Intel SSD 545s Series Arrives With 64-Layer TLC 3D NAND

Intel has a number of exciting storage products launching in 2017 and today just happens to be the day they launch the Intel SSD 545s series that will be added to the SATA III-based SSD product line. This is Intel's first client SSD featuring 64-layer Intel 3D NAND technology, which is what makes this products release really interesting. Other companies have announced 64-layer TLC production,  but the Intel SSD 545s is available for purchase right now. Intel Flash Memory Leadership Intel has been developing Flash cell technology over 30 years ago and it began with NOR Flash memory and then recently changed over to NAND Flash memory about 7 years ago. The first 32-layer TLC 3D NAND Flash technology was introduced just over a year ago, so in about one year Intel was able to double the number of layers. This is a  is another feather in the cap for Intel's 30+ years of flash cell scaling. Intel 3D NAND 64-Layer TLC Flash Intel is still sticking to the Floating Gate technology that they've used for a number of years rather than switching to a replacement gate technology like their competitors are using for 3D NAND. By staying with Floating Gate technology it allows Intel to have a smaller Floating Gate Cell and they are able to put the periphery (control logic, & I/O logic) under the array. A good analogy for this design is that Intel is building a sky scrapper where the parking lot is under the building versus having the parking lot around the building. This allows for a more efficient technology that has up up to 20% higher aerial density for bigger capacities. This also means that Intel has more GB in every wafer produced for improved manufacturing efficiency. Intel SSD 545s Series The first shipping product using this new Intel 3D NAND Technology, 64-layer, TLC is the Intel SSD 545s  that Intel is aiming at the client space where someone is looking for a value drive for a new system or to replace an aging hard disk drive. A 512GB model for $179.99 is available today, but Intel will be releasing 128GB, 256GB, 1TB and 2TB drives in the SSD 545s product lineup in the near future. The Intel SSD 545s will be replacing the Intel SSD 540 series. The MSRP on the Intel SSD 540 512GB drive is $189, so we are seeing a $10 price cut in the MSRP thanks to the cost savings of moving to 64-layer TLC over the previous 32-layer TLC design that Intel was using on their 3D NAND. Not a huge cost savings, but it is still one. At $179 the cost per GB for the Intel SSD 545s 512GB is just under $0.35, which is fair for the drives MSRP. We expect street pricing to eventually be lower than this. Intel SSD 545s Bundle Intel SSD 545s Series Features:  The model that we'll be taking a look at today is of course the Intel SSD 545s 512GB 2.5-inch model that is sold under part number SSDSC2KW512GB for $179. Intel SSD 545s 512GB 2.5-inch SSD Inside this 7mm thick drive, Intel is using adhesive thermal pads to help keep things cool for enhanced reliability. We won't be opening up this drive for photos as it will hurt the thermal performance as we plan on testing this drive on a new test suite down the road. Intel was able to tell use that there are four flash packages that each contain four 256Gbit (32GB) dies inside of the new Intel 64-layer TLC 3D NAND Flash memory. Intel went with a Silicon Motion 2259 controller and topped that off with custom Intel firmware to optimize performance for their new 3D NAND Flash technology. Let's take a look at some benchmarks of this drive!

The SSD Benchmark Test System & TRIM Support

Before we look at the numbers, let’s take a brief look at the test system that was used. All testing was done on a fresh install of Windows 10 Pro 64-bit (Anniversary Update build 14393) and benchmarks were completed on the desktop with no other software programs running. This means windows defender, windows update, disk fragmentation and everything else that would interfere with testing was disabled. Windows 10 also had the power option set to high performance. We also disabled Turbo mode on the Intel Core i7-5960X to ensure our numbers are spot on and repeatable. ASUS X99 Sabertooth Motherboard The Intel X99 platform that we used to test the storage drives was based around the ASUS X99 Sabertooth motherboard with BIOS 3505 that came out in March 2017. We used Intel RST storage drivers, the exact version was 14.5.0.1081. The Crucial Ballistix DDR4 32GB 2400MHz memory kit was run at 2666MHz with 15-15-15-28 1T memory timings. The Corsair Neutron XT 240GB SSD was used as the primary drive.

