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Intel 730 240GB SSD Review

AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
After last year's release of the DC S3700 series SSD’s, it was only a matter of time before Intel allowed their LSI built, in house designed X25 generation 3 controller to trickle down into the consumer marketplace. With the release of the new "Jacksonville" 730 series of enthusiast grade drives, that wait is finally over. The 730’s launch not only marks the formal introduction of the X25 Gen3 into the consumer marketplace but also happens to be the first 7 series SSD that isn’t intended for the enterprise or workstation segments. This direction actually makes perfect sense since Intel has the DC S-series to cover what was once the 7 series’ primary areas of responsibility.

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As the name suggest the 730 is intended to supersede Intel’s 5 series as their premier line of consumer grade solid state drives. What it doesn’t do is replace the 520, nor does its availability herald the end of the 5 series of drives. Rather, the 730 completes Intel's lineup and fills a conspicuous hole at the top. While very potent for its day, the Intel 520 was starting to show its age, especially since Intel's custom firmware enhancements eventually trickled down to other SandForce SF2281-based drives.

With newer controllers and faster SSDs coming to market on a nearly bi-weekly basis, the 5 series was simply no longer able to compete in the enthusiast marketplace. Now Intel is able to offers drives at various price and performance levels starting with the 3 series (entry/budget), 5 series (mainstream), and 7 series (enthusiast), just like they do with CPUs. This top to bottom approach mirrors what the competition has been doing for some time now without moving into the grey area of market saturation.

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Like any serious enthusiast grade model the Intel 730 series comes in various sizes and at varying price points. This further allows consumers to opt for a higher performance model while staying within a given budget. At this time options may only be limited to a 'small' 240GB version and a 'large' 480GB iteration, but as time goes by we expect Intel to further flesh out the 730 series with other capacities.

With an asking price of $249 or $1.09 per gigabyte the 240GB model is quite affordable by high end SSD standards and seems to be aiming for competitors like Corsair’s Force GT, Plextor’s M5P and Samsung’s 840 Pro while also retailing for about 50% more than a comparably equipped Intel 530. This causes a bit of an issue since most 240 or 256GB drives retail for substantially less than the 730, namely the OCZ Vector 150 / Vertex 460 and even Samsung’s 840 series.

bottom_sm.jpg

In the past, Intel branded drives were known for many things: cutting edge NAND, excellent firmware, and above all else poorly finished cases with bland labels. Intel has seemingly made it a point of pride of having some of the most roughly finished metal cases ever released on to the consumer marketplace. Thankfully the Intel 730 series doesn’t follow in its predecessors footsteps and boasts excellent finishing alongside their coveted SkullTrail logo. Obviously Intel there are some very high hopes for this new series.

Like modern enthusiast grade solid state drives, the Intel 730 series utilizes a 7mm form factor which allows it to fit into confined spaces like UltraBooks. Unfortunately, Intel has not included the typical 7mm to 9.5mm black plastic adapter covering, nor have they included a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter plate. The later omission may be due to our samples being a pre-release models and not retail samples so this may not be case when consumers purchases a 730 form the main supply channel. We are told that most drives will be available in typical “OEM” brown box packaging though so don’t expect any noteworthy accessories.

board2_sm.jpg

The internal architecture of the 240GB drive is what we had hoped to see and yet slightly disappointing as well. The side which houses the Intel X25 generation 3 controller is a literal clone of the DC S3x series, housing two 256MB Micron branded DDR3-1600 ICs and two large capacitors along the PCB’s leading edge.

The capacitors allow for Flush In Flight abilities. Seeing a consumer grade drive with FiF is very rare as this ability mitigates data corruption from unexpected power loss, but is costly to implement and such is a feature usually reserved for more expensive workstation and enterprise-class models.

board1_sm.jpg

Unfortunately, it appears that the smaller 240GB capacity has been purposely handicapped, reminding us of the ancient Intel V-40 series. Like the "V" series Intel hasn’t fully populated all 16 slots on the PCB and as such the controller will not be fully interleaved, and may never be able to reach its full potential. By the same token, the X25 Gen3 is extremely powerful and at lower queue depths it should be more than capable of balancing the loads across the included ICs.

We do like to see that all eight channels of the controller do have at least one NAND IC which will further help the controller keep performance at optimum levels. Interestingly enough, Intel didn’t go for eight NAND ICs (or one per channel) and rather has included nine cutting edge IMFT 20nm ONFi 2 modules. Thus, one channel will be fully interleaved and this too may help keep performance from noticeably suffering.

