Intel SSD 335 And Intel SSD 330 - The Development Of Inexpensive SSDs (Part 1)

4/22/2013 9:23:51 AM

Intel started replacing gradually their inexpensive SSD 330 series products with the newer SSD 335 ones not so long ago. According to the manufacturer, there should be no big differences in their shared characteristics, but then we disagree with that claim.

We posted quite a lot of reviews on solid state drives based on the second-generation SandForce controller. The remaining controllers available on the market can only get jealous of its popularity, which does not even decrease by certain problems, such as its fairly imperfect reputation, not really high performance, and lack of diversity in SandForce-based products. There is just no other controller which, like the SandForce, permits to manufacture SSDs without any preparation for technical work. LSI, the developer of the SF-2281 chip, provides it packaged with everything that is necessary such as PCB design and firmware. The SSD manufacturer only needs to assemble all the components together on their production factories.

It shows that, there are still a couple of original solutions that are really outstanding compared to other SandForce-based SSDs similar to them on the market. They are offered by Intel, where its SSDs are designed and firmware is developed independently from each other. Consequently, Intel’s SandForce-based products are really different in their consumer properties. They are faster and have no stability problems. Intel itself seems to be quite satisfied with their SandForce platform referred to in their plans to release more new modified SSDs with the same SF-2281 controller inside of them.

Intel seems quite satisfied with SandForce platform.

Intel seems quite satisfied with SandForce platform.

We were satisfied with Intel’s first flagship SSD we tested in early 2012. When benchmarked, the Intel SSD 520 can still offer good performance. Being average in terms of speed, this series is quite extraordinary with impeccable stability and very high reliability, thanks to high-end flash memory with a life of 5,000 reprogram cycles. Also, it comes with a 5-year warranty. That is the longest warranty found among all SandForce-based SSDs. Therefore, Intel SSD 520 is an interesting product, but it couldn’t really be a hit on the market due to its high price. That is why it was chased by more solutions that many can afford.

Previously, we tested Intel SSD 330, which is similar to the Intel SSD 520 in design but has less reliable flash memory with a life of 3,000 program/erase cycles and gets slower on the firmware level. The warranty period is also cut short to 3 years. Otherwise, the Intel SSD 330 is quite a typical SSD from Intel. It is fairly faster than other SandForce-based products, without any critical bugs, and perfectly compatible with the popular Intel SSD Toolbox utility.

Recently, Intel has come up with another SSD that is not only affordable, but even slightly cheaper than the SSD 330 as well. The Intel SSD 335 model has triggered some excitement, especially as it is not much too different from the SSD 330 in its official specifications. In this review, we will try to find out why it is cheaper and what features make it actually different from its cousin.

Intel SSD 330 240GB

First, we would like to share a few things about the old affordable SSD from Intel. We have the 240GB version, which is a good reason for that. The first product series included models with the capacity of 180GB, so the 240GB version was released later, responding to the high demand of the customers to switch to larger storage capacity.

Intel SSD 330 240GB

Intel SSD 330 240GB

The Intel SSD 330 is different from the high-end Intel SSD 520 which has a case with a height of 7mm allowing it to be used in ultraportable computers as well. The Intel SSD 330 is 9mm in height and so it is less flexible. The manufacturing quality, though, has nothing to blame, quite good. The sturdy metallic halves of the case are neatly tight enough to each other.

Robust metallic halves of the case

Robust metallic halves of the case

On opening the case, we can make sure that the Intel SSD 330 is designed in a similar way like the SSD 520. Besides the SF-2281 controller and the similar flash memory (synchronous 25nm flash with ONFI interface), the PCB design is the same. In fact, the PCB that we have taken out of our SSD 330 was labeled as Cherryville, which is the codename of the 520 model.

Intel SSD 330 is designed in an identical way as the SSD 520

Intel SSD 330 is designed in an identical way as the SSD 520

Much like its high-end cousin, the Intel SSD 330 contains 16 flash memory chips, each of which features two 8GB NAND dies, so the controller can enable 8-channel access mode with 4-way coming in between on each channel. This optimal performance configuration, however, is only carried out in the 240GB model. Please notice that there is 1/16 (one sixteenth) of the total capacity (i.e. the capacity of one flash memory chip) that cannot be accessed by users. It is distributed to the RAISE technology that improves data reliability.

Manufactured on the 25nm technology process at Intel’s own factories, the 29F16B08CCME2 chips are not different from those we saw in the Intel SSD 520, but it doesn’t mean that the two SSDs only differ in firmware. The flash memory of the cheap SSD 330 is rated for 3,000 rather than 5,000 reprogram cycles, which explains why it has its lower price. This reliability parameter is not reflected in the marking chips, which leaves an impression on us that the SSD 330 has the same hardware as the SSD 520 does.

Regarding their identical design, this difference can only be explained by differences in firmware. Intel develops SandForce’s basic firmware independently and separately for the two series. The lower performance of the SSD 330 seems to be a deliberate solution to reflect the market positioning of that model. On the other hand, specifications of any SandForce-based SSDs are the first tool for marketing; therefore, we will only be able to see the relative performance of Intel’s SSDs after we benchmark them.

We can only say that the 240GB Intel SSD 330 is already an old-fashioned product. Its shipments will end in the middle of 2013 and it will be replaced by the 240GB Intel SSD 335. Let’s check if that will be a worthy substitution.

Intel SSD 330 240GB specs

·         Control: SandForce SF-2281

·         Interface: SATA 6 Gbps

·         Flash memory: MLC flash sync 25 nm

·         Capacity: 240GB (224GiB)

·         Cache: none

·         Sequential read speed: 500 MB/s

·         Sequential write speed: 450 MB/s

·         The random read speed (4KB blocks): 42,000 IOPS

·         The random write speed (4KB blocks): 52,000 IOPS


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