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The SSD DC S3500 Review: Intel's 6 Gb/s Controller And 20 nm NAND

The SSD DC S3500 Review: Intel's 6 Gb/s Controller And 20 nm NAND
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As enterprise SSDs become more specialized and application-focused, Intel is hoping its SSD DC S3500 will strike a chord with customers looking for excellent read performance on a budget. We compare this drive to other notable contenders in its class.

As enterprise SSDs become more specialized and application-focused, Intel is hoping its SSD DC S3500 will strike a chord with customers looking for excellent read performance on a budget. We compare this drive to other notable contenders in its class.

This may come as a surprise to enthusiasts focused on cutting-edge consumer drives, but the 3 Gb/ss Intel SSD 320 family is still incredibly popular in the enterprise. Even though it's only two years old, though, the architecture's performance has not aged gracefully. A quick rundown of its four-corner specifications tells a sad story:

  • Sequential Reads: 270 MB/s
  • Sequential Writes: 200 MB/s
  • Random Reads (100% Span): 39,500 IOPS
  • Random Writes (100% Span): 400 IOPS

Wait, what? Yeah, you read that correctly. Four hundred IOPS for 4 KB random writes across all LBAs at a queue depth of 32. So why in the world are IT professionals not only buying these drives still, but buying them in the thousands of units? The answer isn't as straightforward. Even though the 320's performance isn't particularly impressive, the series covers the rest of its bases fairly well. Once Intel worked out its firmware issues, the SSD 320s became solid and reliable workhorses, and we've heard many anecdotal stories from large corporations about their reliability.

The SSD 320s clearly suffered an unfortunate identity disorder, too. Was it an enterprise drive or something intended for consumers? It had power loss protection and full-disk encryption, so it must be business-class hardware, right? At the same time, it replaced the X25-M, so surely it was intended for enthusiasts. In reality, it was a bit of both. You just had to do some reading in order to figure that out.

Intel spent the last two years trying to sort out its product channels. It's telling a clearer story now than even a year ago. And now enterprise customers are getting a true replacement for the SSD 320s in its SSD DC S3500. There is no confusing the issue on this one; it's business-oriented through and through. The DC stands for data center, so it sort of has to be.

The SSD DC S3500 is targeted mainly at read-intensive and mixed-workload applications. Anything more write-heavy is kicked up to the SSD DC S3700 (Intel SSD DC S3700 Review: Benchmarking Consistency). A few short months ago, when a big business wanted storage for the sort of role the S3500 is designed to fill, they were limited to consumer drives. However, since the start of the year, we've seen Seagate launch the 600 Pro (Seagate 600 Pro-Series 200 GB SSD Review: For The Enterprise) and Samsung introduce its 843. Along with the SSD DC S3500, we see those drives nosing out the desktop-oriented SSDs from enterprise rotation. 

Intel's latest entry comes with all of the bells and whistles expected from a pricier enterprise drive. You get end-to-end data protection, power loss protection, 256-bit AES encryption, ECC memory, a 2 million hour MTBF, and a five-year warranty. It's good to see Intel integrate all of that reliability-boosting technology, considering this is still an entry-level offering wish pricing not much higher than the desktop-class stuff we typically review.

Most SSD manufacturers give you a handful of options when it comes to configuring solid-state storage. With Intel, that's an understatement. In the 7 mm, 2.5" form factor, you can pick between 80, 120, 160, 240, 300, 480, 600, and 800 GB capacities. In the 5 mm, 1.8" form factor, there are 80, 240, 400, and 800 GB models. This wide range of choices lets Intel target applications ranging from industrial embedded to data centers to blade servers.

Unlike many enterprise SSD manufacturers, Intel always discloses pricing information up-front. While we don't have MSRPs for every capacity point, we do know that the 480 GB model we're reviewing should run around $579. At ~$1.20/GB, Intel is quite competitive next to the other read-focused enterprise SSDs. When you take into account the warranty and reliability-focused features, you might even be tempted to snag one for your next desktop build. Before we go down that path, though, let's look at the specs.

Intel SSD DC S3500 Line-Up
User Capacity (GB)
80
120
160
240
300
480
600
800
Interface2.5"  6 Gb/s SATA
Sequential Read (MB/s)
340
445
475
500
500
500500
500
Sequential Write (MB/s)
100
135
175
260
315
380
410
450
4K Random Read (IOPS)
70,000
75,000
4K Random Write (IOPS)
7000
4600
7500
9000
11,000
11,500
Power Consumption (Active)1.8 W
2.0 W
2.3 W
2.9 W
3.5 W
4.3 W
4.5 W
5 W
Power Consumption (Idle)0.6 W
Write Endurance (TBW)
45
70
100
140
170
275
330
450
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  • 2 Hide
    Mastle , June 11, 2013 8:29 AM
    Hi, Think there's an error on page 1, $579 for 80GB drive......Surely won't be getting it at that price for my home build!
  • -1 Hide
    drewriley , June 11, 2013 8:52 AM
    -Mastle - You are correct, that should read $579 for the 480GB version.
  • 0 Hide
    busuan , June 11, 2013 10:41 AM
    Found myself suddenly losing interests in SATA SSDs after seeing the specs of PCIe SSD in the latest MBA refresh.
  • 2 Hide
    PapaCrazy , June 11, 2013 1:05 PM
    An Intel 320 series SSD I put in my dad's computer just encountered the 8mb bug even though the firmware was updated with the "fixed" version. He uses the computer for business and I got him an Intel SSD thinking it'd be reliable. I think I'm gonna try Samsung next time around.
  • 1 Hide
    Evolution2001 , June 11, 2013 1:09 PM
    Nitpicking here... but the article text is still wrong...or the math is. :p 
    ''...we do know that the 800 GB model we're reviewing should run around $579. At ~$1.20/GB, ...''

