Intel has been part of the SSD revolution early on, with their X25-M being a fairly popular drive around 2009. Embarrassingly, this drive also suffered from several firmware bugs, which may have driven Intel to perform stringent validation of their products.
This may have something to do with their announcement when they discovered that AES encryption was not operating to their specification in the 520 series SSD. Since then, there hasn’t been many Intel “problems” to report, and their efforts have been focused on their datacenter S3xxx series SSDs. In fact, it seems that their SSDs are one of the only ones to have proven data integrity in the case of unexpected power loss.
Intel’s consumer SSD portfolio has been rather thin since their 3xx and 5xx series SSDs, some of which were based on SandForce/LSI chipsets. Most of these are now no longer exciting to most users, with their performance falling further and further behind the flagship SSDs from competitors.
However, it seems that enthusiasts are getting some love again in the form of the Intel 730 series SSD. This SSD shares its heritage with the datacenter series SSDs, with a focus on I/O performance and consistency but also with an affordable price of just over $1/Gb. It seems as if it would be a natural choice for the performance enthusiast, so lets see how it fares.
The Intel 730 series drive was supplied in an OEM package, intended for systems integration.
The box itself was sealed, the date of manufacture being 6th March 2014, merely months ago.
Inside, you get the drive inside an anti-static bag, a fairly large shouty label, and some foam to keep the drive safe. That’s all. No leaflets, no CDs, no screws, no cables and no brackets or adapters. As an enthusiast, that probably doesn’t worry you anyway.
The drive itself is emblazoned with the skull logo, which refers to the Skulltrail concept of enthusiast-grade parts. The label seems to have been affixed with little care – just look at the alignment!
The underside of the drive contains a label with the specifics about the drive.
The drive is a 7mm height drive. It shipped with firmware L2010410, and has 468,862,128 sectors usable (i.e. 240,057,409,536 bytes = 234,431,064 kiB = 228,936.58 MiB = 223.57 GiB). Also interesting is to see that the drive was assembled in China, and the contact address given has attention Corporate Quality.
But what is even more interesting is that the drive
requires a 12v rail to operate and seems to require a hefty amount of power. This is likely to make this drive unsuitable for use in laptops where 12v may not be available and power is at a premium. prefers a 12v rail, but is actually happy to operate on 5v alone as clarified by a reader.
This may also be related to the datacenter heritage of the drive, where access to 12v rails is no problem as it is operating inside a conventional mains-powered system. For a desktop user, this is of little worry.
Taking the drive apart is no challenge at all – four Philips head screws hold the drive together, one of which is underneath the skull-label. The top panel can be removed revealing the rear-side of the PCB.
Visible already is the use of two electrolytic capacitors with 105 degree ratings as a form of power-loss protection. One single NAND package is mounted on the rear, marked Intel 29F16B08LCMF2 which appears to be a 16 Gigabyte package. There are many BGA pads for mounting more flash packages, which are likely to be used for the 480Gb model.
Also visible seems to be a TPS54318 TI Step-Down Buck Converter (U123), TPS54240 TI Step-Down Converter (U108), TPS54620 TI Step-Down Converter (U124), AP4224GM Dual N-channel Power MOSFET (Q2). That’s a lot of power conversion chips!
There is also two sets of test pads on this side, one top-left, and the other top-right, which look similar to those commonly found in routers for JTAG access.
The PCB also seems to have some cryptic markings – NYKSV-ONMIO 4613 OSD, along with PCB etching of 4526Z-300 REV01 in the bottom right corner, obscured by the plastic insulating frame.
On the other side, on the bottom right corner, another form of test connector marked J1 is visible and is probably used during manufacture. The capacitors are both 35v 47uF capacitors from Nippon Chemi-Con which are known good capacitors.
There are a total of eight Intel 29F32B08MCMF2 NAND flash packages, which appear to be 32 Gigabyte parts. So, not only is there overprovision in the difference between 240Gb and 256Gb, there is an extra 16Gb on the back which might be used for remapping, or for optimizing write coalescing, backing up the RAM cache in case of power failure.
