Tuesday , 2 September 2014
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Micron P320h HHHL 700GB PCIe Enterprise SSD Review – Unbelievable IOPS and Absurd Endurance

The Micron P320h HHHL (Half-Height Half-Length) is a Gen 2.1 PCIe SSD capable of churning out 785K 4K random read IOPS and a little over 200K 4K random write IOPS at steady state. With Microns stash of SLC NAND flash memory, their custom controller, and some great command line and GUI tools, This PCIe SSD is ready to compete. Having had the P320h in our hands for several months now, it’s been a long process getting the P320h to this point, so its a pleasure to finally have the opportunity to see if the wait was worth it.

INTRODUCTION

Most SATA SSDs, such as the Crucial M4s and SandForce-based drives for example, adhere to an 8 channel controller design. The more channels there are, the more parallelism that can be exploited, and parallelism is the key to getting the most out of SSD performance.

As it currently stands, sequential read and write bandwidth of your average SSD is already being limited by the 6gbps SATA III interface, especially with read transfer speeds. So what if you want to build something truly, proper fast?

Youd start by ditching the SATA interface, and move to PCIe. A Gen 2.1 PCIe x8 SSD or RAID card can push around 3.2GB/s performance, with Gen 3 adding another 1GB/s or so to that figure.

To get that maximum performance however, you would need a pretty hefty controller as well. The first generation PCIe SSDs were merely a SATA SSDs attached to a PCIe adapter. You still have the SATA speed limit in place, but with a couple drives working together, you can achieve substantial performance. Even Intel used this approach with their 910 Series PCIe SSD, which took an off-the-shelf LSI SAS2008 HBA and mated it with up to four SAS controllers.

Micron didnt take that approach. What they created for the new P320h HHHL is a massive, custom ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) controller bristling with 32 channels and equipped with native PCIe support.  Next, they paired it with Micron ONFI 2.1 SLC (single level cell) NAND flash memory for huge endurance, performance, and incredibly low latencies.

In the process, a monster was created; something which was designed to perform best with a staggering 256 commands outstanding and something that, even in its first iteration, can max out 8 Gen 2 PCIe lanes. It needs parallelism, and if you can supply it, well¦ performance is immense. Its like a Formula 1 car; high strung, super-fast, and designed to operate at the limits of engineering technology. Just dont try and get groceries with it, or pick the kids up from school; it just isn’t built for that. But put it in the right environment, and it is capable of some truly remarkable performance.

INSIDE THE P320H HHHL

Microns custom ASIC controller supports 32 channels with 4-way interleaving. That means support for up to 128 NAND dice, which in the case of the 700GB P320h amounts to 1024GB of flash onboard. Each of the 16GB SLC packages is comprised of 25nm ONFi 2.1 flash running at 166MT/s. SLC’s many benefits over MLC include lower read and write latency, incredible endurance, and better performance, but at much greater per-GB cost.

Microns RAIN technology, their take on NAND level redundancy through parity, consumes a a small amount of that t 1024GB. 1/8th or 12.5% is used for parity, leaving 896GB to work with. It might sound like a steep sacrifice, but the ability to recover from die failures on the fly is an important one. Without it, only one of those 128 NAND failing means the whole drive is rendered inoperable.

Take off another 22% for over-provisioning, 7% more for spare area, and were left with about 650GB of usable capacity. That over-provisioning helps keep write amplification low, performance high, and extends the 700GB P320hs endurance to an absolutely absurd 50 petabytes; an astronomical number to be sure.

That endurance and performance comes at a price, but Micron didn’t disclose what it was before publication. With ownership and production of all the components involved, Micron should have a significant ability to price the P320h in a competitive way, but it’s still not going to be considered cheap by anyone.

About Christopher Ryan

  • todd

    Micron doesnt own the controller. It is made by IDT.

    • http://www.thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      We are aware of that, thanks. Our reasoning behind wording as such is because this is, by no means, a simple stock implementation of a controller and similar could not have been accomplished without Micron’s engineering expertise and software. Great point and perhaps we could reword things just a bit…

    • Christopher Ryan

      Micron has a Minneapolis-based controller team which did much of the work on the controller. Basically, IDT has a stock PCIe controller, but it’s easily modified for custom jobs. Micron refined the design for the P320h. IDT now has a reference NVMe design, but the NVMe standard is far from universal yet. One day, a PCIe SSD won’t need a special driver, but today they do.

  • Rp

    Micron developed and owns the chip, IDT just fabs it.

    • todd

      Incorrect. This is the very same controller that is used with the new NVMe controllers that IDT has developed.

      • http://www.thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Just to help you out, this is what has been posted at Anands after they inadvertently stated it was NVMe.:

        Update: Micron tells us that the P320h doesn’t
        support NVMe, we are digging to understand how Micron’s controller
        differs from the NVMe IDT controller with a similar part number.

        Our interpretation of the chip appears to be correct as it is written and this same ‘structure’ has been used in the SSD industry prior. This is not a simple plug and play adaption of a chip, but rather, custom package.

        Thanks again.

      • todd

        Yes, it isnt NVMe, but it is an IDT chip, therefore it is not developed in house by Micron.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jerry-Lafferty/100000565965304 Jerry Lafferty

    old news

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/SR6TPGWNCJ6OYIP55GR74JLL6Y Nigel

    Just needs a few heat sinks and a fan or maybe a water block to keep it cooler.

  • Holly Smackeye

    Todd – What makes you think you know so much about this chip?

  • dsio

    Is the RAIN implementation safe enough to use without RAID 1 running outside of it (say across 2 350GB cards) it sounds good, but if you have a firmware or controller related failure you’re still at risk right?

  • kevin

    Is this bootable? And just for kicks, what would the as-ssd results be?

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