Intel X99 Test Bench

Intel LGA 2011v3 Test Platform
Component Brand/Model Live Pricing

Processor

Core i7 5960X

Motherboard

ASUS X99 Sabertooth

Memory

Crucial Ballistix 2400MHz 32GB

OS Drive

Corsair Neutron XT 240GB

Power Supply

Corsair AX860i

Operating System

Windows 10 64-Bit

CrystalDiskInfo 7.0.5 Readout:

The readout on CrystalDiskInfo 7.0.5 shows that the Intel SSD 545s series supports S.M.A.R.T., APM, NCQ, TRIM and DevSleep. The drive we received had firmware version LHF001C installed and that is the version that we used for general testing and benchmarking. The overall capacity shows up as 476 GB on the Intel SSD 545s 512GB SATA III SSD in Windows 10 Anniversary Edition. Does The Intel SSD 545s SATA III SSD Series Support Trim?  Most SSDs today support the TRIM command, but we still run a quick test to ensure that the command is being properly passed through to the SSD and being done. A great free utility called TRIMCheck can be run to ensure that TRIM is functioning properly. According to TRIMCheck v0.7 ,the Intel SSD 545s series does execute the TRIM command correctly! Let's have a look at the performance!

Sustained Write Performance & Temperatures

  Triple-Level Cell  TLC NAND based SSDs perform usually quite well, but when you copy a large amount of data to the drive without and idle time you'll often find a large drop in write speed. TLC NAND is great in applications where write operations are limited , but is usually not recommended for critical systems that have heavy write operations as they have lower endurance ratings than SLC or MLC NAND and of course sustained write performance isn't stellar. In recent years drive manufactures have been figured out that by using  SLC or TLC treated as SLC as a cache they can keep the drives overall write performance high as long as the amount of data being written to the drive fits in the cache. If you overflow the cache, you are then writing directly to the TLC NAND and the write performance will drop down to that level. It should be noted that the SLC cache will clear once the drive idles, so this only impacts long writes that are many GB in size. This might not be a typical workload scenario for this ultra-value or mainstream drives, but still something worth pointing out! Let's take a look at the Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive to see how it handles sustained write scenarios with the 3D TLC NAND. We secure erased the drive before running this test and found that the performance started out at around 506 MB/s and remained around that point for ten seconds. After that point in time the performance dropped the drives write performance down around 440 MB/ after things leveled out with a low of 319 MB/s that happened 15 seconds into the test. Here are some 45 second average sustained write speeds on recently tested drives: Not bad sequential write performance as the Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive finished in the middle of the pack with 454.10 MB/s. When you take a look at extended sustained write performance over the course of ten minutes that wrote 204 GB of data to the drive. Solid performance from a value oriented SATA SSD, so this drive will take heavy write workloads and write them to the 64-layer TLC NAND just fine. We've had some people as for AIDA64 linear write tests to be done, so we fired that utility up and found that with the standard 8MB block size that the write speeds topped out at 479 MB/s with the lows reaching down to 234 MB/s. The average speed is right around 400 MB/s, so again solid performance is seen for an entry level drive like this.

Intel SSD 545s 512GB SATA SSD Temperatures

A quick look at the drives temperatures showed that we were idling around 26-27C and then hitting 49C during a 10 minute 128kb sequential workload was run.  You can see the results below with a 30 second poling rate. Hitting just shy 50C after performing that many writes is more than acceptable! Let's take a look at some common benchmarks!

Anvil Storage Utilities

Anvil Storage Utilities 1.1.0

Along with the move to a new platform, we decided to make a change in one of the benchmarks. There's a relatively new benchmark called Anvil Storage Utilities that is in beta but close to production. It's a very powerful tool that measures performance through a variety of tests which can be customized. Since some of the tests more or less duplicate what we get from other benchmarks we use already, we decided to use the IOPS (Input/Output Operations Per Second) testing on 4kb file sizes at a queue depth of 1, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 and 128. IOPS performance is something SSD makers tout quite a bit but we generally don't do a lot of IOPS testing because frankly a lot of users can't relate to IOPS metrics as well and it tends to be more meaningful to the enterprise/server crowd. Still, it is another performance indicator with relevance and while some drives post good MB/s numbers, their IOPS scores aren't always commensurate which this test will prove out.

