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Intel 310 Series 80GB mSATA SSD Review
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Date: Feb 14, 2011
Section:Storage
Author: Paul Lilly
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Introduction and Specifications


Actor Rick Moranis must be moonlighting at Intel, because honey, somebody in Santa Clara shrunk the solid state drives. And it's not as if SSDs are big to begin with. The typical mechanical hard drive built around the 3.5-inch form factor measures about 4 inches x 1 inch x 5.8 inches (W x H x D, and yes, we rounded) and are absolutely bulky compared to the average 2.5-inch form factor SSD, let alone those built around the even smaller 1.8-inch form factor. Unlike HDDs, there aren't any platters, motors, or other space-hogging moving parts inside a flash memory-based SSD, which is the primary reason they lend themselves so well to notebooks.

That's all well and good, but as tablets, portable media players, and even ultra-thin notebooks keep shrinking in size, so too will the components they're built around. This is where Intel's new 310 Series SSDs come into play. The 310 Series utilize the same 34nm NAND flash memory technology and controller found on the chip maker's 2.5-inch SSDs, but in a form factor just 1/8th the size. We're talking a scant 2 inches (51mm) long by 1.18 (30mm) wide and flatter than a pancake. And the best part, says Intel, is that despite its diminutive stature, you can expect performance similar to that of the company's popular X25-M 34nm SSD.

Intel 310 Series 80GB mSATA SSD
Specifications & Features
Maximum sequential read speed up to 200MB/s

Maximum sequential write speed up to 70MB/s

34nm NAND flash memory

Multi-Level Cell (MLC)

TRIM support (OS dependent)

Up to 35,000 IOPS (random 4KB reads)

Up to 6,600 IOPS (random 4KB write)

51 x 31 (mm)
Full-sized mSATA form factor

Native Command Queuing (NCQ)

MTBF: 1.2 million hours

Active power use: 150mW

Idle power use: 75mW

Warranty: 3 years

Shock Resistance: 1,500G (@ 0.5msec half sine wave)

O/S Support: Windows XP / Vista / 7 / Mac OS / Linux

Intel's 310 Series SSDs ship in the following capacities and street prices:

  • Intel 310 Series 40GB: $100
  • Intel 310 Series 80GB: $190
Capacity isn't the only thing that separates these two SSDs. The 40GB model is rated at up to 170MB/s read and up to 35MB/s write speeds, while the 80GB version kicks things up a notch with 200MB/s read and 70MB/s writes, the latter being twice as fast as the 40GB unit.

We have on hand the faster and more capacious of the two, and we also have benchmarks of Intel's X25-M Gen2 80GB on hand to compare it with. Intel claims we'll see similar performance, though we should note the X25-M drive boasts a faster read rating at up to 250MB/s (and the same write speed rating).
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Intel 310 Series 80GB SSD


Let's be clear that the 310 Series isn't something Intel is pitching to home users to buy and pop in their existing laptop or desktop rig, and because of the mSATA form factor (which we'll discuss in a moment), you probably couldn't do that anyway. OEMs are the real target audience, and Intel says these SSDs are ideally suited for "dual-drive notebooks, innovative single-drive tablets, and low-power, rugged embedded industrial or military applications."


Lenovo's Tom Butler, Director of ThinkPad Product Marketing, notes that the 310 Series can be used as the ThinkPad's sole storage device or in conjunction with a mechanical hard drive. According to Intel, when configured in a dual-drive system, the 310 SSD can up the performance ante by up to 60 percent.



Intel wasn't kidding when it said this thing was 1/8th the size of a traditional 2.5-inch SSD. It's nearly small and flat enough to swallow, which we don't recommend (circuit boards and memory chips tend to be really bad for your health), and is too tiny to use a standard SATA connector. Instead, the drive is built around the mSATA form factor. This is basically a mini PCI Express (PCIe) mini-connector, except that it supports SATA signals. Before you think about ripping your notebook's Wi-Fi card out and jamming this into the mini PCIe slot, save yourself the trouble, because it probably won't work unless the manufacturer did a bit of tweaking so that it will process SATA signals.



So if Intel's 310 Series SSD doesn't use a standard SATA connector and won't be recognized by our notebooks, how can we go about evaluating it? Intel sent us a Transposer adapter card with the proper SATA connectors fused on specifically so we could test and benchmark the SSD. The Transposer card, which itself is the size of a 2.5-inch SSD (only thinner) shouldn't introduce much, if any, kind of a performance hit.
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Test System and HD Tune Pro


Our Test Methodologies: Under each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations. The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO, Vantage, and CrystalDiskMark benchmark tests. And all drives were secure erased prior to the start of any testing. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.


HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered


Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -


Audio -

Hard Drives -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 930

Asus P6X58D Premium  (X58 Express Chipset)

ATI Radeon HD 5850

6144MB Corsair DDR3-1333
CAS 7

Integrated on board

Corsair Nova Series V128 128GB
Intel X-25M Gen2 80GB
Kingston SSDNow V Series 64GB
OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
Samsung 470 Series 256GB

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Professional
Intel 9.1.1.1020 w/ Matrix Storage
DirectX 11

AMD Catalyst 10.10

Benchmarks Used:
HD Tune Pro
HD Tach v3.0.1.0
ATTO v2.46
CrystalDiskMark v3
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra 2010 SP1



We're most interested in how Intel's 310 Series compares with the chip maker's X25-M Gen2 drive of the same capacity, though we didn't limit our comparison to a single drive. Also included are a handful of high-performance SSDs, including the Samsung 470 (Samsung), Corsair Nova Series V128 (Indilinx), Intel X25-M (Intel), Kingston SSDNow V Series (JMicron), and OCZ Vertex 2 (SandForce).

HD Tune Pro
I/O Subsystem Measurement

The latest version of HD Tune Pro (v4.60) offers improved support for SSDs and we use it here to test both read and write performance broken up into minimum transfer rate, maximum transfer rate, average transfer rate, access time, burst rate, and CPU usage. What this does is a paint an overall picture of performance rather than zero in on just the average score. By doing so, we can see which drives might suffer from a stuttering problem or otherwise run inconsistently..

Intel said we could expect similar performance the X25-M, and that's exactly what our HD Tune Pro results bear out. Both the average read and write speed numbers fell in line with Intel's advertised specs, and the 310 SSD even managed to redline slightly above what it's supposed to be capable of. Not too shabby.

As expected, the X25-M turned in noticeably superior read speeds, though the gap wasn't quite as wide as the rated specs. The X25-M is rated at 250MB/s versus 200MB/s on the 310, however we only noted a 29MB/s difference in our HD Tune Pro run. We should also note that the 310 SSD turned in a comparable read score to that of OCZ's Vertex 2 100GB SSD, though OCZ pulled way ahead in write performance.

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SiSoft SANDRA 2011


For our next set of tests, we used SiSoft SANDRA, the the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run without formatting and read and write performance metrics are detailed below. We have also included SANDRA's detailed graph so you are able to see how the drive performs over time along with the average rated result.

SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Synthetic Benchmarks


Intel 310 Series 80GB
(Read)


Intel X25-M Gen2 80GB
(Read)
 
Samsung 470 256GB
(Read)
 
OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
(Read)

Our SiSoft SANDRA run confirmed our HD Tune Pro results, which in turn jibed with the rated specs. It's pretty impressive that a drive you can completely engulf in your fist packs a 200MB/s punch in read speeds (or 196.58MB/s, according to SANDRA).


Intel 310 Series 80GB
(Write)

Intel X25-M 80GB
(Write)

Samsung 470 256GB
(Write)

OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
(Write)

Compared to the X25-M, the 310 SSD once again ran neck-and-neck turning in virtually the same write speed. Unfortunately for Intel, write performance also happens to be both of these drives' relative weak spot. Today's high end drives, like Samsung's 470 Series and OCZ's Vertex 2 line, walk all over Intel in write performance.
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ATTO Disk Benchmark Tests

ATTO is a more straight-forward type of disk benchmark that measures transfers across a specific volume length. It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart. We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes over a total max volume length of 256MB. This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with NTFS partitions.

ATTO Disk Benchmark
Version 2.46


Intel 310 Series 80GB
 


  Intel X25-M Gen2 80GB
 


Samsung 470 256GB


OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
 
 

 

Starting to notice a trend yet? Once again, the 310 SSD performed exactly as advertised -- and even a little faster -- and so did the Intel X25-M.
And sure, Intel's SSDs are no longer the fastest on the block, but give the chip maker credit for not artificially inflating transfer speeds with theoretical ratings you're not likely to see on a day-to-day basis.

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CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks


CrystalDiskMark is another synthetic test we've started looking at that evaluates both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers. It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with SSD performance, best case being large sequential transfers and worse case being small, random 4K transfers.

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests


Intel 310 Series 80GB
 


Intel X25-M Gen2 80GB
 


Samsung 470 Series 256GB
 


OCZ Vertex 2 100GB
 

Things took a turn for the quirky with our CrystalDiskMark tests. Sequential read and write speeds stay fairly close to the 310 SSD's rated specs, but both the 512K and 4K tests took a nose dive, particularly in write performance. Up to this point, the 310 model offered up similar write performance to the X25-M, but like the Cleveland era LeBron James in the playoffs, the 310 seemed to give up.

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HD Tach Testing


Simpli Software's HD Tach is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives, flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device being tested."

