The Intel Z68 Express Review: A Real Enthusiast Chipset

Intel SSD 311 (Larson Creek): Z68-Optimized

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.

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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.

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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.

  • LuckyDucky7
    The Intel 311 might be one of the weirdest products I've seen for a while.

    It doesn't have an impact on games and apps which are too large to be cached and 60 GB drives that blow the 311 out of the water can be had for 20 bucks more.

    And as far as getting QuickSync, it's about time. Should have been done in P67 (along with USB 3.0 support and 6 x SATA III ports) is all I can say.
  • acku
    In an ideal world, that's what we should have seen, but Lucidlogix's Virtu really makes Z68 worth it.
  • hmp_goose
    What is this "QuickSync"? My people do not have this word …
  • ghnader hsmithot
    Sir and madam working at intel.You make us customers look retarded.Thank you.
  • Olle P
    mayankleoboy1is this realy the platform for enthusiasts? with almost daily news of lga2011 ... its a little bit hard to get too happy with thisYes it is!
    I am going to buy myself a Z68 mobo and a Core i5-2500K within a few weeks.

    If you buy yourself an LGA2011 based platform we can get together a month from now and compare the results!
    ... or rather not, since it will take at least half a year for the 2011 to become available.

    Let's face it. For at least a full month from now the Z68 will be the enthusiast platform.
    Then AMD's competition will arrive, and we'll see how much of an option that is.
  • acku
    hmp_gooseWhat is this "QuickSync"? My people do not have this word …,2833-4.html
  • ta152h
    A good comparison would have been striping hard disks to compare against caching with EEPROMs. You'd have more capacity, a lot more, and wouldn't have a technology that dies after a certain amount of writes, which is dubious to use for something that's being used as a cache, and written on rather consistently.

    Performance of Raid 0 would be higher than a single disk, and you'd be increasing performance without a loss in capacity (per dollar). Or, if you wanted the same capacity. you could get higher performance disks, and compare them that way.

    If I want to spend an extra $100 to make my computer faster, will it? Duh, of course. That's all this article is saying. Is it the best way to spend that $100? Well, that much isn't clear at all. It wasn't compared with much of anything else. Two high capacity disks striped, and two higher performance disks (but lower capacity) striped, versus one disk and EEPROMs. All should be the same cost. It's more useful information. You'd have three fundamental choices - huge capacity, high "Winchester" performance, and low capacity with EEPROM caching. You could do a search on the capacity trade-offs pretty easily, but the performance difference between this caching and a high performance magnetic disk in RAID 0 is much less clear. Obviously, the hard disks would win a lot of tests, and could be a better buy for a lot of people.

    It is worth looking at.
  • Olle P
    Another little detail:
    Larsen Creek was the work name for Intel's SSD.
    The final name now in use is Larson Creek, as can be easily read in the picture.
  • flong
    Hey, did I read this right, the theoretical maximum of the 2600K and 2500k chips is 5.7 ghtz???? Has anyone ever got a cpu that high? The most Ive read about is 5.0 ghtz and that was with water cooling. So does 5.7 ghtz exist?
  • My GoD!

    Intels output is capped at 1920x1200? Below my native res! I've been forced to put my buy on hold...

    What were they thinking?