Anvil SSD Benchmark with 100% Compression (incompressible data):

Benchmark Results: The Anvil SSD Benchmark showed that with 100% compression (incompressible data) the Intel SSD 545s 512GB SATA drive was able to achieve a score of 4,684.16 points with 516 MB/s read and 464 MB/s read speeds when it comes to the measured sequential performance with 4MB file sizes. 

Anvil SSD Applications Benchmark at 46% Compression:

Benchmark Results: With the compression at 46% to help mimic real world applications better we found the overall score remained basically the same at 4,644.91 points. Benchmark Results: We used Anvil to check the 4K Random Read performance and found we we topped out at 79,000 IOPS, which is actually just over the drives rated maximum 4K Random Read IOPS of up to 75K.   Benchmark Results: When it came to 4K Random Write performance, the Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive topped out at 85,900 IOPS at QD16 and that is just below the drives rated 90k IOPS for maximum 4K Random Write performance. 

ATTO & CrystalDiskMark

ATTO v3.05

ATTO is one of the oldest drive benchmarks still being used today and is still very relevant in the SSD world. ATTO measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and places the data into graphs that can be very easily interpreted. The test was run with the default runs of 0.5KB through 64MB transfer sizes with the total length being 256MB.

ATTO - Intel SSD 545s 512GB:

Benchmark Results: ATTO showed the Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive reaching speeds of up to 563 MB/s read and 506 MB/s write in the standard overlapped I/O benchmark. This drive is rated at up to 550 MB/s max sequential read and 500 MB/s max sequential write, so we exceeded both of those scores on our test platform.     

CrystalDiskMark 5.2.1 x64

CrystalDiskMark is a small benchmark utility for drives and enables rapid measurement of sequential and random read/write speeds. Note that CDM only supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ) with a queue depth of 32 (as noted) and shows the highest score of five runs.

CystalDiskmark - Intel SSD 545s 512GB:

Benchmark Results: The Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive reached 532MB/s read and 481 MB/s write in the standard sequential write test and Random 4K performance was 48 MB/s read and 110 MB/s write. The Sequential Q32T1 performance was at 562 MB/s read and 507 MB/s write, which is over drives rated sequential values of 550 MB/s read and 500 MB/s write on CrystalDiskMark. When we ran the test again set to 0Fill mode the sequential read scores were mostly in the same ballpark.  Let's look at some other benchmarks!

AS SSD Benchmark

AS-SSD (1.9.5986.35387) Benchmark:

We have been running the AS-SSD Benchmark app for over some time now and found that it gives a broad result set. The programmer has worked very hard on this software and continues to make updates often so if you use it, show him some love and send him a donation. There are now three tests that are found within the tool and we'll show the results from all three of them.

AS SSD - Intel SSD 545s 512GB:

Benchmark Results: AS SSD showed the Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive had an overall score of 1,066 points with sequential read speeds of 523 MB/s and 479 MB/s write. 

AS SSD  Copy - Intel SSD 545s  512GB:

Benchmark Results: The copy benchmark test results were on par with what one expects from a SATA III SSD with speeds ranging from ~280 MB/s in the program and game tests to 426 MB/s in the ISO benchmark.

AS SSD  Compression - Intel SSD 545s 512GB:

Benchmark Results: For this benchmark chart you would ideally want to see a straight line as you don’t want any compression performance loss as the test goes from 0% compressible to 100% compressible data during the benchmark test period. The Intel SSD 545s 512GB had a few dips that we don't like to see mainly in the write test, but did okay for the most part.

