On paper the new Intel 520 Series appears to be just another Team SandForce release like several of the products we've looked at for the last thirteen months. The SF-2000 Series controllers hit media testing labs in December 2010 and client drives based on the consumer SF-2281 were on display at CES in 2011. Around the same time we started hearing about a high performance Intel SSD based on SandForce's first SATA III controller. Twelve months is a long time to wait for a rumor to turn into a retail product, but a steady pace of information coming our way kept the fabled SF-2281 controlled Intel SSD fresh in our minds.
Intel's SV and CV Validation Labs have been pictured and discussed online at length before. It's rumored that 10,000 hours of product testing is a good starting point with many products validated for an even longer amount of time. With thousands of systems on hand, Intel is able to validate products in ways other can only dream about.
When SandForce released their second generation solid state drive controller they were still playing with venture capital and had less than 200 employees company wide. The one area where SandForce was thin was product validation. SandForce has a validation department and many of their SandForce Driven partners played a role in optimizing firmware, but the combined efforts of Team SandForce is barely a blip on the radar compared to the massive resources Intel has tucked away in locations all over the world.
On release, the SF-2281 controlled client drives leaped to the top of performance charts, but for some, reliability and odd BSOD issues plagued these products. In our testing only two drives experienced issues. The first drive made it through standard testing, but ran into problems when deployed in a daily use system. The second drive failed to complete our standard benchmark procedures, having BSOD issues out of the box. Both drives were later fixed with a firmware update, but for a company like Intel, issues like these are unacceptable.
Intel has experienced their own issues with firmware in the past and they've learned quickly from their early mistakes. Intel was not going to release a new client SSD with known problems without addressing them thoroughly before a release. In the documentation provided to us Intel only included one line about firmware, but it said enough to make it clear that Intel was not just another copy and paste member of Team SandForce.
The Intel SSD 520 uses an LSI SandForce Flash Storage Processor with an Intel co-defined and validated firmware release for an Intel-unique implementation.
Little is truly known about the details that surround the unique implementation firmware built in part by Intel, but we know that, at least for now, only Intel has it and that makes the 520 Series a step above all others.