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The Intel 320 Series is, for all intents and purposes, a third-generation X25-M. I'm not sure I'd call it a next-generation SSD, though. This drive offers the latest and greatest in NAND technology, but it's tied to a controller architecture that's been around since Intel got into the SSD business some two and a half years ago. That controller's 3Gbps Serial ATA interface hails from the previous generation, and so does the Intel 320 Series' performance.

As a PC enthusiast who just spent the past couple of weeks testing 6Gbps drives like the OCZ Vertex 3, Crucial m4, and Intel's own 510 Series, I find it difficult to get excited about an SSD that's slower overall. Then I look at the performance offered by 7,200-RPM desktop drives and am reminded that moving to an SSD is a much bigger step up than shifting between contemporary models. You don't need the fastest SSD on the market to enjoy the lightning-quick access times and superior overall responsiveness that solid-state storage can provide.

What folks considering a solid-state upgrade do need is lower prices. The Intel 320 Series' use of 25-nm flash promises some relief on that front, even if its starting prices aren't substantially lower than the going rate for 3Gbps drives like the Nova V128 and Agility 2. Forced to choose between those two drives and an Intel 320 Series, I'd probably opt for the 320 given its power-loss protection, XOR mojo, and solid all-around performance in desktop workloads. Intel's reliability reputation doesn't hurt, either.

If I could have my pick of any SSD to serve as the system drive in a new desktop, I might be tempted to pass over the Intel 320 Series and pay the premium for a 6Gbps model with superior overall performance. I say "might" because we don't yet know how much the Vertex 3 and Crucial m4 will cost when they hit online retailers or whether Intel will maintain the 510 Series' high prices when they do. I'm also hedging my bets as we prepare a more comprehensive suite of storage tests to tackle the latest wave of solid-state drives. By the time that suite is ready, we should have a better idea of how much all the various options will cost, allowing us to compare the value propositions of high-end SSDs and mid-range models like the Intel 320 Series.

Oh, and one more thing. Lest you think Intel's use of a Marvell chip in the 510 Series and the old X25-M controller in the 320 foretells an end to in-house controller development, Intel tells us it "continues to develop controller technology and firmware for both consumer and enterprise SSDs." A successor to the enterprise-oriented X25-E is in the works, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it share new controller technology with a consumer model targeted at enthusiasts and power users.TR

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