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Written by Olin Coles   
Monday, 06 February 2012
Table of Contents: Page Index
Intel SSD 520 Series Solid State Drive
Closer Look: Intel SSD 520 Series
Features and Specifications
SSD Testing Methodology
AS-SSD Benchmark
ATTO Disk Benchmark
CrystalDiskMark 3.0 Tests
Iometer IOPS Performance
EVEREST Disk Benchmark
PCMark Vantage HDD Tests
Intel SSD 520 Series Conclusion

CrystalDiskMark 3.0 Tests

CrystalDiskMark 3.0 is a file transfer and operational bandwidth benchmark tool from Crystal Dew World that offers performance transfer speed results using sequential, 512KB random, and 4KB random samples. For our test results chart below, the 4KB 32-Queue Depth read and write performance was measured using a 1000MB space. CrystalDiskMark requires that an active partition be set on the drive being tested, and all drives are formatted with NTFS on the Intel P67 chipset configured to use AHCI-mode. Benchmark Reviews uses CrystalDiskMark to illustrate operational IOPS performance with multiple threads. In addition to our other tests, this benchmark allows us to determine operational bandwidth under heavy load.

CrystalDiskMark uses compressed data in its benchmark tests, so sequential file transfer speeds appear lower compared to those tested with other tools using uncompressed data. This section concentrates on operational IOPS performance using compressed data.

CrystalDiskMark 3.0 reports sequential speeds reaching 473.8 MB/s reads and 300.2 MB/s writes. 512K test results reached 399.9 MB/s read and 285.8 MB/s write performance. 4K tests produced 28.09 read and 76.26 write performance. We've save the best for last...

CDM-Intel-SSD-520-Series.png

Maximum 4KB IOPS performance results at queue depth 32 are reported in the chart below. These values represent the performance levels for several enthusiast-level storage solutions, and illustrates which products offer the best operational performance under load:

CrystalDiskMark-4K_Results.png

In the next section, we continue our testing using Iometer to measure input/output performance...



 

Comments 

 
# "As of 06 February 201, the Intel SSD 520 Series launches..."Dan 2012-02-06 08:35
Wow, so long ago. The age when Caracalla ruled. Did they have SSDs back then?
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# RE: "As of 06 February 201, the Intel SSD 520 Series launches..."Olin Coles 2012-02-06 08:41
There's always got to be at least one person... the typo's been fixed smartass. :)
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# LOL!realneil 2012-02-06 10:42
Good review Olin. Now I want one of these too. As a matter of fact, it's on the top of the list.
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# RE: LOL!Olin Coles 2012-02-06 10:45
Thanks! This is a VERY FAST drive that costs the same as SandForce SSDs, and with a five year Intel warranty you really can't go wrong.
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# RE: Intel SSD 520 Series Solid State DriveJerry Record 2012-02-06 15:42
Thanks for the review. I have been looking at these for some time, but still straddling the fence. My concerns are longevity of the drive. The Intel 520 & 320 series have the best reviews with the fewest number of DOA's & BSOD's with in a short time period after installation. I also understand Intel has a 5 yr waranty. But, when it holds you OS and all you software and dies. It is a hassle. Just thought I would check and see if you had any insight into the real world life expectancy of the SSD today.
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# RE: Intel SSD 520 Series Solid State DriveEndocine 2012-02-07 02:38
Unfortunately your question can not be easily answered. But my anecdotal observation from running intel SSD's for a couple years now, in laptops and desktops - I have never seen a failure personally. I wouldn't rely on SSDs for long term data storage, and regardless of their failure rate or life expectancy, always do data backups, if you do not then you are asking for a hassle. Don't put anything critical on a consumer SSD and always do backups.

