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Performance ratings and pricing
As you've probably gathered by now, the Intel 320 Series' focus isn't so much on performance. The drive doesn't even have a 6Gbps Serial ATA interface. Because it uses the same controller chip as the old X25-M, you're limited to 3Gbps connectivity. Intel points out that there are still quite a lot of systems lacking next-gen SATA support and claims it's optimized the 320 Series specifically for them. As a result, the firm says you'll get better performance out of the drive when it's plugged into a 3Gbps SATA port than you would with a high-end Intel 510 Series, which was designed with 6Gbps SATA in mind.

The Intel 320 Series' PC29AS21BA0 controller can trace its roots all the way back to the original X25-M. So, yeah, it's been around for a while. It's also come a long way since. Intel's first SSD weighed in at 80GB and was rated for 250MB/s reads and 70MB/s writes. This latest solid-state offering is available in capacities up to 600GB with sequential read and write ratings of 270 and 220MB/s, respectively.

Flash controller Intel PC29AS21BA0
Interface 3Gbps
Flash type Intel 25-nm MLC NAND
Available capacities 40, 80, 120, 160, 300, 600GB
Cache size 32MB (40, 80GB)
Sequential reads 200MB/s (40GB)
270MB/s (80-600GB)
Sequential writes 45MB/s (40GB)
90MB/s (80GB)
130MB/s (120GB)
165MB/s (160GB)
205MB/s (300GB)
220MB/s (600GB)
Random 4KB reads 30,000 IOps (40GB)
38,000 IOps (80, 120GB)
39,000 IOps (160GB)
39,500 IOps (300, 600GB)
Random 4KB writes 3,700 IOps (40GB)
10,000 IOps (80GB)
14,000 IOps (120GB)
21,000 IOps (160GB)
23,000 IOps (300, 600GB)
Warranty length Three years

The 270MB/s read rate is capped by the 3Gbps SATA link, while the drive's write speed is dependent on the number of flash chips available to the controller. Lower-capacity drives have fewer flash chips, resulting in lower sequential throughput. Drive capacity also affects performance in random 4KB reads and writes, although its impact on writes is much larger than it is on reads.

The Intel 320 Series' performance ratings may not break any records, but they are more impressive than what's offered by the X25-M. The gains in rated read performance are relatively modest. However, the ratings for both sequential and random writes are way up. The X25-M 160GB is only rated for 100MB/s sequential writes and 8,600 random 4KB writes, while its Intel 320 Series counterpart is good for 165MB/s and 21,000 IOps, respectively. One may expect even better performance from the 300GB model we'll be testing today.

The Intel 320 Series: naked

There's quite a range in performance ratings between the various Intel 320 Series capacities because there's such a big spread of available sizes. The line starts with a 40GB model that nicely supplants the X25-V and reaches all the way up to 300GB and 600GB variants that represent huge steps up from the 160GB maximum capacity of the X25-M family. Most folks, I suspect, will be shopping in the 80-160GB range.

Speaking of shopping, we should discuss pricing. The high cost per gigabyte of solid-state drives has probably been the primary obstacle to their widespread adoption. 25-nano flash promises some relief, although its impact may not be felt fully until 25-nano fabrication technology matures. Here's how the Intel 320 Series' official pricing in 1,000-unit quantities compares to the street price of the X25-M right now.

40GB 80GB 120GB 160GB 300GB 600GB
Intel 320 Series $89 $159 $209 $289 $529 $1,069
Intel X25-M (street) $95 $172 $230 $390 NA NA

Right off the bat, Intel's latest SSD should cost a little less than the old one. The savings aren't as dramatic as one might hope, but we've come a long way since the original X25-M. Intel's first SSD debuted in an 80GB capacity that cost $595. Less than a year later, the second-generation X25-M served up 80GB for $220. The 80GB Intel 320 Series should hit the street at around $160, which is a 73% price reduction over a two-and-a-half year span. Remember, too, that drives are getting faster as they're becoming cheaper. Solid-state drive prices may not be dropping at a pace fast enough to satisfy folks stubbornly waiting for them to hit $1/GB, but incremental progress is being made.