On Monday Intel unveiled its new 330 Series model of SSDs, but not all is as it seems. First, the 330 Series is not actually a replacement for the current 320 Series. Instead, the 330 is intended to act as Intel’s new budget friendly model, for reasons we will delve into below. Secondly, unlike the 320 Series the 330 does not use Intel’s own G2 controller, but instead houses a SandForce controller. As such, the 330s will offer the expected SATA 6Gb/s interface with the typically fast 550MB/s reads and 520MB/s writes we’ve come to expect from SF-2281 powered drives, along with 50,000 read and 60,000 write IOPS.
We did mention these will be Intel’s budget friendly family of SSDs, and as such prices will start at $89 for the 60GB, $149 for the 120GB, and $234 for the top 180GB model. Intel and budget-friendly are two words not usually found in the same sentence together, so what exactly makes these drives cheaper than other solid-state drives, especially Intel’s own 320 and 520 Series brands? Quite simply, it’s the P/E rating for the flash NAND.
Intel’s 320 and 520 models both use the same 25nm IMFT NAND found in the new drives, but the 330 utilizes flash rated for 3,000 program/erase cycles as opposed to the 5,000 P/E rating NAND the 520 and 320 both utilize. This is also why the Intel 330 Series comes with a 3 year warranty, while the 320 and 520 feature a full five year warranty.
How large of a difference will the loss of 2,000 P/E cycles actually affect the lifespan of the SSD? Well, Intel isn’t the first company to launch a 3,000 P/E model drive; Kingston just recently launched its own HyperX 3K model drives with the “3K” needing no explanation at this point. Readers can head over here for the full explanation, but suffice to say an Intel 330 Series 120GB drive would last over eight years with 12GB written to it every day. It is far more likely a power supply failure, a surge from the power grid, or some sort of other accident will occur and kill the drive long before the NAND inside it wears out.
Back to the Intel 330 Series, we’re left with an interesting, affordable second choice for enthusiasts that want Intel’s stability combined with SandForce performance, namely the 520 Series, and now the 330 Series drives. At a $149 MSRP for the 120GB model 330 Intel has actually undercut all but the cheapest SandForce SSDs currently on the market, and street prices for SSDs have always tended to be lower than MSRP. For example, Intel’s 120GB 520 Series drive launched at a $220 MSRP, but can be found easily for $190 before any promotional discounts or rebates.
All-in-all, the 330 Series is an intriguing new option in the SSD market. Although exact performance for the 330 is a smidge lower than the 520 variants, it’s not enough to mention. Except for the most strenuous, write-intensive workloads, the 330 Series is yet another attractive choice for consumers looking for an affordable, reliable, high-performance solid-state drive upgrade.