Intel Readies First In-house 6Gbps Controller for the Enterprise

Posted on November 9, 2012 7:00 AM by Robert Tanner

In 2008, Intel kick-started the SSD revolution with its X25 series which housed one of the first reliable, solid-performing SSD controllers. Intel continued to make minor adjustments to its market-leading controller over the next several years but was eventually overtaken as newer, refined 6Gbps-based SSD controllers began to emerge in the market.

Even as the market transitioned to SATA 3.0 SSDs, Intel was never able to surpass the 3Gbps interface limit with its own controller’s performance. So instead, the company began adopting other controllers for use in its SSD products, first utilizing Marvell with its 510 series then SandForce with the 520, 330, and 335 solid-state drive families.

After having almost completely switched to utilizing 3rd party controllers, Intel has finally announced a new SATA 3.0 SSD controller of its own design. This controller is a complete ground-up redesign with the primary focus on consistent I/O latencies. Unfortunately for enthusiasts, this controller is currently being targeted at the enterprise market, but that doesn’t mean consumers won’t see a variant eventually trickle down to high-end consumer solid-state drives.

The Intel DC S3700 is a slight mouthful, with the “DC” prefix indicating that this drive is targeting datacenters. As such the S3700 is a straight-up replacement for and complete upgrade to Intel’s 710 product family. As with the 710 series, it will utilize Intel’s MLC-HET (High Endurance Technology) NAND, which is designed to offer a hybrid of MLC NAND’s attractive price while preserving much of SLC NAND’s durability. One has to look no further than Intel’s rating of ten full drive writes per day (4KB random writes) for five years to see just how serious the company is regarding its 25nm MLC-HET NAND technology. Due to how NAND operates, if the majority of writes are sequential in nature then the write endurance of S3700 SSDs is expected to be even higher.

 Intel DC S3700 SSD
Max Sequential Read/Writes (MB/s)500 / 200500 / 365500 / 460500 / 460
Max 4K Random Read/Writes (IOPS)75K / 19K75K / 32K75K / 36K75K / 36K
Endurance1.825 PB3.65 PB7.3 PB14.6 PB
Price500 / 200500 / 365500 / 460500 / 460

Also like the 710 series, the S3700 features onboard capacitors so that in the event of a power loss the SSD can finish any in-progress writes, and user data is not stored on the DRAM cache for this reason. Interestingly Intel makes note that the drive utilizes 1GB of ECC DRAM and additionally performs error correction on the NAND and controller SRAM. AES-256 bit encryption rounds out the feature set.

As mentioned initially the DC S3700’s controller is designed specifically for both low I/O latency and performance consistency over the lifespan of the drive, regardless of writes or capacity. Intel is claiming IOPS won’t vary by more than 10-15% during its operational life and that access latency is less than 500µs 99.9% of the time. Consumer SSDs typically are more than double that with latencies of 1ms or even higher depending on the type and size of file operation.

Pricewise the DC S3700 is considerably cheaper than the outgoing 710 series. The 710 launched around $6 per GB, while the S3700 is closer toward $2.35 per GB depending on capacity. While this is still considerably more than a consumer SSD, keep in mind the S3700 is packing a number of enterprise-level features we didn’t delve into, including MLC-HET NAND. We suspect there are a few enthusiasts that would be willing to pay more for the increased longevity and consistent I/O performance. The only caveat, it appears the S3700 comes with higher levels of power consumption under load, making it a bad idea for laptop use.

  • Rob Williams

    This might be for the enterprise, but man, would it be nice to have in a desktop PC if you could swing it. The guarantee of the latency not going below 0.5 µs is extremely nice, and not to mention the endurance.

    Could be that a year from now, these things will be standard on the enthusiast side as well though. Still, nice one Intel. These are sweet.

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