Compatibility Validation and Conclusion
With all of the lower level design, development, testing, and certification out of the way, the resulting SSDs need to be validated on actual hardware. An SSD may perform perfectly when connected to specific test gear running synthetic tests, but without physically plugging one into various hardware systems, you'll never know if it is fully compatible or if some corner case issue causes errors or makes the drive otherwise unreadable. Intel has expanded this operation considerably since they launched the X25-M series. Evidence of this expansion is clear, as it took nearly three months to validate the fix for the X25-M performance degradation bug discovered and reported by PC Perspective, yet subsequent fixes to issues like the rare '8MB bug' with the SSD 320 and the SMART wear level indication reporting issue with the SSD 335 took only a couple of weeks to roll out. Here's a small fraction of their fairly large validation center:
…and by small fraction, I mean we are talking rows of racks full of systems:
These systems are running every conceivable configuration. I walked past groups of servers operating every possible OS and running every piece of storage-heavy software I've ever seen or heard of. Everything from VMWare ESX to Redhat to Veritas to Windows Server / Storage Spaces, running on various hardware platforms from HP to Dell to IBM/Lenovo to Cisco.
All of the effort put in by Intel and covered over the last five pages is directed at one primary goal – making SSDs that are as reliable as possible. The proof is in the pudding as demonstrated here:
We knew Intel had good reliability in comparison to other manufacturers, but here are the actual figures. The return rate is higher than the actual failure rate simply because all returns are not due to actual failures. Intel tests and evaluates all returns regardless.
'FM3' at Intel's Folsom Campus, where the bulk of their SSD testing and validation takes place.
Going into this event, I had a rough idea of what goes into the testing and evaluation of a computer component. That said, I was literally blown away by the sheer scope and scale of Intel's testing and validation efforts. While many of these efforts are geared towards their enterprise and data center parts, those gains have repeatedly trickled down into their consumer products, as evidenced by the recent SSD 730 being a consumer product based almost exactly on their DC 3500 part. This trickle-down effect is not limited to recent products either. The SSD 710 and 320 launched as an enterprise / consumer pair and were constructed identically. You can even go back to the very start, where Intel's X25-E and X25-M were an enterprise and 'mainstream' / consumer edition launched in tandem and were physically identical save the type of flash memory used in each. The big take away here is that the demanding requirements of the enterprise sector eventually make it within the grasp of the consumer, and in the case of Intel, it tends to happen almost instantaneously, and that is *very* good for the average Joe looking to buy an SSD.