Over the past few years watching the evolution of SSDs, and manufacturer’s approaches, has been interesting. Taking Intel as one example it is fair to say that their early implementations of the technology were class leading, offering performance which very much improved on mechanical models and stability which was second to none. In more recent generations things haven’t quite been as clear cut for Intel though, SATA 3 has seen them move to 3rd party controllers rather than their own and one model did suffer from a blip on the reliability front (which was later fixed by a firmware update). That said, even in datacentre’s where reliability is key you will still find that Intel is still the SSD of choice.
The most recent high performance drive we have seen from Intel was the 510 series, based on Marvell technology. As is always the case with Intel drives they took their own approach though, tailoring the firmware for operations they felt were most beneficial to end users rather than just aiming for the highest IOPS performance. The end result was some great performance in real world use such as file copy operations while still maintaining a speed advantage over the last generation of drives.
There is more than one way to build a performance SSD though and to complement their 510 Marvell based drives Intel are today releasing the new 520 series based on SandForce technology. Today we have one of those new drives on our test bench and will be comparing it in real world and synthetic tests against drives based on the latest Sandforce, Indilinx, Marvell and Samsung controllers.
Packaging and Bundle
Intel package their new 520 Series products in a box almost identical to the 510 models with some of the key features listed. Inside we find a thorough bundle which includes product documentation, support CD, case sticker and desktop kit. The desktop kit allows those who don’t have a case which supports 2.5" drives to install the 520 Series in a 3.5" bay.
Available on Intel’s website is the SSD Toolbox, now on Version 3. This small application allows us to monitor and maintain our drive over time. On the first screen we get a breakdown of the drive specifications and elsewhere, in the System Tuner screen we can tweak our system settings to get the best performance from the drive.
Under the Diagnostic Scan tab we can run read and write tests on the drive to check it for hard errors. The Secure Erase tab lets us wipe the drive to a factory state, removing any data we do not want to keep. The final tab of note is Firmware Update which allows us to flash the drive should a new update be released which adds functionality, speed or reliability tweaks.
NOTE: Intel also provide users with data migration software which moves our current OS to the new Intel drive quickly and easily.
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