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Aug 27 2016

Intel Releases Batch of 3D NAND SSDs

Intel's already huge portfolio of solid state drives for different purposes just got a little bigger: on Thursday, the firm introduced a total of six new product lines – two for data centers, two for IoT applications, and one each for deployment in business and consumer client devices. The main differentiator here is that the new models use 3D NAND cells, as opposed to planar flash in existing products.

3D NAND – formerly known as vertical or V-NAND – is a relatively new type of flash storage design that stacks various layers of flash cells upon each other instead of sticking with a flat geometry. The concept is supposed to solve several issues at once. First, just like the number of transistors in microprocessors can't grow beyond (and the process can't shrink below) certain dimensions, the number of flash cells that may be put onto a 2D chip is actually limited. Adding more layers breaks up this limitation, thus allowing for higher areal density in flash storage media – basically, you get to store more information in the same space. Second, 3D designs enable better utilization of fundamental flash advantages regarding performance and reliability. Third, higher density means lower cost per gigabyte of storage. In other words, 3D NAND appears to be something like the Swiss Army knife for further advancements in storage technology from both a vendor's and a customer's point of view. The Intel video below explains how progress is supposed to unfurl. 

As mentioned above, Intel has introduced six fresh product lines building on the new technology:

  • The Intel® SSD DC P3520 and S3520 Series are designed for servers and storage arrays in data centers and will replace older S and P series models in the long run. Both will be available in a variety of sizes (capacities) and form factors that also offer differing random and sequential read and write speeds. More specifically, the P3520 drives come in capacities of 450 GB as well as 1.2 and 2 TB, with sequential read speeds ranging from up to 1.2 GB/s in the small to up to 1.7 GB/s in the bigger models and sequential write speeds growing accordingly, from 600 MB/s to 1.35 GB/s as capacity rises. Random read speeds may reach 145,000 IOPS in the small model and grow to 320,000 and 375,000 IOPS respectively in the bigger ones; however, random write speeds are considerably lower and clock in at a maximum of 26,000 IOPS for the higher-capacity models and 19,000 for the 450 GB drive. With regard to form factors, customers can either order 'classic' low-profile PCIe cards or opt for a 2.5-inch housing that connects to a U.2 backplane. – By contrast, the S3520 drives will either be available as 2.5 inch internal SATA drives or as M.2 extension cards. The former category comes in seven sizes of 150/240/480/800/960 GB as well as 1.2/1.6 TB and is will supposedly deliver maximum sequential read and write speeds of 450 and 380 GB/s, whereas random reads and writes top out at 67,500 and 17,000 IOPS respectively. The M.2 cards only offer below-terabyte capacities; at 410/320 GB/s and 53,000/14,400 IOPS, sequential and random read and write speeds are also notably smaller. (Please note that performance values for the S3520 series were taken from this product brief; the product page we linked to above lists different specifications, but will possibly receive an upgrade soon. Intel's ARK product catalogue so far only lists the 2.5 inch drives, not the M.2 cards.)
  • The "SSD for IoT" category extends Intel's portfolio of solid state drives for embedded systems and is meant for POS terminals, ATMs, and other machinery. The newcomers are the Intel® SSD E 6000p and E5420s Series; for now, each of these includes two models of varying sizes and/or form factors. The E6000p Series comes in a 22 x 80 mm M.2 design and may either hold 128 or 256 GB; sequential read and write speeds max out at 770 and 450 MB/s for the smaller and 1.6GB/s and 540 MB/s for the bigger drive. According to detailed specs from Intel, random read speeds may reach at 35,000 and 71,000 IOPS max; somewhat surprisingly, Intel lists considerably higher maximum random write speeds of 91,500 and 112,000 IOPS respectively. – The E5420s Series comes as a 22 x 80 mm M.2 drive or 2.5 inch regular SSD; the former can hold 150 GB and the latter 240 GB of data. Both connect to their host systems via a SATA 6Gb/s interface; but while the ARK catalogue doesn't reveal anything about the performance data of the M.2 edition, it lists top sequential read and write speeds of 320 and 300 MB/s and top random read and write speeds of 65,000 and 16,000 IOPS for the standard SSD.
  • Finally, Intel offers a set of new M.2-type SSDs for client devices, mainly ultrabooks and tablets serving in business or SOHO scenarios. The 'consumer-grade' SSD 600p Series comprises four models with capacities of 128, 256, 512 and 1,024 GB/1 TB; maximum sequential read and write speeds start at 770 MB/s and 450 MB/s for the smallest one and may reach 1.8 GB/s and 560 MB/s for the terabyte drive. Maximum random read speeds range from 35,000 to 155,000 IOPS, whereas random write speeds top out between 91,500 and 128,000 IOPS, all according to ARK specifications. – The business-grade SSD Pro 6000p Series delivers identical performance; the main difference here is that it comes in five sizes – with an additional 360 GB model inserted between the 256 and 512 GB drives – and offers security features like End-to-End Data Protection and Remote Secure Erase on top of AES 256-bit hardware encryption, which is also included with the 600p Series.

All drives are listed as launched in the ARK catalogue. Information about release dates and price points was incomplete at the time of writing; however, various online sources say that the SSD 600p Series can be found in retail stores, and recommended customer prices range from $69 for the 128 GB drive to $359 for the terabyte variant.

 
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