Roughly a week ago, Intel took the wraps off its brand new consumer-class SSD, the 545s. The Intel 545s is the very first SSD on the market to rock the 64-layer 3D NAND. This drive is the first from Intel expected to go up against the Samsung 850 EVO that has dominated the mainstream category for several years, and might actually do so damage.

Being a consumer, cost friendly SSD, it uses SATA instead Nvm/PCI based interface. Just like its predecessor, the 540s this new SSD is based on the 16nm TLC fabbed by Hynix. The controller too is more or less the same. The 545s may be the first SSD to use the latest SM2259 controller from Silicon Motion, but it’s a roughly minor upgrade over the SM2258 controller used by its predecessor. The only new feature available in this controller is hardware end-to-end data protection that includes ECC on the controller’s SRAM and on the external DRAM. The flash memory used in the SSD is Intel’s second generation 3D TLC NAND, with a 64-layer design and a floating gate memory cell.

Intel is offering the 545s in several capacities ranging from 128GB to 2TB. The 512GB model uses four NAND packages, with each package containing four dies. The new NAND allows the the SSD to reach up to 550/500 MB/s of sequential read/write throughput. Intel claims that random performance comes in at 75,000 IOPS/85,000 read/write IOPS. The high write speed is the result of the SLC buffer. Intel is gong to use the same 256Gbit die for all 545s, as far as we’ve heard. The most significant performance improvement Intel cites for the 545s over the 540s is in sustained sequential transfers where writes exceed the size of the drive’s SLC cache. Intel claims that the 480GB 540s would drop to 40MB/s while the 512GB 545s is capable of maintaining 475MB/s.

This drive skin is Intel’s first revamped case design for thier consumer SSDs since their early drives. Inside the case, there is a custom SMI controller with Intel firmware, a single DDR3 DRAM package, and four NAND packages sporting a 64-layer NAND. The components lie on a small PCB that only take up a part of the case. With 256Gb (32GB) per die, this comes up to four dies per package. Because of the ample space, even the largest (2TB) model should be able to use this PCB with sixteen dies per package and populating the empty pad for a second DRAM package. The Intel SSD 545s has thermal pads on all four NAND packages and on the controller as well.

The 512GB model of the Intel 545s debuts with a MSRP of $179. This is margionally higher than of the 480GB Intel 540s, but on a pure price per GB basis the 545s turns out to be is cheaper, and plus the current price of the 540s is $189.

Benchmarks

The 3D NAND based Intel drive manages to come fairly close to the Samsung 850 EVO, but doesn’t quite pose a threat to it. The Samsung SSD clearly beats the Intel 545s in every bench. Comparing it against the 540s, it’s predecessor, it constantly comes out ahead, although that difference is marginal many-a-times. The Crucial MX 300 trades blows with Intel’s latest SSD, and it would be safe to say that they are pretty much on par with each other. The OCZ Trion 150 too lurks in the same territory, but the 545s beats it to the curb in most of the tests.

POWER CONSUMPTION

Thanks to SATA device-initiated link power management enabled, idle power consumption is significantly low. All modern SATA based SSDs have very  low-power idle states, but the 545s does show an appreciable improvement over the 540s and Intel manages to come real close to the Crucial MX300 and Samsung 850 EVO.

The Samsung drives come on top as far as the power draw is concerned, and the Crucial MX300 comes a close second. The Silicon Motion-based Intel 540s, 545s and ADATA SU800 are lagging behind in this department, though the Intel drives are not that far behind. However, 545s does draw more power than the 540s, which is not very unexpected since it uses an updated controller.

CONCLUSION

While the Intel 545s won’t really have much of an impact on the market, it still is one of Intel’s more notable investments in the consumer SSD market. As a mainstream product, the 545s seems like an experiment, rather than a major competitor for SAMSUNG’s 850s. It should start popping up in notebooks and other systems based on Intel’s reliability record alone. Enthusiasts will mainly rely on the Samsung 850 EVO due to its performance, but for large corporations that may not be the case. The Intel 545s proves that the 64 layer 3D NAND should have a decent impact on the market in the coming months. The Intel 545s does not suffer from the drawbacks that plague Micron 32L 3D TLC based drives like the Crucial MX300 and ADATA SU800. While the Intel 545s may not appear to be a serious challenger to the Samsung 850 EVO’s, but we expect it’s successors to end SAMSUNG’s dominance in the consumer market thanks to the price friendliness of the 64 layer 3D NAND TLC. If not Intel, other competitors like Crucial will most certainly come up with speedy and efficient 64l 3D TLC drives in the near future.

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