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Intel SSD 330: Searching For A Segment To Satisfy

Intel SSD 330 Review: 60, 120, And 180 GB Models Benchmarked
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The SSD 330 family puts Intel in a unique position. Instead of one high-end and one value-oriented product family, the company now has three line-ups intended to more closely hit its customers' budgets.

But rather than differentiate its flagship and middle-of-the-road offerings using NAND interfaces, it equips the SSD 330s with the same synchronous flash as its SSD 520s. 

We're not certain if Intel slows the new drives down with a lower-clocked controller or just a de-tuned firmware. Company reps wouldn't answer those questions. What we do know, however, is that there appears to be binning going on to separate the 330s and 520s.

We're still puzzled by one thing. The SSD 520 is positioned to attract high-end enthusiasts. The SSD 320 addresses the value-seekers perhaps seeking Intel's famed reliability at a lower price. SSD 330s are supposed to slot in somewhere in the middle, but we're not quite sure how to characterize that middle-tier group of buyers. Are they folks who want to save money but simply can't stand to use a 3 Gb/s drive? Or is Intel laying a foundation for phasing out its older drives?

Breaking Down The Competition: Fastest To Slowest
Same Cell = Equivalent Performance
NAND
Price
Price Per GB
Warranty
Intel SSD 520 - 180 GB
Synchronous$270
$1.50
5-years
Intel SSD 330 - 180 GBSynchronous$220$1.22
3-years
OCZ Agility 3 - 180 GBAsynchronous$200$1.11
3-years
Intel SSD 520 - 120 GB
OCZ Vertex 3 - 120 GB
Synchronous$180
$135
$1.50
$1.13
5-years
3-years
Intel SSD 330 - 120 GBSynchronous$150$1.25
3-years
OCZ Agility 3 - 120 GBAsynchronous$115$0.96
3-years
Intel SSD 520 - 60 GB
Synchronous$105$1.75
5-years
OCZ Vertex 3 - 60 GB
Intel SSD 330 - 60 GB
Synchronous$90
$85
$1.50
$1.42
3-years
3-years
OCZ Agility 3 - 60 GBAsynchronous$70$1.17
3-years


Intel's aging SSD 320 remains a reliable and respectable performer, but again, it's limited to SATA 3Gb/s transfer rates.

When it comes to comparing more modern SATA 6Gb/s drives, Intel's SSD 330 is a shot across the bow of vendors selling mainstream drives with second-gen SandForce controllers and asynchronous NAND. Pitting the SSD 330 against OCZ's Agility 3, for instance, puts Intel decidedly on top. At any given capacity, the SSD 330 is faster.

Unfortunately, they're also more expensive. Prices on the SSD 520 hover around $1.50 per GB. The Vertex 3s costs as little as $1.13 per GB. There are plenty of folks out there who'll pay more to Intel for a solid reputation and a stellar five-year warranty. But the SSD 330 only gives you a three-year warranty, narrowing the value proposition to performance.

With that in mind, we expect many enthusiasts to look to other vendors selling SandForce-based drives with synchronous memory, no performance handicap, and lower price tags.

Intel's stand-out is the 60 GB model, which does match OCZ's Vertex 3 (and consequently, other drives that perform similarly) and sells for slightly less.

The SSD 330 is an impressive product. It bests the mainstream SandForce-based offerings it was seemingly designed to slay. But because Intel's pricing again appears off (the same thing happened when it launched SSD 520), it finds itself going up against higher-end models. Until Intel gets more price-competitive, it may find it difficult to sell the SSD 330 to first-time buyers craving the famed performance of a solid-state drive, and eager to get a good deal.

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