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240 GB Intel 520 Series Solid State Drive Review
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The new Intel 520 solid state drive (codenamed Cherryville) represents Intel's first collaboration with SandForce (now owned by LSI Corporation). Like many solid state drives targeted at enthusiasts in the consumer market, it pairs the latest SandForce SF-2281 SSD controller with Intel's 25 nm synchronous MLC flash memory chips.

This is a popular pairing as the SandForce SF-2281 is a fast 8-channel SSD controller that not only supports SATA 6 Gb/s, but also performs on-the-fly data compression to deliver excellent write performance without the need for a SDRAM cache (thus reducing cost and complexity). This performance advantage was clearly demonstrated in our benchmark results, where the 240 GB Intel 520 SSD proved to be much faster than the hirtherto benchmark SSD for the enthusiast consumer market, the Intel X25-M G2.

The on-the-fly data compression also helps to mitigate the Intel NAND flash memory's relatively low lifespan of 5,000 program/erase cycles of by reducing the amount of writes and erases. This will be quite critical as the 240 GB Intel 520 SSD only has 16 GB worth of spare sectors - an over-provisioning of just 6.7%. That said, Intel claims that they reserve the best flash memory chips for their SSDs, which could mean that these chips will likely last more than 5,000 program/erase cycles, allowing Intel to reduce the amount of over-provisioning without affecting the drive's ability to last 5 years of normal usage (defined by Intel as 20 GB of writes per day).

Of course, the Intel 520 SSD is only one of several solid state drives based on the SandForce SF-2281 controller and the Intel 25nm NAND flash memory. Therefore, the main differentiating "feature" of the Intel 520 SSD is actually its firmware, which Intel optimized and validated for over a year before they were comfortable enough to release it. All that testing and debugging may not deliver a faster drive but it will definitely make the Intel 520 SSD a more reliable drive than its competitors.

All that hard work comes with a cost, of course. As of June 2012*, the 240 GB Intel 520 costs about US$ 357 (RM 1109). In comparison, the OCZ Vertex 3, which pairs the same SandForce SF-2281 controller and Intel 25nm sychronous NAND flash memory, can be had for just US$ 258 (RM 799). That's a US$ 99 (RM 307) difference right there. Still, we must remember that SSD prices have actually dropped a lot. Exactly two years ago, the 160 GB Intel X25-M G2 was going for US$ 430 (RM 1333). That means the cost per GB has fallen from US$ 2.69 to just US$ 1.49.

The 240 GB Intel 520 SSD is actually a very worthy upgrade for notebook users who can not only benefit from its performance but also its shock- and vibration-proof characteristics. We would like to point out that the two highest-performing Intel 520 SSDs - the 180 GB and 240 GB models, offer a usable amount of storage capacity at relatively affordable price points. We hesitated to give the 160 GB Intel X25-M G2 our Reviewer's Choice Award, but we have no qualms awarding it to the 240 GB Intel 520 SSD. Congratulations, Intel!

Of course, you will have to decide if the additional reliability of Intel's specially-validated firmware is worth the extra cost. For those who intend to use it for work, we would highly recommend you cough up the extra dough for the peace of mind. If you don't intend to use it for any serious work though, you can save some money getting an OCZ Vertex 3 instead.

* For the latest prices of Intel solid state drives, check here.


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240 GB Intel 520 Series SSD Overview


Intel Solid State Drives, Packaging


The 240 GB Intel 520 Series SSD
Usable Capacity, Specifications


The SSD Controller, The Flash Memory
Solid State Drive Maintenance


Testing The 240 GB Intel 520 SSD
Maximum Surface Temperature
Transfer Rate Profile


WinBench 99 Test Results
Transfer Rate Range


IO Meter Random Access Performance


IO Meter Sequential Access Performance


IOPS Scaling (Random Access)


IOPS Scaling (Sequential Access)


AS SSD Benchmark Results


ATTO Disk Benchmark Results


Conclusion, Award, Lowest Price


Questions & Comments

Please feel free to post your questions or comments here!

Date Revision Revision History



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