Intel 510 Series - Intel Fills the Gap

Intel really kicked the SSD world in high gear when they released their X-25 series of drives last year. Their performance was the benchmark that all other drives were measured against for quite some time. SandForce based drives started garnering a lot of attention and as the next generation drives began emerging this year, many wondered what Intel would bring to the table. The time is finally here and Intel sent us over a pair of their new 510 Series 250GB drives to have a look at their performance.

Intel 510 Series opened

We met with Intel during CES of this year and they gave us an overview of their SSD roadmap. We saw that their "Elm Crest" drives were due out in Q1 '11 and they would be 34nm NAND based with a 6Gbps SATA interface. What we didn't know was that the drive's controller would be manufactured by someone other than Intel, namely Marvell. This was a surprise to many but it seems that Intel's controller just wasn't where the wanted it to be and they needed something to get fresh SSD products out into the marketplace. The Marvell controller is really the only controller out that will support SATA 6Gbps other than SandForce and there are already rumors brewing that Intel could be releasing a SandForce based drive in the near future. Intel will not confirm or deny such things so this is based on pure speculation.

Intel 510 Series box

The Marvell controller is the same as is used in the Micron C300 and C400 drives as well as the Plextor M2 Series drives although Intel has said that the firmware is specific to their drives and the benchmarks should show what difference that makes, if any. Since the controller has been out a bit, supply was likely not an issue and helped keep the overall cost of the drives down which has been a goal for Intel since their first drives hit the market. Currently, you can find the 120 GB version online for $314.99 and the 250 GB version for $614.99.

Intel 510 Series contents

The drives come bundled with all sorts of goodies. A very nice 2.5" to 3.5" adapter plate, a SATA 6Gbps cable, a Molex to SATA power cable, a mini disc containing installation instructions and a fun little "speed demon" sticker.

Intel 510 Series Features and Specifications:

  • SATA 6Gb/s Sustained Bandwidth Performance (Iometer QD32)
  • Read and Write IOPS (Iometer QD32)
  • Latency
  • Power Management
  • Temperature
  • Reliability
  • Intel 510 Series

    The 510 Series features a brushed aluminum shell with smooth, beveled edges and of course a 2.5" form factor. No bling here for those of that persuasion.

    Intel 510 Series

    Let's see what other goodies we can find on the inside.

    Intel 510 Series - Internals

    Intel 510 Series opened

    Our test Intel 510 Series sample drives arrives with no warranty stickers over the screw holes and removing the four screws allowed easy access to the innards. The PCB itself was not restrained by any screws but rather nestled snugly in place with the back side of the shell.

    Intel 510 Series PCB

    On this side, present are only eight NAND flash modules with the rest of the hardware around the other side.

    Intel 510 Series

    As mentioned before, the NAND is 34nm MLC of Intel's own manufacture. There are 16 total on the drive at 16GB in density each for a total physical capacity of 256 GB.

    Intel 510 Series pcb

    On the other side resides the Marvell controller and SDRAM cache.

    Intel 510 Series cache

    The cache is DDR3-1333 SDRAM carrying the Hynix brand. It's total capacity is 128 MB which is rather large compared to most we have seen that are typically 32 MB or 64 MB. The increased speeds over the 3Gbps interface place more demands on the cache needs so the increase in size is welcome.

    Intel 510 Series controller

    The Marvell 88SS9174 controller is not new and as we mentioned first appeared in the Micron C300 drive which was the first available supporting a 6Gbps interface. This is obviously a new revision with an Intel-centric firmware which will have a large impact on performance. How much? Let's have a look at the test system and then move on to the benchmarks and see.

    Intel 510 Series - Test System

    Legit Reviews Test System

    All tests were performed on a fresh and up-to-date install of Windows 7 Pro x64 with no other applications running while using AHCI mode set through the BIOS. The exception to this is when drives are run in a RAID 0 array and obviously the BIOS will be set to RAID mode. Synthetic Benchmarks were run with the OS loaded on a 40GB Corsair Force SSD. In between every test, the drive was secure erased using PartedMagic. As such, all results should be indicative of optimal performance. All components were set to their default speeds and are listed below and we'd like to thank ASUS for their generosity in providing the motherboard for our testing.

