Earlier this month, Intel launched the SSD 530 series that will take the place of the existing 520 SSDs, and in a way also the 335 series of Intel SSDs. The SSD 530 series is also built around the popular LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller, and like the other 500 series SSDs, you again get five years of warranty. What's different is the use of 20nm flash memory, and that the new SSDs come in different formats: 2.5 inches, mSATA and M.2. We tested the 2.5-inch 240 GB model.
The new 530s are not aimed just at the traditional SSD market of deskops and laptops. The entire series, except for the 240GB and 480GB versions, is available in mSATA and M.2 form factors as well. The M.2 SSDs, the mSATA and 2.5-models all use the Serial ATA 600 interface. The 2.5-inch version comes in 80GB, 120GB, 180GB, 240GB, 360GB and 480GB capacities. The mSATA and M.2 models are limited to in 80GB, 120GB, 180GB and 360GB.
The SSDs are based on the commonly-used LSI SandForce SF-2281 controller, despite the fact that the chip has a different print and Intel type number. Like the previous series, Intel has improved and optimized the SandForce firmware, and claims that especially the reliability is of a very high level. And we have to admit, we rarely hear complaints about the reliability of Intel SSDs. The 520 SSDs were manufactured with 25nm ONFI NAND flash memory, but for the 530 series Intel transitioned to 20nm Intel/Micron chips. They're likely 20nm chips with 64 Gigabit per and a page size of 8 kB, but we don't know for sure.
All Intel SSD 530 models have a maximum specified read speed of 540 MB/s and a write speed of 490 MB/s. That write speed is a bit low compared to other SandForce-based SSDs, so it appears that Intel tuned the new SSD series more for normal consumer use than for the maximum possible transfer rates. The maximum 4k random IOPS is 41,000 for reading and 80,000 for writing. Keep in mind that the SandForce controller compresses data in order to improve performance and to keep the write amplification factor as low possible.
One thing is striking about the new series. Intel appears to take the looks of its SSDs very seriously all of a sudden. The Intel 530 240GB actually looks good in terms of design. It's 7mm thin which makes it suitable for thinner laptops. Inside you find the SandForce controller and 16 flash chips. As is standard for SandForce SSDs, there is plenty of space reserved for overprovisioning, so the 240 GB SSD actually has 256 GB of flash chips.
The Intel SSD 530 comes without any extras, even if Intel does offer data-migration software through a download. The price for Intel's new SSD series is on the high side, however. The 240 GB model costs an average of $269, which puts the price per gigabyte significantly over what the sweetspot currently is for comparable SSDs. Of course the five-year warranty and excellent track record in terms of reliability are worth a lot too, but considering the controller no longer is state-of-the-art, Intel will need to drop the price quite a bit in order to make the new SSDs competitive.