Examining Intel's 525 Series mSATA Solid State Drive

Introduction & Specifications

It has been quite a while since we last put an mSATA solid state drive (SSD) under the microscope. It's actually only been about two years, and if you care to jump into our time machine, you can see what we had to say about Intel's 310 Series mSATA SSD in 80GB form. The idea then was the same as it is now -- to offer full-size SSD features and performance in a smaller form factor that can wiggle into increasingly thinner Ultrabooks and mini PCs like Intel's Next Unit of Computing (NUC). Your typical 2.5-inch desktop or notebook SSD measures 7mm or 9.5mm thick and comes housed in a metal or plastic chassis, whereas mSATA SSDs are much smaller (about one-eighth the size) and run around naked, traits that allow them to fit into tight spaces and embedded applications.
Up until recently, consumers haven't had much reason to shop tiny SSDs, but as mini PCs become more popular, so too will the mSATA form factor. In the meantime, Intel's forging ahead with mSATA SSD production and just recently released its 525 Series (Lincoln Crest), essentially a smaller version of the company's high octane 2.5-inch 520 Series. To give us an idea of the kind of performance these miniature drives can pump out, Intel sent us samples of nearly every capacity currently available: 30GB, 60GB, 120GB, 180GB, and 240GB. The only one we didn't receive was the 90GB model.

All of these drives feature a SATA 6Gbps interface and specially tweaked SandForce firmware tuned for performance, power consumption, and reliability. Random read performance is rated as high as 50,000 IOPS and sequential reads go up to 550MB/s, while random and sequential write performance metrics are rated up to 80,000 IOPS and 520MB/s, respectively, depending on the specific model.

Intel SSD 525 Series mSATA
Specifications & Features
Maximum sequential read speed up to 550MB/s

Maximum sequential write speed up to 520MB/s

25nm NAND flash memory

Multi-Level Cell (MLC)

SATA 6Gb/s interface

TRIM support (OS dependent)

Up to 50,000 IOPS (random 4KB reads)

Up to 80,000 IOPS (random 4KB write)

Thickness: 3.7mm
Full-sized mSATA form factor

Native Command Queuing (NCQ)

AES 128-bit encryption

MTBF: 1.2 million hours

Active power use: 300mW

Idle power use: 250mW

Warranty: 3 years

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

O/S Support: Windows XP / Vista / 7 / 8 / Mac OS / Linux

Intel designed these drives with its NUC in mind and claims users can expect a minimum useful life of 5 years assuming up to 20GB of written data per day, or at least 3 year if writing up to 30GB per day. The MSRPs for these drives are as follows:

  • 30GB: $54
  • 60GB: $104
  • 90GB: $129
  • 120GB: $149
  • 180GB: $214
  • 240GB: $279

Since the NUC is an obvious destination for the 525 Series and we happen to have one on hand, we used Intel's tiny box to test each of these drives in a Windows 8 environment. Our goal is to see if Intel can deliver on its promise to offer big boy performance in a toddler form factor. We'll get to Intel's report card in a moment, but first, let's take a closer look at Lincoln Crest.

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