Some 18 months after lifting the lid on its second-generation X25-M solid-state drive, Intel is back with a fresh model. According to the official press release, the third-gen SSD is the first of a "series of Intel SSD introductions for 2011." Dubbed the 510 Series, this initial offering is geared toward gamers and performance-minded users. As one might expect, it features a flash controller with 6Gbps Serial ATA interface. That chip doesn't come from Intel, though.
The controller is an eight-channel Marvell 88SS9174 similar to the one used in Crucial's RealSSD C300. Intel is still working on its own next-gen controller architecture, but it thinks the Marvell chip is pretty good, especially when paired with custom firmware of its own design. Despite using similar controller silicon to the C300, the 510 looks to be quite a bit faster with sequential transfers. While the Crucial drive tops out at 355MB/s for sequential reads and 215MB/s for writes, the 510 Series is capable of pushing 500MB/s reads and 315MB/s writes. That's for the top-of-the-line 250GB model; the 120GB version is only rated for sequential reads and writes of 450 and 210MB/s, respectively.
The two capacities offer identical performance when it comes to random reads and writes. Intel says both will hit 20,000 IOps with 4KB random reads and 8,000 IOps with random writes. Interestingly, that's quite a step down from the C300, which is rated for 60,000 random-read IOps and 45,000 random writes. The press release makes a point of mentioning that the 510 Series was designed specifically for applications that require speedy sequential transfers, suggesting that performance with random reads and writes may have been less of a priority for this particular design.
In the CPU world, Intel typically leads the way when it comes to adopting new process technologies. However, the 510 Series taps old-school 34-nm MLC NAND chips rather than more exotic flash built using 2x-nm fabrication tech. NAND cells built on the finer production process have a lower write-erase endurance than Intel's 34-nano flash, so that's not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, Intel says the 510 Series has a minimum useful life of five years if you're writing 20GB of data per day.
Intel will be showing off the 510 Series at the Game Developers Conference later this week. 250GB flavors of the drive are slated to sell for $584 in 1,000-unit quantities, while the 120GB model will cost $284. We're in the process of cooking up yet another refresh of our storage suite, and we should be able to tell you more about how the 510 Series performs very soon. Stay tuned.
Update — This post has been updated with more specific information on the controller used in the 510 Series.