Intel’s SSD 510 Powered by Marvell

At IDF 2008 Intel presented a session that discussed its SSDs and what made them better than the competition. Allow me to quote, ahem, myself:

“Intel's SSD design attempts to be different in the three key areas that determine SSD performance: Flash, Firmware and Controller.”

and

“The Firmware and Flash-to-SATA controller are both made by Intel, whereas most SSD makers use off the shelf components and FPGAs for their designs. Intel claims that its expertise in microprocessor and platform design allows for much higher levels of performance out of its SSDs.”

Now allow me to contrast what Intel told me at IDF 2008 with the reality of today in 2011.

The “G3” we’ve all been waiting for will still come. That’ll be Intel’s first 25nm SSD and it should carry specs similar to what we already published. However the focus of the drive will be the mainstream. To take care of the high end Intel created a new drive: the Intel SSD 510 (codename Elmcrest) and it uses a Marvell 9174 6Gbps controller.


Intel's SSD 510 based on Marvell's 88SS9174 controller

Everyone has access to the same NAND that Intel does, but in the past it was controller microarchitecture and firmware that gave Intel the edge. With the 510, the advantage has been reduced to just firmware.

The Marvell 9174 is the same controller Micron uses in its C400 and the same controller in Corsair’s Performance Series 3 SSDs. In fact, I recently received a Corsair P3. Pop off the lid and you’ll see the very same controller Intel is using in the 510:


Corsair's P3 SSD, note the controller similarity

Talk to SandForce and they’ll tell you that the controller itself doesn’t matter - it’s the firmware that matters the most. That’s definitely true to an extent, although I can’t help but feel like you need both microarchitecture and firmware to get the absolute best performance.

Although the controller is sourced from Marvell the firmware and validation are entirely Intel’s. As a result you shouldn't expect the 510 to perform identically to other Marvell based drives.

Intel is also quick to point out that despite using a 3rd party controller, the 510 has to go through Intel’s rigorous validation and testing. Reliability and quality should be no different than any other Intel SSD.

I asked Intel if this was a permanent thing - if we should always expect it to license controllers from third parties for its high performance SSDs. Intel responded by saying that the Marvell controller made sense given the hole in its roadmap, however this is not a long term strategy. While we may see more Intel SSDs based on 3rd party controllers, Marvell’s controller is not a permanent resident in Intel’s SSD roadmap - it’s just here on a student visa.

Paired with the Marvell controller is a 128MB Hynix DDR3-1333 SDRAM. This is technically the largest DRAM to appear on an Intel SSD to date. Even the old X25-M G2 only had a 32MB DRAM on board.

The 510 currently only supports 34nm Intel NAND rated at 5,000 p/e cycles. There are two capacities offered: a 120GB and a 250GB. Intel sent us the 250GB version which has 256GB of 34nm Intel NAND spread out across 16 NAND packages. That’s 16GB per package and 4GB per 34nm die.

Remember the GiB/GB conversion math that’s used to mask spare area in SSDs. With 256GiB of NAND on board and 250GB of storage area promised by the drive, there’s actually only 232.8GiB of user addressable space on the 250GB drive. This puts the percentage of spare area at 9%, an increase over the 6.8% spare area common on the X25-M.

The 120GB drive has even more spare area than the 250GB drive. With 128GB of 34nm NAND on board, the 120GB Intel SSD 510 has 111GiB of user addressable space for a total spare area of 12.7%.

Intel’s rated performance for the SSD 510 is as follows:

Intel SSD Comparison
  X25-M G2 160GB SSD 510 120GB SSD 510 250GB
NAND Capacity 160GB 128GB 256GB
User Capacity 149GB 111GB 232GB
Random Read Performance Up to 35K IOPS Up to 20K IOPS Up to 20K IOPS
Random Write Performance Up to 8.6K IOPS Up to 8K IOPS Up to 8K IOPS
Sequential Read Performance Up to 250MB/s Up to 400MB/s (6Gbps) Up to 500MB/s (6Gbps)
Sequential Write Performance Up to 100MB/s Up to 210MB/s (6Gbps) Up to 315MB/s (6Gbps)
Price $404 $284 $584

Ironically enough the SSD 510 fixes the X25-M’s poor sequential performance but trades it for lower random performance. On paper the 510’s random performance is decidedly last-generation. And honestly the rated performance of the 120GB isn’t particularly interesting. The 120GB drive will have fewer NAND die available, and SSDs achieve their high performance by striping data requests across as many NAND die as possible - hence the lower performance specs.

Pricing is set at $284 for the 120GB drive and $584 for the 250GB drive. Intel’s SSD 510 is available today and Newegg marks the two up to $315 and $615 respectively.

The Bundle

Intel sent over the desktop installation kit bundle for the 510. Included in the box is a 3.5" adapter kit, a 6Gbps SATA cable (3Gbps cables of sufficient quality should work fine though) and a 4-pin molex to SATA power adapter:

The 510 also works with Intel's SSD Toolbox, which makes tasks like secure erase super simple:

Introduction A Word on Reliability & The Test
POST A COMMENT

128 Comments

View All Comments

  • TrackSmart - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    It would be silly to return the Vertex 2 (my opinion). Just check out the PCMark Vantage scores in this article. There's little real world difference between all of the high end drives. Without the benchmarks, there's no way to tell the drives apart.

