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Intel DC S3700 SSD Review; Home User Edition

AkG

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Oct 24, 2007
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Last week we had the opportunity to test Intel’s new DC S3700 (in 200GB and 800GB forms) within its native datacenter environment. When used to the utmost of their abilities, these drives have the potential to offer an extremely capable option for enterprise clients due to a near-perfect combination of reliability and consistent performance. But what about home users? Can they benefit from Intel’s latest SSDs?

The very thought of using a professional-market product within a gaming or content creation system may seem crazy at first but there’s a reasoning behind our madness. Unlike many other SSDs in this segment which are used as straight-up storage devices in multi drive environments, the DC S3700 can be used as a bootable drive. As such, anyone willing to make the substantial investment can install Windows or any other OS onto it.

Naturally, there will be some sacrifices since Intel has equipped their DC S3700 with a custom firmware which is tweaked for deeper queue depths than the typical single user system will ever encounter. These drives’ focus directed towards longevity, data protection and consistency rather than bleeding edge performance of most high end mass market SSDs. However, the Intel’s X25 Gen 3 controller proved it could offer high level I/O numbers so it might be able to cross the boundaries into home user environments.

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Regardless of the DC S3700’s extreme flexibility, it is still a drive which targets clients who pay dearly for the best possible data security. In a typical scenario this would lead to an eye-watering price envelope; one which would put these drives far out of reach for most consumers. That hasn’t quite happened.

With approximate price of $2.35 per GB, we certainly wouldn’t call the DC S3700 series affordable when compared against most high end consumer grade devices - which now come in at under $1- but it is not so high as to be outside the realm of possibility. Not that long ago, such prices were considered par for the course for enthusiasts. These facts – and our admittedly insatiable curiosity – warranted a second look.

Unlike the first review of the DC S3700 200GB and 800GB drives, we won’t be focusing in on the Enterprise environment here. Rather, all of our standard tests will be run – except IOMeter - and the data will be compared to everything from an Intel 520 to an OCZ Vector. By the end of this second review we will be able to answer once and for all if the fast response time, massive over-provisioning and excellent long term performance allow the DC S3700 to act as a cross-platform model and interest consumers far outside its intended design parameters.
 
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AkG

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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 a Kingston HyperX 240GB 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.

Please note:
Due to the unique nature of the hybrid setup certain tests results have been omitted as they require an unformatted drive to test or gave erroneous results.

Processor: Core i5 2500
Motherboard: Asus P8P67 Deluxe
Memory: 8GB Corsair Vengeance LP “blue”
Graphics card: Asus 5550 passive
Hard Drive: Kingston HyperX 240GB, OCZ 480GB RevoDrive3 x2
Power Supply: XFX 850

SSD FIRMWARE (unless otherwise noted):

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
: 1.33
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB: 2.2
Crucial M4 256GB: 000F
Intel 520: 400i
OCZ Vertex 4 512GB: 1.5
Corsair Force GS 240GB: 5.0.2
SanDisk Extrene 240GB: R201
Corsair Neutron GTX 240GB: 206
OCZ Vector 256GB: 102
Intel DC S3700: 5DV10211

SandForce SF1200 Drives:
OCZ Vertex 2 - ONFi 2 NAND

SandForce SF2281 Drives:
Intel 510 - custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND
Corsair GS - stock firmware w/ Toggle Mode NAND
SanDisk Extreme - stock firmware w/ Toggle Mode NAND

LAMD:
Corsair Neutron GTX - Toggle Mode NAND

Marvell:
Crucial M4 - Custom firmware w/ ONFi 2 NAND

Everest 2 controller:
OCZ Vertex 4 - ONFi 2 NAND

Barefoot 3 controller:
OCZ Vector - ONFi 2 NAND

Intel X25-M Gen 3 controller:
Intel DC S3700 - ONFi 2 NAND
 
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AkG

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Read Bandwidth / Write Performance

Read Bandwidth



For this benchmark, HD Tune Pro was used. It shows the potential read speed which you are likely to experience with these storage devices. 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.



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.


Both the 200GB and 800GB models certainly won't be considered the absolute fastest SSDs on the block. However, consistency is the name of the game here with very little variation between average and minimum speeds.