On paper at least, the 730 series may not be the slam dunk that enthusiast were hoping for, but its combination of an extremely potent controller, massive amounts of onboard cache and intelligent firmware is what Intel are counting on to make it a success in the enthusiast marketplace. However, with a price well north of dollar per gigabyte Intel may have just the left the door open for the competition.
 
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AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
Test System & Testing Methodology

Testing Methodology


Testing a drive is not as simple as putting together a bunch of files, dragging them onto folder on the drive in Windows and using a stopwatch to time how long the transfer takes. Rather, there are factors such as read / write speed and data burst speed to take into account. There is also the SATA controller on your motherboard and how well it works with SSDs & HDDs to think about as well. For best results you really need a dedicated hardware RAID controller w/ dedicated RAM for drives to shine. Unfortunately, most people do not have the time, inclination or monetary funds to do this. For this reason our test-bed will be a more standard motherboard with no mods or high end gear added to it. This is to help replicate what you the end user’s experience will be like.

Even when the hardware issues are taken care of the software itself will have a negative or positive impact on the results. As with the hardware end of things, to obtain the absolute best results you do need to tweak your OS setup; however, just like with the hardware solution most people are not going to do this. For this reason our standard OS setup is used. However, except for the Windows 7 load test times we have done our best to eliminate this issue by having the drive tested as a secondary drive. With the main drive being an Intel DC S3700 800GB Solid State Drive.

For synthetic tests we used a combination of the ATTO Disk Benchmark, HDTach, HD Tune, Crystal Disk Benchmark, IOMeter, AS-SSD, Anvil Storage Utilities and PCMark 7.

For real world benchmarks we timed how long a single 10GB rar file took to copy to and then from the devices. We also used 10gb of small files (from 100kb to 200MB) with a total 12,000 files in 400 subfolders.

For all testing a Asus P8P67 Deluxe motherboard was used, running Windows 7 64bit Ultimate edition. All drives were tested using AHCI mode using Intel RST 10 drivers.

All tests were run 4 times and average results are represented.

In between each test suite runs (with the exception being IOMeter which was done after every run) the drives are cleaned with either HDDerase, SaniErase or OCZ SSDToolbox and then quick formatted to make sure that they were in optimum condition for the next test suite.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Intel DC S3700 800GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
: 1.33
Intel 520: 400i
SanDisk Extreme 240GB: R211
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: M206
Intel 335 180GB: 335
Crucial M500: MU02
SanDisk Extreme 2 240GB: R1311
Seagate Pro 600: B660
OCZ Vector 150 240GB: 1.2
Angelbird Adler 640GB: AA3.15
Vertex 460 240GB: 1.0
ADATA SP920 512GB: MU01
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SandForce SF1200 controller:
OCZ Vertex 2 - ONFi 2 NAND

SandForce SF2281 controller:
Intel 520 - custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND

LAMD controller:
Corsair Neutron GTX - Toggle Mode NAND
Seagate 600 Pro - custom firmware w/ Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell 9187 controller:
Crucial M500 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND
SanDisk Extreme 2 - Custom firmware w/ 19nm eX2 ABL NAND

Marvell 9189 controller:
ADATA SP920 - Custom firmware w/ 128Gbit ONFi 3 NAND

Barefoot 3 controller:
OCZ Vector 150 (M00) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND
OCZ Vertex 460 (M10) - 19nm Toggle Mode NAND

Novachips NVS3600A controller:
Angelbird Adler - ONFi 2 NAND

Intel X25 G2 controller:
Intel 730 - custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND
 
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AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth


For this benchmark, HDTach was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these hard drives. The long test was run to give a slightly more accurate picture. We don’t put much stock in Burst speed readings and thus we no longer included it. The most important number is the Average Speed number. This number will tell you what to expect from a given drive in normal, day to day operations. The higher the average the faster your entire system will seem.

read.jpg



Write Performance


For this benchmark HD Tune Pro was used. To run the write benchmark on a drive, you must first remove all partitions from that drive and then and only then will it allow you to run this test. Unlike some other benchmarking utilities the HD Tune Pro writes across the full area of the drive, thus it easily shows any weakness a drive may have.

write.jpg


As expected the sequential read performance is everything you would expect from an enthusiast grade solid state drive but the write performance is rather abysmal by modern standards and well below what even the aging Intel 520 240GB solid state drive is capable of. We put little stock in sequential file performance and hopefully this is just simply a 'quirk' of the new Intel enthusiasts 730 series.
 
