By now regular readers know Bangkok Images has been caught up in the SSD wave in a big way.  We’re firm believers in this new technology and I’d go so far as to say we’ll never build another workstation without at least tasking an SSD as the system drive, and most likely adding a second SSD as a cache and work drive.  In the past we’ve reviewed the Intel X25-V SSD, the Crucial C300 SSD , and OCZ’s Revodrive SSD .  We’ve even reviewed Seagate’s Momentus XT Hybrid drive.

Introduction

By now regular readers know Bangkok Images has been caught up in the SSD wave in a big way.  We’re firm believers in this new technology and I’d go so far as to say we’ll never build another workstation without at least tasking an SSD as the system drive, and most likely adding a second SSD as a cache and work drive.  In the past we’ve reviewed the Intel X25-V SSD, the Crucial C300 SSD , and OCZ’s Revodrive SSD .  We’ve even reviewed Seagate’s Momentus XT Hybrid drive.

Perhaps the single most effective improvement to a PC or laptop of any vintage, is the addition of an SSD.  This was the question posed to me by a good friend looking to update his fairly recent PC desktop. “Will an SSD make a big difference in performance?”  The answer is yes, without a doubt.  An SSD, properly selected, will make the biggest single item performance difference.

 

Perhaps the single most effective improvement to a PC or laptop of any vintage, is the addition of an SSD.  This was the question posed to me by a good friend looking to update his fairly recent PC desktop. “Will an SSD make a big difference in performance?”  The answer is yes, without a doubt.  An SSD, properly selected, will make the biggest single item performance difference.

 

Selection

We now have a choice of dozens of top quality SSD’s, so how do we select the best one for our needs?  It depends on your needs.  My friend’s priority was reliability and ease of use.  He also has a few years old motherboard without SATA III ports, so he’ll realize no immediate gain from a more costly SATA III SSD.  He wanted to work within a budget of under $300 USD’s, but he needed enough capacity to easily handle his current system drives 80gb of files.

We all know hard drives start to experience a drop off in performance at the 50% capacity mark. SSD’s raise this to 80%.  When you consider his system and programs take up 80gb, he’ll want to reserve at least 20gb for his system’s page file (temporary disk), and possibly another 10-20gb for his Lightroom and/or Photoshop’s cache, then 160gb becomes the bare minimum for optimum performance.

 

Looking at the Intel lineup we wanted an SSD with the newer more modern 25 nanometer NAND chips, TRIM support (garbage collection), and a large enough NAND reserve to map out any errors occurring within a reasonable lifetime, SMART support (very few SSD’s have this, more will in the future), and Intels own controller which has proven to be a rock solid performer.

 

Branding is important with SSD’s. With SSD’s still being a fairly recent technology companies are still concentrating on specific markets, or in other words tailoring their products to appeal to specific segments of the market.  OCZ for instance tries to appeal to gamers and enthusiasts and builds perhaps the fastest SSD’s available.  Intel markets to its business clients by emphasizing reliability and compatibility.  Intel more closely fit my friends needs.

Looking at the Intel lineup we wanted an SSD with the newer more modern 25 nanometer NAND chips, TRIM support (garbage collection), and a large enough NAND reserve to map out any errors occurring within a reasonable lifetime, SMART support (very few SSD’s have this, more will in the future), and Intels own controller which has proven to be a rock solid performer.

 

When all factors were considered, Intel’s new 320 Series SSD’s stood out as a solid choice. The 160gb model came in right under his budget so he placed the order. A few days later he had his new Intel 320 Series SSD in hand and he loaned it to me for testing so I could complete this review.

 

Some of Intels products feature a third party controller and have increased speeds, but they haven’t yet earned the desired reputation for reliability.  Intel also includes it’s SSD toolbox with several handy utilities.

When all factors were considered, Intel’s new 320 Series SSD’s stood out as a solid choice.  The 160gb model came in right under his budget so he placed the order.  A few days later he had his new Intel 320 Series SSD in hand and he loaned it to me for testing so I could complete this review.

 

Installation

Installing an SATA interface SSD is the same as installing any mechanical hard drive with a few exceptions.  The Intel 320 Series SSD is a 2.5 inch 9mm high format which will fit directly in any laptop.  Mounting in a desktop will usually require a 3.5 inch to 2.5 inch adapter, unless your desktop has accommodations for 2.5 inch drives.

Adapters are the most common way of installing an SSD, but keep in mind they generate very little heat, zero vibration and they’re very light in weight.  Almost any quality double stick mounting tape will allow you to locate your new SSD anywhere in your case.  This is fast becoming a popular method of install where users are mounting their SSD’s in better cooled areas of their case and close to power and data cabling.

Once physically mounted you’ll only need to connect a SATA power connector from your power supply, and a SATA data cable to a SATA port on your motherboard.

 

Once physically mounted you’ll only need to connect a SATA power connector from your power supply, and a SATA data cable to a SATA port on your motherboard.

