Intel SSD 520 Series 120GB £170
6th Feb 2012 | 16:00
Sweet-spot pricing, but slightly lacking in performance
The 120GB could be the SSD sweet-spot, but can Intel's SSD 520 Series 120GB drive hit that head-on?
Intel has done the obvious thing and stuck a SandForce controller in its desktop SSDs.
If the larger members of the new 520 Series, like the Intel SSD 520 240GB, are a little punitive on pricing, what about the Intel SSD 520 Series 120GB, could it offer the best compromise between price, performance and capacity?
One thing it certainly shares with the larger 520 Series solid state drive is Intel's SSD firmware development and validation regime.
It will take time for the true long-term performance of this latest Intel SSD family to shake out, but Intel has a well-earned reputation in this area.
The only slight snag is that smaller drives make for fewer memory chips and in turn fewer memory channels and a little less performance.
The optimal drive for performance in the range is the Intel SSD 520 Series 240GB model. But that's a much more expensive drive.
Instead this 120GB drive must do battle with the likes of the Corsair Force GT 120GB and OCZ's Vertex 3 120GB.
Long term performance is the big worry with SSDs.
Early drives delivered scorching performance out of the box, but quickly went down the pan with intensive usage. To simulate a used drive, we install Windows 7 and then stuff each SSD full of data.
This used to be enough to make SSDs suffer slow downs. More recent SSDs are much more resilient and Intel's SSDs in particular have a strong reputation for excellent longevity.
As our benchmarks show, however, it's not hugely remarkable in terms of raw performance
Synthetic drive performance, compressible data
Synthetic drive performance, incompressible data
Synthetic drive performance, 4K Random
Check this out. Somewhere out there on the internet lives a species of PC hardware enthusiast that gets a kick out of endurance testing SSDs.
Among this strange breed, Intel SSDs have a very high reputation.
In fact, there have been reports of a 40GB Intel SSD soaking up 700TB of writes before finally losing the will to store data. When you consider that smaller drives fail faster in such conditions, well, it's pretty impressive.
So Intel's reputation when it comes to developing SSD firmwares that deliver excellent longevity is well earned.
Intel stresses that the same applies to the new 520 Series and its widely used, and strong-performing, SandForce SF-2281 controller. The firmware has been given the full Intel treatment.
That bodes very well for the long term.
What Intel hasn't done, however, is deliver a drive that immediately takes down the opposition in terms of raw performance. Most of our benchmark results are pretty much exactly what you would expect from a 120GB SandForce drive.
That said, there are a couple of areas where Intel's work might just be visible.
The Intel SSD 520 120GB is noticeably, if not dramatically, quicker than the Corsair Force GT 120GB in our random read and file decompression tests.
Unfortunately, sequential incompressible data write performance is no better than that same Corsair drive. Which means it's slower than both larger SandForce-based drives and the competition packing Marvell and Indilinx controllers.
The combination of Intel's attention to detail when it comes to SSD firware development and the sheer speed of the latest SandForce SF-2281 controller chip is pretty compelling. We also think 120GB is probably the current sweet spot in terms of balancing price with performance and capacity.
Much cheaper than the 240GB model this 120GB drive may be, but it's still a significant investment to make. So it's a little disappointing that you not only have to give up half the capacity but also see write performance drop off, especially when shunting incompressible data around.
SandForce performance plus Intel quality. Performance though is a little down on the 240GB version.