Examining Intel's 525 Series mSATA Solid State Drive

Intel 525 Series Up Close

The Intel SSD 525 Series represents a significant upgrade to the chip maker's stable of mSATA drives. It uses a different controller than previous mSATA offerings, in this case LSI's SandForce SF-2281 chipset, the same one driving Intel's SSD 330, 335, and 520 drives. However, this is the first time Intel has shoved SandForce silicon into an mSATA line.

If you're wondering why Intel chose to outsource the controller to LSI rather than roll its own, it's hard to argue with the claimed performance ratings. The SSD 525 Series isn't just about sheer throughput, though. It also features AES 128-bit encryption, end-to-end data protection that helps protect data from being corrupted by using cyclic redundancy check (CRC) and error correction code (ECC) checks in the data path, and a "Temperature Governor" that protects the drives from overheating to the point of premature failure. Here's more on the latter from Intel:

"The Intel SSD 525 Series drive has a safety feature for monitoring temperature and for protecting the module from overheating, The operating temperature specifications of the Intel SSD 525 Series drive or 0-70 degrees Celsius as measured by the temperature sensor, SMART Attribute BEh," Intel explains. "The drive may occasionally exceed that temperature range and will continue performing, however the Temperature Governor will act to regulate performance to a level that will maintain drive integrity. The host system should be designed to accommodate measures such that normal, typical, operations do not maintain drive temperature outside of specified operating temperature conditions."

We've chosen to highlight this tidbit because Ultrabooks and mini PCs aren't as easy to keep cool as a desktop tower. This is especially true of the NUC, which exhibited stability issues when we reviewed a pre-production version of the device. The integrated Wi-Fi card heats up quickly, and it's placement directly underneath the mSATA port transfers that heat to the SSD in quick fashion. It's good to know that Intel is taking measures to protect mSATA SSDs from burning themselves up should overheating become an issue in these small boxes.

As previously stated, Intel sent us every capacity drive in the 525 Series save for the 90GB model, which doesn't show up in all of Intel's literature but is available to order online. The 30GB drive is the only one that's blue; the 60GB, 120GB, 180GB, and 240GB capacities are all green.

All of these drives are capable of running Windows 8, even the 30GB model. Windows 8 in 32-bit form requires 16GB of disk space and the 64-bit flavor requires 20GB. That doesn't leave much room for third-party apps, but for a basic build for surfing the web and living in the cloud, you can get away with a 30GB SSD. If you're planning to install a bunch of apps, obviously a larger capacity SSD is in order.

Performance varies by model. Shown above is the 240GB model, which boasts up to 550MB/s sequential read and up to 520MB/s sequential write speeds, and up to 50,000 IOPS random 4KB read and up to 80,000 IOPS random 4KB random write speeds. It's not only the largest capacity drive in Intel's 525 Series, it's also one of the fastest, tied with the 180GB in rated specs.

Underneath the sticker are a pair of multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash memory memory chips built on a 25nm manufacturing process. There are two more NAND flash memory chips on the other side of each SSD, save for the 180GB, which uses three 64GB chips. All of the drives are backwards compatible with SATA 3Gbps.

At just one-eighth the size of regular 2.5-inch SSDs, the mSATA variants measure just 50mm long and 3.5mm thick, almost small enough to swallow (don't attempt). It's pretty amazing that such small slices of silicon are capable of the performance metrics Intel claims. Speaking of which, onto the benchmarks...

Related content