Although Intel has a deep lineup of solid-state drives, its selection of mSATA models has been rather limited. Until today, all the firm had to offer the ultrabook-optimized form factor was a collection of 300-series SSDs with 3Gbps host interfaces, similarly sluggish performance ratings, and capacities that maxed out at mere 80GB. Now, however, Intel is releasing a much more potent mSATA model: the 525 Series. This drive is essentially an mSATA version of the 2.5" 520 Series, a SandForce-based solution that's very fast indeed.
Like its 2.5" counterpart, the 525 Series combines SandForce's SF-2281 controller silicon with 25-nm NAND and a 6Gbps interface. Intel says the drive delivers similar performance to its big brother; the 525 Series is rated for sequential read and write speeds of 550 and 520 MB/s, respectively, and it's purportedly capable of cranking out 50,000 and 80,000 IOps with random I/O. Not bad for a drive that measures a diminutive 2" x 1.2" x 0.14".
The 525 Series' tiny footprint and thin profile are ideal for notebooks, all-in-one PCs, and small-form-factor systems like Intel's own Next Unit of Computing. Indeed, the NUC we reviewed in November had a 525 Series drive tucked inside. That was the 180GB model, which Intel is currently shipping along with a 120GB version. The 30, 60, 90, and 240GB flavors will begin rolling out this quarter.
Intel didn't provide us with performance specifications for the various capacities, but if they mirror those of the 520 Series, you'll need at least the 180GB variant to get full performance. SSD performance tends to fall off as drive capacities decrease, since there are fewer NAND dies to exploit the controller's internal parallelism.
Regardless of the capacity, the Intel 525 Series offers 128-bit AES encryption and five-year warranty coverage. The suggested retail prices are $10-20 more than what you'll pay for equivalent 520 Series drives right now, which isn't unexpected. mSATA drives are typically more expensive than 2.5" models. Intel does note that the 525 Series' eventual street price could differ "due to the dynamic nature of the market and varying prices."
I'm a little surprised the 525 Series doesn't use Intel's next-generation 20-nm NAND, which debuted in the 2.5" 335 Series in October. Perhaps Intel has an update to its 300-series mSATA SSDs in the works.