Introduction & Specifications, Pricing and Availability
A new SSD product category has started to emerge over the last year. Businesses, large and smaller, are ready to load SSDs in company desktops and notebooks. Increasing performance is only a small reason why businesses are ready to take the plunge. Other features such as high reliability, hardware based encryption for security, and low cost of ownership help steer system administrators down the road to solid state storage.
For years, we've drilled readers about the benefits of solid state drives and that message isn't letting up. Although the technology got off to a rocky start, SSDs are now more reliable than mechanical disk drives. The numbers can be skewed, but on average, a well-designed SSD is between four and five more reliable than a HDD. Intel is one of the few companies confident enough to publish return rates and according to some etailers, Intel has the lowest return rate in the industry.
TweakTown covers several data breaches each week. Many of the high profile breaches come from misplaced or stolen notebooks filled with thousands of people's personal details, like social security or credit card numbers. Hardware-based encryption, managed by a system administrator, could put an end to our popular news stories. It's estimated that one lost or stolen notebook causes, on average, $50,000 in loss.
Intel's SSD Pro series started with the 1500 Series nearly a year ago, but the product was only for large OEM builders. The new Intel SSD Pro 2500 brings the same professional features to the channel market, where system integrators and system administrators can take advantage of Intel's advanced security features.
Specifications, Features and Availability
Today, Intel releases the Pro 2500 Series in two form factors - M.2 and 2.5". The M.2 models ship in 180GB, 240GB and 360GB capacity sizes. The 2.5" models consist of 120GB, 180GB, 240GB, 360GB models and finally a large 480GB model.
From a performance standpoint, the M.2 (SATA based) and 2.5" share nearly identical specifications. Random read performance is a bit faster on the 2.5" models, 48K IOPS, up from 45K IOPS. The random writes are the same 80K IOPS and the sequential read (540 MB/s) and sequential write (490 MB/s) are the same on both form factors.
The Intel Pro 2500 is a full package that goes far beyond just an SSD in a box. The Pro Series includes tools for performance, flash management, and security / encryption management. The Pro 2500 is also part of Intel's SIPP (Stable Image Platform Program), so system administrators get a stable release without firmware changes for 18 months.
Adding to the package is Intel's Solid-State Pro Administrator Tool, available in both 32-bit and 64-bit. Intel just updated the software to version 1.1.0 for the Pro 2500 release. The Pro 2500 also works with third party management software from Dell, McAfee, Winmagic, Sophos, Absolute Software Microsoft (eDrive) and Wave.
System administrators can even use the new software plugin for SCS 9.x for remote SSD health monitoring. Intel also released a new Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Tool. The Intel SSD Pro 2500 should hit channel markets this week.
Intel SSD Pro 2500 240GB SSD
Outside, the Intel SSD Pro 2500 looks nearly identical to the consumer SSD 530 we tested a few months back.
The rear label shows the model number, serial number, firmware, and other information for the drive.
Intel chose a 7mm case design for the SSD Pro 2500. Many new Ultrabook designs were tailored for business use and the 7mm housing fits most Ultrabooks, as well as business notebooks.
Inside we found a controller co-labeled with Intel and LSI. The controller is the familiar SF-2281 and Intel paired it with 20nm SK Hynix flash.
Here we get a closer look at the controller. Over the last year, we've seen Intel and Kingston with custom labels on SF-2281 controllers.
A few months back, we toured Intel's SSD validation lab and spotted a few SSDs with SK Hynix NAND flash. This is the third SATA III SSD we've tested with SK Hynix flash, the first being from SK Hynix directly and the other from Corsair. In all cases, we found the flash to work very well and paired with the SK Hynix owned Link_A_Media Devices, performed better than 20nm Micron flash.
Intel chose the highest available parallelism for the flash, using sixteen packages.
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
Lenovo W530 - Mobile Workstation
We use two systems for SSD testing. The desktop runs a majority of the tests, and the Lenovo W530 runs the notebook power tests as well as the real-world file transfer benchmark.
ATTO - Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
We use ATTO to get a baseline reading for the drives tested. This benchmark predates SSDs and goes all the way back to early storage product review online.