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AkG

Well-known member
Joined
Oct 24, 2007
Messages
5,270
ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


<i>The ATTO disk benchmark tests the drives read and write speeds using gradually larger size files. For these tests, the ATTO program was set to run from its smallest to largest value (.5KB to 8192KB) and the total length was set to 256MB. The test program then spits out an extrapolated performance figure in megabytes per second. </i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/atto_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/atto_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

While certainly not anywhere near 'best in class' the read performance curve Intel's 730 series is very good for a non-SandForce drive. The write performance is what really holds it back. Even when dealing with smaller sized files that high performance X25 gen 3 controller just isn't able to flex its well-publicized muscles. Considering ATTO deals with low queue depth scenarios this doesn't bode well for real world performance.
 
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AkG

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Crystal DiskMark / PCMark 7

Crystal DiskMark


Crystal DiskMark is designed to quickly test the performance of your hard drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and random read/write speeds; and allows you to set the number of tests iterations to run. We left the number of tests at 5 and size at 100MB.

cdm_w.jpg

cdm_r.jpg

Now that we are getting into more sophisticated testing the inherent weakness of not having the 240GB model fully interleaved is blatantly obvious. Even the read performance of he 730 can easily become degraded and even a moderately deep 32 queue depth is enough to knock pound results into the ground. If were to re-organize the ranking by single queue depth 4K performance the 730 would be in even worse shape as its single queue depth 4K read performance is lower than that of the older Intel 520 240GB series.

Making matters even more dire is this is the 'good news' and as soon as the write performance results are analyzed things go from bad to worse. At single queue depth 4K write tasks, the Intel 730 240GB is slower than even an Intel 335 180GB drive. Intel obviously has put a touch too much faith in their controller and 'load balancing' only goes so far.


PCMark 7


While there are numerous suites of tests that make up PCMark 7, only one is pertinent: the HDD Suite. The HDD Suite consists of numerous tests that try and replicate real world drive usage. Everything from how long a simulated virus scan takes to complete, to MS Vista start up time to game load time is tested in these core tests; however we do not consider this anything other than just another suite of synthetic tests. For this reason, while each test is scored individually we have opted to include only the overall score.

pcm7.jpg


Because of its more read-centric, shallow queue depth suite of tests the Intel 730 240GB drive is able to obfuscate its inherent weakness more than we thought possible. Obviously the controller is just that good, too bad Intel wants you to spend a veritable fortune to get access to a properly harnessed, fully interleaved example of it in the 480GB version!
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


<i>AS-SSD is designed to quickly test the performance of your drives. Currently, the program allows to measure sequential and small 4K read/write speeds as well as 4K file speed at a queue depth of 6. While its primary goal is to accurately test Solid State Drives, it does equally well on all storage mediums it just takes longer to run each test as each test reads or writes 1GB of data.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/asd_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/asd_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


<i>Much like AS-SSD, Anvil Pro was created to quickly and easily – yet accurately – test your drives. While it is still in the Beta stages it is a versatile and powerful little program. Currently it can test numerous read / write scenarios but two in particular stand out for us: 4K queue depth of 4 and 4K queue depth of 16. A queue depth of four along with 4K sectors can be equated to what most users will experience in an OS scenario while 16 depth will be encountered only by power users and the like. We have also included the 4k queue depth 1 results to help put these two other numbers in their proper perspective. All settings were left in their default states and the test size was set to 1GB.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/anvil_w.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/anvil_r.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Rather than telling us anything new, these synthetic test results merely reinforce what is already known: Intel missed the board with the 730 240GB's design. Adding in a massive amount of onboard cache can only help so much and the end result is a mediocre SSD which costs a ton of money. This may sound harsh, but so far we have yet to see anything remotely worthy of the '7 series' moniker displayed by the 240GB capacity version. Hopefully the real world tests will shed more light on to the merits of this new and expensive solid state drive.
 
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AkG

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IOMETER

IOMETER


<i>IOMeter is heavily weighted towards the server end of things, and since we here at HWC are more End User centric we will be setting and judging the results of IOMeter a little bit differently than most. To test each drive we ran 5 test runs per HDD (1,4,16,64,128 queue depth) each test having 8 parts, each part lasting 10 min w/ an additional 20 second ramp up. The 8 subparts were set to run 100% random, 80% read 20% write; testing 512b, 1k, 2k,4k,8k,16k,32k,64k size chunks of data. When each test is finished IOMeter spits out a report, in that reports each of the 8 subtests are given a score in I/Os per second. We then take these 8 numbers add them together and divide by 8. This gives us an average score for that particular queue depth that is heavily weighted for single user environments.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/iom.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Considering the controller which powers the Intel 730 series was designed primarily for the Enterprise market these results are rather disappointing. They may allow the Intel 730 240GB SSD to reside in the top third of the drives tested but it is not even close to being a trend-setter like it was intended to be.

