Intel kills SSD overclocking, unleashes its fastest-ever consumer drive

It's talking up RAID configurations to achieve 1Gbps+ performance

Intel won't be releasing an SSD whose performance can be customized by overclocking after all. Instead, it announced plans today to overclock a new flagship drive and begin selling that in March.

Last year, Intel talked up the prospect of bringing to market a solid-state drive (SSD) that would allow users to overclock its controller and increase performance through intuitive user interfaces.

The overclock-enabled SSD was expected to be out near the start 2014. But New Years came and went and nothing appeared.

Today, Intel announced it would not release a user-customizable SSD after all. Instead, it is opting instead to push the processor clock speed on its next-generation SSD, the 730 Series, to its limit in the factory and then offer it with its typical 5-year warranty.

The new 730 Series SSD is aimed at those who need speed for digital content creation, video capture and editing and extreme gaming.

Intel's SSD 730 Series is its new "flagship" drive with an overclocked processor offering a maximum of 550MB/s performance and 50 microseconds latency.

The reason Intel chose not to release a user-customizable SSD, executives said during a teleconference, is because the company could not offer a full warranty on a product whose performance could be manipulated by users.

Intel is now calling the 730 Series SSD its "flagship consumer drive" with a 50% increase in controller speed and a 20% increase in the NAND flash bus speed compared to its predecessor - the SSD 530 series. The new SSD will ship to distributors on March 18. Preorders are available today.

Intel increased the controller clock speed from 400MHz to 600MHz, and increased NAND bus speeds from 83MHz to 100MHz.

"We decided to push it as far as we could in the factory and then lock it down there," said Justin Whitney, an Intel marketing manager.

The 730 Series SSD comes in 240GB and 480GB capacities. The drives do not have native data encryption capability, as do some other SSD models. While pricing is not yet available, the drive will sell for "just under" $1 per gigabyte of capacity, according to Whitney. Many consumer SSDs today sell for 60 cents to 70 cents per gigabyte of capacity.

Factory overclocking and RAID

By overclocking the processor, Intel said the 730 Series SSD is now its highest performance consumer drive for uncompressible workloads, boasting up to 550MB/s sequential read and 450MB/s sequential write speeds. A 730 Series SSD can nearly saturate a SATA 3 (6Gbps or 600MB/s) interface, according to Whitney.

Because of the performance increase, Intel is hoping to educate users on RAID configurations and how the performance of more than one drive can be used to achieve new data throughput levels.

Benchmark performance test results using Intel's Iometer I/O subsystem measurement tool (Source: Intel Corp.).

For example, by combining two 730 Series SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration (using two desktop drive bays), the capacity remains the same as a single drive, but performance doubles to more than 1,000MB/s. Four RAIDed 730 Series SSDs will hit throughput speeds of more than 1,500MB/s, Whitney said.

The new SSDs have a read latency of just 50 microseconds (or one-millionth of a second), along with up to 89,000 input/outputs per second (IOPs) random reads.

The SSD 730 was built for extreme gamers and digital content creators, particularly those working with ultra-high resolution 4K or ultra-high definition (UHD) video content. The NAND flash, which has 10 I/O channels, is of higher quality than more basic consumer-grade SSDs, according to Whitney.

"As we look down the road and see more and more content that's 4K-based, we've seen the performance needs increase," Whitney said.

The Intel SSD 730 Series is built with a specifically qualified third-generation Intel controller, 20nm-lithography NAND and optimized firmware. Both the controller and the NAND are products Intel has previously used in data center-grade SSD products, Whitney said.

The higher-grade NAND flash memory can sustain up to 70GB of writes per day versus Intel's more standard 20GB-per-day drive sustainability.

"Who needs that much? Digital continent creators with 4K content hammering drive writes," Whitney said.

Hands on: I ran the new 730 Series SSD through a series of benchmarking tests using an Apple MacBook Pro running OS X Mountain Lion (v10.8.4) with 8GB of RAM and a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor. The computer has a SATA 3.0, 6Gbps internal drive interface. It also has USB 3.0 5Gbps external ports. I used Blackmagic Disk Speed Test benchmarking software to test the performance. (See chart below.)

SSD Performance Comparison Chart (Using Blackmagic benchmarking software)

Lucas Mearian covers consumer data storage, consumerization of IT, mobile device management, renewable energy, telematics/car tech and entertainment tech for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed. His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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This story, "Intel kills SSD overclocking, unleashes its fastest-ever consumer drive" was originally published by Computerworld.

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