The Intel 510 series 120GB SSD drive built up plenty of hype in the months leading up to its release. What consumers expected was an SSD that revamped the market, bringing great performance at a far lower price than previous generation SSD’s. What consumers got however leaves more than a little to be desired.
SSD outside and in
On the outside, the Intel 510 120GB SSD bears the same 2.5” form factor we’re used to by now. With a sleek brushed aluminium finish and a single sticker over the front of the casing, the 510 series isn’t likely to cause a design stir, but it does give you a sense of good build quality.
Inside the SSD, Intel have opted for a third party Marvell controller, a strange move but not entirely bad. The controller is a new revision of the one found in Crucial’s previous generation C300 drives, which were some of the quickest SSD’s available at the time.
Apart from the Marvell controller chip, we find 128MB of DDR3 cache memory to improve caching performance. This is 4 x higher than the cache found in Intel’s previous X25-M SSD and can only be good for performance and reliability.
A strange decision on Intel’s part, the 510 120GB model ships with Intel’s own 34nm NAND flash memory whereas other manufacturers are rushing to include 25nm flash chips on their drives. With this move, it seems Intel were cautious with the 510 series 120GB drive, opting for a tried and tested method rather than sitting on the cutting edge of performance.
With all the above, our initial thoughts of the 510 series are slightly disappointing; we were expecting a bit more from a drive with so much hype surrounding it. Let’s see what sort of performance it produces.
Performance is a little disappointing, as the Intel 510 trades blows with an older Gskill Phoenix Pro 60GB previous generation drive. You can see that while sequential reads and writes are incredibly high, 4K performance, which is more important in most scenarios, suffers. The Intel 510 series doesn’t feel as responsive in Windows as the older Gskill drive, and it doesn’t stop there. Level loading takes longer, media player and Firefox are sluggish to respond in comparison; it just doesn’t look good for the Intel 510 series 120GB drive.
As a last test, we loaded up bootracer to see how long each SSD takes to boot up into Windows after a fresh install. While the Gskill Phoenix pro took a just 12 seconds to bootup and reach desktop, the Intel 510 struggled to match it’s time, posting a “to desktop” time of 14 seconds. 2 seconds might not sound like much, but when you consider that the older generation Gskill drive is 14% quicker in a real world scenario, you start to wonder about the Intel 510 120GB’s performance.
Slightly underwhelming, that about sums up the Intel 510 series 120GB SSD. Apart from the incredibly high sequential read performance, the current generation of SSD’s such as the Vertex 3 from OCZ, walk all over the Intel 510 series. In some scenarios, such as 4K performance at a Queue Depth of 32, even older generation Sandforce based SSD’s beat the 510 series 120GB; this isn’t good for a drive that promised so much.
If you’re in the market for a 120/128GB SSD, it’s better to look at a Sandforce 2200 based drive rather than the Intel 510 Series 120GB SSD.