The controller is marked Intel PC29AS21CA0, the same used in the Intel DC S3700 datacenter SSD. This is paired with two Micron Technology MT41K256M8DA-125:K 256 Megabyte DDR3-800Mhz DRAM chips.
There are also various power-related ICs scattered, many of which are TI branded, and a Winbond 25X40CLIG 4Mbit Serial Flash.
The case itself is covered on both sides with insulative tape. There is even some slight indents milled into the base to ensure the capacitors fit well. No evidence of thermally conductive pads for heat transfer was found.
In all, it’s evident that the design of this SSD is relatively sophisticated, and even over-specified. This bodes well for long term reliability under heavy work-loads and in different scenarios.
Performance testing was performed with the same rig that I normally use to test SSDs – this is my AMD Phenom II x6 1090T BE at 3.9Ghz in a Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 with 16Gb RAM. Benchmarks were run under the latest version of Windows 7 x64, with the drive connected to the SATA III chipset ports.
The drive was fully filled with random data and checksummed three times with no errors, so the drive was verified as functioning correctly on this platform.
The drive offers a comprehensive array of SMART attributes which track its status. Throughout the whole test run, the drive seemed to have no dramas – before on the left, after on the right.
HD Tune Sequential Read
The drive achieved an average of 512.6Mb/s read speed with an access time of 0.104ms.
Drive Average Read Access Time Intel 730 240Gb 512.6 0.104 Kingmax Xvalue 240Gb 514.7 0.061 Samsung 840Pro 256Gb 527.3 0.047 Crucial M500 240Gb 296.4 0.037
The access time seems slightly slow, as does the read speed when compared to the comparison SSDs on the same platform. The Crucial M500 figure is taken from a full drive, when empty, it is 521.7Mb/s.
HD Tune Sequential Write
The drive shows a strange repetitive dipping in the write test, which may have to do with the way the internal memory structure and write algorithms are designed. It averaged only 263.0Mb/s write speed with an access time of 0.042ms.
Drive Average Write Access Time Intel 730 240Gb 263.0 0.042 Kingmax Xvalue 240Gb 265.7 0.038 Samsung 840Pro 256Gb 440.0 0.041 Crucial M500 240Gb 209.6 0.045
The write speed of the drive falls behind the Samsung 840 Pro by quite a margin, due to the number of flash packages and isn’t really befitting a flagship drive. It sits within the same ballpark as value SSDs.
HD Tune Random Access Read
Drive 512b 4K 64K 1Mb Rand IOPS Intel 730 240Gb 9624 8243 2956 440 763 Kingmax Xvalue 240Gb 13721 6519 1999 430 749 Samsung 840Pro 256Gb 8340 8145 4093 477 879 Crucial M500 240Gb N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Unfortunately, I didn’t test the M500 for random access, but it’s visible that the performance of the Intel 730 isn’t spectacularly class-leading either, neck and neck with the 840pro.
HD Tune Random Access Write
Drive 512b 4K 64K 1Mb Rand IOPS Intel 730 240Gb 22980 19414 5534 311 669 Kingmax Xvalue 240Gb 26120 21794 5489 255 501 Samsung 840Pro 256Gb 23211 19755 5596 430 827 Crucial M500 240Gb N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
The trend continues – the Intel 730 is not outstanding for performance, but not far behind the 840Pro either, although the write speed limit rears its head at large transfer sizes.
Drive SeqR SeqW 512kR 512kW 4kR 4kW 4kR32 4kW32 Intel 730 240Gb 462.9 296.8 383.2 295.6 33.78 85.43 285.3 251.9 Kingmax Xvalue 240Gb 516.8 280.9 381.1 280.8 27.27 85.56 261.8 232.5 Samsung 840Pro 256Gb 523.5 448.6 329.5 427.6 23.20 81.28 190.1 248.8 Crucial M500 240Gb 475.2 283.6 421.2 282.5 26.23 86.09 255.9 242.6
The Intel 730 seems to show some weakness when it comes to both sequential figures, but redeems itself with smaller block accesses. When compared with all SSDs, it has the best 4k read results,and a fairly high 4k write result, both of which the Samsung 840Pro doesn’t do as well with. So it seems that the performance of the drive has been tuned towards small block performance, which should make the drive snappier for OS use. However, it seems that even some of the value options don’t fall far behind when it comes to small-block performance.