    LR Test Bench

    P67 Test Bench

    Intel LGA 1155 Test Platform
    Component Brand/Model Live Pricing

    Processor

    Core i5 2500k

    Motherboard

    ASUS P8P67

    Memory

    Crucial 2 x 2GB  PC3-10600

    Video Card

    Gigabyte GeForce GT 430

    OS Drive

    Corsair Force 40GB

    Power Supply

    Corsair HX1000

    Operating System

    Windows 7 Pro 64-Bit

    Comparison Drives & Other Models We Have Tested

    Since there are so many SSDs out there now with different controllers, we started a reference table of which controllers are used by each drive to help you compare results. Different controllers definitely perform differently and each has various strengths and weaknesses. Like CPU's, even identical drives will have variations in performance and part of that variance may be attributable to the NAND flash used. Since the tests of the drives listed have spanned different test benches and represent three different interfaces, we have listed them for the synthetic tests as a point of reference even though there is no direct comparison.

     SSD MODEL
    CONTROLLER(S) TRIM Support?
    Plextor M2 Series 128GB
    Marvell 88SS9174
    Yes
    Kingston V100 Series 128GB
    JMicron JMF618 (Toshiba branded)
    Yes
    OCZ Vertex 3 Pro 200GB (beta) SandForce SF-2500 (SF-2582) Yes
    RunCore Pro V 120GB
    SandForce SF-1200 (SF-1222) Yes
    Samsung 470 Series 256GB
    Samsung S3C29MAX01-Y340 Yes
    Zalman N Series 128GB SandForce SF-1200 (SF-1222)
    Yes
    Kingston V+100 128GB Toshiba T6UG1XBG Yes
    Corsair Force 40GB Sandforce SF-1200 (SF-1222) Yes
    Intel X25-V 40GB Intel G2 Yes
    G.Skill Phoenix Pro Sandforce SF-1200 (SF-1222) Yes
    Patriot Inferno 100GB Sandforce SF-1200 (SF-1222) Yes
    OCZ RevoDrive X2 240GB SSD (4X) Sandforce SF-1200 (SF-1222) No*
    OCZ RevoDrive 120GB SSD (2X) Sandforce SF-1200 (SF-1222) No*
    ADATA S596 128GB JMicron JMF612 Yes
    Corsair Force Series 120GB Sandforce SF-1200 (SF-1222) Yes
    Patriot Zephyr 128GB JMICRON JMF612 Yes
    Patriot Torqx 128GB Indilinx Barefoot Yes
    Kingston 30GB V Series SNV125-S2 Toshiba T6UG1XBG Yes
    Kingston 128GB V Series SNV425-S2 JMICRON JMF618 Yes
    Corsair Force Series 100GB Sandforce SF-1200 (SF-1222) Yes
    Corsair Nova Series 128GB Indilinx Barefoot Yes
    Intel X25-M 160GB G2 SSD
    Intel PC29AS21BA0 Yes
    Micron RealSSD C300 (6Gbps) 256GB Marvell 88SS9174 Yes
    * TRIM is not supported due to the RAID controller.

    In the readout on CrystalDiskInfo 3.10.1, both NCQ and S.M.A.R.T. are enabled, as is TRIM (when not in RAID mode). This is a great free tool to see what version of firmware the drive is running in the event there are updates available.

    Intel 510 Series CRYSTALDISKMARK INFO

    Intel's toolbox is a great tool that will provide drive status and allow you to secure erase Intel drives from this tool rather than use HDDErase or PartedMagic which require reboots, etc. Here you can see the configuration of the RAID array with the dual Intel drives.

    Intel 510 Series RAID

    On to the benchmarks!

    ATTO & Iometer Synthetic Benchmarks

    ATTO v2.41

    ATTO is one of the oldest drive benchmarks still being used today and is still very relevant in the SSD world. ATTO measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and places the data into graphs that can be very easily interpreted. The test was run with the default runs of 0.5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes with the total length being 256mb.

    ATTO - Intel P67 Platform

    Intel 510 Series ATTO

    ATTO - Intel P67 Platform (RAID 0)

    Intel 510 Series ATTO RAID

    Benchmark Results: What a huge difference a RAID 0 configuration makes! In single disk mode, the Intel 510 series reads were excellent, exceeding the rated specifications by 6%. Writes also exceeded specifications by just a hair under 6% as well. In RAID 0 mode, reads darn near exceeded 1000 MB/s which is faster than any storage device we have tested in any configuration by 15%-20% depending on the transfer file size. Clearly, Intel's firmware is better than that being employed by the Plextor drive.

