Intel 330 Series 120GB SATA 3 SSD Review – LSI SandForce Performance With Unbeatable Value

It wasn’t so long ago that we broke news of the Intel/SandForce partnership and everyone told us we were nuts.  Once again, we are here to publish another SSD first and Intel seems to be front and center once again.

Our SSD analysis today will examine the Intel Series 330 SATA 3 SSD, the value priced little brother of the Intel 520, and the similarity between the two is rather odd. In fact, one could almost consider them twins as they contain exactly the same SandForce processor and model of memory.

Who would have expected Intel to ever join hands with LSI SandForce much less market two different solid state drives with a slightly different look yet the same components?


If you plan on checking out reviews for Intel’s new 330 Series release, you might be looking for awhile.  It seems Intel, a company that many thought might exit the SSD business just over a year ago, has marketed so many SSDs since then that they are now being selective with respect to what product is sent to reviewers for review.  No 330 samples were sent to websites for review and, if you think it is because this SSD might be substandard in any way, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Intel 330 Series SSD is available in capacities of 60, 120 and 180GB and a price check on Amazon shows their pricing to be 97.99, 144.99 and 219.99 respectively. Right off the hop, this makes the 330 one of the lowest prices for new release SSDs we have seen of this configuration.  Performance is listed at 500MB/s read and 450MB/s write with 22500 IOPS at 4k random aligned read and 33000 IOPS at 4k random aligned write disk access..  We can tell you that we will see much higher IOPS results as Intel is very stringent in their testing methodology.  I might predict somewhere in the area of 80, 000 IOPS at 4k aligned random write disk access.


The exterior casing of the 330 is of a metal 2.5″ notebook form factor and, unlike all other Intel SSD releases, it is 9mm thick and cannot be used in systems that require that slim 7mm design.  Accessories contained in the packaging include a 2.5″ to 3.5″ desktop adapter, data and power cables screws, instructions and a disk containing both system migration software and the Intel Toolbox.  This is easily the most complete packaging we have seen to date, short of our original Kingston HyperX review.


Removal of four Phillips screws allows access to the printed circuit board (PCB) where we found something that we didn’t expect.  Like the Intel 520 Series SSD that we had previously reviewed, we knew the LSI SandForce SF-2281 processor would be identical but all believed that the NAND flash memory would be newer 3K memory as Intel had reduced their warranty from 5 to 3 years on the 330.

blankIn actuality, the new 330 Series has the exact same type of NAND flash memory, this being 25nm synchronous MLC memory with the model designation of 29F16B08CCME2.  The only physical difference between the PCBs is that being that the 520 has 16 pieces of memory (240GB) while this 330 has 8 pieces of memory (120GB).

blankThe following pictures display the 520 Series SSD that we reviewed previously for comparison. Can you see the difference between the back side of each PCB?

blankblankEven the board is designated ‘Cherryville’ rather than ‘Maple Crest’, which is the 330 Series name, but the sole difference is a little sticker on the PCB that says ‘Bin 2’.  Don’t ask because we haven’t a clue.


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    try the latest version of crystaldiskinfo (4.6.1) for more SMART data. the intel ssd toolbox should display more info as well.

    also, no 120gb sandforce powered drive will pull over 300mb/s in sequential writes with incompressible data. that’s the realm of the 240gb drives. the fastest 120gb drives – the ones with 8 channels and 4-way interleaved 32nm toggle nand, like the mushkin chronos deluxe and patriot wildfire – can hit around 250mb/s. but those drives cost about 50% more than this one.

    the other ‘budget’ 120gb drive is the sandisk extreme. performance is more or less the same, with the sandisk being a couple of dollars cheaper.

    inching ever so slowly to that $1/gb mark.

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    Nice review Les!

    The SSD market is becoming very interesting these days with Intel’s 520 & 330 series, OCZ Vertex 4 and new PCIe SSDs from OWC’s, Super Talent, Muskin to help push OCZ in performance and Price.

    I look forward to see what the rest of 2012 and beyond holds for the SSD market!

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    AAM should always be greyed out for a SSD in CDI. AAM is automatic acoustic management, and is therefore unnecessary for disks which don’t have any moving parts.

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    Does Intel use broken synchronous NAND that cant run at full speed? I would say so. Or synchronous has become that cheap that asynchronous isn’t manufactured any more? Ask them Les, everybody wants to know.

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      This is an interesting conversation that I have been having behind the scenes. The idea is that although NAND has the exact same product number, there are actually different grades within where, as Intel has even stated, they hold their best for SSDs like the 520. Would it be logical to think that the NAND, of the same product number, could be of a lesser quality lot that would mandate the 3 years vice five?

      Then, if this is a possibility, can we determine this by numbers which could be lot numbers on the module itself?

      Thats why I also brought attention to the sticker saying Bin 2.

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        So, we can suppose that the 3K P/E cycles NAND is purposely set to run in async mode. Analysing further, Kingston HyperX 3K uses synchronous NAND modules with part number Intel 29F16B08CCME3, which is very similar to Intel 330 SSD’s one. Considering that, if a one manages to flash Intel 330 SSD with Intel 520 SSD firmware, we could get Intel 520 from Intel 330! Now the question, who is going to do the experimenting part?

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    love anvil storage utilities – best SSD that can produce consistent results (even on older controllers – like older JMicron, Indilinx, X25Ms, etc). you’re one of the few that actually use it but have done the most reviews (that I can find) with it. nicely done…

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    Hey, I planning on buying either the 120gb Intel 330, or the 128gb Vertex 4. The SSD I choose will be used as a boot drive and for a few games- no heavy editing programs etc.
    The 330 is £105, [I’m in the UK], whereas the Vertex 4 is £120. Thats ~ $25 difference.
    Which one should I get? Taking into account my useage requirements. Thanks.

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    Hi. I’m not familiar with SSDs so I wanted to ask if this will work with the late 2006 black Intel-based Macbook (model 2,1)?

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      My best suggestion might be to dig around the net. For the most part, there isn’t any reason why a HDD/SSD switch shouldn’t work at all but, in older systems, sometimes the bios can be a bit tricky and not recognize the drive.

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    Can i directly plug this ssd (intel 330 series 120gb sata 3) into my sony vaio vpcsb3le notebook replacing the current hitachi hdd? If not, what kind of connector/convertor should i also obtain?

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      Yes there should be no problem with that and the SATA connector is the same as the hard drives.

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        Do you advice sandisk extreme 120gb sata 3 over the captioned intel 330? It is 10 usd cheaper?!

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        Hmmm…ten bucks is ten bucks but capacity is capacity. If both SSDs are going into a SATA 2 system, it boils down to a personal choice between two great SSDs now doesn’t it? Both have great customer feedback as well.

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        After your article, i was about to buy intel one but later i recognised that sandisk has newly arrived to the store. As far as i know my system is SATA3 and both of the ssds have the same capacity of 120gb. Would “new” sandisk beat intel?! Or maybe waiting for 240gb models to get cheaper would be wiser 😉 Now the ratio is 253 usd/ 120 usd…

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        They are going to be neck in neck for the most part… My thought…stop thinking so much, buy the one that you are leaning towards and enjoy! eheh

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    Hi Sir!!

    Can I replace SSD from 20GB (original) to 120GB by using your method?

    My ultrabook model is ACER M5-481T

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    thanks you.çok t?k ederim gerkli

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