PCMark 8 Storage Test

pcmark8 logo PCMark 8 might have come out in 2013, but it is still Futuremark's most recent version of their industry standard PC benchmarking tool. PCMark 8 allows you to test the performance of all types of PC, from tablets to desktops. With five separate benchmark tests plus battery life testing, PCMark 8 helps you find the devices that offer the perfect combination of efficiency and performance. PCMark 8 is recognized by many as being the complete PC benchmark for home and business. We ran the Storage 2.0 benchmark test suite on PCMark 8 v2.7.613 that came out in April 2016. This is a major update accommodates a change in the latest version of Adobe After Effects and provides better support for NVMe SSDs. The changes affect the workloads in the Adobe Applications benchmark and the Storage 2.0 benchmark. Scores from the new versions of these tests should not be compared with older versions, so just a heads up if you wanted to compare scores. Version 2.0 of the Storage benchmark includes two changes to the storage playback engine:
  1. Write I/Os sent to the storage device no longer have the Force Unit Access flag enabled. This flag did not usually matter to older storage devices but could lead to reduced performance on some modern NVMe drives.
  2. The playback engine now aligns all I/Os on 4096 byte boundaries. This change improves test compatibility across modern devices.
The primary result of each storage test is the total time elapsed while playing back the trace. The primary result is used to calculate Storage score. The secondary result of the test is bandwidth, which is the total amount of bytes read and written during the test divided by busy time (in other words, the time when the depth of the queue of pending I/O operations was at least 1). The bandwidth result is used to calculate Storage bandwidth, which is reported along with Storage score and we are most interested in this score.

Intel SSD 545s 512GB SATA III SSD:

Benchmark Results: When it comes to PCMark 8 performance you are looking at an overall score of 4,952 points with the Intel SSD 545s 512GB SATA SSD running as a secondary drive. Benchmark Results: The overall score of 4,952 puts the Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive at the back of the pack with the other SATA III drives. Most drives being sent out today are M.2 PCIe NVMe models, so our chart is M.2 PCIe NVMe heavy! The ADATA SU900 Ultimate 512GB drive is slightly faster and that is a did score better than the WD Blue SATA Drive though and that model retails for $280. The Storage 2.0 bandwidth test results shows the total amount of bytes read and written during the test divided by the time the test took. Here you can see that the Intel SSD 545s 512GB SATA drive came in with a score of 256.66 MB/s. This is no bad for a SATA SSD, but much lower than entry-level SSDs.  Keep in mind that Futuremark told us it is normal for 3DMark and PCMark scores to vary by up to 3% between runs since there are factors in modern, multitasking operating systems that cannot be completely controlled.

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

Intel SSD 545s Bundle If you are looking to replace an aging hard drive (HDD) or are looking to build a new system and need a mainstream value priced SATA III SSD the Intel SSD 545s 512GB has solid performance. With sequential performance up to 550 MB/s Read and 500 MB/s you are looking at speeds that are about as good as one can get from the SATA III interface. Those coming from a hard drive will have dramatic performance improvement as soon as you are up and running. This drive won't be winning any performance benchmarks, but it also doesn't lose any and that is important. Intel designed this drive to appeal to the masses and they hit the nail on the head with this model. The bad thing is when you don't win or lose in the performance tests you often get lost in the mix. Hopefully the Intel SSD 545s doesn't have that happen to it as it really is a solid drive from our use of it thus far. Intel SSD 545s Intel shows the end user value of the Intel SSD 545s series versus a hard drive in the table above. Intel is seeing 4-12x speed improvements over a hard drive when it comes to common usages like system boot times and loading Adobe Acrobat Reader. These are major improvements and it is certainly worth upgrading to an SSD if it is something you can afford. When it comes to pricing the Intel SSD 545s 512GB is the only model available today and it is priced at $179.99 (MSRP) or $0.35 per GB. That price isn't bad and you you can rest also assured that your data is being stored on a reliable drive with a 288 TBW endurance rating and a lengthy 5-year warranty. We expect that price to drop after its been on the retail market for some time, but for now that is the price. Intel is working with Newegg to release this drive and the Intel SSD 545s 512GB drive that we reviewed today is going to be only available there until the exclusivity agreement is over. LR Recommended Award Legit Bottom Line: The Intel SSD 545s performs well for a SATA III and the new 64-layer TLC 3D NAND Flash looks great!