:43 AM
    The OCZ is tested with compressible data? talk about best case scenario. what were the incompressible results like?
  • 3 Hide
    s3anister , July 3, 2012 6:30 AM
    PCI-E Solid State Storage is great but I can't help but wonder; where is the Memristor? The true performance gains to be had are with massive RAM-disks that aren't volatile.
  • 4 Hide
    apache_lives , July 3, 2012 9:41 AM
    The most important and un-comparable factor here is 5 years later those Intel SSD's will still be functional, any other brand im surprised they last 5 months in normal machines with the failure rates i have seen first hand - OCZ, GSkill etc there all horrible i bought an Intel SSD for this reason - THEY WORK.

    Review sites never cover real world use - that is to live with it day in day out (reliability), its not all about raw speed and performance.
  • 1 Hide
    ZakTheEvil , July 3, 2012 11:03 AM
    Yeah, consumer SSD reliability is a bit of disappointment. At best they seem to be as reliable as hard drives.
  • 6 Hide
    georgeisdead , July 3, 2012 11:58 AM
    This is a note to address several articles I have come across lately that state intel's reputation for quality and reliability in the SSD market as if it is a given. These comments are from my personal experience with intel's drives. I have owned 3 intel solid state drives, one X25-M G1, and two X25-M G2's. The X25-M G1 failed after 2 years while one of the G2 drives failed after 2.5 years. Now, I am not an expert on MTBF and reliability, but in my opinion this is a pretty poor track record. It is entirely possible that this is a coinicidence, however both drives failed in the same manner, from the same problem (determined by a third party data recovery specialist): Bad NAND flash.

    As best I understand it as it was descibed by the company that analyzed these failed drives, a block of NAND flash either went bad or became inaccessible by the controller rendering the drives useless and unable to be accessed by normal means of hooking it up to a SATA or USB port. Two drives, different NAND (50 nm for the G1 and 34 nm for the G2), same failure mode.

    Once again, this is not definitive, just my observations but to me, I think review sites need to be a little more cautious about how they qualify intel's reputation for quality and reliability because from my perspective, intel has neither and I have since began using crucial SSD's. Hopefully, I will see much longer life from these new drives.
  • 0 Hide
    jdamon113 , July 3, 2012 12:13 PM
    I would like to see something like this stacked in our EMC, Could this drive with a rack of othere just like it, run 24/7 for 3 + years, Sure we replace a drive here and there in our EMC, but the unit as a whole has never went down in its 5 year life.
    Intel, you should test these drive in that real world application. EMC, VM-ware and several data bases carve out some LUN's and Push the envelope. In this situation, should the device prove worthy, the 4000 price tag will come down very fast, and the data center will put it trust in product, So for those reading this for your personal home workstation and gaming ridge, you need not apply in this arena.
    Intel is just about 18-months 2 years of owning the data center, Even EMC is powered by intel.
  • 0 Hide
    jaquith , July 3, 2012 2:39 PM
    Enterprise e.g. SQL you need SLC otherwise you'd be making a career replacing drives. The cost is down time and replacement. I can write more 'stuff' but it's that simple. For our IDX and similar read data it about reliability and capacity.
  • 3 Hide
    willard , July 3, 2012 2:42 PM
    razor7104that is one fast Sequential read speed. It to bad that they will be $1000+ market and out of reach of all but the server/ workstation crowd

    That's because this was not designed for consumers. It's not like they're marking the price up 1000% for shits and giggles. Enterprise hardware costs more to make because it must be much faster and much more reliable.

    This drive, and every other piece of enterprise hardware out there, was never meant to be used by consumers.
  • 3 Hide
    drewriley , July 3, 2012 3:39 PM
    jimbob rubaeThe OCZ is tested with compressible data? talk about best case scenario. what were the incompressible results like?


