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Intel has largely been absent from the high-end SSD market for many years, which has been a real head-scratcher, considering the original X-25M’s dominance back in 2009. That all changes this month with the release of its all-new 730 series SSD. It springs from the loins of its data center SSDs, which use validated NAND and Intel’s enterprise-level controller technology. To emphasize this heritage, Intel isn’t bragging about the drive’s overall speed, but instead notes the drive is rated to handle up to 70GB of writes per day, which is higher than any other SSD on the market by a huge margin. It features capacitors to protect data being written in case of a power outage, which is an unusual but not unprecedented feature on a consumer SSD. Intel also backs the drive with a five-year warranty.
Intel’s new flagship SSD is validated for a whopping 70GB of writes per day.
To create the 730 Series, Intel has basically taken the NAND flash and controller from its data center–oriented S3700 SSD and bumped up the clock and interface speeds. If you recall the “SSD overclocking” demo Intel held at Pax last year, this is the result, though Intel decided against letting consumers overclock the drive. Instead, it did the overclocking at the factory so that the drives could be validated at those speeds. To drive home the point that this is an SSD made for enthusiasts, Intel has even adorned it with a sweet-looking Skulltrail badge.
The drive is a 7mm unit, so it will fit inside an ultrabook, but is available only in 240GB and 480GB capacities. It’s odd that it’s not available in 750GB or higher capacities, but our guess is Intel is afraid of the sky-high sticker price that such a drive would require; the two capacities it’s offering are priced very high at $250 and $490, respectively. The drive features Intel’s 20nm MLC NAND and its own third-generation controller. It’s ditched SandForce, along with all the other SSD makers in the business. One interesting note is that since this is an enterprise drive, it essentially doesn’t have a “low-power state,” so it’s not intended for mobile usage. Also, it consumes 5W under load, which is double the consumption of even a 7,200rpm mobile hard drive.
When we strapped the 730 Series drive to our test bench, we saw results that were a bit slower overall than we expected. It topped the charts in AS SSD, which measures read and write speeds of incompressible data, but the Intel drive was only a smidge faster than most, and not by enough to make it stand out, as they are all very fast. It was a bit slower than average in straight-line sequential read speeds, topping out at 468MB/s for reads and 491MB/s for writes. While this is still plenty fast, it’s a bit short of the 550MB/s Intel claims the drive is capable of, which is totally saturating the SATA 6Gb/s interface.
It was also oddly slow in the ATTO benchmark, which has a queue depth of four and is a “best case scenario” for most drives. It scored just 373MB/s for 64KB-read speeds, compared to 524MB/s for the Samsung 840 Pro. We ran the test several times to verify, so it’s not an aberration. It placed mid-pack in PCMark Vantage, but was slower than its competition in our real-
world Sony Vegas test, where we write a 20GB uncompressed AVI file to the drive.
Overall, this drive is a bit of a conundrum. We have no doubt it’s reliable, as Intel has always been strong in that regard and this drive is full of safety-oriented features. But is it more reliable than a Samsung 840 Pro for the average consumer? We doubt it, and therefore the drive’s extra-high price tag doesn’t make much sense. If Intel realizes it’s no longer the only game in town and adjusts the price a bit, it’ll be a much more competitive drive, but as it stands, we must give it a so-so verdict of 8.
Five-year warranty; 70GB write/day; fast enough; Intel reliability.
Too expensive; not the fastest; consumes a lot of power.
|Intel 730 Series||Samsung 840 Pro||Sandisk Extreme II||OCZ Vector||Corsair Neutron GTX|
|Controller ||Intel 3rd Gen.||MDX||Marvell 88SS9187||Barefoot 3||LAMD|
|Avg. Sustained Read (MB/s)||468||534||521||502||441|
|Avg. Sustained Write (MB/s)||491||514||484||499||478|
|AS SSD - Compressed Data|
|AS SSD - Compressed Data||515||513||508||507||507|
|Avg. Sustained Write (MB/s)||471||495||473||494||475|
|64KB File Read (MB/s)||373||524||525||511||345|
|64KB File Write (MB/s, 4QD)||468||497||493||480||485|
|4KB Random Write 32QD (IOPS)||78,242||82,297||42,699||83,531||85,375|
|PCMark Vantage x64||49,969||75,205||38,093||75,863||67,426|
|Sony Vegas Pro 9 Write (sec)||442||294||275||314||286|
Best scores are bolded. All tests conducted on our hard-drive test bench, which consists of a Gigabyte Z77X-UP4 motherboard, 3.2GHz Core i5-3470 CPU, 8GB of RAM, Intel 520 Series SSD, and a Cooler Master 450W power supply.