CHIPMAKER Intel has updated its high-end enthusiast solid-state disk (SSD) range with a drive that offers an upgrade for those who jumped on the X25-M a few years ago.
If Intel's position in the x86 chip market seems dominant then its position in the SSD market seems overwhelming. Not only did Intel manage to produce the first SSD worth having with the X25-M, but peel the covers off many SSDs from OCZ, Crucial, Kingston and others and you'll find Intel's NAND flash memory chips.
While Intel chips are inside a lot of SSDs, the firm seems to be pulling away from the controller side of the industry, at least in the enthusiast market. While its 'mainstream' 320 Series units still have an Intel controller, the high-end 510 Series and 520 Series feature controllers from Marvell and now LSI-Sandforce.
Sandforce, a company that came to prominence thanks primarily to OCZ, recently became part of LSI. While Sandforce SSD controllers have had a mixed history when it comes to reliability, drives with its chips were the first to unseat Intel's X25-M.
After the upstart Sandforce gave Intel a bloody nose, the firm finds its controller in Intel's 520 Series SSD drives. The controller supports data compression and 256-bit AES encryption, which should please enterprise types, though Intel said in its literature that the 520 Series has yet to be certified for datacentre use.
While Intel's 510 Series was deemed conservative by many, the firm has put its latest 25nm NAND chips inside and by opting for Sandforce, Intel has been a little more adventurous. Sandforce has addressed the firmware issues that tarnished its otherwise glorious 2011, and with a customer like Intel, LSI should be pleased with itself for buying Sandforce.
Intel launched its X25-M SSD drives in 2008 and even if you waited six months for prices to become reasonable, your X25-M SSD is getting close to three years old. Even with TRIM commands, SSD performance decreases the more they are used. What we wanted to see was whether Intel's latest 520 Series SSD drive is a worthy upgrade from the company's original X25-M.
The Intel X25-M SSD drive used in this test hasn't been subjected to three years worth of abuse - both the 520 Series and X25-M drives were brand new. However as Intel's marketing bumpf points out, peak performance figures - the ones that the manufacturers love to quote - are for new drives.
Now unless your back garden happens to be an oil field and you can kit out your machine with a shiny new SSD every time you reboot it, seeing performance after it has been around the block a few times is a bit more realistic. To try to approximate this, we ran IOmeter for three hours on both drives before running our benchmarks.