Articles: Storage

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Just a couple of months ago we shared some thoughts about what Intel's consumer-class SSDs might be like if the manufacturer had developed its own controllers instead of partnering with SandForce. It didn’t take much imagination to see the outcome. You could just take a look at SATA SSDs offered by Intel for datacenter applications. Such solutions are based exclusively on Intel's own controllers. We even took an Intel DC S3500 model and benchmarked it in a regular desktop environment. We found Intel’s current Tisdale controller to be superior to the SF-2281, realizing that Intel might easily produce top-end consumer SSDs as well.

That review turned out to be visionary. Intel indeed got an idea to complement its SSD series with an enthusiast-level product that would be based on Intel's own chip with positive karma instead of the outdated SF-2281 with its well-known downsides. The new flagship SSD is based on the Intel DC S3500. We can even view it as a rebranded DC S3500, which comes under the name of Intel 730 and is optimized for desktop PCs. It is these optimizations and other adjustments that we want to cover in this review. We'll see how the former server-class SSD behaves in a top-end desktop environment.

It feels good when your market predictions come true, yet we must admit it was easy to predict the Intel 730. Having abandoned its own controllers in its consumer-class SSDs a few years ago, Intel partnered with SandForce. But SandForce is in no hurry to release a new generation of controllers whereas its existing chips are no good for anything but entry-level SSDs. The SF-2281, in particular, was released three years ago, so its specs have sunk from a high to a very mediocre level in comparison with its rivals. Intel developed its own firmware for the SF-2281, yet it cannot make up for the low performance of the chip itself. So, while the early SandForce-based Intel 520 drive was good enough for the top-performance configurations of its time, the currently available Intel 530 is only suitable for users who want a cheap rather than fast SSD. No wonder that Intel's SSD market share has been shrinking, especially as high reliability, which is typical of Intel's products, is ensured by other brands as well. Thus, Intel really needed a new flagship enthusiast-targeted SSD and it is now available in the form of the Intel 730 drive with Tisdale controller.

We’ve got two versions of the new drive for this review, with capacities of 240 and 480 gigabytes. The new series will consist of only these two versions for the time being.

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