Intel SSD 520 Series 240 GB Solid State Drive Review
By Henry Butt on February 6, 2012
There are a vast number of SATA-600 solid state drives on the market at the moment, so there have never been more choices for the people who want to give their system a performance boost. Today we are going to look at the latest SSD from Intel, the 520 Series 240 GB, which is designed with performance users in mind.
Presently, 120 GB SSDs offer the best compromise between price and performance for desktop users, as there is almost always the option of installing a capacious mechanical drive alongside the SSD for storage of media files in a desktop. But those with a looser budget may be tempted by the extra capacity of a 240 GB system drive. In a laptop, however, there is usually room for only one storage drive so a 240 GB capacity unit is preferable.
Our sample of the 520 Series included a “desktop bundle” which includes a number of complementary accessories that facilitate installation. These include a 2.5” to 3.5” drive adapter, a SATA cable, an adaptor to convert a standard peripheral power connector to a SATA power connector, a software CD and all the screws required for installation. We expect that the drive will also be made available as a standalone unit.
In the table below, we are comparing the Intel 520 Series SSD with the three comparison drives we will be using: the Intel 510 Series 250 GB, OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS 240 GB and Kingston HyperX 240 GB.
|240 GB||USD 509|
|250 GB||USD 566|
|OCZ||Vertex 3 MAX IOPS||VTX3MI-25SAT3-240G||240 GB||USD 480|
|Kingston||HyperX||SH100S3B/240G||240 GB||USD 440|
Prices were researched at Newegg.com on the day we published this review, with the following observations:
In the table below, we provide a more in-depth technical overview of the reviewed units. For some reason, most chip manufacturers don’t put specific information about these chips on their websites, so we are linking only what we found.
Intel 520 Series
Intel 29F16B08CCME2 (16 x 16 GB)
Intel 510 Series
Hynix H5TQ1G63BFR (128 MB)
Intel 29F16B08JAMDD (16 x 16 GB)
OCZ Vertex 3 (MI)
Toshiba TH58TAG7D2FBAS9 (16 x 16 GB)
Intel 29F64G08ACME2 (16 x 16 GB)
Intel has chosen to use a brushed aluminum enclosure for the 520 Series which will provide a decent level of protection to the internals of the unit. Our sample of this drive is 9.5 mm tall, featuring a plastic spacer on the top, but there is also a 7 mm variant available if required.
The top side of the PCB features eight of the 16 total Intel 29F16B08CCME2 memory chips. The physical capacity of the drive is 256 GB. However, only 240 GB is usable, as 16 GB is reserved for over-provisioning which improves the longevity of the drive.
On the other side of the PCB, we find the eight further memory chips alongside the Sandforce SF-2281 controller. This is the same controller used in the Kingston HyperX and OCZ Vertex 3 MAX IOPS drives which we are using for comparison. Intel claims that the drive is capable of sequential read speeds of 550 MB/s and sequential write speeds of 520 MB/s.
During our testing procedures, we used the configuration listed below. The only variable component between each benchmarking session was the solid state drive 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 three different programs: AS SSD, CrystalDiskMark, and HD Tune. 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 used the default configuration in AS SSD for our tests.
In the read test, the Intel 520 Series, OCZ Vertex 3 MI and Kingston HyperX achieved a similar level of performance which was around 8 % better than the Intel 510 Series. In the write test, however, the Intel 510 Series drive achieved the best level of performance, beating the Kingston HyperX by 8%, the Intel 520 Series by 14% and the OCZ Vertex 3 MI by 17 percent.
The Intel 520 Series drive came out on top in the read test, beating the Kingston HyperX by 11%, the OCZ Vertex 3 MI by 15% and the Intel 510 Series by 23 percent. However, in the write test, the Intel 520 Series, Kingston HyperX and OCZ Vertex 3 MI achieved a similar level of performance which was about 33% better than the Intel 510 Series.
In the access time read test, the Intel 520 Series and Kingston HyperX achieved a similar low score which was about 141% faster than the OCZ Vertex 3 MI and 182% faster than the Intel 510 Series. In the write test, however, the Intel 510 Series scored lowest (i.e., better), beating the Intel 520 Series by 178%, the Kingston HyperX by 143% and the OCZ Vertex 3 MI by 153 percent.
We used CrystalDiskMark’s default configuration for our tests, which benchmarked each SSD using a file size of 1,000 MB with five test runs. Please continue reading to see the results.
The OCZ Vertex 3 MI achieved the best performance in the read test which was 5% better than the Kingston HyperX, 8% better than the Intel 510 Series and 9% better than the Intel 520 Series. However, in the write test, the Kingston HyperX and Intel 510 Series achieved a similar level of performance which was 3.1% better than the Intel 520 Series and 12% better than the OCZ Vertex 3 MI.
In the read test, the OCZ Vertex 3 MI came out on top, beating the Kingston HyperX by 9%, the Intel 520 Series by 15% and the Intel 510 Series by 48 percent. However, in the write test, the Kingston HyperX achieved the best level of performance which was 7% better than the Intel 520 Series, 8% better than the OCZ Vertex 3 MI and 15% better than the Intel 510 Series.
Now we will look at the results recorded using HD Tune.
In the burst transfer rate test, the Intel 520 Series, OCZ Vertex 3 MI and Intel 510 Series exhibited a similar level of performance which was 3.4% better than the Kingston HyperX. In the average transfer rate test, the Intel 520 Series and Kingston HyperX exhibited a similar level of performance which was 3.1% better than the OCZ Vertex 3 MI and 3.3% better than the Intel 510 Series.
Considering that the Intel 520 Series solid state drive uses the same Sandforce SF-2281 controller as the Kingston HyperX and OCZ Vertex 3 MI, it’s not surprising that the results we recorded are quite similar in a number of the tests.
All four of the drives on test use high-quality synchronous memory, which deals with incompressible data much more effectively than asynchronous memory, which is cheaper.
Compared to the previous generation Intel 510 Series drive, the 520 Series performed better on average even though it was beaten in a few tests. The two drives are based on completely different controllers, though, so this isn’t surprising.
We cannot be sure as to exactly how the Intel 520 Series will compare in terms of price to the other drives on test as we only have volume pricing information available. We are sure, though, that it will be around USD 150 to USD 200 more expensive than the Kingston HyperX when it comes to market and when we take into account the USD 60 rebate that is currently available on the Kingston drive.
Considering this vast price difference between the drives and the generally close performance, we would find it hard to recommend the Intel 520 Series to any users looking for good value for their money. However, many enthusiasts swear by Intel’s SSDs as they have a reputation of being more reliable than other brands. Whether this is worth an extra USD 150 to USD 200 is something you will need to decide for yourself.