Intel SSD 910 Review: PCI Express-Based Enterprise Storage

SSD 910 Gets A True Enterprise-Class Workout

While the virtues of SSD storage have been known for many years, the technology's steady march towards enterprise dominance has focused squarely on the form, fit, and functional replacement of 2.5” SAS-based hard drives. In the data center world, that means you still have large racks of hot-swappable drive carriers, RAID cards, and supporting infrastructure. 

PCIe-based SSDs are an attempt to reduce or combine all essential components in the storage chain. This reduction has multiple benefits, including lower cost, higher performance, higher reliability, and tighter integration. That last point is especially important when talking about solid-state technology. Compared to mechanical drives, SSDs can best be described as finicky. Their performance changes based on previous operations, they periodically execute maintenance tasks n the background, and they have a very specific life cycle. These idiosyncrasies, which are a nuisance for consumer applications, become deal-breakers at an enterprise level. The tight end-to-end (host interface to controller to NAND) integration of PCIe-based SSDs means that the entire package should operate in a single, harmonious state. At least, that's the theory.

Intel's SSD 910 series represents the company's first attempt at this marriage of NAND, PCIe bridge logic, and SAS ASICs.

The drive family is available in 400 and 800 GB capacities, available on the street for $1999 and $4499, respectively. Both flavors feature Intel’s 25 nm High Endurance Technology (HET) MLC NAND, the same stuff we covered in Intel SSD 710 Tested: MLC NAND Flash Hits The Enterprise. When the SATA-based SSD 710 first launched, its capacity was valued at $6/GB. Now, we're looking at less than $5/GB for enterprise-class solid-state storage. Intel packages it all together in a half-height, half-length PCIe 2.0 x8 card.

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Intel SSD 910 SeriesSSDPEDOX400G301SSDPEDPX800G301
User Capacity400 GB800 GB
InterfacePCIe 2.0 x8, Half-Height, Half-Length
Sequential Read1 GB/s2 GB/s
Sequential Write0.75 GB/s1 GB/s
4K Random Read90 000 IOPS180 000 IOPS
4K Random Write38 000 IOPS75 000 IOPS
Power Consumption (Active)<25 W<25 W*
Power Consumption (Idle)8 W12 W
Write Endurance7 PB14 PB

When it comes to high-end storage, details matter a lot. But if you find yourself reading the first and last pages of this piece, let's cut right to the chase in order to make something clear: Intel's SSD 910 doesn't blow away its competition with sequential throughput or random I/O numbers we've never seen before.

The good news for Intel, however, is that judging this particular piece of hardware based on its spec sheer doesn't convey the whole story. Enterprise-oriented customers value quality and reliability as much or more than raw performance. With that in mind, Intel is in a particularly good place. Its X25-E was the gold standard for many years, and its SSD 710 family continues that legacy.

Will well-established quality and reliability be enough to propel Intel out ahead of the pack in a rapidly-expanding and continually-evolving PCIe-based SSD market?

  • 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
  • The OCZ is tested with compressible data? talk about best case scenario. what were the incompressible results like?
  • s3anister
    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.
  • apache_lives
    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.
  • ZakTheEvil
    Yeah, consumer SSD reliability is a bit of disappointment. At best they seem to be as reliable as hard drives.
  • georgeisdead
    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.
  • jdamon113
    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.
  • jaquith
    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.
  • willard
    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 crowdThat'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.
  • drewriley
    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.