The Intel SSD Pro 2500 delivered just under 555 MB/s sequential reads and just over 531 MB/s sequential writes.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
HD Tune Pro - Sequential Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.55
Starting off with some sequential tests, this time reading across the user LBA range of the drive, the Pro 2500 averages 449.5 MB/s. The maximum write was 457.8 MB/s, an area that we rarely focus on, but with the low coming in at 18.2 MB/s, we need to explain it.
The test dropped to a very low range for a split second in the test. You can see the average and maximum speeds are very close together, so the drip in sequential read performance didn't have much of an effect on the average result.
Writing sequential data to the Intel SSD Pro 2500 gave us an average sequential write speed of 454.4 MB/s. This test uses compressible data. With incompressible data in the CrystalDiskMark test, we recorded the sequential write speed at 279.1 MB/s.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
Version and / or Patch Used: 188.8.131.52
After a reasonable amount of random writes to the drive, we ran HD Tach. The image above is from that test, and as we can see, there are very few serious drops in write performance. At its lowest point, the drive dropped down to 175 MB/s with sequential write data.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: RC6
So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests; you can run a full test or just the read or the write test, or you can run a single test, i.e. 4k QD16.
Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet, but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil on several international forums, has been updating the software steadily and is adding new features every couple of months.
We can use Anvil several different ways to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.
0-Fill Compressible Data
The controller in the Intel SSD Pro 2500 is able to compress data that isn't already compressed. The data compressed in real-time by the controller actually writes faster to the flash because there is less data to write. This also reduces wear to the flash. The only down side is previously compressed data writes to the drive slower than compressible data.
Low Queue Depth Read IOPS
This first chart is one of the most significant in the entire review. Companies like to talk about high queue depth performance, but most of us will never stack that many commands on an SSD, because the drives are already very fast.
For consumer SSDs, we want to look at low queue depth performance. The Intel SSD Pro 2500 achieves over 8600 read IOPS at QD1 and the IOPS performance nearly doubles at QD2. By queue depth 4 with random data, the 2500 nearly breaks into the 30,000 read IOPS range.
High Queue Depth Read IOPS
In our test where we double the queue depth with each pass, the Intel SSD Pro 2500 reaches peak random read IOPS at QD16, just over 64,000, then drops back down to 45,000 at QD32.
Low Queue Depth Write IOPS
It's easier for consumers to reach higher queue depth levels when writing data than reading it. This is especially true when multitasking.
High Queue Depth Write IOPS
The Intel SSD Pro 2500 only reached 539,000 4K write IOPS at QD32. While slower than many performance leading consumer SSDs, the Pro 2500 is still much faster than a mechanical disk drive.
Benchmarks - Mixed Read / Write Workloads
Mixed Read / Write Workloads
In this series of tests, we measure mixed workload performance. We start with 100% read and then add data writes to the mix until we get to 100% writes, in 10% increments. We believe this will be the next major area SSD manufactures will address after performance consistency.
Mixed Workload Bandwidth
The controller in the Intel SSD Pro 2500 has been on the market for a few years now and has a proven history of solid performance. Even as other products manage to outperform the SF-2281 in standard 4-corner benchmarks, the SF-2281 has amazed us with performance that we couldn't explain... until now.
In this chart, we see several SATA based SSDs, mostly low to midrange products with appropriate pricing for SMB and SME use. The Intel SSD Pro 2500 shows exceptional mixed workload performance, reading and writing at nearly the same time.
80% Read / 20% Write Bandwidth
In a mix of 80% reads with 20% writes (a typical workload for consumers), the Pro 2500 delivers over 400 MB/s of performance. In this test, we chose 50% entropy or 50% of the data already compressed with 50% of the data compressible by the controller.
The SSD 2500 is a business notebook / desktop SSD, so a majority of the tasks revolve around Microsoft's Office suite. The compressibility of these files were measured and published in Intel's 520 SSD document, found on Intel's website. We ran our test with 50% compression, a typical general consumer environment, but the Pro 2500 should perform a bit better in a highly compressible environment.
Mixed Workload Response Time
Here we see the response time from the same test with the same consumer SSDs. The Intel SSD Pro 2500 produced the least amount of latency in nearly all of the tests.
PCMark 8 Consistency Test
Futuremark PCMark 8 Extended - Consistency Test
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.0.228
Heavy Usage Model:
FutureMark's PCMark 8 allows us to wear the test drive down to a reasonable consumer steady state and then watch the drive recover on its own through garbage collection. To do that, the drive gets pushed down to steady state with random writes and then idle time between a number of tests allows the drive to recover.