While these drives are appreciably more expensive than equally performing models from other companies, one would hope that a lot more testing and quality controls went into making them, and there's no way to test for reliability between brands in a review like this, you need to run tests for a long period of time using large numbers of drives and the expense and time of such an undertaking would be beyond the capabilities of a review site.
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# AES 256-bit EncryptionBill McGovern 2012-04-23 07:36
I currently use a 'standard' hard drive. I keep all data on a partition other than the OS partition. I use TrueCrypt to encrypt the data partition.
I am concerned with the 520's reliance on the bios password for encryption. Isn't the bios password fairly easy to hack? If my laptop 'walks off' is my data really 100% secure or is it readily available to anyone who can garner the bios password?
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# RE: AES 256-bit EncryptionOlin Coles 2012-04-23 07:42
Hello Bill:
Although I do not use it personally, it is my understanding that TrueCrypt works perfectly on an SSD.
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# RE: RE: AES 256-bit EncryptionBill McGovern 2012-04-23 07:48
Sorry if I wasn't clear....I'm interested in utilizing the 520's native encryption, not TrueCrypt. My understanding is that using a software encryption program will cause additional performance and wear issues. My concern is with the 520's native, hardware encryption reliance on the bios password.
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# RE: RE: RE: AES 256-bit EncryptionOlin Coles 2012-04-23 07:57
Because SSDs feature automatic data encryption from the moment they initialize, there's an inherit problem giving users password-controlled access to data. There are several articles around the web (search: SandForce SSD Encryption Demystified) that explain how this happens, but in summary it's a problem that has existed as long as self-encrypting drives. Intel offers an SSD toolkit to work with the encryption key on their drives: downloadcenter.intel.com/Detail_Desc.aspx?agr=Y&DwnldID=18455
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: AES 256-bit EncryptionBill McGovern 2012-04-23 08:51
Olin, many thanks for the response(s). Not sure I still have a definitive answer. I'm not a security expert, nor do I want to be one. I'm simply someone who has enough computer smarts (barely) to realize the need for encryption and be able to install and utilize TrueCrypt. I am hoping that the Intel 520 eliminates the need for me to be concerned about encryption. I don't require DOD level security. I store my financial info on my laptop. If it is stolen, is my data at risk by anyone who can google for "bios password recovery"? Or would it take some very high tech hacking to get access to my SSD data? Thanks for your patience.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: AES 256-bit EncryptionOlin Coles 2012-04-23 09:01
The short answer is to use a third party software or tool, because if your drive is stolen it can be plugged into any other computer and read.
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: AES 256-bit EncryptionBill McGovern 2012-04-23 09:30
Thanks again for your time and patience. I've been doing some web searching in addition to the links / strings you suggested. I ran across #dfarq.homeip.net/2011/05/more-on-the-new-intel-320-ssd/ which talks about Intel 320 SSD encryption. If the same applies to the 520, their opinion is that the encryption is sufficient for personal or corporate use. Does their explanation negate the ability to bypass security by "plugging it into any other computer and read", or using the widely available bios password obtaining schemes?
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# RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: RE: AES 256-bit EncryptionOlin Coles 2012-04-23 10:01
I don't share their opinion, and believe a drive should have more than a BIOS password to protect it.
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# Missunderstanding - ATA HD encryption is sufficient for personal or corporate useBjoern 2012-05-22 02:37
Sorry, but you mix up BIOS password protection and the ATA HD security command. This seems to be a very common mistake since you can read it all over the net.

I think the origin for this mixup is comming from the first sandforce controlled SSDs - they encrypted the data on the memory chips, but users had no way to enter a password since ATA HD security was not supported. back then it was no security enhancement at all. encryption was just used as a cheap way to randomly scatter data over the NAND as a wear leveling tool.

Setting up a ATA HD password with a selfencrypting ssd like the intel 520 series will securly encrypt all data and you wont be able to read or write to the drive without the password. the drive cannot be pluged into another computer and be accessed there. It will show up as a locked drive until you enter the correct ATA master- or user password. you wont even be able to secure erase the drive without a password - better don't loose it or you have to dump your drive. However, your mainburd has to support ATA HD security. That is a still little hard to find...

this is also not what the article you reffere to (SandForce SSD Encryption - Demystified) is stating. the articel you reffered to was mainly questioning the security of such a "black box" solution in spite of an open source solution like truecrypt. The article is also quite old.

to get a clearer view of how it actually works see the document:
##hgst.com/tech/techlib.nsf/techdocs/F08FCD6C41A7A3FF8625735400620E6A/$file/HowToGuide_BulkDataE ncryption_final.pdf

It seems to be just a logical step to use ondisk encryption whenever possible with a SSD since SSDs loose up to 80% performance if you use truecrypt.

@Bill: Yes, ATA HD encryption is sufficient for personal or corporate use.

Best
Bjoern
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# RE: Missunderstanding - ATA HD encryption is sufficient for personal or corporate useBill McGovern 2012-05-22 09:51
Bjoern, thanks so much for your time.

From your comments, my understanding is that if my motherboard supports ATA Security, I can set a password that is unrelated to the BiOS password and is not stored in the BIOS. Correct?

One other question, if my motherboard does NOT support ATA Security, can the Intel toolkit be used to set the SSD ATA password? Do I then continue to use the toolkit to provide the password and enable access?
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# RE: RE: Missunderstanding - ATA HD encryption is sufficient for personal or corporate useBjoern 2012-05-22 10:09
Dear Bill,

1.) Yes. The PW will be hashed and the hash will be saved in the drive. the PW can then be used to decrypted the key used for the encryption of the data on the drive itself. You can also use the drive in another computer supporting ATA security - at least if it is the same mainboard and therefore BIOS implementation of ATA security.

2.) If your BIOS does not support ATA security there is no way to use a password protected disk. the disk would be locked - without a supporting BIOS you cannot enter the password. Most systems would not even boot with a locked drive on any SATA channel. that is also the reason why you cannot set the password using the intel toolkit. imagin you would set a password in windows and then be unable to access your system anymore, because your bios actualy does not support it.

Therefore, the entire handling of the password is quite uncomfortable and you have a risk of loosing your hardware. allways remember - if you loose the password you loose not only the data but also the drive itself. It would be bricked forever.
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