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Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0

Two is better than one, but can the performance outpace the cost of this setup?
@ChrisRamseyer
Published Wed, Feb 15 2012 7:43 AM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:30 PM CDT

Introduction

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 01 | TweakTown.com
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I'm a bit surprised no one has asked why Intel sampled most media outlets with two and in some cases three identical 520 Series 240GB drives for review. As a consumer I'd rather have seen performance numbers from both 240GB (our single drive review is here) and 120GB drives since these are the capacity sizes that make the most sense for computer users today. As you can imagine, no one is going to complain about getting dual 240GB drives especially media folks who are generally power users with PCs on steroids.

A few months back we looked at the OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 and learned that OCZ figured out how to get TRIM working on the drive's RAID controller. The hardware is ready, but Windows is now the roadblock we were told. Months later we started finding hints that Intel was getting ready to release software that allows TRIM to work in RAID as well.

I would call that a pretty big hint, RAID 0 TRIM doesn't work on this one, but the next one will enable the feature.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 02 | TweakTown.com
Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 03 | TweakTown.com

Now we are moving past hints and screenshots like this one are starting to pop up online from those luckily enough to have access to the software. Here we see TRIM is now working on RAID 0 in some validation labs. This changes the landscape of SSD RAID entirely, all of the good and less of the bad.

RAID 0 still has one important flaw, it isn't a redundant system so your data is less secure than it would be with a single drive (since you are doubling the risk of a failure) and a lot less secure than a RAID 5/6 array. RAID 5 has a built in redundant feature where you can lose an entire drive in a three or more drive array and still keep your data. With RAID 6 you can lose two drives in a four drive system.

Still, TRIM in RAID 0 is a good start and just what we need to push solid state drive technology to the next level. Sadly today we are not testing a RAID 0 array with TRIM enabled. We will get our baseline numbers with our RAID 0 array today so we can compare the performance today to a future article where RAID 0 TRIM is enabled.

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

Specifications, Pricing and Availability

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 04 | TweakTown.com

Before we get started with testing let's recap the new Intel 520 Series 240GB SSD, the same units we are using two of today in RAID 0.

The Intel 520 Series replaces the 510 Series and becomes Intel's second generation consumer SATA III drive. Newegg already lists the five capacity models as in stock and shipping. Those capacities are 60GB, 120GB, 180GB, 240GB and a massive 480GB size. Prices range from around $150 to just over $1000 for the big boy. The 240GB drives we are testing today are listed at Newegg for around $550 with the full retail kit and $10 less for the OEM 'drive only' product.

The 520 Series 240GB drive produces 550MB/s sequential read and 520MB/s sequential write speeds (compressible data). Random IOPS are rated at 50K read and 60K write. I think everyone has seen these numbers before and I can just chime in and say typical SandForce SF-2281 controller performance when paired with IMFT 25nm synchronous flash.

What isn't covered when I say SF-2281 / 25nm sync flash is what Intel brought to the 2281 in reliability terms. The 520 Series uses a unique Intel only firmware that was co-developed with SandForce. The 520 Series is the only SandForce based SSD to use the special sauce. I spent a little time thinking about this whole special firmware earlier today and it affects pricing. This is what I came up with.

When you go to a bar they have their house vodka and their top shelf brands. Hopefully you are spending time at a place that uses at least Sky as their house brand. For most occasions your Sky Vodka does the trick and everyone is happy. Then there are your special occasions (like celebrating Tuesday) when you want something with a little more class. This is when you start tapping into the top shelf brands like Gray Goose and Belvedere. The new Intel 520 Series is your top shelf liquor, when you want the best.

The Packaging and Drives

The Packaging

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 05 | TweakTown.com

Just in case you missed our initial 520 Series article yesterday (our single drive review is here) we'll spend a few minutes covering the basics of everything that is included with the retail package.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 06 | TweakTown.com

Intel also includes Data Migration Software for easily cloning your existing HDD.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 07 | TweakTown.com

Today we're taking today 520 Series 240GB drives and running them in RAID 0!

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 08 | TweakTown.com

If you do this on your own drive, the five year warranty is void. As you can see there isn't anything you can do inside the drive. The 520 Series uses a SandForce SF-2281 controller and sixteen Intel 25nm synchronous NAND flash chips.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 09 | TweakTown.com

There are eight on each side of the drive and from what we can tell Intel didn't do anything different with the hardware to make it different from other manufactures offerings. Well, other than the elite firmware.

Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 16 | TweakTown.com

We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI, Corsair and Noctua.

You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.

Today we're running two new Intel 520 Series SSDs in RAID 0 on an Intel Z68 PCH. The 520 Series drives use 25nm synchronous flash, the good stuff that you want.

We'll be comparing the dual 520 array to an OCZ RevoDrive 3 X2 with 25nm asynchronous flash. The RevoDrive 3 X2 uses four drives attached directly to the PCB, but the asynchronous flash holds the drive back and causes issues with incompressible data.