    Intel 510 Series ATTO GRID

    Iometer 2008 (1.1.0)

    Iometer is an I/O subsystem measurement and characterization tool for single and clustered systems. It was originally developed by the Intel Corporation who has since discontinued work on Iometer and it was ultimately turned over to the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL). We chose the file sizes that best reflect many of the Windows transactions. 4KB random read/writes is very common on every day user machines. Large sequential writes represent large file copies. The drive block size is 512kb so it should give a very good indication of peak performance. We set the queue depth to 4 for the tests as generally Windows operations tend to happen at queue depths of 5 or less.

    Intel 510 Series Iometer Chart

    Intel 510 Series Iometer Chart

    Benchmark Results: In Iometer, the sequential reads of the 510 Series keeps pace with the new SandForce controllers but the random 4k reads are much weaker. This will be evident in the other tests as well.

    CrystalDiskMark and PCMark Vantage

    CrystalDiskMark is a small benchmark utility for drives and enables rapid measurement of sequential and random read/write speeds. Note that CDM only supports Native Command Queuing (NCQ) with a queue depth of 32 (as noted) for the last listed benchmark score. This can skew some results in favor of controllers that also do not support NCQ.

    CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1 - Intel P67 Platform

    Intel 510 Series CRYSTALDISKMARK P67

    CrystalDiskMark 3.0.1 - Intel P67 Platform (RAID 0)

    Intel 510 Series CRYSTALDISKMARK P67

    Benchmark Results: Again, the Intel 510 Series does very well head-to-head with the new SandForce drives in sequential reads where they are roughly even. Since this test uses incompressible data, the Marvell controller does a much better job with the sequential writes. Again, the 4 KB random performance is weaker and more on part with the performance on the older 3Gbps drives although best the similarly outfitted Plextor drive.

    Intel 510 Series CRYSTALDISKMARK GRID

    PCMark Vantage 1.0.2.0 - Intel P67 Platform

    PCMark Vantage v1.01 measures the performance of the latest PC hardware across a variety of common scenarios. PCMark Vantage supports both system level and component level benchmarking and comprises several different test suites but for the purposes of this review, we stuck with just the HDD suite. The nice thing about PCMark Vantage is that you can submit your scores online and compare against others.

    Intel 510 Series PCMARK VANTAGE

    Intel 510 PCMARK VANTAGE

    Benchmark Results: Though using the same controller, the firmware on the Intel drives obviously perform better than that which is on the Plextor drives as the scores were better across the board save one where they are roughly even. Neither keep pace with the new SandForce drives from OCZ. Odd that RAID 0 scores actually dropped in most instances. We repeated the test several times and got the same results so apparently this benchmark is not kind to RAID 0 configurations.

    Intel 510 Series PCMARK VANTAGE GRID

    AS-SSD Synthetic Benchmark

    We continue on with our battery of benchmarks.

    AS-SSD (1.6.4013.39530) Benchmark - Intel P67 Platform

    We have been running the AS-SSD Benchmark app for over some time now and found that it gives a broad result set. The programmer has worked very hard on this software and continues to make updates often so if you use it, show him some love and send him a donation. There are now three tests that are found within the tool and we'll show the results from all of them.

    Intel 510 Series AS-SSD

    Intel 510 Series AS-SSD

    Benchmark Results: Like CrystalDiskMark, AS-SSD relies mostly on incompressible data so the write gap between it and the SandForce 2xxx drives vanishes and even bested on the sequential test. RAID 0 performance here just kills, blowing away even the RevoDrive X2 although curiously, not in the overall score.

    Intel 510 Series AS-SSD GRID

    Intel 510 Series AS-SSD

    Benchmark Results: The Intel 510 Series shows its superior firmware as compared to the Plextor drive utilizing the same controller. Overall, the performance lags specifically in the random writes as compared to the SandForce 2xxxx drives but the random reads rate just the opposite.

    Let's do some real world tests!

    Intel 250GB 510 Series - Real World Tests

    One of the most common operations performed on a PC is moving/copying files. Using a free application called Teracopy, we copied large numbers of two file types from one folder to another on the same drive. Teracopy allows us to objectively measure the time of transfer and using the same drive prevents other devices from tainting the outcome. The operation requires the drive to perform both sustained read and writes simultaneously. The first set of files is a 5GB collection of JPG's of variable size and compression levels with a few movie (.MOV) files thrown in for good measure since most cameras now take video as well as stills.

