Intel 335 Series 240 GB SSD Review

Intel has released its new Intel 335 Series SSDs featuring 20nm MLC NAND and a SandForce SF-2281 processor. Its new MLC NAND boasts impressive power and write specifications. This SSD is geared for the budget market, but will it be able to compete with low-cost TLC alternatives?

Intel 335 Series 240 GB SSD

Intel's release of the Intel 335 series SSD (codename Jaycrest) signifies its transition from 25nm MLC to 20nm MLC NAND. The series 335 is very similar to the Intel 330, yet with 20nm NAND as opposed to the 25nm NAND employed on the model 330. Pairing this NAND with the tried-and-true LSI SandForce SF-2281 results in an SSD that Intel has geared for the value market. The previous generation of this SSD, the 330, was essentially a value SSD built from the same building blocks as the highly popular Intel 520.

The 20nm NAND, from the IM Flash Technologies (aka IMFT) foundry, is also a step forward for the evolution of NAND. By moving to the smaller lithography of NAND the foundry can pull more NAND cells per wafer during production. This leads to numerous benefits, among these lower production costs that can be passed down to consumers.

Intel needs to remain competitive in the value space, and with TLC offerings from Samsung defining a new lower price point, the move to 20nm MLC couldn't have come at a better time. This new MLC NAND will allow Intel to remain competitive in the value segment while also providing it with a higher endurance SSD than the TLC competition. TLC (Triple Level Cell) NAND is shaking up the value market and IMFT has not publicly disclosed a timeline for release of its TLC NAND. Intel and their customers are banking on the 20nm NAND and its increases in density and higher endurance to defend Intel’s position for now.

Another of the great benefits of using 20nm NAND is the increase in density. Currently the Intel 335 Intel is using an 8GB die size, with two dies per package. This results in each NAND package being a total of 16GB. As the 20nm process matures Intel is moving to a 16GB die which will provide 32GB in each small dual-package NAND chip. The end result of increased density will allow Intel to move forward with smaller form factors, particularly in mobile markets.

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With much higher density the future form factors for SSDs, notably the NGFF (Next Generation Form Factor), will be able to pack even more NAND per chip. Quad-die packages will be able to pack a whopping 64GB per chip. This smaller size is very important to the evolution of SSDs as these make a broader penetration into the mobile market. The NGFF form factor is also destined for the desktop; Intel envisions these connectors embedded onto small form factor retail motherboards, replacing mSATA. The NGFF form factor will allow for much smaller designs in all form factors for future devices.

20nm NAND also brings lower power requirements because as the NAND lithography shrinks the power consumption also falls. The published power specifications for the 20nm Intel 335 indicate a halving (and then some) of the power compared to the 25nm 330 model’s requirement. The active power consumption has been lowered from 850mW to 350mW, and the idle power consumption has dropped from 600mW to 275mW.

The benefits of 20nm have been somewhat overshadowed by endurance concerns. Typically, when the lithography of NAND shrinks the endurance of the NAND goes down along with it. This is not the case with the evolution from 25nm NAND to the 20nm employed on the Intel 335 SSD. The 20nm NAND retains the same 3,000 P/E Cycles (Program/Erase) as its 25nm elder. Compared to the roughly 1,000 P/E cycles attainable from TLC NAND the 20nm MLC has triple the endurance.

Intel initially had launched only a 240GB 335 model SSD but Intel recently announced a 180 GB capacity SSD is also available. The new capacity of the SSD also brings along a new case design for Intel's consumer SSDs that we will cover later in the review.

The 20nm MLC NAND powered Intel 335 with its SF-2281 looks to retain Intel's position in the value market, so let's get it on the bench to see if it delivers.