Review: Intel Cherryville 520 Series, Speed & Reliability

Our score: 5/5
Reviewed: March 6, 2013 12:14 PM
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Published: March 6, 2013 12:14 PM
By Vincent Alzieu
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
Just like SanDisk with the 240 GB Extreme SSD, with the 520 Series (codenamed 'Cherryville') Intel is claiming read speeds of 550 MB/s and write speeds of 520 MB/s. The 520 Series SSDs have a SandForce SF-2281 controller, which is known for compressing data on the fly, a process that considerably increases write speeds and overall lifespan. Intel is advertising random read speeds of 50,000 IOPS on 4 kb files. As for random write speeds, the company says a brand new 520 Series SSD will get 80,000 IOPS and after a certain amount of use will get 60,000 IOPS.


Here's the thing: the SanDisk Extreme has the exact same controller and advertises the same read/write speeds, but the 520 Series is much more expensive. Why's that? Well, Cherryville appears to have three advantages:
  • Intel is in partnership with SandForce, who is reportedly giving Intel an exclusive deal on its new firmware, which is said to give higher performance
  • the memory is guaranteed for 5,000 P/E cycles, which means exceptional shelf life (in comparison, some of the daintier SSDs guarantee just 300 P/E cycles, and Samsung guarantees 1,000 cycles for the 840 Series and 3,000 for the 840 Pro... so 5,000 is a lot)
  • the 520 Series comes with a five-year warranty! Five years' peace of mind doesn't come for free...
     

Build

The SandForce SF-2281 SATA 6 Gbps controller is at its best when transferring compressible data. That's when it's most at ease; that's when it goes above and beyond SSDs with 'normal' controllers. In practice, the SF-2281 nearly doubles the SSD's lifespan because it reduces the amount of written data by 20%, rather than increasing it by 50% to 100% like most controllers.

Compression


Intel recently released a technology brief detailing the advantages of data compression. Basically, according to their estimates the algorithm will speed up all types of office activities, especially security software (antiviruses, firewalls, and so on).

As you may have guessed, the memory comes straight from IM Flash Technologies, the joint venture between Intel and Micron. It's synchronous flash memory, which is faster than asynchronous memory.

Now, 5,000 P/E cycles is just enormous! Let's say you use the drive intensively—real intensively—programming and erasing 20 GB on a daily basis. That would give the 520 Series a theoretical lifespan of... 164 years!

The 520 Series has one handy little feature: there's a plastic attachment (that black rectangle on the first three pictures below) that you can either leave on or screw off. That gives you the option of choosing between 9.5 mm or 7 mm for the thickness, effectively allowing you to insert the SSD into any machine. The 520 Series weighs 78 grammes, which is basically the norm; it's practically identical to the 240 GB SanDisk Extreme (79 grammes). Samsung beats this, however, with the 840 and 840 Pro, which weigh a much lighter 51 grammes.

Also on the handy side, the 520 Series comes with extra screws, a SATA cable, Intel SSD Toolbox on a CD, a Molex-to-SATA adapter and a 3.5" adapter for installing the SSD in a tower.

Here we're reviewing the 240 GB model, but there are also four other sizes in the Cherryville line-up:


Read: 550 MB/s
Write: 475 MB/s
Random read: 15,000 IOPS
Random write: 80,000 IOPS
Intel 520 Series 120 GB
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Read: 550 MB/s
Write: 500 MB/s
Random read: 25,000 IOPS
Random write: 80,000 IOPS
Intel 520 Series 180 GB

5/5
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Read: 550 MB/s
Write: 520 MB/s
Random read: 50,000 IOPS
Random write: 80,000 IOPS
Intel 520 Series 480 GB

5/5
11 want this Me too!


Read: 550 MB/s
Write: 520 MB/s
Random read: 50,000 IOPS
Random write: 80,000 IOPS


Data Transfer Speeds


Intel 520 Series 240 GB - speeds

Transferring Files (Photos, Videos...): Sequential Transfer Speeds

When we tested the 240 GB we got read speeds of just over 500 MB/s in optimal conditions (very compressible data) and 455 MB/s with not-very-compressible data. Those are both very high rates, they're in the top tier.

The write speeds are a significant step below the read speeds, but Intel clearly states that in the documentation. The product brief gives 520 MB/s as the sequential write speed, but it also says that with incompressible data the Cherryville gets 235 MB/s. With 'ordinary' data, the 520 Series compresses on the fly, reaching as high as 300 MB/s—which is just about average.


4K Random Access

The random access speeds are fast: 28 MB/s 4k random read speeds and around 68 MB/s random write speeds. This means the SSD works well with programmes that frequently use the hard disk.

One thing that's important to know about solid-state drives is that while they make computers noticeably faster than HDDs do (for loading apps, saving files, launching programmes, booting up...), the difference by which they speed computers up doesn't vary much from one SSD to another. In practice, we've noted variations of just 1 to 2 seconds between SSDs—so, nothing major.

Which is why we make a point of paying special attention to the other criteria, such as weight, sequential speeds (which will be indicative of transfer speeds for photos, videos, etc.), the warranty, what else comes in the box, and so on. And when it comes to all these things, the 520 Series pretty much has it all...
5/5 Intel 520 Series 240 GB DigitalVersus 2013-03-06 13:14:00

Pros

  • Five-year warranty
  • 5,000 P/E cycles on synchronous memory
  • Body thickness is adjustable (7 or 9.5 mm), 3.5" adapter included
  • Good on-the-fly compression = considerably higher lifespan
  • Fast read speeds

Cons

  • Weight: 78 g (...the Samsung 840 Pro weighs 51 g, and in a notebook that's a big difference)
  • Slightly slower speeds than the 840 Pro
  • The SanDisk Extreme is practically identical to the 520 Series in terms of speed and space, for a lower price. What you're essentially paying for here is the five-year warranty (which is a great deal).
  • Write speeds drop considerably on incompressible data

Conclusion

The SandForce controller and synchronous memory are a winning team. They ensure fast speeds and reliability, which is one of Intel's selling points with the five-year warranty and 5,000 P/E cycles. This is an SSD for people who like reliability; Intel has made the 520 Series longer lasting than any of the competition.

OUR SCORE 5/5
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