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Intel SSD 320 Series 300GB Solid State Drive Review
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Date: Mar 29, 2011
Section:Storage
Author: Marco Chiappetta
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Introduction and Specifications

Intel officially announced the new SSD 320 Series drives yesterday, which feature proprietary Intel SSD controllers paired to cutting edge 25nm NAND flash memory. This new family of drives, however, isn’t geared for ultra-high performance. While still fast, the overarching goals with the Intel SSD 320 series were increased reliability and security. In fact, despite being released after the SSD 510 series which we took a look at a few weeks back, these technically newer 320 series drives do not feature support for the faster SATA III 6Gbps interface and are SATA II 3Gbps only.

We’ve got an Intel SSD 320 series 300GB drive on hand and have run it through a complete suite of tests to gauge its performance versus competing solid state offerings. The full list of features and specifications of Intel’s newest drive are outlined below, along with some technical details and a few close-up shots of its internals. Take a close look at the pics and you’ll notice the new SSD 320 series drive we tested actually has something major in common with the X25-M that was first released in 2008.

Intel SSD 320 Series
Specifications & Features

Form Factors:
  • 1.8-inch and 2.5-inch
Capacity:
  • 80/160/300 GB (1.8-inch)
  • 40/80/120/160/300/600 GB (2.5-inch)
Components:
  • Intel 25nm NAND Flash Memory
  • Multi-Level Cell (MLC)
Bandwidth Performance (Iometer QD32) 
  • Sustained sequential read: Up to 270 MB/s
  • Sustained sequential write: Up to 220 MB/s
Read and Write IOPS (Iometer QD32)
  • Random 4 KB reads: Up to 39,500 IOPS
  • Random 4 KB writes: Up to 23,000 IOPS
Latency (average sequential)
  • Read: 75us (TYP)
  • Write: 90us (TYP)
AES 128-bit Encryption

Power Management
  • 3.3 V (1.8-inch) or 5 V (2.5-inch) SATA Supply
  • SATA interface power management
  • OS-aware hot plug/removal
  • Enhanced power-loss data protection
Power
Active (MobileMark 2007 Workload):
  • 150 mW (TYP)
  • Idle: 100 mW (TYP)
Compatibility
  • Intel SSD Toolbox with Intel SSD Optimizer
  • Intel Data Migration Software
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology
  • Intel 6 Series Express Chipsets
  • (with SATA 6Gb/s)
  • SATA Revision 2.6
  • ATA8-ACS
  • SSD-enhanced S.M.A.R.T. ATA feature set
  • Native Command Queuing (NCQ) command set
  • Data Set Management Command Trim attribute
Temperature
  • Operating: 0o C to 70o C
  • Non-Operating: -55o C to 95o C
Reliability
Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate (UBER):
  • 1 sector per 1016 bits read
Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF):
  • 1,200,000 hours
Shock (operating and non-operating):
  • 1,500 G/0.5 msec
Vibration
  • Operating: 2.17 GRMS (5-700 Hz)
  • Non-operating: 3.13 GRMS (5-800 Hz)
Weight
  • 1.8-inch form factor: up to 49 grams
  • 2.5-inch 7mm form factor: up to 82 grams
  • 2.5-inch 9.5mm form factor: up to 88 grams


 

 
The Intel SSD 320 Series 300GB Drive

Here she is. The new Intel SSD 320 series drive in the flesh, so to speak. Externally, the drive looks very similar to the X25-M G2. The two share the same enclosure and curved decal design. Crank the drive open though and things look a little different. Inside the 300GB drive we tested were twenty NAND flash devices, for a total capacity of 320GB (the extra capacity is used for over-provisioning), along with an Intel SSD controller and some low-power Hynix DRAM. Note that the Intel controller used in this drive is actually the same one used in the G2. With the SSD 320 series though, Intel has completely re-worked the drives firmware and configured the NAND in such a way to expose all of the performance of the controller, which is now capable of up to 270MB/s reads and 220MB/s writes. That’s a huge step up from the 220MB / 100MB of the G2.

In addition to increasing the performance of the SSD 320 series over the G2, Intel has also incorporated a few new features to enhance reliability and security. Along with using the over-provisioned space to minimize write amplification and for wear-leveling and other drive maintenance, part of it is also used to store parity data to help prevent data loss in the event of a partial or full NAND device failure. The drive also has an array of capacitors that will supply a bit of power in the event of an outage so the drive can flush its cache and complete and pending write operations. The Intel SSD 320 series drive also offers AES encryption to help protect user data.

