Review Index:

Intel 320 Series 300GB SSD Performance Review

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Less than a month after the introduction of the 510 Series SSD, Intel has released the 320 Series. This is essentially a 'G3' X25-M, running at the usual SATA 3Gb/sec speeds. While it won't be as fast in a straight line as the 510 series, the 320 has the extremely nimble 10-channel controller under its belt. Check out our review to see how it fared against the competition, as well as against the other Intel models.

Today we take a look at the third generation of Intel's native SSD controller solution. What started life as the X25-M series has now been dubbed the 320 Series. This falls in line with Intel's new naming scheme, where all SSD lines get some form of a 3-digit number. 3xx Series are SATA 3Gb/sec, while 5xx Series are 6Gb/sec.
The X25-M series got off to a shaky start in life, as the initial shipping version was plagued by some long-term fragmentation issues discovered by yours truly. The plague was short lived, thankfully, as Intel stepped up to the plate and corrected these problems in firmware. The second generation model was released without a hiccup, but the addition of TRIM support via firmware saw some problems as well. Those were eventually ironed out and all was good once again.
Last month we saw Intel launch the 510 Series. The unit did not live up to our expectations from an Intel controller - mostly because an Intel controller it was not. Just as they were blind sighted and rushed a 6Gb/sec motherboard solution to the market, Intel did the same with the 510, opting for a Marvell controller. Sure they worked some of their own firmware magic into it, but there is only so much you can squeeze out of a given piece of hardware. Their Sandy Bridge launch did not go so great either, as some of our readers are still getting their motherboards replaced with correctly functioning B3 versions.
The 320 Series boasts 25nm flash memory. PC Perspective got a first hand look at 25nm production early last year. We had been waiting for this memory to make an appearance in an Intel part, and our wait is finally over. To revisit what 25nm flash does for us, check out this pic:
From left: 130nm (128MB) in 2003, 90nm (512MB) in 2005, 50nm (1GB) in 2007,
34nm (4GB) in 2009, and finally 25nm (8GB) flash now being produced at IMFT.
To the far right is the now standard flash memory TSOP packaging.
A single die of 25nm flash holds a whopping 8GB. While multiple dies can be stacked inside each chip package, the more you stack, the greater chance a failed part will cause a TSOP to be considered bad during the production process. For this reason, larger die capacities and fewer dies per chip make things cheaper to produce all around. This should make for some competitive pricing as well.


An important note: the 320 series, while packaged and sold to consumers, is also rated for enterprise use. This is the first MLC based Intel SSD to make such a claim. The ratings above were for consumer applications. Here are the ratings for enterprise usage where the drive will see heavy random writes spread across 100% of the available drive capacity:
Intel is failing *way* conservative, assuming no use of TRIM and 100% of the drive full of 4k random writes. This would make many other SSD's choke completely, so I'm shocked to see Intel be brave enough to even provide such a rating. I hit our sample really hard for half a day and was not able to get IOPS to fall as far as their rating.

Our 320 series sample came in the standard OEM packaging with the new style of sticker. The retail packaging comes with a CD and 3.5" adapter bracket in the box.