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Review: Intel's new 'Cherryville' SSD 520 drive

Solid state drive offers lower price, higher performance than predecessor offering, along with encryption and compression -- what's not to like?

February 6, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Intel Monday started shipping its fastest solid-state drive (SSD), the first to use the SandForce (now LSI) SFI-2281 NAND flash controller, which promises 500MB/sec-plus performance.

"We believe high-RPM hard drives are dead," said Troy Winslow, director of product marketing at Intel's Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group. "We believe both 10,000 and 15,000 rpm hard drives ... will be replaced with an SSD in the future."

He noted that "100% of Intel employees -- 85,000 people -- have SSDs in their systems."

Don't be shocked. The price of consumer-class SSDs is expected to drop to $1 per gigabyte this year. Client-class SSDs are hovering around $2.25 to $2.50/GB.

While that's still about 10 times the cost of high-capacity SATA desktop or laptop hard disk drives, it's only two to five times the price of a 15,000 rpm Fibre Channel or SAS drive. Considering that an SSD can offer more than 100 times the performance of a hard drive, which one would you pick?

The specs

True to its controller, the 520 Series SSD, code-named 'Cherryville,' offers impressive performance in terms of read/writes and I/Os per second (IOPS) when using a system with a SATA 3.0 6Gbit/sec interface, Intel says. The drive can deliver up to 80,000 4K-block random write IOPS and up to 50,000 4K random read IOPS. With regard to sequential read/writes, it offers up to 550MB/sec and 520MB/sec, respectively -- according to Intel's specification sheet.

The read/write speeds drop significantly when used on the SATA 2.0 3Gbps interface that most PCs and laptops sport today because it creates a bottleneck. On a SATA 2.0 interface, the 520 Series offers a maximum 280MB/sec sequential read rate and 280MB/sec sequential write rate.

Intel's "Cherryville" 520 Series SSD

The 520 Series SSD is significantly faster than its predecessor, the 510 Series SSD, particularly with regard to writes; both drives support the SATA 3.0 6Gbit/sec interface that's becoming standard in new systems.

Intel's predecessor -- the 510 series drive -- used a controller from Marvell. That drive sported sequential read/write performance of up to 500MB/sec and 315MB/sec, respectively, and random read/write IOPS of 20,000 and 8,000, respectively.

Compared to other SATA 3.0 drives, Intel's new line holds up nicely.

For example, Samsung's latest high-performance SSD, the PM830, offers sequential read/write speeds of 500MB and 350MB/sec, respectively. OCZ's Octane drive delivers up to 560MB/sec read performance and up to 45,000 random IOPS. The Octane drive is available with a capacity of up to 1TB.

Intel's drive also takes it easy on laptop batteries, sipping a maximum of 5.25 volts while operating and 600 milliwatts when idle, Intel says.

The 520 Series SSD compared to predecessors

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