Rumors about a ‘SandForce Driven’ Intel SSD hit the media first time around a year ago from now. Everyone was kind of worried because Intel is known for their reliability and SandForce wasn’t having a good time in terms of reliable drives back then. Main issue behind the not-so-reliable SandForce drives was the unavailability of testing and validation facilities, they depended on their partners for validation but Intel has plenty of them. Later on, LSI took over SandForce and this pleased many because this acquisition could turn out very good for SandForce.
Anyhow, around one year ago Intel teamed up with SandForce to make a SATA III 6 GB/s drive using second generation SandFroce controller but this drive wasn’t meant to be like other SandForce driven drives. Both companies spent over a year during testing and Intel SSD 520 Series (codenamed: Cherryville) was born. It is driven by SandForce SF-2281 controller and Intel’s 25nm MLC NAND Flash. Both of these are found in every second drive you can find in market but SSD 520 series isn’t like other drives. There are a couple of things that puts this SSD apart from others. To begin with, it’s the custom firmware. This firmware is designed by Intel and it is exclusive to Intel for some time. SandForce actually gave all their code to Intel for the development of the firmware for this drive; this is very surprising and they never did this with any company ever is the past. Then comes the NAND flash, like most of the high end solid state drives in the market this SSD also uses Intel’s 25nm MLC NAND but Intel claims that they keep binned chips for their drives and no other company has access to them. Apart from this, Intel probably knows the best about how to communicate and manage their NAND chips on the firmware level for a good balance of performance and reliability. Furthermore, Intel SSD 520 doesn’t use the reference PCB design; Intel has designed a custom PCB.
The SSD 520 series SSDs are fully compatible with Intel SSD Toolbox utility. Unlike utilities provided by other manufacturers, it does a lot more than just upgrading. We’ll have a detailed look into it on the next page.
Intel SSD 520 Series comes in a range of capacities starting from a moderate 60 GB version to a monstrous 480 GB drive. It comes in a standard 2.5” form factor with two height options; 9.5mm and 7mm though the 64 GB and 480 GB drive comes in only 9.5mm case. Here is a chart showing performance of the whole SSD 520 series:
Today, we have the SSD 520 Series 240GB drive with us and we’ll put it through various tests to see if it lives up to all the claims.