In last month’s roundup of solid-state drives, Intel’s entrant bore Marvell’s 9174 6Gb/s SATA controller, rather than an Intel one. While the Intel 510 SSD performed respectably among its 6Gb/s SATA peers, it’s not the top-to-bottom Intel drive fans have been waiting for. That drive is finally here, and despite the Intel 320 Series nomenclature, this is the third generation in Intel’s X25-M series of mainstream solid-state drives. But is a drive with a 3Gb/s SATA controller really going to cut it in 2011?
Intel’s previous consumer solid-state drives were known for three things: rock-solid reliability, fast random-access and sequential read speeds, and relatively slow sequential write speeds—often less than half the speed of the competition. With the 320 Series, Intel keeps the first two and eliminates the third; the 320 Series SSD’s sequential write speeds are, finally, competitive with other 3Gb/s SATA drives.
The Intel 320 is more than just a spiritual successor to the X25-M series—it shares the same chassis and processor.
The 320 Series is Intel’s first with 25nm-process NAND flash memory—Intel’s own, of course. The drive also adds AES encryption. What it doesn’t add is a new controller. That’s right; the only difference between the controllers of the 320 Series and X25-M G2 is the firmware.
The 300GB version of the 320 drive gave sequential read speeds of 272MB/s and sequential write speeds of 221MB/s, as tested in CrystalDiskMark. The previous-generation X25-M G2 posted a similar read speed but only a 103.6MB/s sequential write speed. The X25-M G2 posted significantly higher random-write speeds than the 320, both in single-threaded and 32-queue-depth tests. And, of course, OCZ’s Vertex 3, even in 3Gb/s SATA mode, far outperformed the 320 Series SSD—and all others—in 4KB random writes.
The Intel 320 Series SSD holds its own with top-tier 3Gb/s SATA drives like those powered by the SandForce SF-1200 controller—or Samsung’s 470 Series, for that matter—with sequential read and write performance near the 3Gb/s SATA bandwidth limit. Intel is aiming the 320 Series drives at the 3Gb/s SATA install base, which it calculates at over a billion computers. For the 6Gb/s crowd, Intel offers the previously reviewed Intel 510, based on the Marvell controller. We’re happy to see Intel finally offering a third-gen mainstream drive, especially with decent capacities—up to 600GB. The 300GB version we reviewed goes for $540, significantly cheaper than the $600 Intel asks for its 250GB 510 drive.
If you have native 6Gb/s SATA and have to have the fastest drive you can get, the Intel 320 Series isn’t for you. You’re better off with the OCZ Vertex 3 or another SF-2281-powered drive. But for the many, many people still rocking 3Gb/s SATA, the Intel 320 series offers performance near the top of that particular heap, plus Intel’s vaunted reliability, at a very attractive price point. $540, www.intel.com
Intel 320 Series 300GB SSD
Competitive read/write performance; good pricing; robust.
Limited by 3Gb/s SATA; late to the game; random-write IOPS lag behind leaders.
Intel 320 Series SSD (3Gb/s SATA)
Intel X25-M G2 (3Gb/s SATA)
Intel 510 (6Gb/s SATA)
OCZ Vertex 3 (6Gb/s SATA)
Sustained Read (MB/s)
Sustained Write (MB/s)
Seq. Read (MB/s)
Seq. Write (MB/s)
4KB Read (IOPS)
4KB Write (IOPS)
Read Access (ms)
Write Access (ms)
4KB Random Write
Max Access Time (ms)
Premiere Pro Encode Write (sec)
PCMark Vantage x64 HDD
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, except 3Gb/s SATA tests, which used onboard 3Gb/s Intel SATA ports.