Intel has just released the Intel SSD 320 Series, currently represented by six products with capacities ranging from 40GB to 600GB. With this new line of solid-state drives (SSD), Intel’s goal is to expand the market in which the Intel X25M was so successful. Intel claims that the SSD 320 beats the Intel X25M in every way. In the semiconductor world, Moore’s law can help by increasing the computational power, or by lowering the price, or sometimes… both. For this review, I have compared the Intel SSD 320 with a few other products to see how it really performs.
While computer storage might not be as exciting as processors, it is a critical component of overall system performance. Right now, a transition from a mechanical drive to a solid-state drive is often the single best possible upgrade to significantly increase perceived performance on new, or even older systems. Raw performance is great, but for most consumers, storage has to be a proper blend of performance, storage capacity and reliability.
Performance is what makes SSDs so popular. Unlike hard disk drives (HDD) that require spinning discs at high speeds (5400rpm-15000rpm) with heads moving just above it. SSDs do not require any mechanical components and that’s key when it comes to pure performance, because it makes accessing a bunch of small files so much faster. There’s no mechanical motion, everything happens (almost) at the speed of light. That is why operating systems boot faster etc… there are simply tons of small files involved in your daily computing.
But all SSDs are not equal. Some use slower or faster flash memory, and most importantly, some have smarter controllers than others. The controller is the chip that reads and write the data to/from the system memory to the SSD drive. Here are some numbers but note that as a reference, I’ve thrown in a Seagate 750GB hard disk (very popular in its time) and a Western Digital Velociraptor HDD, one of the fastest available to consumers.
HDTune average Mbps (read): these are raw numbers, but they give us a sense for which “class” of storage devices the Intel SSD 320 is in. In the graph above, you can clearly see many different levels of performance. The Seagate represents the average HDD present in most computer desktops. As you can see, the Velociraptor HDD is already much faster. However, all the SSDs are easily in a different league, with the Intel 510 Series making yet another leap in raw performance. (link: HDtune)
PCMark Vantage (HDD test) Score: This is another test that shows how performance jumps from going from the fastest consumer HDD to an SDD. PCMark is supposed to be a more “realistic” test than HDTune, but keep in mind that although they both provide pointers, and not a definitive answer. People can use their SSDs in many different ways. Here, you can clearly see that the X25M gets a lower score, because the 320 Series is so much faster in write operations. In theory, the Intel SSD 320 Series should have a slight advantage with read operations (+8%-12%), and a huge advantage with write operations (+120%-167%).
Before looking at those charts, please note that I have used the MSRP for the Intel SSD 320 300GB, which is $529. I suspect that the street price will be lower, so I might revise the charts in the near future, bu you get the idea (hopefully). The other products have known street prices, so I used those.
Performance value, MBps per dollar spent (HDTune): this is a graph for those who want a raw “performance for the dollar”, and have storage capacity as a second thought. They are typically users who will use an SSD as their C: drive where the OS and apps are, along with a secondary HDD for data. This graph basically shows that small capacity SSDs win this one as they perform as fast as the larger ones, but cost less.
PCMark Vantage (HDD test) points per dollar spent: this graph also puts in perspective how many “PCMark points” you get for each dollar spent. This test is supposed to be representative of a more “realistic” use case, but you should take this with a grain of salt. Anyhow, the Intel SSD 320 does fairly well when compared to other SSDs with a similar capacity, and the 40GB version would be off the charts if it was here (same performance, much lower price).
Storage value, GB per dollar spent: sometimes capacity is important, and the Intel 320 Series is well placed. The Velociraptor shows that traditional HDDs are much more cost-efficient when it comes to fast storage. A 7200rpm or 5400rpm HDD would have been off the charts here. When it comes to pure capacity/$, HDDs rules, but we all knew that.
To be fair, some of the values can’t be easily measured. For instance, Intel estimates that the SSD 320 Series can save hundreds of dollars on the total cost of ownership for a business (if you account for the cost associated with dead hard drives etc). If can’t vouch for that but it is usually not a concern for consumers, but enterprises would probably take a closer look.
I did not have a hard disk die on me for many years, and as drives have been built with a longer average time before failure, it’s pretty tough to test this one. However, the Intel 320 Series has a few features that should make it more reliable:
- Redundant NAND memory: in case some memory cells fail
- Power outage protection: the drive has enough power to complete all in-flight data writes
The Intel SSD 320 comes with hardware 128-bit AES encryption. This is similar to what is being used to secure financial transactions over the Internet. It could prove to be very useful if the drive is in a lost/stolen laptop, or if it is taken away from a desktop PC host.
The Intel SSD 320 has been created to be Intel’s main SSD workhorse, and it is truly better than the X25M in every aspect: reliability, performance, capacity and even price. The reliability has been improved with data protection features and the storage capacity has been lifted to a maximum of 600GB (versus 160GB for the X25M). On the performance level, the Intel SSD 320 beats its predecessor handily and all that for a price that should be inferior per GB. In short, it’s better, faster, and cheaper.