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Written by Olin Coles   
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Table of Contents: Page Index
Intel 311 Solid State Drive SSDSA2VP020G2E
Intel SSD Larson Creek
Features and Specifications
SSD Testing Methodology
AS-SSD Benchmark
ATTO Disk Benchmark
CrystalDiskMark 3.0 Tests
Iometer IOPS Performance
EVEREST Disk Benchmark
HDD vs Hybrid Drive vs SSD
Intel SSD Larson Creek Conclusion

Intel 311 Solid State Drive Review

Manufacturer: Intel Corporation
Product Name: 20GB Intel 311 Series Larson Creek Solid State Drive
Model Numbers: Label shows SSDSA2VP020G2E, but system reports SSDSA2VS020G2E
MSRP: $119.49 (Newegg)

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.

  • Intelligent, real-time cache improves HDD performance
  • Scales across all HDD capacities from all vendors
  • Easy UI for enable/disable embedded in Intel Rapid Storage driver
    -Easy plug-and-play SSD implementation
    -Uses off-the-shelf SSDs: No special connectors or firmware required
  • Cache frequently used applications to improve system performance and responsiveness
Intel-SSD-Larson-Creek-Angle.jpg

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.



 

Comments 

 
# willingRealNeil 2011-05-12 10:38
I'm willing to give this a try. I think that Intel is in the process of hitting one out of the park with this new implementation of Hybrid drives.
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# Competitors?Olle P 2011-05-12 23:21
"... our performance rating considers how effective the Intel 311 Series solid state drive performs in operations against direct competitor storage solutions."

This doesn't really hold true, in my opinion. Valid competitors should only be those available at $120 or less, since Larson Creek (shortened "LC" below) is designed for low price. That leaves us with the Lite-On SSD, which doesn't appear in many tests, and the HDD based storages.
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Now, if instead of looking at it as a stand-alone unit I prefer validating it as used for SRT.
- Due to the nature of SRT a minimum requirement to make SRT faster than using the HDD alone is that the SSD used is considerably faster than the HDD in reading data, and *at least* as fast in writing data.
- SRT is also supposed to be a way to improve performance at a low cost, so any SSD used should be very affordable to purchase. Total price is far more relevant than the price/storage ratio.

SSDs based on MLC follow the rule that "more is merrier", meaning that the bigger the storage the faster it becomes. (As I've understood it the theoretical bandwidth is somewhat proportional to the number of storage chips, since they to some extent work in parallel.) Therefore low capacity MLC SSDs are not only cheap, but also very slow. Depending on many factors the write speed might drop to, and possibly below, that of HDDs.
SLC, as used in LC, is considerably more expensive per storage volume, but (as shown in the tests) doesn't have it's speed depend nearly as much on the storage space compared to MLC.
I think that keeping the write speed up was the main reason Intel choose to use SLC instead of MLC for this SSD.

It would be very interesting to see performance comparisons, both as stand-alone and in use with SRT, between LC and cheap MLC drives in the about $100 and 32-64GB region. Will LC outperform a cheaper and bigger but slower(?) MLC drive in SRT use?
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# RE: Competitors?David Ramsey 2011-05-13 07:33
Um, no, Olle, the rule (at least for computer memory systems) is "the SMALLER the storage the faster it becomes." If it was true that bigger==faster, then there would be no need for any kind of caching.

As I noted in the article, it's difficult to reliably and repeatedly benchmark caching systems, especially "smart" ones whose internal algorithms are unknown. SImply running the benchmarks in a different order will affect the results.
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# Bigger = more bandwidth.Olle P 2011-05-13 12:06
I'm pretty sure about this.
Not only do several SSD tests where different storage size drives of same model show this, but also the somewhat related RAM on nVidia's graphics cards. Notice the different RAM bus width between GTX460 in the 768 vs 1024MB versions? An added RAM/NAND chip makes for more access.
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# RE: Bigger = more bandwidth.David Ramsey 2011-05-13 19:20
Well, the graphics card thing is putting memory chips together kinda like RAID 0 for hard drives. The speed of the chips isn't any faster, but you're reading from a group of chips simultaneously.
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# RE: Competitors?Olin Coles 2011-05-13 12:17
It actually depends on architecture. The SandForce SSDs generally get faster with capacity, because they reserve more NAND for the integrated buffer. Others rely on separate buffer DRAM, which can either be the same size across the series or grow with capacity. Essentially, there's no rule for size:speed.

As for Olle's remark about fairly comparing to price-similar competitors, he's dismissed that there are several SSDs that offer a better price per gigabyte than the Intel 311. In fact, the Patriot Torqx 2 (which was included in my results) offers a 32GB version for $90.
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# PricingOlle P 2011-05-16 10:38
"...several SSDs that offer a better price per gigabyte than the Intel 311. In fact, the Patriot Torqx 2 (which was included in my results) offers a 32GB version for $90."

I'm well aware that there are plenty of MLC SSDs that offer better price per GB. Most of them are also considerably more than $100 in price.
The Torqx 2 isn't listed on page 4, so it's unclear to me (and all other readers) if it's the 32GB version that's been tested, or if it's another version with different performance.
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# Typo??Sam 2011-05-13 12:32
Quote from the article on page 2 "The Intel 311 Series SSD is intended to be partnered with a high-capacity hard disk drive, using Intel Smart Response Technology with any Intel 6-Series desktop chipset: Z68, HM67, QM67."

HM67 and QM67 are notebook chipsets. Or did you mean to write H67 and Q67?
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# RE: Typo??Olin Coles 2011-05-13 12:36
The models that Intel specifies in their press document are: Z68, HM67, QM67.
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# actuallyRonob 2011-05-18 16:37
Actually SSD does get faster as it gets bigger .. simply because the smaller SSD are only reading from say four nand chips twice rather than eight nand chips once. Its the number of channels that slows the smaller SSD down. IN fact what you notice is the write speed that suffers much more so than the read speed (it does suffer, but to a much lesser extent). so olle p is right.
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# RE: actuallyOlin Coles 2011-05-18 16:40
You presume that all SSDs use the same architecture, and that all SSDs of larger capacity use more channels than models of a smaller capacity. See the recent SandForce chips for reference.
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