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Intel SSD 510-Series 250 GB Review: Adopting 6 Gb/s SATA

Conclusion

Let’s start with OCZ’s Vertex 3, rather than Intel’s SSD 510. Although the Vertex 3 doesn’t clean house in every discipline, it is most consistently toward the top of each workload.

Intel’s SSD 510 is almost bipolar in comparison. Rather than focus on a well-rounded drive, Intel seems to have deliberately optimized for sequential transfers, moving large files around. Perhaps this was done to purposely demonstrate the benefits of a 6 Gb/s interface.

As coincidence might have it (or probably not), the P67 and H67 Express chipsets are Intel's first to feature this functionality natively. And even OCZ concedes that your best storage experience with its drives come from Intel’s PCH-based controller. There’s no better way to showcase what your next-gen platform can do than build a desktop storage device capable of demonstrating peak throughput numbers previously unheard of. So, whereas the X25-M’s mission in life was to let Nehalem-based processors achieve their potential, it increasingly looks like the SSD 510’s directive is to show what Intel’s brand new 6 Gb/s chipset-based SATA interface can do. A means to an end, if you will.

What does that mean for end-users? Well, let’s take a quick look at pricing. OCZ hasn’t responded to me yet on availability of its Vertex 3 drives, but unless the company was completely blowing smoke up our collective rear-ends ahead of Intel’s SSD 510 hard-launch, we should be seeing 240 GB Vertex 3s selling for $500, or $2.08 per gigabyte. In comparison, Intel’s 250 GB SSD 510 has a $584 MSRP. That’s $2.33 per gigabyte.

Assuming we see Vertex 3s mid-March at OCZ’s stated price points, that’s the drive for which you should be waiting—a recommendation based exclusively on well-rounded performance. Remember that the Vertex 3s employ 25 nm NAND, and the jury is still out on how reliable it’ll be long-term. This will have to come from us installing these SSDs in our daily drivers and hitting them as hard as we would any other product. As soon as they pop up on Newegg, you can bet I’ll do just that, too.

Intel’s SSD 510 costs more and it can serve up better sequential numbers than Vertex 3. However, it’s actually slower than its predecessor in situations where you’re working with lots of small files. The applications where this 250 GB drive makes sense are fairly clear cut. But again, it looks like you’d get a better all-around experience from OCZ’s Vertex 3 when it becomes available.

Don’t take that as the last word, though. We’re still expecting a new 6 Gb/s drive from Crucial in the days to come, and Intel’s X25-M refresh isn’t far off, either. That drive will employ Intel’s own controller. It’ll also see the company introduce higher capacity points enabled by higher-density 25 nm flash. Although it’ll be dubbed a mainstream solution, we’re looking forward to seeing what the cost reduction of smaller lithography does to prices!

  • JohnnyLucky
    I made the rounds and read other 510 reviews. I also read the comments in a lot of forums. There is quite a bit of disappointment with the performance and price of the Intel 510. Perhaps Intel will redeem itself with the next ssd series.
    Reply
  • eklipz330
    i love when small companies like sandforce can make massive companies shake in their boots... really puts another meaning on competition
    Reply
  • nitrium
    Something ALL reviewers seem to ignore is what sort of queue depths average users experience. This has been addressed in a thread on www.xtremesystems.org. The facts appear that most disk activity has a queue depth of 1. Yes, ONE. It very rarely spikes above 4. Booting Windows 7 x64 requires 190 IOPS(!) - 20,000+ IOPS on these drives are literally NEVER going to be utilized by most users in anything they do in day to day work. Almost no one buying these SSD drives is using anything remotely near their capability. It looks to me like this is all just technical benchmark BS that are of no use to the end user whatsoever... aside from bragging rights of course.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    nitriumSomething ALL reviewers seem to ignore is what sort of queue depths average users experience. This has been addressed in a thread on www.xtremesystems.org. The facts appear that most disk activity has a queue depth of 1. Yes, ONE. It very rarely spikes above 4. Booting Windows 7 x64 requires 190 IOPS(!) - 20,000+ IOPS on these drives are literally NEVER going to be utilized by most users in anything they do in day to day work. Almost no one buying these SSD drives is using anything remotely near their capability. It looks to me like this is all just technical benchmark BS that are of no use to the end user whatsoever... aside from bragging rights of course.
    IMO, don't buy a premium SSD for booting Windows. In fact, I go for weeks at a time without rebooting at all.

