Battle of the SSDs: Intel 330 vs Samsung 830

I recently purchased an Intel 330 Series 120GB SSD in order to improve my ageing PC’s performance. My post about migrating an existing Windows 7 installation to an SSD was based on the installation of that new SSD. At the time, I mentioned some issues I was having with waking up from sleep/hibernate on the SSD. The stability issues gradually became worse, resulting in the following intermittent problems:

  • The PC would sometimes blue screen and restart during shutdown.
  • The PC would sometimes blue screen and restart following fairly long periods of usage (after 2 or 3 hours).
  • Filesystem index corruption was detected (and fixed) on C: by Windows 7 chkdsk.
  • Resuming from sleep/hibernate would sometimes result in a blue screen and restart.

Many of you will recognise these symptoms as classic signs of an SSD built with a SandForce controller chip. Some SSD manufacturers such as OCZ have been experiencing relatively high return rates (up to around 9% of all SSDs sold) due to the reported instability of the SandForce controllers. Several firmware updates have been released to supposedly address these instabilities, but there remains plenty of forum activity discussing these problems. The reason I went for an Intel SSD in the first place was their reputation for reliability. They supposedly only see return rates of around 2-3% for their SSDs, which is similar to the average return rate for old-fashioned HDDs, so I would say that is pretty good. It should be noted that these are return rates rather than failure rates, which is a weakness in the statistics.

The previous 320 Series of consumer-grade Intel SSDs used a homegrown Intel-branded controller, which was very well received and by most accounts very reliable. The new generation of 330 Series and 520 Series SSDs uses a SandForce controller, but with an Intel-customised firmware that is designed to resolve any outstanding stability issues. So if that is the case, why is my new Intel SSD not behaving itself?

Intel doesn’t play nicely with Intel!

Without wanting to go into too many details or analyse huge forum threads in this post, my personal view is that these Intel-tweaked SandForce controller firmwares do not play nicely with Intel’s own Rapid Storage Technology controllers/drivers. Some users have reportedly fixed their SSD issues by forcing Windows 7 to use the default Microsoft AHCI drivers for their Intel SSD, rather than the Intel RST drivers (at the cost of a small amount of read/write performance). I personally wasn’t willing to go down that route, on principle alone! After trying some basic recommended power-management tweaks suggested in the Intel SSD support forums without success, I decided to try an alternative SSD instead.

The Samsung Alternative

The Samsung 830 Series SSD is well established in the market, having first been reviewed back in September 2011. It has already had several firmware updates and is generally regarded as a very reliable and stable device, with few complaints in the user communities. It uses Samsung’s own controller chip, which handles uncompressible data (such as encrypted or compressed files) much better than the SandForce equivalent, so despite being slightly older it can outperform the write speed of newer SandForce controllers in some circumstances. In addition, the equivalent drive to the Intel 330 120GB SSD is actually 128GB in size, and virtually the same price, making it slightly better value for money!

Perfect Samsung Stability

When I received my new Samsung SSD, all I did was directly clone the data from my existing Intel SSD onto the new drive. It was then connected in exactly the same way to the same port of my motherboard using the same cable. I made no other configuration changes either in the BIOS or in Windows 7. When I booted back into my old Windows installation on the new drive and tested sleep/hibernate, I found I could resume reliably with no problems. I also found no other intermittent stability issues, despite my continued use of the Intel RST drivers. Problem solved with no further effort. Samsung 1 – Intel 0!

Performance Benchmarks

Having established that the Samsung drive was staying in my PC, I decided to test the performance and compare it with the results I already had from when I was using the previous Intel SSD. I used the same version of AS SSD Benchmark for testing both drives.

Here are my current system specs:

  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 (stock speed)
  • 4GB DDR2 RAM 800 MHz
  • Asus P5Q-E Motherboard
  • Sapphire ATI Radeon HD 5450 512 MB
  • Intel Rapid Storage Technology Driver v10.8.0.1003
  • 2 x Samsung HD502HI 500GB HDDs in a RAID 1 mirror array (using onboard Intel ICH10R RAID controller)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit

Given the age of my PC and the outdated SATA 2 interface on my motherboard, it will be impossible for me to see the maximum performance of any SATA 3 generation SSD, as the peak read speed of around 500 MB/sec far exceeds the maximum theoretical performance of my system’s interface, which is under 300 MB/sec. However, if everything is kept the same when testing both SSDs, we can still make a reasonable comparison of both results in my particular system (which may not be representative of the results seen on a newer SATA 3 generation system).

Intel 330 Series 120GB Performance

Screenshot of AS SSD benchmark results for Intel 330 120GB SSD

Samsung 830 Series 128GB Performance

Screenshot of AS SSD benchmark results for Samsung 830 128GB SSD

 Benchmark Results

As you can see, AS SSD awards the Samsung an overall score of 471, which is 7.5% higher than the score of 438 from the Intel device. However, it should be noted that the Samsung’s read performance is better, but the write performance is worse than the Intel’s, so depending on what your main requirements are you may find one SSD is more suitable than the other. Presumably AS SSD awards relatively more points for read performance than write performance, thus explaining the difference in overall scores.

Conclusions

I would never sacrifice stability for performance, so for me it was an easy decision to make – since the Samsung 830 Series does not suffer from any instabilities, it is a much better fit for my system. The fact that it actually seems to offer marginally better overall performance is just an added bonus.

I very much doubt you would be able to notice any significant real-world performance differences between either of these drives, even on a new generation SATA 3 system. My advice would be to go for whichever drive happens to be cheapest at the time, unless you are using Intel Rapid Storage Technology. If you’re using the Intel RST driver and have an active RAID array on your system (even if the SSD itself is not part of an array), I would strongly favour the Samsung SSD over the Intel.

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