Unlike the original enterprise to enthusiast product, Skulltrail, the Intel 730 Series 480GB didn't blow us away with more performance than we can handle. The truth is, 730 is more of a compromise product that offers enough performance to carry momentum, but not the product we wanted to see at this time.
The issue is outside of Intel's control, but we all have to suffer since PCI Express based SSD controllers are still outside of our reach. Marvell has a PCIe 2.0 x2 controller and we've tested it on the SanDisk A110. We also have the Plextor M.2 M6e, but the drive arrived 24 hours before you can read this review. Intel seems pretty firmly in LSI SandForce's camp when it comes to consumer drives, but how long that relationship lasts depends on how late SF3700 really is. LSI says in time for Computex and they may be right, but Intel bringing the 730 to the market now tells me we won't see a consumer SF3700 until January. I hope I'm wrong.
Let's assume I'm right and the 730 Series was reeled in from the datacenter to fill the gap. The DC S3500 was built for consistent performance under heavy use. The model is quite a bit different from what a consumer SSDs run, short periods of heavy use with very long idle time in between. I think we caught a glimpse of 730 running in a degraded state with HD Tach, but the drive quickly recovered. It would make sense for Intel to tune the garbage collection scheme to be more aggressive for consumer use. The only part that has me worried is that we didn't hit the drive very hard before finding the write performance down to 50 MB/s.
Other tests in our suite tell a different story, one of exemplary performance. Often times though the drive is just behind the market leaders. That is a polite way of saying the 730 Series 480GB purchasing decision is really going to come down to price. It's a good drive, within the top five fastest on the market today in the 512GB capacity class, but performance alone doesn't make it exceptional.
Enter the value added features and accessories. This is a datacenter drive with a year of proven datacenter reliability, host power fail protection (a feature not found on many consumer SSDs), and then you can add on the standard Intel flagship features. These include a desktop adapter bracket on the retail products, a sticker, a five-year warranty, Intel SSD Toolbox and data migration software. With SATA III limiting performance, the value added features really come into play.
I haven't had the time to test the 730 Series 480GB in a daily use environment yet, but I do have a DC S3700 in a notebook. The base architecture is similar and I use the notebook for editing our videos from shows like Flash Memory Summit, AIS and Storage Visions. The drive does very well editing 1080p video and multitasks very well. I chose the drive for several reasons, performance with incompressible data and reliability top the list. The 730 Series offers nearly the same performance and still has a very high endurance rating. The combination makes for a very good prosumer drive where a solid all-around drive is required.
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