    Link to the XS thread you're referencing? We going to be putting more effort into quantifying real-world storage workloads in the next two months, given some new software. This could definitely help mold the work we do. The goal, of course, is real-world relevance.

    Cheers,
    Chris
    Reply
  • nitrium
    Sorry for not providing a proper link. Here it is:
    http://www.xtremesystems.org/forums/showthread.php?t=260956
    My beef with this whole synthetic benchmarking is that I think the vast majority of users are unaware that getting this SSD or that SSD will make absolutely no material difference. Why don't reviewers benchmark actual things people are interested in? e.g. booting Windows 7, loading Dragon Age Origins/COD Black Ops, archiving a folder, launching Thunderbird/Firefox/Photoshop, running a virus scan? Is it because there will be no material difference between any performance SSD manufactured in the last 3 years? The thread above also notes that aside from SYNTHETIC benchmarks, raiding SSDs makes absolutely no difference in anything you do in a typical day to day environment.
    Yes, absolutely enterprise class users might get something tangible out of these new drives, but I suspect they are not the core audience of Tom's Hardware.
    Reply
  • cangelini
    No worries nitrium, and thank you for the link.

    I'd agree that the synthetic measurements are primarily used to draw "worst-case" comparisons. There is a very deliberate reason I wanted to break down most of the results by queue depth this time around--specifically to demonstrate how wildly performance can differ based on QD. And as you mention, at a QD of 1, an SSD is doing a lot less for the average desktop user than it would if you were hammering it with the concurrent requests of a database server.

    If you look at the task breakdown of PCMark Vantage, it comes relatively close to real-world usage. My problem with that metric is its consistency. Futuremark is aware that Vantage wasn't written to test SSDs optimally, and I'm expecting the company to come out with something very soon that improves its utility in that regard.

    I personally don't see anything *wrong* with running real-world tests, like Windows start-up, level-loading, or launching a sequence of apps. The only challenge there is time. Adding more benchmarks is never a problem--it's what the readers want to see.

    I'll go through the XS thread with a couple of staffers and see what we come away with.

    Cheers nitrium,
    Chris
    Reply
  • Nexus52085
    Well, I'm sincerely happy to find out that the Crucial C300 I bought yesterday still holds up nicely against the new SSDs from the other heavy hitters. Thanks for the review, Tom's!
    Reply
  • nitrium
    I think of some of this heavy focus on benchmarks on SSDs (and really, all hardware sites do it, so I'm not singling this site out specifically) is a bit like measuring say the theoretical texture fill rate of the latest and greatest GPU, but forget to mention that most people will never actually use half of it cos they're running 1920x1080 XBox360 port-acrosses. Instead GPUs are measured at variety of screen modes, in a variety of games... i.e. real world benchmarks. There is a reason for this. Frankly I could care less what an SSD scores in CrystalMark or IOMeter at a queue depth of 32 or whatever. From the Xtremesystems thread above it dawned on me that perhaps reviewers HAVE to rate SSDs using synthetic benchmarks, because otherwise most of these drives would be nearly indistinguishable.
    Oh, and in all my ranting I forgot to thank you (and your colleagues) for the excellent work you do. It is very much appreciated!
    Reply
  • ubercake
    Seems like a half-a#$ed effort on Intels part to get to the next gen. Why take away the two-lane advantage? Intel could have improved upon their own product. Other companies have drastically improved their offerings, while some benchmarks show Intel's new drives performing similarly to the X25-M. Disappointing is a good word for it. Seems like the competition in the SSD area has been reduced by removing the Intel controllers from the mix.

    If you're going to jump to the next level, it makes it really hard to consider Intel at this point.
    Reply
  • tipoo
    SATA 3 is going to become a bottlneck before it becomes the standard on most shipping PC's.
    Reply