Alongside the new firmware, Intel has accomplished something that no one else – including OCZ – has been able to do: provide a fully featured toolbox that is actually useful for tasks other than firmware updating
. As we already know – and have proven time and time again – SandForce drives aren’t optimal solutions for non-TRIM environments due to their reliance on TRIM commands to maintain performance over time. This is in fact one of the main selling features of the Intel 510 and other Marvel-based drives such as the Crucial M4: they can keep themselves in tip top shape without TRIM.
These preconceptions go out the air lock with the introduction of the 520. It has full access to the Intel Toolbox including manual optimization options so cleaning can be run manually or during a prescheduled maintenance period. Even if you are using the drive in non-TRIM environments this SandForce drive will never, ever get slow no matter how little you let the system idle. To Intel’s credit, the toolbox program doesn’t work with any other SandForce drive – we tried- and thus only the Intel 520 will get this competition killing feature.
While everything we talked about above may sound great, nothing really stands out as enough to make the 520 series really stand out. But then there’s the firmware. SandForce has actually done the unthinkable and opened up their code base to Intel, allowing for a complete top to bottom customization to take place. In fact, while any SandForce-created improvements will be quickly available on the 520’s firmware, any advances from Intel’s side of the fence won’t be cascaded down to other SF2281 clients. This firmware is so different that LSI – the new owners of SandForce – have publicly stated the Intel 520 will raise the bar for SSD performance
The current enthusiast level SSD market is cluttered with SF2281 drives which all seem to be clones of one another which tends to make for a boring, uneventful playing field. But while every other manufacturer seems content to take a cookie cutter design and slap their own label on it, Intel’s 520 is refreshingly different. It uses a custom firmware to surpass the performance levels set by OCZ’s Toggle Mode NAND-equipped Vertex 3 MaxIOPS and become the fastest drive we have ever tested
. This supremacy doesn’t continue through every test but when the dust settled, the 520 240GB sat atop our charts.