While other drives' performance has a tendency to spike and then slightly fall off over time, the DC S3700’s can be relied upon to start fast and remain fast. This is the power of the new X25 controller and the reason these drives are quickly gaining popularity in the enterprise marketplace.
 
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AkG

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ATTO Disk Benchmark

ATTO Disk Benchmark


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.




Even when compared against SandForce drives – whose performance does get artificially boosted in the ATTO suite thanks to their automatic compression / decompression abilities – Intel's DC S3700 still puts in a respectable showing. Once again, these SSDs won't be competing on a level footing with high end enthusiast drives but they can still deliver great synthetic numbers.
 
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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.




Even though the 32 queue depth performance is a touch lower than some other drives we have tested the single queue depth numbers are excellent. These drives have firmware which is tweaked for RAID environments so certain allowances in individual drive results have to be made. The larger 800GB model is slightly faster than the 200GB, but once again synthetic tests are not exactly the best way to show the real power of a drive.


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.


When both the SanDisk Extreme 240GB and Intel 520 240GB solid state drives are outclassed, its pretty much a given that we are dealing with a fast device. In this case the 200GB does lag slightly behind its bigger brother, but both post extremely good numbers.
 
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AkG

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AS-SSD / Anvil Storage Utilities Pro

AS-SSD


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.




Anvil Storage Utilities Pro


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.



Even though the DC S3700's firmware is heavily biased towards RAID configurations these drives still acquit themselves admirably well in single SSD configurations.

Once again the DC S3700 can be counted on to be in the upper third of the charts. The only exception is the moderate write performance reduction the 200GB model seems to suffer from but once again even the lower capacity version isn't what we would consider ‘slow’.
 
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AkG

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Windows 7 Startup / Adobe CS5 Load Time

Windows 7 Start Up w/ Boot Time A/V Scan


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.


Synthetic benchmarks are a simplified metric of measurement but real world testing allows us to see an SSD's true colors.

The DC S3700's results here are nothing short of spectacular here. Simply put, its ultra low latency backed by extremely good read/write performance leads to quick system load times.


Adobe CS5 Load Time


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.


Both sizes once again post some excellent numbers. They may not be the absolute fastest drives we have ever tested – under optimal conditions – but they certainly are right up there with the best of the best.
 
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AkG

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Firefox Portable Offline / Real World Data Transfers

Firefox Portable Offline Performance


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.



This real world test does play more to the DC S3700’s strong suit- deep queue depth performance - and the excellent results are not all the unexpected.


Real World Data Transfers


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.





The mediocre large file results may be a bit disappointing but these drives' maximum read / write speed is lower than most "competitors" in the consumer marketplace. However when it comes to the more important small file results the charts tell an entirely different story: both the 200 and 800 GB versions of the DC S3700 surge ahead. Of course the larger model does post better write performance than the 200GB due to its larger cache size.
 
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AkG

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Partial and Full Drive Performance

Partial and Full Drive Performance


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.

Synthetic Test Results

For our synthetic testing we have opted for our standard PCMark 7 test.




Real World Results

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



Now that we get away from ‘best case’ scenarios and start testing the drives in even more realistic circumstances, both the 200GB and 800GB go from being very good to down right excellent drives. Thanks to their massive amounts of over-provisioning, lack of compression on data, and a controller meant for heavy duty lifting, performance remains top notch even when approaching full capacity. Very, very few SSDs in today's market can claim that. In fact, the amount of performance degradation is the lowest we have seen from any drive.
 
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AkG

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SATA 2 Performance

SATA 2 Performance


In a perfect world everyone investing in a new solid state drive would have access to a SATA 6GB/s controller which could pass on the TRIM command. In reality not everyone has this and for many the decision comes down either giving up TRIM – never a good idea with most controllers – and running it off a secondary controller; or taking a performance hit and running in SATA 2.0 mode.

These tests will consist of some of our real world and synthetic benchmarks run on our standard 1155 test-bed; but the drive will be attached to an SATA 2 port.

For synthetic we have opted for the newcomer to our charts: Anvil Storage Utilities Pro. For real world we have opted for our Adobe test. These two tests should give you a very good idea of the level of performance impact you can expect from running a modern SATA 6 drive in compatibility mode.





Based on these results, Intel newest controller controller is extremely versatile. We doubt that many storage enthusiasts will ever use a DC S3700 SSD in an older computer, but it would not be a bad choice if price were taken out of the account.
 
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