AS SSD Benchmark
Drive SeqR SeqW 4kR 4kW 4kR64 4kW64 AcR AcW Score Intel 730 240Gb 512.8 279.5 30.0 73.0 262.7 210.1 0.046 0.048 831 Kingmax Xvalue 240Gb 514.2 265.3 25.3 75.0 247.6 201.8 0.046 0.048 790 Samsung 840Pro 256Gb 511.0 439.0 30.8 73.1 255.1 224.4 0.059 0.047 859 Crucial M500 240Gb 493.1 273.7 24.2 75.9 241.7 208.1 0.047 0.066 786
AS SSD seems to see things a little differently, handing the Intel 730 a good sequential read score. Compared to the 840Pro, which scored 859, the Intel 730 scored 831, likely due to the write speed penalty. The access times didn’t vary significantly between SSDs.
AS SSD Copy Benchmark
I don’t think there needs to be a thorough comparison for this benchmark – the figures themselves are fairly “average” and is likely due to the limitation in write speed. The Samsung 840 Pro achieved 2.41, 4.74 and 3.54 respectively, so advantage to the 840 Pro.
AS SSD Compression Benchmark
No evidence of compression is visible, similar to the 840 Pro.
ATTO Disk Benchmark
Atto paints an interesting picture of the drive. The drive reaches its strides as soon as the writes get to 8Kb in size, and seems to be very much optimized for the write workload. The read workload increases in speed steadily throughout, as the transaction size increases, as normal. Transactions below 4kB seem to have a heavy penalty, which is not the case for the 840Pro. Overall, it seems the 840Pro has the edge in most cases, except for the largest read transactions.
Anvil’s Storage Utilities
Drive Score Intel 730 240Gb 3842.91 Kingmax Xvalue 240Gb 3381.02 Samsung 840Pro 256Gb 4150.13 Crucial M500 240Gb 3737.94
With Anvil Pro, it seems that the 730 doesn’t fare very well, being beaten in score by the 840Pro by a significant margin. Surprisingly, some of the value SSDs do a fair job in keeping up which implies that in “real life” usage, even the cheaper SSDs will do very well.
It seems H2testw hits a wall in read speed for verification, probably due to CPU limitation, but the main thing to note is that the drive verified successfully.
Power consumption measurements were not made as I don’t have the ability to measure and log both rails simultaneously, as would be required to assess the power consumption for the drive. The temperature of the drive was acceptable, peaking at 46 degrees despite the lack of thermal transfer material and heatsinking.
This drive from Intel represents their efforts in giving something for enthusiasts to salivate over, and the performance of the drive is not bad at all. Compared to some other SSDs, the performance of the 240Gb Intel 730-series proved slightly disappointing in writes, as it could only achieve about 263Mb/s. It seems if you want to get the Intel 730-series drive, you would be much better off buying the 480Gb version of the drive which should be able to reach the 500MB/s mark.
For the most part, the limited write speed of the 240Gb version of the drive is likely due to not being able to fill all flash channels, and because of that, it suffered somewhat in the write benchmarks, at times seeing figures which are on par with even “value” contemporaries. The read benchmarks, however, seem to reflect the 730-series’ excellent I/O performance at small block compared to the contemporaries.
At the ~240Gb capacity point, it would seem that the Samsung 840Pro can deliver similar read performance and superior write performance for lower prices. Whether they can achieve the same level of reliability and stability as the Intel can is not something that can easily be determined, however, the fact the Intel 730-series doesn’t offer a clear cut performance advantage upfront is somewhat disappointing.
As a result, the 240Gb version seems to command a premium that might be hard to justify, but the 480Gb version would be much more likely to hold up against others in benchmarks and thus be a better buy. I suppose the Intel would be the suitable buy where reliability, stability and performance are key requirements, with no regard for chasing low prices, low power consumption or easy availability.