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Intel SSD 910 Review: PCI Express-Based Enterprise Storage


One issue that PCIe-based SSDs face is thermal management. The SSD 910 is a very compact card, which means it requires adequate cooling.  Intel is very upfront about what it takes to cool this card. In Default mode, 200 LFM is required, while Maximum Performance mode necessitates 300 LFM.   

To test the drive's thermal performance, we used a 1U server from Supermicro that provides cooling typical of what we'd expect from most other 1U servers. The tests were performed with the machine set to use its high and low fan settings, which should give us results at both extremes.

Each of the four 200 GB modules has its own temperature sensor. We used the Intel Data Center Tool to record thermal data. Each sensor is at a different location on the board and subject to different amounts of airflow, giving us different results. The graph below shows the delta between the four sensors at idle.

Even at idle, the temperature sensor for drive two is 11oC above the coolest sensor, and 5oC above the next-warmest sensor.

In the following test, only the data from that hottest drive-two is being used.

With the chassis fans at high, the SSD 910 reaches 25oC above ambient, worst-case. The coolest sensor topped out at 10o C above ambient.  You can see that there is very little difference between the Default and Maximum Performance modes. So, if you have adequate cooling in your system, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the extra 3 W that the Maximum Performance mode draws. The 400 GB version is even more conservative, giving off thermal readings between 7 and 20o C above ambient.

You need to pay more attention when the server's fans are set to low, though: the 800 GB SSD 910 gets up to 51o C hotter than ambient in Maximum Performance mode! Plagued by poor airflow, Maximum Performance mode causes the temperatures to soar during sequential writes.  Even the coolest sensor still reports 17o C above ambient. If your company's server room runs hot, you'll end up pushing this drive very close to its thermal limits.

As an aside, we ran the same tests in a pedestal chassis. Although we didn't generate charts with the data, it's worth noting that the SSD 910 performed nearly identically as the 1U server with its fans set to low. And that's with the freestanding enclosure's fans set to high and no add-in cards next to Intel's SSD. In the same chassis with its fans set to low, the SSD 910 reached its thermal cutoff of 85o C in Maximum Performance mode. If you plan on using this drive in a workstation, it would be wise to limit the number of adjacent cards and look into using a slot cooler.

Of course, in the interest of completeness, setting our server's fans to low doesn't generate enough airflow to meet Intel’s requirements, even in a server. That test scenario was intended to demonstrate the importance of knowing the state of your server's cooling configuration. Airflow requirements need to be taken seriously.