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

Micron P400m: Is High-Endurance MLC Here To Stay?

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 Capacity100 GB200 GB400 GB
Interface2.5"  6 Gb/s SATA
Sequential Read380 MB/s
Sequential Write200 MB/s310 MB/s
4K Random Read52,000 IOPS54,000 IOPS60,000 IOPS
4K Random Write21,000 IOPS26,000 IOPS
Power Consumption(Active)4 W5 W
Power Consumption (Idle)0.75 W
Write Endurance1.75 PB3.50 PB7 PB
EncryptionNone

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.