For every season, there is a spin. Intel’s first consumer SSDs, the X-25M series, didn’t have the fastest performance, but they gained a reputation for reliability. We had high hopes for Intel’s 320 Series SSDs, which turned out to be really great 3Gb/s SATA drives, at a time when everyone else was shipping 6Gb/s drives. When Intel did ship a 6Gb/s SATA drive, the 510 Series, it used a Marvell controller, not an Intel one. Well, Intel has finally released its second 6Gb/s consumer SSD series, and it’s powered by… SandForce?
Yep. The 520 Series may ship in Intel’s familiar 7mm aluminum chassis with a 2mm black spacer, but inside it’s running the same SandForce SF-2281 as everyone else. It does use 25nm Intel synchronous NAND and Intel-validated firmware, which Intel says makes it better, faster, and more reliable than plain-Jane SF-2281-based drives.
Same as it ever was: Intel’s drive enclosure. Very different: the controller inside.
We’ll have to wait and see if the reliability claim is accurate, but the “better and faster” is, well, kinda true. The 520 Series is certainly faster than SF-2281 drives that use asynchronous NAND. Compared to other drives with 25nm synchronous NAND, like Patriot’s Pyro SE above, the differences are smaller. The 520’s CrystalDiskMark sustained read speed of 470MB/s, for example, is 12MB/s slower than the Pyro SE, and in Iometer the 520 gets 4,000 fewer IOPS on our random write test. Real-world scores in PCMark 7 and Premiere Pro are virtually identical to the Pyro SE, while the Intel drive lags behind in PCMark Vantage, an older test.
Intel reassures us it hasn’t given up on its own controllers, and Intel’s upcoming 20nm IFMT tech should offer big improvements in NAND density and performance in the second half of the year. So we have that to look forward to.
The 520 series may not be very special, but at least it’s up to current-gen standards, and it replaces the kinda crappy Marvell-powered 510 series. On the other hand, $510 for a 240GB drive is a lot, considering the Patriot Pyro SE is $50 cheaper and just as good. Intel’s betting that its reputation for reliability still means something to SSD buyers. We think it does, but does it mean they’ll pony up an extra 50 bucks?
Intel 520 Series 240GB
Five Gold Rings
Fast SF-2281 controller and 25nm NAND; Intel reliability.
Four Colly Birds
$50 more expensive than near-identical drives from Patriot and OCZ.
Patriot Pyro SE
Intel 520 Series
Samsung 830 Series SSD
Sustained Read (MB/s)
Sustained Write (MB/s)
Seq. Read (MB/s)
Seq. Write (MB/s)
4KB Read (IOPS)
4KB Write (IOPS)
64KB File Read (MB/s)
64KB File Write (MB/s)
4KB Random Write
Max Access Time (ms)
Premiere Pro Encode Write (sec)
PCMark Vantage x64 HDD
PCMark 11 x64 SST
Best scores are bolded. Our current test bed is a 3.1GHz Core i3-2100 processor on an Asus P8 P67 Pro (B3 chipset) running Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. All tests used onboard 6Gb/s SATA ports with latest Intel drivers.