 

While discussing the features of the SSD 320 series, Intel was also keen to talk about the reliability of their drives and the work that was done to ensure the SSD 320 series was their most reliable drive yet. One of the slides above shows the miniscule failure rate of Intel’s solid state drive offerings in a variety of deployment scenarios. Intel hopes the SSD 320 series drives, despite the fact that they use 25nm NAND flash which is more prone to failures than 34nm NAND (as process geometries go down, NAND is more prone to errors), will be their most reliable yet. Of course, we won’t know until the drives have been shipping in volume for some time, if this turns out to be the case, but reliability was clearly a strong focus for Intel with this series of drives.

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Test Setup and IOMeter 1.1 RC

Our Test MethodologiesUnder 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. 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 and SSD Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -


Video Card -

Memory -

Audio -

Hard Drives -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7-2600K


Asus P8P67 Deluxe
(P67 Chipset)


NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285

4GB Patriot DDR3-1600

Integrated on board

WD Raptor 150GB (OS Drive)
Intel SSD 320 Series (300GB)
Intel SSD 510 Series (250GB)
OCZ Vertex 3 (240GB)
OCZ Vertex 2 (120GB)
Corsair Performance 3 Series (128GB)
Intel X25-M G2 (160GB)

OS -
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers
-


Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate x64
Intel 9.2.0.1021, iRST 10.1.0.1008
DirectX 11

NVIDIA GeForce 266.58

Benchmarks Used:
IOMeter 1.1.0 RC
HD Tach v3
ATTO v2.46
CrystalDiskMark v3.01 x64
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra 2011

 IOMeter
 I/O Subsystem Measurement Tool

As we've noted in previous SSD articles, though IOMeter is clearly a well-respected industry standard drive benchmark, we're not completely comfortable with it for testing SSDs. The fact of the matter is, though our actual results with IOMeter appear to scale properly, it is debatable whether or not certain access patterns, as they are presented to and measured on an SSD, actually provide a valid example of real-world performance for the average end user. That said, we do think IOMeter is a gauge for relative available bandwidth and response times with a given storage solution. In addition there are certain higher-end workloads you can place on a drive with IOMeter, that you really can't with most other benchmark tools available currently.

In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns; our Workstation pattern, with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and IOMeter's default access pattern of 2K transfers, 67% reads (34% writes) and 100% random access.

 

The new Intel SSD 320 series drives trails all of the SandForce-based drives in our IOMeter tests, but outperforms the Marvel-based SSD 510 series and Corsair Performance 3 series drives. Versus the previous-gen X25-M, the new SSD 320 series drive takes the lead in the workstation access pattern, but trails using IOMeter's default pattern.

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SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Next we ran 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 the drives and read and write performance metrics are detailed below.
 
SiSoft SANDRA 2011
Synthetic HDD Benchmarking

The Intel SSD 320 series drive smoked the other SATA II-based drives we tested in SANDRA's Physical Disk Read and Write benchmarks, including the SandForce-based OCZ Vertex 2, which has been an immensely popular drive with enthusiasts. In light of the current-gen SATA III / 6G drives though, the SSD 320 series drive's performance isn't nearly as impressive.

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ATTO Disk Benchmark
ATTO is another "quick and dirty" type of disk benchmark that measures transfer speeds 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 and a queue depth of 6 over a total max volume length of 256MB.  ATTO's workloads are sequential in nature and measure raw bandwidth, rather than IO response time, access latency etc. This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with default NTFS partitions in Windows 7 x64.

ATTO Disk Benchmark
More Information Here: http://bit.ly/btuV6w

 

Intel X25-M G2


OCZ Vertex 2


Corsair Performance 3 Series


OCZ Vertex 3



Intel SSD 510 Series


Intel SSD 320 Series

The Intel SSD 320 series drive smokes the previous-gen X25-M in both reads and writes according to ATTO, and bests the SandForce-based OCZ Vertex 2 in reads as well. However, the SSD 320 is no match for the SATA-III drives, including Intel's own SSD 510 Series drive.

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CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks

CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark that tests 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 regard to SSD performance, best case being larger sequential transfers and worse case being small, random transfers. 

