Intel 730 Series SSD 480 GB review

Intel needs no introduction, the US semiconductor giant with the worldwide monopoly on PC processors. But even the Intel Corporation knows the technical and commercial value of the solid-state drive, and has a selection to choose from in its portfolio, covering business and enterprise needs, enthusiasts and general PC users.

The Intel 730 Series was introduced in February 2014 as a high-performance consumer SSD, aimed squarely at professionals and enthusiasts looking for the best drive available. In contrast to some recent Intel SSDs that have taken the lazy route of employing SandForce controllers (albeit with Intel’s custom firmware), Intel has repurposed one if its own designs, the Intel PC29AS21CA0 controller that was initially developed for enterprise-class flash drives such as the Intel DC S3700.

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In addition to its own controller and firmware, Intel naturally specifies its own NAND flash, here 20nm MLC, and is sufficiently confident of its endurance to offer a 5-year warranty. Up to 70 GB of writes per day is promised for the 480 GB capacity model, suggesting a total writespan of 127 TB.

Intel doesn’t specify any RAM cache details although we understand the larger of the two available models at 480 GB uses 512 MB of DDR3 DRAM memory. But the company does discuss one way it’s tricked up the 730 Series compared to its data-centre brethren, and that’s through overclocking the controller and the flash memory bus.

And it’s not a gentle nudge either as we see with factory-overclocked GPUs or even CPUs in enthusiast gaming rigs, which might raise the game by a few percent or few tens of percent respectively. Here the controller has been accelerated from 400 to 600 MHz, a mighty move of 50 percent. Memory bus is tweaked by 20 percent from 83 to 100 MHz.

Unfortunately we currently don’t have the facility to measure internal power consumption but Intel’s own figures of up to 5.5 W when active and 1.5 W idle suggest this SSD would not be a wise choice for laptops seeking decent battery lives.

Performance

In straightforward sequential runs, the Intel 730 Series could comfortably stretch its legs to the SATA Revision 3.0 limit, hitting 559 MB/s for reads and 507 MB/s in writes.

Tested with both compressible and incompressible data in CrystalDiskMark the results were broadly the same – for example 459 versus 456 MB/s reads and 482 versus 480 MB/s writes – indicating the drive’s freedom from data bias.

Intel’s specification rightly focus on low latency, apparent in measurements as good input/output per second figures. And the 730 Series soundly met and beat its spec of up to 89 k and 74 k respectively for reads and writes.

In the AS SSD benchmark test it was close to that spec at 89 k reads and 72 k writes IOPS, using the default queue depth of 64 threads. Presented with half as many threads in CrystalDiskMark (QD=32) with random 4 kB transfers again, we saw almost 94 k read IOPS and 82 write IOPS.

For single-threaded 4 kB operation the 730 Series returned a good result of 35 MB/s reads, one of the highest figures seen here, and a healthy 89 MB/s for random writes.

OUR VERDICT

The technical backstory of server-class turned enthusiast drive, coupled with a decent warranty and enormous data-write ceiling, are as impressive as the palpably good lab-test results. The 730 Series is the most expensive drive, per gigabyte, but if you want speed at the SATA limit and a formal guarantee of endurance, the Intel SSD will deliver both.

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