ATTO Baseline Performance

Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34

ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 17 | TweakTown.com

On the Intel PCH SATA RAID we achieved just over 1000MB/s write speed and just over 1100MB/s read speed. The performance is very good for a built-in SATA III RAID setup that comes "free" with your motherboard.

Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro

HD Tune Pro

Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00

Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com

Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com

HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:

Benchmark: measures the performance

Info: shows detailed information

Health: checks the health status by using SMART

Error Scan: scans the surface for errors

Temperature display

HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 18 | TweakTown.com

Synchronous flash makes a very big difference in RAID. SandForce controllers don't use background garbage collection, so the performance increase from the flash helps keep your drives running at higher speeds for longer. In the read test across the drive we see sequential transfer performance that equals the ATTO performance.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 19 | TweakTown.com

Without TRIM, writing to your drives will start to degrade performance. In the write test across the drive we achieved an average speed of 641.9MB/s.

Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time

AIDA64 Random Access Time

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60

Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com

AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.

Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron and Toshiba.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 20 | TweakTown.com

When you come from a platter drive the first thing you notice is how fast and smooth an SSD feels when doing just about everything. Since SSDs don't use moving parts all of the latency is electrical instead of mechanical. Electrons move at the speed of light, it sounds a bit like science fiction, but your computer also feels like it was teleported from the future. If you are only running a mechanical drive in your computer then your user experience is suffering because of it.

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In the read and write latency tests the Intel 520 Series drives on the Z68 chipset match the latency we see on a single drive. The write latency is a little faster than the single drive, so you get a bit of a performance increase when writing small files to the array.

Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark

Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview

Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info

Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html

Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark

CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software that allows us to benchmark 4K and 4K queue depths with accuracy.

Key Features:-

* Sequential reads/writes

* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes

* Text copy

* Change dialog design

* internationalization (i18n)

Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4 and 32.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 22 | TweakTown.com

In CDM we're looking at 4K and native command queuing performance. The 4K single command performance with the 520 Series RAID 0 array matches the RevoDrive 3 X2. When we start stacking commands the Intel array takes off. By the time we get to 32 commands the Intel array has 100 MB/s on the OCZ RAID.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 23 | TweakTown.com

In the lower queue depths the Intel 520 Series array writes 4K data very fast. At a single command we see 390 MB/s and with four commands that goes up to 478 MB/s. The OCZ drive is faster at 32 commands, but not by much.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0

Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com

Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/

Buy It Here

PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.

FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 24 | TweakTown.com

HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

The high sequential read and write speeds of the 520 Series array really stand out in this test. The Intel array is faster across the board than anything else on the chart.

PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing

For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.

- Brief Methodology

SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM or onboard garbage collection methods.

Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test

Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)

60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB

120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB

240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB

Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests and shows if a drive needs time to recover or if performance is instantly restored.

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HDD1 - Windows Defender

HDD2 - Gaming

HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery

HDD4 - Vista Startup

HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker

HDD6 - Windows Media Center

HDD7 - Windows Media Player

HDD8 - Application Loading

For the last several months we've shown the effects of asynchronous flash when data is placed on the drive. This phenomenon doesn't affect the Intel 520 Series RAID array. The arrays performance is reduced as data is added, but not to the same degree as the RevoDrive 3 X2.

Benchmarks - AS SSD

AS SSD Benchmark

Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358

Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software

Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9

AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.

In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).

Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.

- Copy Benchmark

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The Intel 520 Series is one of just a handful of SandForce drives that perform really well in the file copy tests. This is an area that SandForce worked very hard on and Intel managed to include in their unique firmware. In RAID 0 on the Z68 chipset the performance nearly doubled.

Benchmarks - Passmark

Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests

Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1

Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com

Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.

The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.

The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.

Intel 520 Series 240GB Solid State Drives in RAID 0 27 | TweakTown.com

We really needed to run this test with three to five drives in RAID 5 and RAID 6 to get a good understanding of the real enterprise performance since RAID 0 isn't something you want to keep sensitive enterprise data on.

Final Thoughts

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The combination of SandForce's SF-2281 controller, Intel's 25nm synchronous flash and now Intel's unique firmware found only in the 520 Series is nearly unbeatable.

When you pair these drives with a motherboard based on an Intel chipset you get very good RAID 0 performance, but that whole lack of TRIM thing is still looming over head. I can't tell you when we'll see RAID 0 TRIM only because I don't know. There are a handful of hints floating around that lead us to believe it's coming soon, but we can't pin point a date for you just yet. Let's just hope it's sooner rather than later.

I think the biggest issue holding most users back from running dual 520 Series drives in RAID 0 is the cost. The 240GB drives we looked at today cost around $550 each at this time. The cost will go down over time, but once again, we don't know when that will be or how low they will go. The 520 Series is one of the most expensive SSDs on the market today. When compared to the Vertex 3 240GB the 520 Series costs nearly $200 more each, a pretty large split. For the additional money you get an extensive amount of testing and validation from Intel's famed labs.

I think for the time being you'd be better off with a single drive until we finally get TRIM on RAID 0. With the Intel 520 Series drives selling at a premium you could purchase a single drive today and then when the new software hits you can purchase another drive, hopefully at a lower price.

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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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