Intel introduces 910 Series PCIe SSD

Intel is no stranger to the world of enterprise-grade SSDs. Its first offering for that market, the X25-E, was released way back in the fall of 2008. That was a 2.5" drive, and it's since been replaced by the 710 Series, which has a similar form factor and SATA interface. Today, Intel breaks away from Serial ATA with the 910 Series PCI Express SSD.

The 910 Series is built on a half-height, half-length PCI Express x8 card designed to squeeze into low-profile servers. Although the card occupies a single slot, it packs multiple circuit boards. The 400GB model is a dual-board affair, while the 800GB flavor serves up a triple-stacked NAND sandwich. Both conform to the gen-two PCI Express standard. Future versions will tap PCIe 3.0 "and beyond," Intel says.

As one might expect, the 910 Series is made up of multiple logical SSDs. The 400GB and 800GB drives have two and four NAND controllers, respectively. These chips are the same as what's found in Hitachi's latest Ultrastar SSD; they pair Intel's controller tech with Hitachi's SAS interface logic. The controllers communicate with the system through an LSI SAS-to-PCIe bridge chip.

Rather than resort to RAID or virtualization schemes to present the multiple controllers as a single drive, the 910 Series shows its component SSDs to the operating system as separate units. Users are free to combine those units in software RAID arrays. They can also choose to address the component drives individually, although the 910 Series can't be used as a boot device.

Intel equips the 910 Series with its own brand of high-endurance MLC NAND. This flash memory is built on the same 25-nm process as the NAND that populates Intel's other SSDs, but only the best chips are cherry picked for use in the company's server products. Dubbed HET, the higher-grade NAND will purportedly last 30 times longer than the flash memory in consumer SSDs. Intel says the 910 Series 400GB can withstand 7 petabytes worth of writes over its lifespan, and the 800GB drive is supposed to be able to handle double that. Both are covered by a five-year warranty.

Capacity Lifetime endurance Max sequential Max random Price
Read Write Read Write
400GB 7 PB 1GB/s 0.75GB/s 90k IOps 38k IOps $1,929
800GB 14 PB 2GB/s 1GB/s 180k IOps 75k IOps $3,859

The 910 Series' performance will obviously depend on how its component SSDs are configured, but Intel says the drive can achieve sequential transfer speeds up to 2GB/s and random I/O throughput as high as 180,000 IOps. With a little help from Linux kernel modifications, the drive's random I/O performance can be raised even higher, according to Intel. There's more performance to be gained if you're willing to pump a little extra juice into the card, too. The 910 Series pulls 25W from the PCIe slot in its default configuration, but Intel's software can increase that power draw to 28W and deliver a sequential write speed of 1.5GB/s in return.

Obviously, the 910 Series is rather expensive. The prices aren't outrageous given the cost of other enterprise SSDs, though. Intel's 710 Series 300GB will set you back nearly $1300 at Newegg right now, or about $4.33/GB. The 910 Series costs less than five bucks per gig, and it should be quite a bit faster.

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