|Intel SSD 320 Series Solid State Drive|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Storage|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Wednesday, 15 June 2011|
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Intel SSD 320 Series Solid State Drive
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by Intel.
Intel is a company best known for their high-performance computer processors and motherboards, yet they're considered leaders in several different technology sectors. Solid State Drive technology is one particular market segment that has plenty of fresh competition, fighting for both retail consumer and corporate enterprise dollars. In this article, Benchmark Reviews tests the Intel SSD 320 series solid state drive, which includes 25nm Intel MLC NAND Flash memory and Enhanced power-loss data protection. Speed and response time for the Intel SSD 320 is compared to several other competing storage solutions, demonstrating which SSD product delivers the best value for the money.
One keystone feature to the Intel SSD 320 Series is enhanced power-loss data protection. According to Intel, During a "clean" shutdown, most host systems initiate a command (the STANDBY IMMEDIATE command) to an SSD to give the SSD enough time to prepare for the shutdown. This allows the SSD to save data currently in transition (in temporary buffers) to the non-volatile NAND media. However, during an unsafe power shutdown, the SSD abruptly loses power before the host system can initiate the STANDBY IMMEDIATE command. This prevents data in the temporary buffers from being saved in the non-volatile NAND.
In only three short years, the solid state drive industry exploded from a small handful of SSD controllers compared to nearly fifty different versions that have collectively appeared on the retail market. Of the most prolific designs, Intel continues to earn its reputation for reliable solid-state storage solutions. In this article, Benchmark Reviews tests the 160GB Intel 320 Series SSD model SSDSA2CW160G3-120G. Built upon 25nm MLC NAND flash technology, the Intel 320 is capable of sequential read speeds up to 270 MB/s and 60,000 combined IOPS. The Intel SSD 320 Series is optimized for SATA 3Gb/s controllers, but we make sure it has plenty of headroom by using our Intel P67-Express Sandy Bridge test platform.
Even after decades of design improvements, the hard disk drive (HDD) is still the slowest component in any personal computer system. Consider that modern desktop processors have a 1 ns response time (nanosecond = one billionth of one second), while system memory responds between 30-90 ns. Traditional hard drive technology utilizes magnetic spinning media, and even the fastest spinning mechanical storage products still exhibit a 9,000,000 ns / 9 ms initial response time (millisecond = one thousandth of one second). In more relevant terms, the processor receives the command and must then wait for system memory to fetch related data from the storage drive. This is why any computer system is only as fast as the slowest component in the data chain; usually the hard drive.
In a perfect world all of the components operate at the same speed. Until that day comes, the real-world goal for achieving optimal performance is for system memory to operate as quickly as the central processor and then for the storage drive to operate as fast as memory. With present-day technology this is an impossible task, so enthusiasts try to close the speed gaps between components as much as possible. Although system memory is up to 90x (9000%) slower than most processors, consider then that the hard drive is an added 1000x (100,000%) slower than that same memory. Essentially, these three components are as different in speed as walking is to driving and flying.
Solid State Drive technology bridges the largest gap in these response times. The difference a SSD makes to operational response times and program speeds is dramatic, and takes the storage drive from a slow 'walking' speed to a much faster 'driving' speed. Solid State Drive technology improves initial response times by more than 450x (45,000%) for applications and Operating System software, when compared to their mechanical HDD counterparts. The biggest mistake PC hardware enthusiasts make with regard to SSD technology is grading them based on bandwidth speed. File transfer speeds are important, but only so long as the operational IOPS performance can sustain that bandwidth under load.
Bandwidth Speed vs Operational Performance
As we've explained in our SSD Benchmark Tests: SATA IDE vs AHCI Mode guide, Solid State Drive performance revolves around two dynamics: bandwidth speed (MB/s) and operational performance (IOPS). These two metrics work together, but one is more important than the other. Consider this analogy: bandwidth determines how much cargo a ship can transport in one voyage, and operational IOPS performance is how fast the ship moves. By understanding this and applying it to SSD storage, there is a clear importance set on each variable depending on the task at hand.
For casual users, especially those with laptop or desktop computers that have been upgraded to use an SSD, the naturally quick response time is enough to automatically improve the user experience. Bandwidth speed is important, but only to the extent that operational performance meets the minimum needs of the system. If an SSD has a very high bandwidth speed but a low operational performance, it will take longer to load applications and boot the computer into Windows than if the SSD offered a higher IOPS performance.