|Intel SSD 520 Series Solid State Drive|
|Reviews - Featured Reviews: Storage|
|Written by Olin Coles|
|Monday, 06 February 2012|
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Intel SSD 520 Series Solid State Drive Review
Manufacturer: Intel Corporation
Full Disclosure: The product sample used in this article has been provided by Intel.
For the past several years, consumers searching through the available selection of Solid State Drive (SSD) storage devices have noticed that capacity continues to favor the hard disk drive counterpart. While it could be a few more years before any SSD matches terabyte capacity with the HDD, Intel's NAND Flash produced at 20nm is closing that gap in terms of price and storage space. In this article, Benchmark Reviews tests the Intel SSD 520 Series Solid State Drive against the leading competition to see if it's capable of delivering SATA 6 Gb/s speeds up to 550 MB/s and 80,000 maximum 4K random write IOPS.
In our previous tests with the SATA 3GB/s Intel SSD 320, there was evidence of untapped potential resting within the 25nm NAND Flash components. Utilizing a unique hardware and firmware architecture, the Intel Solid-State Drive 520 Series implements on-board data compression, a feature that helps increase performance and endurance by automatically compressing data sent to the SSD. Cherryville's hardware-level compression results in data that requires less storage space, and potentially grows the capacity of the Intel SSD 520.
Compressing data has other advantages, too. Intel's SSD 520 Series provides an AES 256-bit hardware-based mechanism for encryption and decryption of user data. Utilizing a 256-bit encryption key, AES encryption helps protect user data when combined with an ATA drive password. That data is further protected with end-to-end data protection by using cyclic redundancy check (CRC), parity, and error correction code (ECC) checks in the data path from the host interface to the NAND, and back.
Solid State vs Hard Disk
Despite decades of design improvements, the hard disk drive (HDD) is still the slowest component of 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.