Articles: Storage

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We’ve been long waiting for Intel to update its enthusiast-targeted solid state drives. The year-old SSD 510 series, although supports SATA 6 Gbit/s, has become outdated by now. Based on the Marvell 88SS9174 controller, Intel’s SSD510 drives are inferior to their competitors in performance, offer no large-capacity versions and use MLC NAND flash manufactured on the previous-generation 32nm tech process.

That said, Intel SSDs have never really left the spotlight. Besides the well-recognized brand, one factor that contributes to that is their time-tested reliability. According to independent analysis, Intel SSDs have a much lower percentage of defective samples than SSDs of other makers. So, the choice between Intel and others has virtually meant choosing between reliability and speed.

Intel did take time releasing a modern SSD series that would match the best competitor solutions in performance. They were discussed among enthusiasts under the codename of Cherryville back in the fall of 2011 but it’s only a couple of weeks ago that they were launched to the market. The long-anticipated series is called Intel SSD 520. It is built with the SF-2281 controller, 25 nm MLC flash memory manufactured by IMFT consortium, and features exclusive firmware which makes Intel’s solution different from the numerous SandForce-based SSDs built according to reference designs.

You may be surprised to learn that Intel has put a SandForce controller into its SSDs. When entering the SSD market, Intel used to develop all of its SSD products from scratch. However, as there appeared high-quality and high-performance alternative controllers, Intel corrected its strategy to use third-party components. Why SandForce rather than someone else? Well, this ambitious California-based startup, now part of LSI Corporation, just came up with such a winning package of technologies and hardware implementations that there are currently no real competitors in view. SATA 6 Gbit/s SSDs with fast flash memory and second-generation SandForce controllers take top positions in any benchmarks. So, Intel had no other choice but to go SandForce in order to strengthen its position on the high-performance SSD market.

In fact, Intel made this choice quite a long time ago. They have been collaborating with SandForce for over a year but it’s only now that we see the result in the form of the Intel SSD 520 series. The delay has been caused by the notorious problems with SF-2281 based SSDs which provoked system crashes due to firmware flaws. Intel, holding on to its reputation of a maker of high-reliability products, just had to wait for the problems to be fully eradicated. And now, as if to emphasize the excellent quality of the SSD 520 series, Intel provides a 5-year warranty which is twice as long as the rest of SSD makers offer.

So, it is time for us to take a look at the result of the collaboration between Intel and SandForce and test the Intel SSD 520 drive that complements the popular SF-2281 controller with exclusive firmware.

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