    Check out the Sequential Performance page, lists both compressible and incompressible. For all the other tests, random (incompressible) data was used.
  • 2 Hide
    drewriley , July 3, 2012 3:45 PM
    georgeisdeadThis is a note to address several articles I have come across lately that state intel's reputation for quality and reliability in the SSD market as if it is a given. These comments are from my personal experience with intel's drives. I have owned 3 intel solid state drives, one X25-M G1, and two X25-M G2's. The X25-M G1 failed after 2 years while one of the G2 drives failed after 2.5 years. Now, I am not an expert on MTBF and reliability, but in my opinion this is a pretty poor track record. It is entirely possible that this is a coinicidence, however both drives failed in the same manner, from the same problem (determined by a third party data recovery specialist): Bad NAND flash.As best I understand it as it was descibed by the company that analyzed these failed drives, a block of NAND flash either went bad or became inaccessible by the controller rendering the drives useless and unable to be accessed by normal means of hooking it up to a SATA or USB port. Two drives, different NAND (50 nm for the G1 and 34 nm for the G2), same failure mode.Once again, this is not definitive, just my observations but to me, I think review sites need to be a little more cautious about how they qualify intel's reputation for quality and reliability because from my perspective, intel has neither and I have since began using crucial SSD's. Hopefully, I will see much longer life from these new drives.


    I agree that we shouldn't use blanket statements, especially on quality, without going through the proper process. Intel has had many issues with their consumer lines, X25-M, 320, etc. I have personally worked with large distributions of their enterprise drives and they are rock solid. Other studies, including articles on this site, have shown the same in real-world scenarios.
  • 1 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , July 3, 2012 3:52 PM
    so how does intel assure such longetivity of these drives over the consumer drives ?

    Best of the best NAND ? firmware? overprovisioning ?
  • 2 Hide
    shin0bi272 , July 3, 2012 5:12 PM
    Quote:
    For comparison purposes, we're putting Intel's SSD 910 up against OCZ's Z-Drive R4 RM88 1.6 TB. Is this a fair fight? No, it isn’t.


    I have to admit I lol'ed at this
  • 2 Hide
    sunsmasher , July 3, 2012 7:11 PM
    Quote:
    This is a note to address several articles I have come across lately that state intel's reputation for quality and reliability in the SSD market as if it is a given. These comments are from my personal experience with intel's drives. I have owned 3 intel solid state drives, one X25-M G1, and two X25-M G2's. The X25-M G1 failed after 2 years while one of the G2 drives failed after 2.5 years. Now, I am not an expert on MTBF and reliability, but in my opinion this is a pretty poor track record. It is entirely possible that this is a coinicidence, however both drives failed in the same manner, from the same problem (determined by a third party data recovery specialist): Bad NAND flash.

    As best I understand it as it was descibed by the company that analyzed these failed drives, a block of NAND flash either went bad or became inaccessible by the controller rendering the drives useless and unable to be accessed by normal means of hooking it up to a SATA or USB port. Two drives, different NAND (50 nm for the G1 and 34 nm for the G2), same failure mode.

    Once again, this is not definitive, just my observations but to me, I think review sites need to be a little more cautious about how they qualify intel's reputation for quality and reliability because from my perspective, intel has neither and I have since began using crucial SSD's. Hopefully, I will see much longer life from these new drives.

    So in other words, you are saying that because of your experience with TWO drives, that reviewers "need to be a little more cautious about how they qualify intel's reputation for quality and reliability", in spite of the fact that Intel drives are universally acknowledged to be the most reliable in the industry.
    Obviously, you got a bad break on the drives you purchased, but things like that can happen, and if you want to change drives, try Samsung, because they also are establishing a reputation for above average reliability.
  • 1 Hide
    CaedenV , July 3, 2012 7:16 PM
    apache_livesThe most important and un-comparable factor here is 5 years later those Intel SSD's will still be functional, any other brand im surprised they last 5 months in normal machines with the failure rates i have seen first hand - OCZ, GSkill etc there all horrible i bought an Intel SSD for this reason - THEY WORK.Review sites never cover real world use - that is to live with it day in day out (reliability), its not all about raw speed and performance.