1. Write to the drive sequentially through up to the reported capacity with random data.
2. Write the drive through a second time (to take care of overprovisioning).
1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 10 minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 8 times, and on each pass increase the duration of random writes by 5 minutes.
Steady state Phase:
1. Run writes of random size between 8*512 and 2048*512 bytes on random offsets for 50 minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.
1. Idle for 5 minutes.
2. Run performance test (one pass only).
3. Repeat 1 and 2 for 5 times.
PCMark 8's Consistency test provides a ton of data output that we use to judge a drive's performance. Here we see the three states of performance for the select SSDs, light use, consumer steady state and worst case.
Performance with 100% incompressible data holds strong in our consistency test. The Pro 2500 will actually perform better with compressible data, but this test only offers two settings and not a 50% entropy setting.
Storage Bandwidth All Tests
Looking over all of the tests, we see the Pro 2500 doesn't lose a lot of performance when going from a light use state to worse case.
PCMark 8 Consistency Test - Continued
Total Access Time
The access time test measures the total latency across all 18 tests. This is one of, if not the most important test we run at this time for consumer SSDs. When your latency is low your computer feels fast, it's just that simple.
The total latency is in the middle ground, between the hyper-class SSDs and the low-budget mainstream drives.
Disk Busy Time
In the final test, we measure the amount of time the drive worked to read and write the data to complete the test. When a drive is active, it uses more power so the faster it can complete the tasks the faster it can fall into a low power state.
Disk busy time shows the same - the Pro 2500 is an average performer with 100% incompressible data.
Benchmarks - Power Testing
Bapco MobileMark 2012 1.5
Version and / or Patch Used: 2012 1.5
Developer Homepage: http://www.bapco.com
Test Homepage: http://www.bapco.com
MobileMark 2012 1.5 is an application-based benchmark that reflects usage patterns of business users in the areas of office productivity, media creation and media consumption. Unlike benchmarks that only measure battery life, MobileMark 2012 measures battery life and performance simultaneously, showing how well a system design addresses the inherent tradeoffs between performance and power management.
A reader suggested we replace our graph with a chart that shows the time the system ran before running out of power. We accepted and also expanded with the chart below that shows performance while limited by power.
The Lenovo W530 paired with the Intel SSD Pro 2500 delivered 267 minutes of battery life. This test does not use DEVSLP, a new low power standard for SSDs based on the Intel Haswell and 8-Series chipsets. In a newer notebook, the Intel SSD Pro 2500 would produce better battery life.
Power Limited Performance
MobileMark runs a series of real-world software, while slowly ticking off minutes until the battery finally depletes. The test also measures performance. In order to deliver more battery life, notebooks reduce processor, PCIe, SATA and DRAM speed until an intensive task asks for more performance.
As you can see, under these limiting conditions, most SSDs perform the same, but some drives do a bit better than others while under battery power. The Intel SSD Pro 2500 does very well in a limited power environment.
In the last three months, my family had a handful of fraudulent credit card transactions occur on the same card. We caught the transactions and were able to avoid big hassles with the bank before things got out of control. Till this day, we still don't know what company allowed our information to escape its network and we're not happy about it. Nearly every day we hear about companies losing unsecured notebooks and the thousands of people affected.
A recent study estimated the average cost of a lost or stolen business notebook is $50,000. If I was a system administrator, I would be very worried about what documents, company secrets and other information employees are taking home with them each day. With an average of 50K, imagine what a worst-case scenario would be. Hardware-based encryption is an easy solution to help combat these issues. Intel is making it easy for administrators to not only lock down the data, but to remotely manage the data as well.
One area we have yet to talk about in this review is Intel's new TCO tool. By using faster storage, business users don't need to upgrade notebooks as often as notebooks with mechanical storage. SSDs are now more reliable than mechanical storage as well, so end-users won't need their systems reimaged as often. The lower power consumption also plays a role here, since the notebooks use less power and that leads to longer intervals between replacing batteries.
I'm sure we are all thankful that Intel has made these tools available to more than just the OEM market. Now your business can take advantage of managed SSD storage encryption.
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