 

Keep in mind that you want to match interfaces as much as possible.  Modern motherboards often have all three SATA interface ports on the board, SATA, SATA II, and SATA III.  Pull our your motherboard manual and ensure you pick a port that matches your version or higher.  In this case our SATA II drive was connected to a SATA II port.

 

Keep in mind that you want to match interfaces as much as possible.  Modern motherboards often have all three SATA interface ports on the board, SATA, SATA II, and SATA III.  Pull our your motherboard manual and ensure you pick a port that matches your version or higher.  In this case our SATA II drive was connected to a SATA II port.

 

In your laptop and desktop motherboard’s BIOS you’ll want to set this drive to ACHI for best performance.  If you fail to do this, and keep it at its IDE default, then you’ll be giving up a big chunk of it’s performance.

Once your cables are connected and your BIOS set to ACHI, place a Windows installation disk in your optical drive and install Windows exactly how you would with any drive.

Note:  Our sample had discoloration on its surfaces which made us wonder if it had been contaminated or was perhaps refurbished.  A call to Intel confirms this is a manufacturing issue and there was nothing wrong with the drive in any way.

 

Note:  Our sample had discoloration on its surfaces which made us wonder if it had been contaminated or was perhaps refurbished.  A call to Intel confirms this is a manufacturing issue and there was nothing wrong with the drive in any way.

 

 

Performance

Performance is the reason you purchased an SSD, both in speed and reliability.  Some bargain rate SSD’s are barely faster than their mechanical drive counterparts, while the better drives such as the Intel 320 Series are significantly faster.  Let’s measure the speed and provide some comparisons.

I use the AS SSD benchmark because it simulates the type of load an average desktop workstation will be using, and the ATTO benchmark because it measures the best case speed.  Both are widely accepted in the community and both are free.  For this test we’ll only be using the AS SSD benchmark which you can download here.

After we installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 ultimate I connected the SSD to a SATA I port and ran AS SSD.  Notice the rather low combined 193 score?  This is what you should expect if you connect to a first generation SATA I port.

 

After we installed a fresh copy of Windows 7 ultimate I connected the SSD to a SATA I port and ran AS SSD.  Notice the rather low combined 193 score?  This is what you should expect if you connect to a first generation SATA I port.

 

But what if you connect to a more appropriate SATA II port?  A much better combined score of 358.  This is more like it.  You can see connection to an appropriate SATA port is vital for best performance . Out of curiosity I connected the Intel 320 Series SSD to a SATA III port and received exactly the same combined score of 358.

 

But what if you connect to a more appropriate SATA II port?  A much better combined score of 358.  This is more like it.  You can see connection to an appropriate SATA port is vital for best performance . Out of curiosity I connected the Intel 320 Series SSD to a SATA III port and received exactly the same combined score of 358.

 

But how does it compare to last generations ultra speedy Crucial C300 (a SATA III devices connected to a SATA III port) which until today gives the fastest drives a run for their money.  The Crucial C300 returns an impressive combined score of 643, made all the more impressive when you realize the drive is at 80% capacity and a few years old.

 

But how does it compare to last generations ultra speedy Crucial C300 (a SATA III devices connected to a SATA III port) which until today gives the fastest drives a run for their money.  The Crucial C300 returns an impressive combined score of 643, made all the more impressive when you realize the drive is at 80% capacity and a few years old.

 

Obviously the Intel 320 Series SSD’s aren’t the fastest SSD’s available, a price you pay for their proven reliability.  Still, 348 is a respectable score and much faster than any mechanical hard drive.

Allow me to explain the difference:

AS SSD runs a series of reads and writes to a drive.  It runs the same number/size of reads and writes to any drive you test.  A WD Raptor, the fastest SATA HDD available takes over an hour to run this test.  The Intel 320 Series SSD completes the test in under 2 minutes.  This should give you an excellent perspective.  The C300 which scores a combined score of almost twice that of the Intel 320 Series SSD runs the AS SSD test in roughly 1 minute.  So yes, there is a difference between the Intel 320 Series SSD and the fastest available SSD’s, but it’s still light years faster than a mechanical hard drive.  Reliability and speed, a tough combination to beat.

TRIM performance: I loaded this drive up using multiple AS SSD runs, as many as I could run in an hour, and the TRIM garbage collection kept up completely.  This is impressive.  In my experience you’ll often see a drop in performance under such conditions which takes a few hours of idle operation for the TRIM to correct.  Intel has really optimized their TRIM routine.

 

Summary

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The Intel 320 Series 160gb SSD is a tough act to follow if reliability is your primary goal.  If you want better performance go with a drive like OCZ’s Vertex 3.  But if you want the a reliable SSD with a great reputation and good performance, especially if you only have a SATA II port available, then the Intel 320 Series 160gb SSD is an ideal choice.

Intel continues to improve their SSD’s and remain the choice of Enterprise and business customers.  If you’re looking for this combination of performance factors I don’t know of a better SSD currently on the market.