    True, Intel is the reliable choice, but for consumer systems this is not necessarily the 'right' choice. My wife's system drive died last year (mid Aug), and I replaced it with a 60GB OCZ Solid3 which ran $80 on sale at the time ($100 retail). Today I can get a newer, faster, more reliable 60GB SSD for ~$50, which is ~1/2 of the cost per performance on the same size drive. Next year the 60GB drives will not halve again, but we are going to see something more like what we see with traditional drives where there is a base floor of, say, $40 for a 60GB drive, and then $50-60 for 120GB, and $75-100 for 240GB. In fact we are already beginning to see this sandwiching of prices. But because SSDs are simpler to make than HDDs (no motor, no actuator, etc.) the floor may actually be lower than what HDDs hit.

    But my point is that for the same cost of your single drive I can re-purchase ~2-3x over the same period and still have saved money over the same time period, and get a massive upgrade in performance and/or size with each upgrade. And because everything lives as an image, it is just a matter of a few hours of down time to hike up to Microcenter and deploy the new drive.

    Buying for stability makes sense in a mission critical environment, or in a slow moving or mature technology. But in a market that is moving so quickly, it really makes more sense to buy cheap and plan on replacing it in a year or two. Otherwise it is more like being attached to a boat anchor where your initial investment ties you to antiquated technology.

    BTW, 1 year out and the Solid 3 still runs great.
  • 0 Hide
    eriko , July 4, 2012 8:48 AM
    Since we are commenting on reliability here.... Here are my observations;

    Early MLC OCZ drives (Core?) 2 x 128GB & 1 x the smaller one (forget capacity) = all returned. Refund not given, so when RMA replaced, straight to Flea-bay, un-opened, I pity the buyers.

    Intel 1 x X25M MLC 160GB, arrived DOA. Replacement sent quickly: 3 yrs later, not a hiccup. Running as an OS drive with databases in the background too. Installs were not as fast as hoped for, due to lower write performance, but no real complaints, and 160GB was a nice size.

    Intel 1 x X25E SLC 64GB, really what you would hope for in terms of performance: Absolutely no problems to date. Same usage as X25M. Installs are lightening quick. Nothing to fault except capacity.

    Kingston: 2 x MLC SSD Now V+ (100GB ?) Both failed within 6 months. Yet to return second one. Usage: CrapBook, email, general usage.

    Patriot: 1x MLC Wildfire 240GB, waited until BSOD issue resolved before purchase, updated FW right from the start, fault-less to date. Usage: same as Intel drives above. Under SATA-2 I reckon the X25E is faster though. No space problems.

    Hope that helps someone...
  • 0 Hide
    blazorthon , July 4, 2012 5:26 PM
    If both power consumption and performance are so important without sacrificing reliability, then why isn't there a PCIe Samsung 830 based drive? They use almost zero power (they probably have more than an order of magnitude more performance and capacity per watt than any other SSD) and have supreme reliability while being one of the fastest drives overall, so I'd expect them to be a prime candidate for this. Make a PCIe drive with four 830's integrated and it could use a mere fraction of the 910's power while probably being quite a bit faster for reads and maybe not superior for writes, but hey, it would definitely win in pretty much every other way. Sure, it wouldn't compare to OCZ's monster 12TB and 16TB PCIe drives, but it could compete exceptionally well in the same market as the 910 and the cheaper Revo drives.
  • 0 Hide
    memadmax , July 4, 2012 8:53 PM
    Have patience.
    The technology needs to mature still.
    Hard drives were the same way... (MFM/RLL: notorious for bad sectors out of nowhere,snail performance. IDE: getting better, bad sector problems starting to go away. SATA: Bad sectors are caused by YOU now =P Interface now outpaces theoretical maximum physical speed limit.)

    In a couple of years, you all will be only complaining about the size of the chips and wish that they were the size of your thumbdrives.... =P
  • 1 Hide
    LORD_ORION , July 5, 2012 12:51 AM
    Look at the warranty they offer... there is economics behind this.

    No manufacturer will offer a 5 year warranty if less then 99% of the drives will meet this criteria... it is expensive to RMA product that expire during the warranty period.
  • 0 Hide
    sudeshc , July 5, 2012 11:01 AM
    but why are they so expensive.....
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