Intel 910 PCIe SSD Review – Amazing Performance Results In Both 400GB and 800GB Configurations


In our testing with this SSD we did run into a few problems. One was the excessive time that it required to get this device into steady state. It simply can take quite the beating and just shrug off the heavy write loads. Getting the device into a SNIA defined Steady State condition was hard enough, but another issue is keeping it there. The Intel 910 is very resilient, and once beaten, bounces back very quickly. In another iteration, it could make an extremely responsive workstation product. For professionals in the audio and video editing business this would be a dream drive. That brings about another part of the attraction to the drive, simplicity. There is no need to change the existing server environment, and no need to install drivers or configure the device itself. It’s simply plug and play. Once inserted, the only thing left is volume management.

Of course price is always an issue. The low price threshold of this SSD easily outstrips that of its competition. On a price per GB basis, this PCIe SSD dominates. The Intel 910 could prove to be a threat even for the typical 2.5″ form factor SSDs. Many top-tier SLC SSDs can weigh in around $7,000 for half of the capacity of the Intel 910. That works out to roughly $17.50 per GB compared to $4.82 per GB for the 910.

Mix in some dollar per IOP measurements and the gulf widens. Some SLC SSDs command roughly 8 cents per read IOP, with the 910 asking for only 2 cents per read IOP. These are somewhat different applications of similar technology, but its clear that the 910 can compete easily.Another key to the single PCIe slot form factor is the decreased space that is required for deployment. The TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) of this drive can be exponentially lower than HDDs, and even lower than some SSDs, when power, space, and cooling are taken into consideration.

When designing the SSD, Intel wisely chose not to integrate onboard RAID functionality into this device. This keeps the drivers and firmware overhead extremely light, leading to the great latencies that we witnessed while testing the device. This also affords the user some flexibility in device utilization. With the low price of this SSD we could easily see it used in the financial sector, where overprovisioning could boost performance even higher. Even with very high levels of OP this SSD could still compete on a price per GB basis with other solutions.

We emulated a few of the possible configurations that might be found in actual usage. One scenario that the 910 would be uniquely well suited for that we did not emulate is tiering models. By employing various software implementations the 910 can be slipped into servers and used for hot file caching, accelerating large banks of HDDs with one small package. This helps to keep the CPU utilization high in the server, maximizing the performance of the entire system.

Finally, we come to the performance. Intel does not market Fresh Out of Box numbers, they have stuck with the more realistic Steady State figures that users will see in reality. Even better, Intel has also left some wiggle room in even their steady state performance numbers.In our testing we witnessed this SSD performing over the rated specifications by large margins. With respect to read IOPS we pulled off 210,734 IOPS, where Intel only has the device spec’d at 180,000. Using various file systems other than the venerable NTFS can lead to even higher results. Our 4k steady state write testing also topped out at 82,350 IOPS compared to the specified 75,000.

When we threw in some extra overprovisioning with 4k writes we scored 98,845 IOPS! Let that sink in for a second…just shy of 100,000 4k write IOPS in steady state!

The price point provides market flexibility that others will be forced to match. Owning the Fab affords Intel an advantage with their NAND, and solid partners like LSI and Hitachi provide deep compatibility and high performance. The LSISAS2008 is a reliable and proven controller, and in tandem with the Intel-Hitachi SSD processors pays big dividends.

Pairing this winning combination with the 25nm HET MLC NAND also extends the promise of high reliability and endurance. 7 Petabytes of endurance for the 400GB and 14 Petabytes of endurance for the 800GB model are simply superb.

Overall this SSD is exactly what we would expect from Intel: a game-changer. We have absolutely no reservations in giving this SSD the Editors’ Choice Award and in fact, this is the first time we have awarded such to an enterprise product.  Well deserved!

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