Intel has been one of the mainstays of the SSD world and are one of the most trusted names and respected leaders in the computer industry. Their groundbreaking X25-M SSDs were the gold standard for which all other drives were judged for quite some time. That said, the SandForce SF-2281 controller has been out for close to a year now and featured in drives from just about every SSD manufacturer – so why is Intel just now releasing their SF-2281 SSD, code named Cherryville? In one word, firmware.
We aren’t privy to all the detailed information, but suffice it to say that Intel thought they could improve upon the firmware in terms of reliability and performance. Especially after their faux pas with the 320 Series. As such, in conjunction with the folks at LSI/SandForce, they developed and performed an exhaustive amount of validation on their custom firmware before declaring it a finished product. To that extent, Intel has informed us that they are now the first and only 2.5″ SandForce drive manufacturer to have their drives ship with OEM computers which is a pretty big deal and an easy way to get a lot of drives out to consumers. So it makes sense that if OEM manufacturers are going to use these in their machines, they had better be rock solid reliable and not require iterations of firmware updates for fixes. Most OEM buyers are much less savvy than most of the people reading this article. Something like a firmware update both mystifies and scares them. To illustrate their commitment to quality, Intel directed us to an independent calculation of drive return rates which shows Intel’s at a miniscule 0.1% with others hitting 5%-9%. One could question the validity of the data but that’s not what we’re here to do. Outside of accessing the sales/returns records from each manufacturer, there’s no easy way to verify, so we’ll go with the assumption that they’re at least in the ballpark. So, using the philosophy it’s better to be late and right than early and flawed, Cherryville is now here and we’ll see just how well Intel did in their design using a pair of 240GB versions as test subjects.
The SATA III interfaced 520 Series has published specifications of 550MB/s reads and 520MB/s writes and up to 80,000 IOPS on 4K random writes as well as up to 50,000 IOPS 4K random reads. With available capacities of 60GB to 480GB and just about every stop in between, there’s a suitable size for everyone. The initial pricing Intel passed to us shows the 60GB coming in at $149, 120GB at $229, 180GB at $369, 240GB at $509 and 480GB at $999. However, this was expressed in terms of ‘volume pricing’ (based on 1000 unit quantities) so expect prices to be a bit higher at launch. For the nervous types, all drives include a hefty 5-year warranty and Intel estimates a 1.2M hours of MTBF if writing 20GB worth of data a day and 2.5M hours MTBF for those writing 10GB/day.
Although some predicted the Cherryville drives would carry an Intel controller, we were told to expect to see the SandForce controller – although Intel has not ditched their own chip. Those that have been eagerly awaiting Intel’s newest may not be sated by this release if they were expecting a home grown controller. We aren’t allowed to disclose their road map and we weren’t really given specific details of future releases but expect to see more drives from Intel later this year. How they will be configured is something we’ll have to wait and see.
The 520 Series looks much the same as the 510 Series except for the decorative plastic ring around the perimeter of the top of the drive.
|Feature:||Intel 320 Series||Intel 510 Series||Intel 520 Series|
|Interface:||SATA 3Gbps||SATA 6Gbps||SATA 6Gbps|
|Sequential Performance*1 (MB/sec):||Up to 260/210||Up to 500/315||Up to 550/520|
|Random Performance*1 R/W (IOPS):||Up to 39.5K / 23K||Up to 20K / 8K||Up to 40K / 70K
(max 80k write IOPS)
|Power (W)*2 (active / idle):||150 mW /100 mW||380 mW /100 mW||850 mW /600 mW|
|Security:||AES-128 encryption||NA||AES-256 encryption|
|Data Reliability – Surplus Array:||Yes||No||Yes|
|Data Path Protection:||LBA Tag Checking||NA||E2E Data Protection|
|Warranty:||5 Year||3 Year||5 Year|
Included with the drive is a generous bundle in addition to the free software tools like the SSD toolbox and data migration tool. Each can be found on Intel’s SSD page.
In the bundle we found a 2.5″ to 3.5″ adapter tray with screws, a SATA III data cable, a SATA to Molex power cable, a mini disc with installation/warranty info, and the usual Intel Speed Demon SSD sticker.
Let’s open her up!