Intel 520 Series 120GB SandForce SSD

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Intel 520 Series 120GB SSD

September 24, 2012 by Lawrence Lee

Intel 520 Series 120GB
2.5" SSD (OEM model)
Street Price

When consumer SSDs began to pick up steam about four years ago, there weren't a lot of solid choices available. Manufacturers were jumping into the space left and right to get in on the next big thing, the technology that would do away with mechanical hard drives. Early adopters suffered the growing pains of this emerging market, with many spending substantial amounts of cash on what turned out to be lemons. Problems like crashing, bricking, and performance drops weren't uncommon.

Then chip giant Intel decided to enter the game using their own controller, firmware, NAND Flash chips, and the enormous resources at their disposal to develop the X25 series, which quickly established itself as the benchmark for both performance and stability. Though the state of SSDs is now greatly improved, there are still those who remain unconvinced that all the kinks of this relatively new technology have been worked out. After all, even the most popular controller today, the SandForce SF-2281, began its run with a notorious widespread BSOD bug affecting many of the numerous SSDs that utilized it.

Lacking a 6 Gbps controller, Intel also got on the SF-2281 SandForce bandwagon, but not before putting it through a rigorous testing period of more than a year before taking it to market. The culmination of this effort was the Intel 330 and 520 Series. Despite all this work, on paper there is little to differentiate itself from the hordes of SF-2881 equipped drives from their competitors. The only thing notable in its specifications is its 5 year warranty.

Intel 520 Series 120GB: Specifications
(from the manufacturer web site)
Components Intel
Capacity 120 GB
Form Factor 2.5 inch SATA
Interface SATA - 6.0 Gb/s
Lithography 25nm
Sequential Write 500 MB/s
Random Read (8GB Span) 25000 IOPS
Random Write (8GB Span) 40000 IOPS
Latency - Read 80 µs
Latency - Write 85 µs
Power - Active 850 mW (MobileMark 2007 Workload)
Power - Idle 600 mW (DIPM)
Vibration - Operating 2.17 GRMS (5-700 Hz)
Vibration - Non-Operating Vibration - Non-Operating 3.13 GRMS (5-800 Hz)
Shock (Operating and Non-Operating) 1,5000 G/.5 msec
Operating Temperature 0 - 70 C
Weight Up to 78 grams
Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) 1,200,000 Hours
Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate (UBER) 1 sector per 1016
Warranty Period 5 yrs

Intel Consumer SSD Comparison
320 Series
330 Series
520 Series
Interface SATA 3Gb/s SATA 6Gb/s SATA 6Gb/s
Sequential Performance (read/write) 270 / 220 MB/s 500 / 450 MB/s 550 / 520 MB/s
Random Performance (4KB read/write) 39.5k / 23k IOPS 42k / 52k IOPS 50k / 80k IOPS
Capacities (GB) 40 / 80 / 120 / 160 / 300 / 600 60 / 120 / 180 / 240 60 / 120 / 180 / 240 / 480
Warranty 5-year limited 3-year limited 5-year limited

The main difference between the 520 and 330, aside from a warranty length, is that the 330 is equipped with lower endurance NAND Flash (similar to the difference between the Kingston HyperX and HyperX 3K), pushing it down one rung down the ladder. This doesn't explain the performance discrepancies in the spec sheet, however, suggesting that the chips used are actually slower. As Intel produces their own 25nm synchronous NAND Flash for both models, it wouldn't be surprising to learn that they have binned the faster chips in addition to the more durable ones and reserved them for the 520 series. The 320 series is unrelated, using the last revision of Intel's 3 Gb/s controller, an evolution of the X25.

Box and contents (OEM version).

The drive.

Our sample is an OEM model shipping in a plain, foam-lined cardboard box with nothing but the drive in an antistatic bag and Intel sticker. Two of these were acquired for use in an upgrade of theSPCR web server.

The retail version includes a 3.5 inch adapter as well as a SATA data cable and power adapter. Physically, the drive itself is similar to some incarnations of the X25 G2 line, outfitted with a standard 9.5 mm metallic casing with a black border running around the rim on the top. This frame can be removed, effectively making the 520 a 7 mm thick drive suitable for ultrabooks that require the slightly slimmer form factor.

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