    But if it's going to eat you up inside, knowing you were just a 2-3 months away from having the latest model, go ahead. I'll be keeping be enjoying my OCZ Agility 2 in the mean time.
    Reply
  • JohnBooty - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    "I'm wondering if I should return the [Vertex 2] and just wait for the Vertex 3"

    I've got a mix of Vertex 1's, Intel G1s, Intel G2, and Vertex 2's in a variety of machines at home and at work.

    For workstation usage as a software dev, there's not a heck of a lot of subjective (ie, "it feels faster") difference between them. At this level of disk performance, your machine just isn't waiting on the hard drive very often.

    Obviously you may have specific needs. I used to work for a client who had a 8GB database that I was constantly backing up and restoring many times a day in the course of development work. Now there was a situation where raw read/write speeds were king and the Vertex 3 probably would have performed close to 2x faster. For me that kind of usage is the exception and not the rule though.
    Reply
  • sean.crees - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    I didn't see any discussion on internal garbage collection (ie: NOT trim).

    Does it have any?

    In my mind, this will be the key deciding feature between Intel and Vertex 3. Whichever has the better garbage collection without TRIM. Remember, TRIM still doesn't work in a RAID array or in OSX.
    Reply
  • MrCromulent - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    +1. I'm really eager for an IGC comparison of the Intel 510, the Vertex 3 and if possible, also of a current firmware version of the Crucial C300 (since the drive still competes very well).

    In Anand's initial test, the C300 suffered from very poor IGC, but Marvell supposedly alleviated this problem in their new firmware releases. Unfortunately, no IGC tests have been conducted with the 0006 firmware yet.
    Reply
  • halcyon - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Hate to do this, but

    +1.

    It's not what's the latest, but what's offers the best bang for buck after upgrades.

    Such a review would be immensely helpful.

    Although based on the Intel 510 TRIM-test random write results, it may have to wait for the first Intel FW upgrade as the numbers with the shipping FW are truly appalling.
    Reply
  • Syan48306 - Saturday, March 5, 2011 - link

    I'm dying to know how it will hold up in my macbook pro. I finally caved and bought one of these 510 SSD's and although it's after the fact, I still want to know how long it'll still be "good" in my system. Reply
  • tim851 - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    If the original X25-M "conroe'd" the market, it seems G3 "atomed" it. In the way that Intel, in their crusade to maximize profits and segmentize the market, designed quite a bit to conservatively.

    I'm all for it though, because I believe that currently, the last thing SSDs are lacking is speed, so the last thing they really need is more of it. I believe at this point just about everybody would want one, if it weren't for the prohibitively high prices. So if Intel can half the per-GB-price of the G3, I'll buy one for sure!
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    +1

    I thought the exact same thing about the 1st gen drive compared to this one. What makes SSD's "feel" so much faster is the random read/write performance. When the 40GB X25-V is so close to matching random read/write the 510 will just "feel" slow, especially once you have everything installed on it. I mean, really, who cares about sequential performance once you have everything on the drive that you planned putting on it?

    Anand, please put the current WD velociraptor numbers into this graph. It will demonstrate what I mean.

    Glad I didn't wait and got my 60GB Vertex 2...
    Reply
  • anactoraaron - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    oh yeah if I just looked I would see the velociraptor numbers... lol its late and I should be asleep... maybe I am? Did Intel just atom their next SSD? Reply
  • Golgatha - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    I think this is a fair criticism. I also only look at the random R/W performance of these new SSDs. I can pull 215 MB/s R/W from my 300GB Velociraptors in RAID0, and use these drives to install all my games on since game loading performance is largely determined by sequential reading of data from the disks (lots of big sequential files), and because I need around 400GB of space currently for all my game installs .

    Sequential reads for most SSDs are lower than the 215 MB/s reads I enjoy from my Velociraptors in RAID0. I have a Crucial C300 256MB in this same desktop and I also use an 80GB Intel G2 in my laptop; both of these drives are slower than my Velociraptors in RAID0 in terms of sequential read performance. Also, there is obviously a space concern, in that there isn't enough space on either of these drives to install my games to them.

    Now for the host OS and all the random programs I run in parallel, a SSD gives you huge gains and the system just feels snappier. This is largely due to random R/W performance. Basically you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between sequentially reading 10MB of data or less at 215MB/s (Velociraptors in RAID0) vs 320MB/s (my Crucial C300 256MB average speed on a PCIe4x, SATA3, ASUS add-in card), hence the reason that sequential performance of SSDs doesn't matter much to me anymore.

    Now if I could get a 512GB or bigger SSD with greater than 215MB/s sequential read performance for less than $1/GB, I might bite on that. So far this product has not come to market, so I'll stick with my Velociraptors until it does.
    Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now