Intel 330 Series 120 GB Solid State Drive Review
By Henry Butt on November 20, 2012
Intel has a reputation for producing some of the most reliable solid state drives on the market. They tend to lag behind the market slightly in terms of technology, as they spend more time ensuring that their SSDs offer the best performance and reliability. Today we are going to take a look at Intel’s latest mainstream SSD offering, the 330 Series.
The 330 Series is available in various capacities from 60 GB to 240 GB. We have the 120 GB version to test, which sits somewhere in the middle of the range. This capacity is ideal, as it should provide enough space for most users to install all their programs and games without incurring the cost of a larger 240 GB SSD.
Desktop PC users will usually be able to combine a 120 GB SSD with a hard drive to store large media files, which don’t require such fast transfer speeds.
Before proceeding, we highly suggest that you read our “Anatomy of SSD Units” tutorial, which provides all the background information you need to know about SSDs. Both of the SSDs featured in this review use MLC memory chips.
In the table below, for comparison purposes we are assessing the Intel 330 Series with the Kingston HyperX 3K 120 GB. Both units use a SATA-600 interface and occupy a 2.5” form factor.
Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review. The price listed for the Kingston HyperX 3K is for the standalone drive. There is an “Upgrade Bundle” version available for USD 110 that contains all the items required to upgrade a PC with an SSD.
In the table below, we provide a more in-depth technical comparison between the two drives.
Intel 330 Series
Intel 29F16B08CCME2 (8 x 16 GB)
Kingston HyperX 3K
Intel 29F64G08ACME3 (16 x 8 GB)
Intel has chosen to use a metal casing for the 330 Series, which should do a good job of protecting the PCB inside. This occupies the standard 2.5” form factor for SSDs, standing 9.5 mm tall. This differs slightly from some previous Intel models that use a spacer, so they can be adjusted to fit laptops that require 7 mm high drives.
Removing the top half of the casing reveals the component side of the printed circuit board, which features eight Intel 29F16B08CCME2 memory chips. These each contain 16 GB of memory, giving the drive a physical capacity of 128 GB. This is reduced to 120 GB due to over-provisioning, which is designed to make the drive last longer. When formatted in Windows, the drive offers 112 GB of usable space.
On the solder side of the printed circuit board, we only find the SandForce SF-2281 controller. There are also eight blank spaces on this side where we expect Intel will install more memory chips on higher capacity versions of the drive.
During our testing procedures, we used the configuration listed below. The only variable component between each benchmarking session was the SSD being tested.
We adopted a 3% error margin in our tests, meaning performance differences of less than 3% can’t be considered meaningful. Therefore, when the performance difference between two products is less than 3%, we consider them to have similar performance.
As you will have gathered from the previous page, we measured the performance of each drive using two different programs: CrystalDiskMark and AS SSD. We will be looking at the test results from each program in the order they appear in the list above.
It is important to note that we connected the SSDs to a SATA-600 port on our motherboard rather than a SATA-300 port, which could cause performance limitations.
We set CrystalDiskMark to “All 0x00 Fill mode” to evaluate the performance of the SSD when dealing with compressible data.
In both the sequential read and write tests, the Intel 330 Series and Kingston HyperX 3K exhibited a similar level of performance.
Moving on to the random read test using 512 KB blocks, the Intel 330 Series came out on top, achieving 3.5% higher performance than the Kingston HyperX 3K. However, in the random write test using 512 KB blocks, the two drives exhibited a similar level of performance.
In the random read test using 4 KB blocks, the Intel 330 Series performed 15% higher than the Kingston HyperX 3K. The Intel 330 Series also performed best in the random write test using 4 KB blocks, achieving 10% higher performance than the Kingston HyperX 3K.
For this test, we set CrystalDiskMark to the default mode, which uses incompressible data.
In the sequential read test, the Intel 330 Series and Kingston HyperX 3K exhibited a similar level of performance. However, in the sequential write test, the Kingston HyperX 3K performed 10% higher than the Intel 330 Series.
Moving on to the random read test using 512 KB blocks, the Intel 330 Series and Kingston HyperX 3K offered a similar level of performance. However, in the random write test using 512 KB blocks, the Kingston HyperX 3K beat the Intel 330 Series by a margin of 10 percent.
In the random read test using 4 KB blocks, the Intel 330 Series beat the Kingston HyperX 3K by 3.4 percent. The Intel 330 Series also came out on top in the random write test using 4 KB blocks, outperforming the Kingston HyperX 3K by a margin of 6 percent.
We then used AS SSD to test the access time of the two SSDs.
In the read test, the Intel 330 Series exhibited the best level of performance, taking 18% less time to access data than the Kingston HyperX 3K. In the write test, both drives showed the same level of performance.
We can see from our tests that the Intel 330 Series 120 GB and the Kingston HyperX 3K 120 GB are fairly evenly matched in terms of performance, as there were no tests in which one significantly outperformed the other.
From the comparison table in the Introduction to this review, we can see that the only difference in hardware between the two drives is the memory employed in each. Even though both use Intel 25 nm NAND, Intel has used eight 16 GB chips in the 330 Series and Kingston has used sixteen 8 GB chips in the HyperX 3K.
Both drives feature the very popular SandForce SF-2281 controller, which supports up to eight channels of memory. As there are only eight memory channels available, the performance of the Intel 330 Series isn’t disadvantaged by the lower number of memory chips.
In fact, in most of our tests, the Intel 330 Series showed slightly better performance than the Kingston HyperX 3K. This could be a result of superior firmware or the slightly different memory chips used.
Considering that the two drives cost exactly the same amount, we would recommend the Intel 330 Series over the Kingston HyperX 3K, as it offers slightly better performance.
However, for those users who are planning to upgrade an existing system with a solid state drive, we would be inclined to recommend the Kingston HyperX 3K Upgrade Bundle Version, because it makes the upgrade process very simple. This version of the HyperX 3K would be especially well-suited to those users who lack technical know-how.