    INTEL 510 Series JPG Copy

    The second is a collection of MP3 files of various sizes which totals 5GB collectively. These file types were chosen due to their wide use and mixture of file sizes and compression levels.

    INTEL 510 Series MP3 COPY

    Install Results: The Intel 510 series shows performance that's not significantly different than that of the Vertex 3 drives although in RAID 0 mode it really shines. The Plextor once again falls behind which shows what a nice job Intel did with their firmware.

    INTEL 510 Series FILECOPY CHART

    We also timed the installation of a few rather lengthy applications/suites as app installs is something everyone does and waiting for completion can be a drag. We used Adobe Dreamweaver CS5, Microsoft Office 2010 Professional and Futuremark's 3DMark Vantage (v1.102.1901) as our test subjects with all install settings at default. Both were installed from an installer located on the target drive itself as installing from another drive, especially an optical drive, would cause a bottle-neck that would corrupt the results. The timing for these had to be done via stopwatch so there should be about a half second +/- error margin. Again, with the source and target drives being the same, concurrent read/write activity is required.

     DREAMWEAVER


    INTEL 510 Series APP CHART

    Install Results: Not much different here with the app installs although the 510 Series in RAID 0 mode lead the way in every instance.

    We'll wrap this with a look at the total drive capacity and our final thoughts.

    Capacity, Final Thoughts & Conclusions

    The actual user accessible capacity rounds out to be 232GB in Windows after all is said and done which is 9% less than the 256 GB on board.  If you divide out the total number of bytes by 1,024 three times, you'll end up with the 232GB figure.

    Intel 510 Series PROPERTIES

    So how did Intel do this round? Very good actually. Having used a few of the Marvell controlled drives before, we had an idea of what to expect although we knew that Intel was bringing their own firmware. Obviously, they brought their 'A' game when they designed the firmware because their 510 Series performed better than any Marvell drive we have tested. If this is just a mid-level product until their own high-end controller is ready for action, we can't wait to see what that's going to give us in terms of performance.

    Intel 510 Series

    However, the maximum write speeds are considerably lower than their SandForce counterparts and their Achilles seems to lie in the random writes where they were consistently lower than the SandForce drives. The performance gap lessens when dealing with incompressible data but a gap still exists. Is this gap noticeable to end user? Doubtful. Reads are where most users spend time waiting - loading an app, opening large media files, loading levels in games, etc. With the Intel drive hitting observed 531 MB/s reads compared to the Vertex 3 at 555 MB/s the difference is negligible.

    Intel 510 Series controller

    The RAID 0 performance was just awesome but out of reach financially for many consumers. We haven't had the opportunity to try out the RAID performance on the new SandForce drives yet so we don't have a comparison. With the 34nm NAND, the theoretical life expectancy is longer than that of the 25nm drives and Intel backs their drives up with a 3 year warranty for good measure. The Marvell controller does support TRIM and idle garbage collection which seems to work very well. After hammering on the drive for hours, the drive performance was nearly back to full form after a few hours of idle time.

    Intel 510 Series NAND

    The MSRP on the drives are $284 and $584 for the 120 GB and 250 GB drives respectively although current retail prices are inflated a little to the tune of $314.99 and $614.99. That's out of Intel's control but either way that's going to be $2.50 - $2.65 per usable gigabyte which is a little higher than what we should be seeing for the Vertex 3 drives as a point of comparison. Intel does bundle them with the extras and their nice toolbox software so there's some value in that although OCZ should have their toolbox ready when the Vertex 3 drives ship. The big thing is that Intel has their drives available at several retailers right now and speed to market is extremely important in such a competitive product line. The Intel brand name carries a lot of weight and there are plenty of die hard fans out there that are brand loyal so we expect sales to be brisk. Don't be surprised to find these puppies as options in builds for various OEM and boutique builders.

    Intel 510 Series

    Legit Bottom Line: While not exactly we were expecting by carrying a third party Marvell controller, Intel has done a fine job with their custom firmware to produce a SATA 6Gbps drive that fares very well against the newest SandForce drives. While we can't say it leads its class, it's definitely going to cause others to look nervously over their proverbial shoulder.