The controller is obviously being starved at deeper queue depths and even at a shallow 16 queue depth the onboard cache can no longer cover for the lack of NAND interleaving. This causes the tell-tale flattening of performance that is more reminiscent of consumer grade Marvell based solutions rather than <i>Intel</i> controllers. More is the pitty as we <i>know</i> how good this controller is as the DC S3500 - which uses a similar setup, albeit with all channels full populated, and different firmware - would simply dominate these charts!
 
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AkG

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Windows 7 Startup / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance


<i>When it comes to hard drive performance there is one area that even the most oblivious user notices: how long it takes to load the Operating System. Where Windows 7 has become nearly ubiquitous for solid state drive enthusiasts we have chosen Windows 7 64bit Ultimate as our Operating System. In previous load time tests we would use the Anti-Virus splash screen as our finish line; this however is no longer the case. We have not only added in a secondary Anti-Virus to load on startup, but also an anti-malware program. We have set Super Anti-Spyware to initiate a quick scan on Windows start-up and the completion of the quick scan will be our new finish line.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/boot.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>


ADOBE CS5 LOAD TIME


<i>Photoshop is a notoriously slow loading program under the best of circumstances, and while the latest version is actually pretty decent, when you add in a bunch of extra brushes and the such you get a really great torture test which can bring even the best of the best to their knees. Let’s see how our review unit faired in the Adobe crucible! </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/adobe.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Shallow queue depths that are mainly read orientated I/O tasks conspire to grant the Intel 730 240GB SSD a very decent standing in the charts. However, even with these overly optimistic results the Intel 730 240GB SSD is not able to even match - let alone dominate - other <i>less expensive</i> enthusiast grade drives which have been available for quite some time now.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


<i>Firefox is notorious for being slow on loading tabs in offline mode once the number of pages to be opened grows larger than a dozen or so. We can think of fewer worse case scenarios than having 100 tabs set to reload in offline mode upon Firefox startup, but this is exactly what we have done here.

By having 100 pages open in Firefox portable, setting Firefox to reload the last session upon next session start and then setting it to offline mode, we are able to easily recreate a worse case scenario. Since we are using Firefox portable all files are easily positioned in one location, making it simple to repeat the test as necessary. In order to ensure repetition, before touching the Firefox portable files, we have backed them up into a .rar file and only extracted a copy of it to the test device.</i>

<div align="center"><img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/ff.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

Even though this test consists almost entirely of read I/O requests the Intel 730 is unable to keep pace with competitors' enthusiast offerings and is tied for fourth place. Simply put, the 730 series is better than this, it's just that to get the 'real' 730 you will have to move up to the 480GB model.


Real World Data Transfers


<i>No matter how good a synthetic benchmark like IOMeter or PCMark is, it can not really tell you how your hard drive will perform in “real world” situations. All of us here at Hardware Canucks strive to give you the best, most complete picture of a review item’s true capabilities and to this end we will be running timed data transfers to give you a general idea of how its performance relates to real life use. To help replicate worse case scenarios we will transfer a 10.00GB contiguous file and a folder containing 400 subfolders with a total 12,000 files varying in length from 200mb to 100kb (10.00 GB total).

Testing will include transfer to and transferring from the devices, using MS RichCopy and logging the performance of the drive. Here is what we found. </i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/copy_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/copy_sm.jpg" border="0" alt="" /></div>

As has become the reoccurring theme of the Intel 730 240GB's test results, the real world benchmark performance can best described as mediocre for an enthusiast grade drive. This is not a bad drive per say - and certainly does not show off the X25 generation 3 controller's significant abilities - it just that Intel has cut too many corners on the design of this particular model. That really is a shame, but the days of being able to purposely handicap drives and charge top dollar are long gone.
 
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AkG

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Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


<i>While it is important to know how a drive will perform under optimal conditions, more realistic scenarios are just as important. Knowing if a solid state drive will behave differently when partially or even nearly full than when it is empty is very important information to know. To quickly and accurately show this crucial information we have first filled the drive to 50% capacity and re-tested using both synthetic and real world tests. After the completion of this we then re-test at 75% and 90% of full capacity. </i>

Synthetic Test Results

<i>For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/data_pcm7.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>


Real World Results

<i>For a real world application we have opted for our standard Windows 7 Start Up with Boot Time A/V Scan Performance test.</i>

<div align="center">
<img src="http://images.hardwarecanucks.com/image/akg/Storage/Intel_730_240GB/data_boot.jpg" border="0" alt="" />
</div>

These seemingly disparate results are because the controller and its cache are actively fighting to keep the NAND bottleneck from impacting performance. A lesser controller would have given much worse results, but the LSI built, Intel designed X25 generation 3 controller is just that good. Too bad it only has nine NAND ICs to work with.
 
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