    800GB @ $1.20 = $960.
  • -1 Hide
    drewriley , June 11, 2013 2:00 PM
    Quote:
    Nitpicking here... but the article text is still wrong...or the math is. :p 
    ''...we do know that the 800 GB model we're reviewing should run around $579. At ~$1.20/GB, ...''

    800GB @ $1.20 = $960.


    Thanks, just can't seem to get the right combination of 4, 8 and 0. The 480GB version is $579
  • 3 Hide
    drewriley , June 11, 2013 2:06 PM
    Quote:
    An Intel 320 series SSD I put in my dad's computer just encountered the 8mb bug even though the firmware was updated with the "fixed" version. He uses the computer for business and I got him an Intel SSD thinking it'd be reliable. I think I'm gonna try Samsung next time around.


    With the BAD_CTX_13X (8MB) failure, the fixed firmware fixed 'most' of them. The failure rates are quite low, especially after the FW 'fix', but if that one failure happens on the only drive you bought, it can really suck. As a consumer, I could care less if a million other people got a good SSD, if mine fails, I am upset. As an enterprise buyer, if one fails out a million, my company is throwing a party!


  • 0 Hide
    flong777 , June 12, 2013 1:41 AM
    Why does Intel continue to release mediocre SSDs? Granted this performs middle of the pack but I just don't understand why a company with Intel's resources doesn't put out a top performer like the 840 Pro.
  • 0 Hide
    leonfeldman89 , June 12, 2013 9:31 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    An Intel 320 series SSD I put in my dad's computer just encountered the 8mb bug even though the firmware was updated with the "fixed" version. He uses the computer for business and I got him an Intel SSD thinking it'd be reliable. I think I'm gonna try Samsung next time around.


    With the BAD_CTX_13X (8MB) failure, the fixed firmware fixed 'most' of them. The failure rates are quite low, especially after the FW 'fix', but if that one failure happens on the only drive you bought, it can really suck. As a consumer, I could care less if a million other people got a good SSD, if mine fails, I am upset. As an enterprise buyer, if one fails out a million, my company is throwing a party!




    I'm sorry Drew, but that's flat out wrong.
    BAD_CTX_00000013X is lierally just a single error code that is related to the 8MB bricking issues of the 320.
    Intel didn't fix "most" of anything. There are many other instances of the BAD_CTX and NO_CONTEXT errors.
    Intel literally fixed only the most common version of the BAD_CTX bug and did NOTHING about the underlying issue plagueing the 320.

    Frankly, there's not much more they could have done than because the 320 was a bad design based on porting the X-25 controller and slapping on 32nm memory that it wasn't robust enough to handle.

    It looks like Intel has done the same thing here by slapping 20nm NAND onto the 3700 and renaming it.

    Maybe they think adding "Data Center" to it's name will somehow cause it to brick less?

    Anyway, continuing to endorse the 320 as a reliable drive is just bad journalism. It's certainly not the worst out there, but the 320 is still significantly over-represented in failure rates vs micron/crucial and samsung.
  • 0 Hide
    Grizely1 , June 12, 2013 3:35 PM
    Quote:
    Why does Intel continue to release mediocre SSDs? Granted this performs middle of the pack but I just don't understand why a company with Intel's resources doesn't put out a top performer like the 840 Pro.


    Go back and read the article.

    Or, learn the difference between consumer vs commercial. It's a DT (Data Center).
  • 0 Hide
    flong777 , June 16, 2013 4:06 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Why does Intel continue to release mediocre SSDs? Granted this performs middle of the pack but I just don't understand why a company with Intel's resources doesn't put out a top performer like the 840 Pro.


    Go back and read the article.

    Or, learn the difference between consumer vs commercial. It's a DT (Data Center).


    Fair enough, I guess I should have been more clear. I don't understand why Intel is involved with so many mediocre SSDs - whether enterprise or consumer.
    While I am not an enterprise user, I think I understand the basics. Enterprise SSDs are geared to handle heavy cues and write loads.

    You have a point that it is not fair to compare enterprise with consumer - they are two different animals.
  • 0 Hide
    DaveSuth , October 28, 2013 11:49 AM
    How does the Seagate Pro 600 compare to the Intel DC 3700?
  • 0 Hide
    echolane , November 29, 2013 4:41 PM
    This review pretty much condemns Intel's S3500 drive for write intensive environments. Windows 7 is considered a write-intensive OS. Does that mean the Intel SSD S3500 would be an unsuitable choice for a boot drive?

    It would be really helpful to have a review focused on answering the question of which SSD is most suitable for a Windows 7 boot drive.