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Intel 510 Series SSD 120GB review

Intel 510 Series SSD 120GB

Verdict

One of the fastest drives we’ve seen for those who demand top-speed data transfers

Review Date: 17 Mar 2011

Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith

Price when reviewed: £183 (£220 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
5 stars out of 6

Value for Money
3 stars out of 6

Performance
6 stars out of 6

Intel’s X25-M solid-state drives won praise in our last SSD Labs, but now their replacements have arrived. The new drives come in 120GB and 250GB capacities, and still use 34nm MLC NAND flash cells, but introduce a new controller chip (manufactured by Marvell) and a SATA 6Gb/sec interface, permitting transfer speeds up to a theoretical 600MB/sec.

In reality you won’t see that sort of performance, but the AS SSD benchmarking tool measured a sequential read rate of 390MB/s from the 120GB model, which is still remarkable. It’s well beyond the capabilities of a SATA 3Gb/sec connection, and speedier than any other SSD we’ve tested. You can expect the 250GB model to be even faster as it’ll be able to read from more flash cells at once with more memory chips at its disposal.

Sequential write performance proved less exceptional but, at 191MB/sec, the 120GB 510 Series is still faster than any of the drives in our last SSD labs. Admittedly, it’s 18% behind our current A List favourite, the Kingston SSDNow 100V, but for big sequential operations this is still a very fast drive overall.

The drive’s Achilles’ heel is random access. That’s normal for SSDs, but after the 510 Series’ exceptional results in the sequential benchmarks we were surprised by how much it struggled here. In AS SSD’s multi-threaded 4K read and write benchmarks, the 120GB drive achieved average read and write speeds of 20MB/sec and 40MB/sec respectively – a long way behind the 150MB/sec and 59MB/sec scores achieved by its predecessor, the 80GB X25-M. Still, there’s full TRIM support, so this shouldn’t degrade any further.

Intel 510 Series SSD 120GB

These synthetic figures tell only half the story, as real-world performance is greatly affected by the capabilities of the operating system. Copying a single 1.5GB file to the drive and back within Windows 7 yielded sequential read and write speeds of 228MB/sec and 276MB/sec respectively – slower than the read speed measured by AS SSD but far faster than the write speed, thanks, presumably, to intelligent caching. In comparison, our A-Listed mechanical drive, the Samsung Spinpoint F3 1TB, averaged 138MB/s and 208MB/s in the same tests.

Repeating the test with a folder containing 15,000 small files gave average read and write speeds of 112MB/s and 137MB/s – a much more encouraging result than the AS SSD scores would suggest, and a good length ahead of the Samsung, which scored 86MB/sec and 111MB/sec.

As always with solid-state storage, the benefit comes at a weighty cost. The Samsung F3 offers eight times the capacity for less than a fifth of the price of the Intel drive. As we’ve noted in the past, switching to an SSD can make your system feel smoother, but it has a very small impact on your overall productivity. To confirm this, we installed identical Windows configurations on both a regular 7,200RPM hard disk and the 120GB 510 Series drive. We hooked up each in turn to our Core i7-2600 test system and then ran our new benchmarks to compare scores. Both came back with identical figures.

The Intel 510 Series is therefore best suited to a specialist role that relies heavily on high-speed data transfer – a photo editing workstation, for example. As a general purpose drive, it’s hard to justify the price given the small benefit you’ll notice over a mechanical drive. If you just want to treat yourself to that snappy SSD feeling, the Kingston 100V will deliver it much more cheaply.

Author: Darien Graham-Smith

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User comments

Disappointing

Speed is roughly on par with Crucial's C300 (which costs 40% less) and trails massively behind the OCZ Vortex 3. I expected more from Intel :(

By Lomskij on 17 Mar 2011

No noise and feel

As I've written in the Mobile & Wireless RWC column from time to time, my biggest problem with SSDs is the lack of noise and vibration. These are both useful feedback mechanisms that show a PC is working.

I've found that on SSD machines I'll often click on an attachment in an email or icon on the desktop, and then wait. Nothing appears to happen and so (like a complete bloody noob!) I'll click again. Then suddenly two copies open. It's worst with software like Photoshop that takes a while to load.

So what I'd like is an SSD that includes maybe a tiny speaker, or perhaps a scaled down version of the vibrate motor from a mobile. Just so I get that tactile feedback. Without that it's like driving a car with brilliant soundproofing - you end up cocking up the gearchanges because you can't hear the engine (perhaps that why most posh/quiet cars are automatics).

Is it just me?

By PaulOckenden on 17 Mar 2011

Re: No noise and feel

Paul

Totally agree about the sound and vibration. I use that all the time to make sure my PC is still doing things, and hasn't fallen asleep mid-task. I don't think I'd like a totally silent drive either :D

By mrmiley on 17 Mar 2011

Maybe its me but I can hear the SSD drives when they are busy. There's a fairly quiet sort of sqeaking noise. So I know when they are busy.

I don't hear it when opening an email but that's because emails open instantly without any delay.

However I do have a special quiet PC. I doubt I'd have heard the SSD drive with my old noisy PC.

By cyberindie on 17 Mar 2011

@cyberindie

You can genuinely hear solid state electronics? Hmm...!!!

By The_Scrote on 17 Mar 2011

@The_Scrote

I was surprised they should make any noise but yes they do - it is very quiet but audible even to my partner.

I wonder though what is actually making the noise - is it them or the power supply reacting to the slightly extra drain.

By cyberindie on 17 Mar 2011

Re: No noise and feel

Paul

Totally agree about the sound and vibration. I use that all the time to make sure my PC is still doing things, and hasn't fallen asleep mid-task. I don't think I'd like a totally silent drive either :D

By mrmiley on 17 Mar 2011

@Everyone!

I prefer silence! Its a big advantage of SSD.
Maybe a flashing light to indicate disk activity. Mine does that already but its hidden behind the desk

By cyberindie on 17 Mar 2011

Alternative solutions to Quiteness

1. Software which shows harddisk activity via a flashing light on the screen - available as freeware.
2. Poorly shielded speakers - these emit a high pitched sound when there is hard disk activity. They do on my computer.

By Manuel on 17 Mar 2011

Hard drive activity lights for SSD etc

Float led is a good program that displays an icon for all connected hard drives on the desktop and shows both write and read activity

By curiousclive on 17 Mar 2011

Link to float led

http://floatled.stone-oakvalley-studios.com

By curiousclive on 17 Mar 2011

People Still Use Drive Noise?!?

Last time I heard a HDD make an aduible noise, it was due to imminent failure.

On my PC, HDD activity is shown by a little LED on the front.

By Penfolduk01 on 17 Mar 2011

@The_Scrote

Not sure why but I can certainly here my passively cooled 4850 when I boot into a game

By overthere on 17 Mar 2011

SSDs vs HDDs

Thanks curiousclive for the link. I've been looking for a program like that for the PC for years! Last time I had a program like that was on the Atari ST. So that is going back a few years. At the moment I just cannot justify purchasing an SSD over a mechanical hard drive. Judging by this review the relatively little performance different doesn't attract me at all. I just feel that SSD tech needs to mature for a few more years before I give up my mechanical drives. Plus, in order to take fully advanage of an SSD based PC the rest of the machine needs to be balanced in terms of performance.

By MechanicalSpinner on 21 Mar 2011

Only SSD for XP though

The Intel SSD's are the only SSD manufacturer that have a TRIM app for Windows XP that I have found at least, so you have to give them that point? (Or correct me if I am wrong).

By gingerinc on 29 Apr 2011

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