Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Intel's new 520 Series is the second SATA III SSD the company released to the masses. The 510 Series based on a Marvell controller competed in 2011 against a large number of SandForce SATA III drives and even a few other products based on the same Marvell controller like the Crucial m4. The 510 Series was a very good product, but lacked the exposure given to the SandForce products. When you compete in the high-end market the spotlight generally only shines on products featuring the highest performance numbers. If you can't beat them, join them.
The Intel 520 Series is already available in the channel in the following capacity sizes, 60GB, 120GB, 180GB, 240GB and a massive 480GB for those who need a lot of high speed storage. With the exception of the 180GB model, these are the standard SandForce user capacities that we've been looking at for years. SandForce based drives for the consumer market use a 7% overprovision instead of DRAM cache for background activity.
Intel always does a very good job when it comes to listing product specifications. One thing we noticed right from the start is that Intel doesn't use the typical SandForce buzz words in their marketing like Durawrite or RAISE. These technologies are included in the flash processor unit, but not marketed heavily.
Today we're looking at the 240GB model that uses 256GB of Intel premium 25nm synchronous flash. The 256GB 520 Series has a sequential read speed of 550MB/s and a sequential write speed of 520MB/s. Random read IOPS are speced at 50K while random write IOPS are 60K. The drive uses an AES-256 engine in XTS mode for encryption; the SF-2281 also uses an AES-128 engine in CRT mode for good measure to keep your data secure.
We found all five capacities of 520 Series available at Newegg prior to writing. The 60GB is currently priced at 149.99, the 120GB is 229.99, the 180GB is 369.99 and the 240GB model we are testing today comes in at 539.99 and the uber 480GB drive costs 1049.99. These are not the most expensive SF-2281 controlled drives on the market today, but they are quite a bit more expensive than the Vertex 3 drives. Measuring at the 240GB capacity size the, the Intel 520 holds a $190 price premium over the Vertex 3 240GB. We expect this gap to shrink rapidly over the next couple of months.
Intel can easily justify their price premium with their extensive validation process alone, but the accessory package for the 520 Series is more robust than many other products on the market. For starters the 520 Series products carry a full five year warranty; the industry standard these days is three years with very few companies going against the grain. Intel also includes a desktop adapter bracket making it easier to install the 2.5" form factor drive in a 3.5" drive bay. SATA power and data cables are also included with the mounting screws for installing the drive in a bracket.
Often overlooked, but never out of mind is Intel's software package that ships with their SSDs. The Intel SSD Toolbox was one of the first consumer software tools for drive optimization and still one of the best available. Inside users can see the status of their drive, make a handful of Windows optimizations, secure erase their drive and update the SSDs firmware. Intel also includes a Software Migration Tool that allows you to quickly and easily clone an existing drive. Look for a full software write up in a few days that cover these software tools.