Affordable solid state drives: A look at performance and cost

How do consumer-grade solid state drives compare to enterprise-grade solid state drives when it comes to cost, performance, and reliability? Scott Lowe answers that question.

I've written about how you can measure the overall performance of your storage array and how you can break down performance into a dollar amount -- that is, a cost per Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS). In the cost per IOPS article, I used the example of a 400 GB solid state disk that cost a whopping $23,000 (that's each). With a cost of $58,750 per total terabyte of solid state drive (SSD) storage, each SSD provides 6,000 IOPS of performance capability. From a pure IOPS/dollar perspective, the SSD was a clear winner in my calculations, but from a total cost perspective, it was very prohibitive.

Vendors have begun to release more affordable, but smaller, SSDs; Intel, Crucial/Micron, and OCX have released enterprise- and consumer-grade SSD products. Some of the performance data that is associated with these drives needs to be carefully analyzed to make sure that actual use cases are being tested against.  In the following video, Micron's product was tested under stellar circumstances; namely, the tests used an empty SSD and random 4K reads and writes, which will always provide better performance. In fact, on a 6 Gb SATA channel, the tester achieved in excess of 60,000 IOPS of read performance and about 48,000 IOPS of write performance. In contrast, Intel's X25-E Extreme enterprise-grade SSD gets 35,000 read IOPS and 3,300 write IOPS of performance according to the product's technical data sheet.

In this high level overview, I look at four SSDs that are much more affordable than the EMC unit I presented in the previous article. In Table A, I list one enterprise-grade SSD and three consumer-grade (but "RAIDable") SSDs. By RAIDable, I mean that, theoretically, you could lace these SSDs into a RAID 1/10, 5, or 6 array to gain the data protection benefits inherent in these configurations. Click each of the model numbers to get a look at the source information I've used for the Read and Write IOPS values and for the Mean Time Between Failure information. Table A







X25-E Extreme

RealSSD C300








Capacity (GB)




















Write IOPS





MTBF (hrs)





Four affordable SSDs

The Intel X25-E 64GB SSD is quite expensive when compared to the three other selections. However, the Intel device is targeted at the data center, which is apparent when you look at the MTBF information. The Intel device has a 2 million hour MTBF value, while the other SSDs in the table have 1.5 million and 1 million hour MTBF values; so you can expect that the Intel drive will last longer, which partially justifies its higher price. Intel also has a consumer grade line -- the X25-M and the X18-M -- which carry 1.2 million hour MTBF values, as well as much lower price tags ($449 for a 160 GB SSD, or just under $2,900 per TB).

With the exception of the Intel enterprise-grade SSD, each of the consumer-grade SSDs runs about the equivalent of $3,000 per TB. That's not a bad per TB cost if you're willing to risk running a consumer-grade drive in production.

Frankly, the IOPS values outlined for some of the drives are out of sight. I don't have one of each model drive to independently verify the values, so attempting to divine an IOPS per dollar value for these drives would be pretty ridiculous and pointless. That said, if you compare the values in my previous article in this series, you'll note that the cost per IOPS would be much lower for all of the drives listed in this article, particularly for the Intel and the Crucial offerings, assuming those IOPS values hold up in real-world usage.

There is also the issue of the RAID controller itself. I assume that, if you're looking for cheap storage, you're probably not going to stick these disks into an expensive SAN; you might even be attempting to build your own storage device. Can you even find a reasonably priced RAID controller that can support a bunch of these disks? If your goal is to get massive IOPS on the cheap (read IOPS, anyway -- the Kingston write IOPS are surprisingly low), you probably want to avoid dropping $20,000 on the controller, if you can even find one that supports massive throughput. Read an article that explains the situation. Once you go past a certain throughput level on individual drives, the PCI X8 slot into which a RAID controller is connected simply can't pass more data, so there is little point to continuing to add drives. In these cases, consider multiple smaller arrays instead, with each one connected to a separate RAID controller.

I'm providing the information in this article primarily to satisfy a curiosity. If you have an application that truly needs the IOPS levels in Table A, you probably also have needs that go well beyond a desire to run consumer grade storage in a RAID array in your data center. That said, the Intel device presented is an enterprise grade device with a much lower price tag than the EMC 400 GB SSD discussed in my previous post.

What we're seeing in the SSD market is encouraging. Hopefully, prices on enterprise-grade gear will continue to come down and eventually reach the consumer-grade levels I reference here.  When that happens, the days of storing data on magnetic platters spinning at insane speeds inside a tiny little box will come to an end, and we'll look back on today's hard drive and wonder how we ever thought that was a good idea.

Want to keep up with Scott Lowe's posts on TechRepublic?

By Scott Lowe

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...