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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Intel 730K 480GB 6-Drive SSD RAID Report

TweakTown image content/6/4/6448_01_intel_730k_480gb_6_drive_ssd_raid_report.jpg

Intel's 730K is specifically designed for enthusiasts. Intel took their excellent performing DC S3500 Data Center SSD and adapted it for the enthusiast sector. Some of you are undoubtedly wondering: Where did the "K" come from? As far as I can tell, the "K" denotes that this is an overclocked piece of hardware. The 730K series retains the DC S3500's enterprise DNA and gets a big performance boost from a factory overclocked processor and overclocked flash.

Like most overclocked pieces of hardware, the 730K runs hot, fast, and uses a lot of power; just the way we enthusiast's like it. Intel vigorously validates their SSD's with the industry's most extensive testing regimen and as such, Intel can deliver an overclocked solid state drive that not only outperforms the competition, but also is more reliable than the competition.

During our first go-round with a 730K array we quickly discovered that the real magic of the 730K is that it scales better in RAID than any SSD we've tested to date. A single 730K can be outperformed by some SSD's, but not a 730K RAID array. Enterprise SSD's are designed to run in RAID where scaling becomes very important, and the 730K is based on an enterprise SSD. This is exactly what we mean by the term enterprise DNA.

We are starting to see many new PCIe drives hit the market. PCIe drives are designed to replace SATA based SSD's like the 730K. PCIe isn't hampered in the same way SATA is, PCIe has much more bandwidth and lower latency than SATA. PCIe drives are advertised as being faster than SATA based SSD's delivering sequential performance of up to 2000MB/s. This is much faster than SATA; current SATA 6Gb/s is capped at about 550MB/s sequential speeds. When you see 2000MB/s verses 550MB/s speed it's only logical to assume that a PCIe SSD is going to deliver better performance.

As we find so many times though, there is a lot more to the story when we dig a little deeper. Sequential performance is what you want if you plan on utilizing your SSD for a secondary attached device, but that's not what most of the world is going to utilize their expensive SSD's for, we are going to use them for our operating systems, our boot drives. When it comes to operating system storage devices, sequential performance is relatively unimportant, what matters is random performance. PCIe SSD's deliver great sequential performance, but SATA based SSD's typically have superior random performance.

This is where RAID comes into play, and why right now SATA based RAID is an enthusiast's best friend. Random performance "scales" (increases as drives are added to the array) on SATA based arrays, typically a PCIe drives random performance does not scale. In an OS environment a 2 or more drive SATA based array can deliver better performance than any PCIe drive on the market today, and do so for a lower cost per GB. Take a quick look at the chart below to see what we mean:

TweakTown image content/6/4/6448_02_intel_730k_480gb_6_drive_ssd_raid_report.png

The only PCIe drive on our chart that performs well in an OS environment is Samsung's X941 M.2 X4 SSD and it costs $1.50 per gigabyte. Other drives like OCZ's Revo 350 costing two dollars per gigabyte or more, and boasting sequential performance of 2000 MB/s cannot even beat a single Intel 730K in an OS environment. So what happens when you RAID PCIe drives together? They are no longer bootable and random performance does not scale. Some day that will change, but it's going to be awhile before a PCIe drive is a better choice than a SATA array in an OS setting.

Enthusiasts are defined by their desire to have the best performing hardware available. The best performing hardware does not come cheap; it is going to cost you to be the king of the hill. When you are an enthusiast cost becomes a secondary consideration, performance is your primary consideration. Intel's 730K is on the upper end of the price per gigabyte spectrum for SATA based SSD's coming in at just under a dollar per gigabyte. When you consider the massive performance you get for that dollar per gigabyte, its money well spent in my opinion.

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