Intel SSD 520 Series 480GB £617
20th Jun 2012 | 08:30
Intel goes big with its latest solid-state beast
For most PC users, choosing a solid-state drive is a question of balancing cost against capacity and performance. For those whose budgets stretch a little further, really big SSDs such as the new 480GB Intel 520 Series SSD are on the menu.
Conventional magnetic hard disks are certainly available in larger capacities and £80/$120 will buy you a 2TB drive, which makes a mockery of the Intel 520 Series SSD 480GB's £620/$780-odd selling price.
What you don't get with a 2TB magnetic lump, of course, is SSD performance, physical robustness or low power consumption.
Moreover, a 480GB SSD is likely to be a big enough boot drive for the vast majority of PCs.
It should even get the job done for gamers with a big Steam collection, after all, just a few years ago a 500GB HDD would have been all we had in our gaming machines.
Form factor - 2.5-inch
Capacity - 480GB
Controller - SandForce SF-2281
Memory type - Intel 25nm Synchronous MLC
Interface - SATA 6Gbps
The general rule of thumb for large SSDs is bigger equals better. But the new Intel 520 Series SSD 480GB proves there's a limit to that.
In fairness, this large SandForce-powered drive isn't alone in seeing write performance fall off compared to smaller siblings. Drives around the 500GB mark based on Marvell's controller, like the Crucial M4, suffer the same problem.
Incompressible sequential read performance
Incompressible sequential write performance
Random 4K read performance
Random 4K write performance
The challenge for the 520 Series, therefore, isn't to match magnetic drive capacities. It's to take on Kingston's cheaper SSDNow V+200 480GB drive and beat smaller drives, including a pair of Intel's own 520 Series SSD 240GB, and perhaps a couple of Crucial M4s, or maybe some Samsung 830s.
In their favour, bigger drives have tended to be faster.
The reasons vary due to the drive's specifics, but broadly speaking it's a case of maximising the bandwidth of the SSD controllers' memory channels. That's especially true of the SandForce SF-2281 controller used by Intel in the 520 Series.
It isn't terribly happy at lower capacities.
In that context, you might be expecting something spectacular from this 480GB effort. Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing.
You won't spot an issue if you refer to the peak sequential throughput, but shift your attention to incompressible data workloads or random access and the wheels begin to fall off.
The read speeds are very competitive, both against the Crucial M4 and smaller versions of the 520 Series, but the write performance is frankly lamentable.
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For instance, 12MB/s in the 4K random write test is less than a quarter the result achieved by the 520 Series 240GB model. We were expecting the 480GB to be a little slower thanks to lower IOPs numbers claimed by Intel. But we weren't prepared for performance this sluggish.
It's also damning that the Kingston drive manages faster random 4K write results.
It's only by a 2MB/s margin, but for around £300 (around $470) less that's a serious let down.
The Intel drive is faster across the rest of the benchmarks, but it's only the sequential read test that gives it a serious lead.
It's a shame because there's plenty to like about the 480GB Intel 520 Series SSD as an overall package. You get a combination of SandForce controller technology with Intel's industry leading validation and reliability.
The problem is, for less than the price of this 480GB drive, you can grab a pair of 240GB SSDs, which are faster in isolation and offer the potential to blow everything else away when configured as a speedy RAID 0 volume, even if that means missing out on TRIM.
Intel plus SandForce and a ton of NAND chips ought to be a winner. But poor write performance spoils the party.