|Intel 311 Solid State Drive SSDSA2VP020G2E|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Storage|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Tuesday, 10 May 2011|
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Intel 311 Solid State Drive Review
Manufacturer: Intel Corporation
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by Micron.
In only three short years, the solid state drive industry exploded from a small handful of SSD controllers compared to nearly fifty different versions that have collectively appeared on the retail market. Of the most prolific designs, Intel continues to earn its reputation for reliable solid-state storage solutions. In this article, Benchmark Reviews tests the 20GB Intel 311 Series Larson Creek SSD model SSDSA2VP020G2E. Built upon 34nm SLC Compute NAND Technology, the Intel 311 is capable of sequential read speeds up to 200 MB/s and 40,000 combined IOPS. The Intel 311 SSD is optimized for Intel Smart Response Technology, which debuts with the Intel Z68-Express chipset and works with the entire Sandy Bridge series.
While most consumers have now become familiar with SSDs replacing their hard drive, it wasn't until the first Solid State Hybrid Drive one year ago (May 2010) that the idea of combining the speed of SSDs with the storage capacity of HDDs. Intel Smart Response Technology does exactly that, and offers this 20GB SLC flash-based Larson Creek SSD as a partner cache drive, and not necessarily a stand-alone SSD. Intel has designed the technology to cache frequently-used applications into the SSD to improve system performance and responsiveness, which they claim outperforms HDD-only systems by up to 60%. The Intel 311 Series comes in either 2.5" SATA or mSATA form factors, and is compatible with select Intel 6 Series chipsets: Z68, HM67, QM67.
Intel Smart Response Technology
The purpose of Intel Smart Response Technology is to enable SSD-like performance combined with HDD capacity.
After decades of design improvements, the hard disk drive (HDD) is still the slowest component in any personal computer system. Consider that modern desktop processors have a 1 ns response time (nanosecond = one billionth of one second), while system memory responds between 30-90 ns. Traditional hard drive technology utilizes magnetic spinning media, and even the fastest spinning mechanical storage products still exhibit a 9,000,000 ns / 9 ms initial response time (millisecond = one thousandth of one second). In more relevant terms, the processor receives the command and must then wait for system memory to fetch related data from the storage drive. This is why any computer system is only as fast as the slowest component in the data chain; usually the hard drive.
In a perfect world all of the components operate at the same speed. Until that day comes, the real-world goal for achieving optimal performance is for system memory to operate as quickly as the central processor and then for the storage drive to operate as fast as memory. With present-day technology this is an impossible task, so enthusiasts try to close the speed gaps between components as much as possible. Although system memory is up to 90x (9000%) slower than most processors, consider then that the hard drive is an added 1000x (100,000%) slower than that same memory. Essentially, these three components are as different in speed as walking is to driving and flying.
Solid State Drive technology bridges the largest gap in these response times. The difference a SSD makes to operational response times and program speeds is dramatic, and takes the storage drive from a slow 'walking' speed to a much faster 'driving' speed. Solid State Drive technology improves initial response times by more than 450x (45,000%) for applications and Operating System software, when compared to their mechanical HDD counterparts. The biggest mistake PC hardware enthusiasts make with regard to SSD technology is grading them based on bandwidth speed. File transfer speeds are important, but only so long as the operational IOPS performance can sustain that bandwidth under load.
Bandwidth Speed vs Operational Performance
As we've explained in our SSD Benchmark Tests: SATA IDE vs AHCI Mode guide, Solid State Drive performance revolves around two dynamics: bandwidth speed (MB/s) and operational performance (IOPS). These two metrics work together, but one is more important than the other. Consider this analogy: bandwidth determines how much cargo a ship can transport in one voyage, and operational IOPS performance is how fast the ship moves. By understanding this and applying it to SSD storage, there is a clear importance set on each variable depending on the task at hand.
For casual users, especially those with laptop or desktop computers that have been upgraded to use an SSD, the naturally quick response time is enough to automatically improve the user experience. Bandwidth speed is important, but only to the extent that operational performance meets the minimum needs of the system. If an SSD has a very high bandwidth speed but a low operational performance, it will take longer to load applications and boot the computer into Windows than if the SSD offered a higher IOPS performance.