 

HD Tach v3
http://www.simplisoftware.com/


Intel 310 Series 80GB


Intel X25-M Gen2 80GB


  Samsung 470 Series 256GB

 
OCZ Vertex 2 100GB

We'd be more concerned with the goofy CrystalDiskMark numbers if any of the other benchmarks revealed the same kind of puzzling results, but that didn't happen. Moreover, the 310 SSD put the pedal to the metal in our HD Tach run and not only stomped all over its own rated read spec at 243.1MB/s versus 200MB/s, but also slightly outpaced the X25-M, which benched 242.3MB/s.

In the write department, it was more of the same, meaning the 310 SSD consistently hovered right around the 80MB/s mark, just as the X25-M did.
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PCMark Vantage


Next we ran the five drives through a battery of tests in PCMark Vantage from Futuremark Corp. We specifically used only the HDD Test module of this benchmark suite to evaluate all of the drives we tested. Feel free to consult Futuremark's white paper on PCMark Vantage for an understanding of what each test component entails and how it calculates its measurements. For specific information on how the HDD Test module arrives at its performance measurements, we'd encourage you to read pages 35 and 36 of the white paper.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance for its real-world application measurement approach to testing. From simple Windows Vista start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel confident that these tests best illustrate the real performance profile of our SSDs in an end user/consumer PC usage model.

So far we've witnessed Intel's 310 SSD run pretty much as advertised, which is to say it's about 50MB/s slower than the X25-M Gen2 80GB in read performance and identical in write speed. How does this play out in the real world? As PCMark Vantage demonstrates, the X25-M's additional read throughput pays dividends in a variety of tasks. Vista Startup time didn't take a big hit, but the 310 SSD just couldn't keep pace in the other subcategories, including Gaming, Windows Defender, and Windows Photo Gallery.

On a more positive note, Intel's puny (in stature) drive bested Kingston's SSDNow V Series in every area save for Windows Photo Gallery.

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PCMark Vantage (Cont.)

Our next series of Vantage tests will stress write performance a bit more. Applications like video editing, streaming and recording are not what we would call a strong suit for the average SSD, due to their high mix of random write transactions.

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

Interestingly enough, Intel's 310 SSD compared much more favorably in this round of PCMark Vantage tests, not only against the X25-M, but also compared to every other drive not belonging to OCZ. That's more than a bit surprising considering the comparatively low write speed rating.

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Our Summary and Conclusion


Performance Summary: It would seem unlikely that a company could take a 2.5-inch SSD, carve away about 7/8ths of its physical properties, and maintain comparable performance. Yet Intel made such a claim, and then set out to prove it. Save for a blip in CrystalDiskMark, benchmark after benchmark proved Intel wasn't kidding when the company told us its 310 Series SSD would offer performance similar to the 2.5-inch Intel X25-M 34nm 80GB SSD. That's exactly what the 310 SSD did, and even managed to pull out a few victories in PCMark Vantage's storage subsystem tests. The X25-M does boast a faster read speed rating (250MB/s versus 200MB/s), and this disparity played out in most of our benchmarks, but we should point out that more often than not, the 310 SSD performed as advertised.


Intel's 310 Series SSDs come in 40GB and 80GB capacities.

 Intel's ability to shrink an existing SSD line and maintain comparable performance bodes well for the future of mobile devices. The 310 SSD is proof that you can stick NAND flash memory chips on a much smaller form factor -- in this case, it's mSATA -- and have it whip data to-and-fro at nearly the same clip as 2.5-inch and 1.8-inch SSDs, at least within Intel's own family of drives. Higher performing SSDs aimed at enthusiasts still leave Intel's X25-M and 310 Series in the dust, but those are geared towards a different audience. Those kinds of drives belong in desktops and high performing notebooks, whereas Intel's 310 Series is geared towards embedded applications and increasingly smaller mobile devices, like tablets and ultraportables.

We do have a bit of concern with the price, however. Intel says the 310 Series is already shipping to customers for $179 in 1,000-unit quantities, which means it's unlikely you'll see this drive in a $400 or even a $500 tablet, at least not the 80GB version. To be fair, that's more of a complaint about the SSD industry as a whole and not a knock specifically on Intel. But unlike other SSD vendors, Intel has paved a path for mobile device makers to offer thinner hardware with a fair amount of capacity and decent performance, and it would be a shame if this only manifested itself in high-dollar electronics. Regardless, Intel's SSD shrink is an impressive technological accomplishment and it's now up to mobile device makers to put it to good use.

 

 

  • Performs as advertised
  • Same NAND flash memory chips and controller as Intel's X25-M SSD
  • Tiny stature opens the door to increasingly smaller mobile devices

 

  • Weak write performance compared to today's high-end SSDs
  • Not likely to work in your notebook's PCIe slot

 



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