Intel 510 Series SSD 120GB review

17 Mar 2011

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

Intel 510 Series SSD 120GB
Price when reviewed: 
220(£220 inc VAT)
4

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.

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.

Details

Price ex VAT £183
Price inc VAT £220
Overall rating 4
Performance 6
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3

Specifications

Capacity 120GB
Hard disk usable capacity 112GB
Hard disk type SSD
Cache size N/A
Spindle speed N/A
Seek time (ms) 0.1ms
Cost per gigabyte 163.0p

Noise and power

Idle power consumption 0W
Peak power consumption 0W
Idle/eco noise level 0.0dB(A)
Peak noise level 0.0dB(A)

Performance tests

Write speed small files 137.0MB/sec
Write speed large files 276.0MB/sec