Intel DC S3500 480GB SSD Review (Single & RAID)

Author: AkG
Date: June 10, 2013
Product Name: DC S3500 480GB
Part Number: DC S3500
Warranty: 5 Years
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Intel’s DC S3500 has been created to rewrite many market driven preconceptions about enterprise-level SSDs. Unlike the Intel 910 or even the DC S3700 series which both focus on competing against other enterprise SSDs, it has been designed to displace high performance 15,000 RPM hard drives from the server rack. At first glance this may not seem all that significant but the DC S3500 is one of the first enhanced endurance SSDs available at an accessible price point.

The mature and ubiquitous hard drive has always been the enterprise environment’s de facto standard. Displacing them as a gold standard in a market that requires value, capacity and long term endurance is a titanic undertaking and many other manufacturers have deftly avoided this battle.

When purchasing managers or even enthusiasts think about server-grade SSD solutions, stratospheric pricing has often caused them to look elsewhere. Less expensive and capacity focused mainstream alternatives have always been available, while SSDs represented a very much unknown factor. Now, as solid state technology has matured, NAND prices are falling and longevity –a cornerstone of enterprise storage- is finally reaching a point of viability. This has allowed Intel to create the new DC S3500, a lineup of drives which were impossible to design a year ago.

While there is no denying most high end SSDs outperform even the fastest 15K hard drive, benchmark numbers typically fall on deaf ears outside of the mass market. However, SSDs have always offered some tangible tertiary benefits as well: power consumption, spatial allocation and heat are significantly reduced. As data centers and server farms expand, these three factors are becoming increasingly important so there is an emerging interest for something other than traditional spindle-based storage media. This is especially true for read heavy scenarios which the DC S3500 has been designed to excel at. Intel states that read only tasks which would have required an entire six foot / 42U rack of five hundred power hungry 15K RPM hard drives can now be accomplished with a mere twelve DC S3500 drives.

Intel already has their hands well into the enterprise SSD market. The DC S3700 series uses ultra expensive 25nm HET MLC NAND while the impressive 910 series uses a PCI-E interface to reach dizzying levels of performance. Each of those solutions will easily set a company or individual back thousands of dollars but the DC S3500 has slightly more humble goals in mind. It uses heavily binned, highly screened ONFi 2 20nm enterprise-certified MLC NAND similar to that found in other Intel drives recently released.

This aggressive screening process, in conjunction with artificially capped write performance allows the DC S3500 to have an endurance of up to 450TB instead of 22TB like the mass market Intel 335. To put this in different terms, the DC S3500 is rated for about 0.3 Drive Writes Per Day versus the 335’s 0.05 DWPD and keeps with JEDEC’s JESD218 standards. This is however much, much lower write endurance than the 10 DWPD the DC S3700 is rated for.

Using non-HET NAND has a major impact on write endurance and write performance but the cumulative effect on the DC S3500’s upfront cost and Total Cost of Ownership is significant. Thanks to the 20nm NAND these new drives will come with a price per gigabyte ratio not that much higher than the average consumer grade SSD or about $1.20 per GB for the 480GB model. That’s right, the DC S3500 480GB drive we’re reviewing here goes for just $579.

With lower tier enterprise-grade SSDs reaching more affordable levels, one may think the DC S3500 may be a prime candidate for enthusiasts who want some peace of mind. Not so fast. As we’ll see in the coming pages, these drives are laser targeted at a specific usage pattern, one which favors their deployment in high level storage applications rather than gaming systems.


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