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests
  
Intel SSD 320 Series
 
 
 Intel SSD 510 Series
 

OCZ Vertex 3
 
 

Corsair Performance 3 Series
 

OCZ Vertex 2
 

Intel X25-M G2

CrystalDiskMark reported some interesting results for the Intel SSD 320 series drive. Here, Intel's latest has no trouble besting the other SATA II-based drives (the X25-M G2 and OCZ Vertex 2) in the Sequential and 512K transfers tests (with the exception of reads @ 512K), but in the 4K transfer tests, regardless of the queue depth, the 320 series drives trails the competition.

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HD Tach Performance
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
More Info Here: http://www.simplisoftware.com
 
Intel SSD 320 Series
 
Intel SSD 510 Series
 

OCZ Vertex 3
 
 

Corsair Performance 3 Series
 

OCZ Vertex 2
 

Intel X25-M
 

HD Tach was rough on the new Intel SSD 320 series drive. In this test, the SSD 320 series drive trailed the Vertex 2 across the board and trailed the previous-gen X25-M in reads and burst speeds. And once again, the SATA III drivers were simply in another league.

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PCMark Vantage HDD
We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance module for its pseudo real-world application measurement approach to testing. PCMark Vantage offers a trace-based measurement of system response times under various scripted workloads of traditional client / desktop system operation. From simple Windows start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel more comfortable that these tests reasonably illustrate the performance profile of SSDs in an end-user / consumer PC usage model.

This series of Vantage tests will stress read performance in real-world usage models, with a broad mix of sequential and random read transactions of both small and large file sizes.

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


The new Intel SSD 320 series drive performs well in the trace-based PCMark Vantage tests, trading victories with all of the drives, except for the SandForce SF-2000 series based OCZ Vertex 3s.
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PCMark Vantage HDD (Cont.)
The following PCMark Vantage HDD tests are more write intensive (with the exception of the application loading test) and in some cases stress the Achilles' Heel of the average storage subsystem, that being random write performance.

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

The new Intel SSD 320 series drive generally outpaces the X25-M G2 here and competes favorably with the OCZ Vertex 2. The Intel SSD 510 series and especially the upcoming OCZ Vertex 3 drives, however, hold only large leads in most tests.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The Intel SSD 320 series 300GB drive proved to be one of the better performing SATA II drives we have tested. Overall, the SSD 320 series drive is faster than the previous-gen X25-M G2, especially in sequential write speeds. Versus the SandForce SF-1200 driven OCZ Vertex 2, the Intel SSD 320 series drive is able to pull off a few benchmark victories, but the SandForce drive offered better overall random read and write performance with highly competitive and sometimes better sequential transfer performance.


Intel SSD 320 Series 300GB SATA II Solid State Drive

Had Intel released the SSD 320 series drives around the same time as drives based on SandForce’s SF-1200 / 1500 series controllers, we’d probably be decidedly more positive in our final analysis. As it stands today, the Intel SSD 320 series drive we tested is certainly one of the better SATA II solid state drives available (or at least soon to be available). And the security and reliability features built into the drive are attractive features for sure. But at this juncture, there are already a number of SATA III-based drives available that offer much better sequential performance with competitive random reads and writes as well, including Intel's own SSD 510 series drives. The Intel SSD 320 series drive is a solid product that may prove to be one of the most reliable on the market over time, but its performance is hard to get excited about having already tested a handful of next-gen drives.

With that said, we have to acknowledge that the install base for SATA III-capable systems is miniscule versus SATA II capable machines currently. If you’re an owner of a SATA II equipped system looking for an SSD and aren’t planning a motherboard upgrade anytime soon, the Intel SSD 320 series drive is a fine option. Intel SSD 320 prices (in 1K-unit quantities), are as follows: 40GB for $89 ($2.25 per GB); 80GB for $159 ($1.98 per GB); 120GB for $209 ($1.74); 160GB for $289 ($1.80 per GB); 300GB for $529 ($1.76 per GB) and 600GB for $1,069 ($1.78 per GB). All models include a 3-year warranty. Those MSRPs are competitive with SandForce SF-1200 series drives, which is a good thing, but hopefully street prices will be somewhat lower, making the Intel SSD 320 series a bit more attractive in light of competing drives in its class.

 

  • Good Performance
  • Competitive Pricing
  • Security and Reliability Features

 

  • Doesn't Clearly Outpace Some Much Older Drives
  • "Only" SATA II

 



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