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Intel DC P3520 2TB Enterprise PCIe NVMe SSD Review (Page 1)

Intel DC P3520 2TB Enterprise PCIe NVMe SSD Review

Intel's first 3D flash-based enterprise SSD, the DC P3520, hits the market. Here's our full review of it.

Jon Coulter | Jan 16, 2017 at 10:50 am CST - 4 mins, 12 secs time to read this page
Rating: 97%Manufacturer: Intel


Before we get started, we want to make our readers aware that we've updated our test suite to include low queue depth testing. This involved a great deal of retesting of all of our enterprise SSDs. We felt this is necessary to properly evaluate the DC P3520 because it is a lower queue depth focused SSD. Going forward, we will be including low queue depth random testing (QD1-4) as part of our regular test suite. All of the retesting we had to do has delayed our review of the DC P3520 significantly, so we want to apologize for the delay.

We've been waiting for Intel to deliver 3D flash-based SSDs, and now we have the Intel's first 3D flash-based SSD for the datacenter, the DC P3520. Intel introduces their first-generation 3D MLC flash into the mix with the DC P3520. Intel's new DC P3520 Series NVMe SSDs employ the NVMe software stack over a PCIe Gen3 x4 interface to bring nonvolatile memory as close as possible to the computer's processor. NVMe is architected from the ground-up to remove legacy layers of hard drive interfaces, taking full advantage of the speed and parallelism of solid state nonvolatile memory. NVMe lowers overall CPU overhead because NVMe has a simplified command set which minimizes the number of CPU clocks per I/O which increases QoS in comparison to AHCI. NVMe is designed to be future proof, with a protocol built for current and future non-volatile storage solutions. Previous AHCI interfaces supported only one SQ/CQ (Submission Queue/Command Queue), NVMe supports up to 64K separate SQ/CQ's.


Intel's DC P3520 Series SSDs leverage the same 18-channel controller that we've seen on previous DC P3xxx series and 750 Series SSDs. This controller can deliver exceptional performance, but it is capacity limited to 2GB of DRAM cache for caching data tables and wear leveling data, which in turn limits the SSD capacity to 2TB for a single controller. The DC P3608 utilizes two of these controllers which is why it has a 4TB maximum capacity point. We would like to see larger than 2TB capacity points offered, but with the DC P3520 being a single controller design, 2TB is the max.

The very first NVMe SSD to hit the market was Intel's DC P3700. With the DC P3700, Intel aimed to deliver the very best in performance and endurance. The DC P3700 delivered on both fronts, and even now it is still one of the most powerful options on the market. High-endurance mixed use SSDs offer tons of performance, but at the same time they are very expensive and power hungry beasts.

Intel's first 3D flash-based SSD follows a different path that brings PCIe performance to the mainstream. This path puts high queue-depth performance and class-leading performance on the back-burner and instead focuses on affordability, lower power consumption, and low queue-depth performance for mainstream read-centric applications. We like this strategy because mainstream applications like cloud services are a rapidly growing segment of the datacenter that is best served by mainstream performing PCIe SSDs that are power efficient, read-centric, and deliver good sequential and low queue random performance.

The DC P3520 is essentially a DC P3500 with a 3D flash array. In terms of sequential performance, the DC P3520 takes a back seat to the P3500. The DC P3500 delivers sequential read/write performance of up to 2,800/1,800 MB/s and random 4K read/write performance of up to 430K/28K IOPS at 25 watts of active power consumption. The DC P3520, although not as fast, is much more power efficient delivering sequential read/write performance of 1,700/1,350 MB/s and random 4K read/write performance of up to 357K/26K IOPS at 12 watts of active power consumption.

3D flash allows for higher density at a lower cost, lower power consumption, and increased endurance over conventional planar flash. We mention endurance specifically as it relates to the planar flash based DC P3500. As we stated earlier, the DC P3520 is basically a DC P3500 with a 3D flash array instead of a planar (2D) flash array. Due to its 3D flash array, the DC P3520's endurance rating is 2.5X that of the planar-based DC P3500, which is a testament to one of the many advantages that 3D flash inherently offers over planar flash.

In choosing our test pool, we wanted to include SATA SSDs to demonstrate the advantage that PCIe SSDs bring to the table. We also wanted to show that at low queue depths the DC P3520 performs just as well as more powerful SSDs like the DC P3700.

Quick Specs

Intel DC P3520 2TB Enterprise PCIe NVMe SSD Review 02 |

The Intel DC P3520 2TB HHHL AIC we have on the bench today sports the following hardware and steady-state performance specifications: 4K Random Read / Write = 375K/26K. Sequential Read/Write = 1,700/1,350 MB/s. Power consumption = 10-12W Active/4W idle. Controller = Intel 18-channel NVMe controller. NAND = Intel 3D 2bit MLC. Data DRAM Cache = 2GB. Onboard Power-loss Protection = Yes.

Intel warranties the DC P3520 for five years or 2.49 Petabytes Written.

Last updated: Nov 15, 2019 at 01:16 pm CST

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Jon Coulter


Jon became a computer enthusiast when Windows XP launched. He was into water cooling and benching ATI video cards with modded drivers. Jon has been building computers for others for more than 10 years. Jon became a storage enthusiast the day he first booted an Intel X25-M G1 80GB SSD. Look for Jon to bring consumer SSD reviews into the spotlight.

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