Final Words

The Intel SSD 540s is their first entry level consumer SSD in quite a while, and our first look at Silicon Motion's new SM2258 controller. It's a little surprising to see Intel being an early adopter of a third-party SSD controller after their SandForce-based drives spent so much time going through Intel's QA, but the SM2258 is not a radical departure from Silicon Motion's earlier controllers, which have a pretty good track record for reliability.

Intel's use of the same 16nm SK Hynix TLC NAND as in the ADATA Premier SP550 allowed us to make a direct comparison of the SM2258 controller against the preceding SM2256, and the Crucial BX200 provides another point of comparison with Micron's 16nm TLC instead. The 540s is much better than the BX200 in every way, but that's not saying much. Against the SP550, the Intel 540s was not able to score a clear win. On most synthetic benchmarks the 540s improved performance over the SM2256 drives, mitigating their most glaring weaknesses and occasionally rising above the field of budget TLC drives in general. These improvements did not translate into a significant advantage over the SP550 on our real-world AnandTech Storage Bench tests. The ADATA SP550 is still faster overall for realistic workloads with bursts of I/O, even though it is slower under the sustained load of synthetic benchmarks.

The wide disparity in performance between the Crucial BX200 and ADATA SP550 showed just how much firmware tuning can affect drive performance. I think it's likely that later this year we'll see a more refined SM2258 drive, perhaps even on planar TLC before 3D NAND is cheap enough.

Budget SSD Retail Price Comparison
Capacity 120-128GB 240-256GB 480-512GB 960-1024GB
Intel SSD 540s 2.5" $51.95 (43¢/GB) $93.91 (39¢/GB) $149.99 (31¢/GB) $304.96 (30¢/GB)
Intel SSD 540s M.2 $49.95 (42¢/GB) $91.77 (38¢/GB) $155.65 (32¢/GB) $305.29 (31¢/GB)
ADATA SP550 $37.88 (32¢/GB) $57.99 (24¢/GB) $107.99 (22¢/GB) $205.99 (21¢/GB)
OCZ TR150 $37.99 (32¢/GB) $59.99 (25¢/GB) $99.95 (21¢/GB) $199.99 (21¢/GB)
SanDisk X400 $49.59 (39¢/GB) $80.19 (31¢/GB) $126.23 (25¢/GB) $237.99 (23¢/GB)

Against the wider field of competitors, the Intel 540s is clearly an entry-level SSD, intended for light workloads. It cannot keep pace with SanDisk's X400 or even the current generation of Phison S10-based drives like the Toshiba OCZ TR150 (formerly Trion 150). The ADATA SP550 has held on to a place in the market by usually being one of the cheapest drives available, but at the moment it is mostly tied with the TR150 on price, making the latter a better purchase given its better performance.

The current retail pricing of the Intel SSD 540s makes my recommendation quite simple: don't buy. The 180GB and 360GB models are only a few dollars cheaper than the next size up, and the four standard sized models are priced above many MLC drives. The OCZ TR150 provides better performance for a far lower price. The SanDisk X400 provides much better performance, the same 5-year warranty period of the 540s, and M.2 models for a significantly lower price. ADATA has also recently announced M.2 versions of the SP550, which will probably be only a little more expensive than the 2.5" drives, providing a very welcome cheap M.2 option.

ATTO, AS-SSD & Idle Power Consumption
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  • doggface - Thursday, June 23, 2016 - link

    I am ... Amazed that Intel would dirty their brand name like this. Truly a terrible controller, terrible flash, and a terrible idea.

    Intel has a brand name that generally speaks to quality parts. They should never have dabbled in the arena of TLC.
  • ddriver - Thursday, June 23, 2016 - link

    Reveals optane, releases mediocrity... come on.
  • Drumsticks - Thursday, June 23, 2016 - link

    I actually worked on this for a short time last year, and I can say - working with SMI definitely is not as easy (at least for Intel) and was certainly more frustrating than developing in house.
  • BurntMyBacon - Friday, June 24, 2016 - link

    Any reason they didn't label a drive with this level of performance a 300 series drive?
  • Drumsticks - Friday, June 24, 2016 - link

    No idea, honestly. I think everything is just a 5xx SSD now (at least the SATA stuff). I think it's priced well above what I was expecting it to be priced at though, tbh.
  • pwil - Wednesday, July 27, 2016 - link

    300 series had 3y warranty.
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Thursday, June 23, 2016 - link


    >Muh MLC!
    >Muh endurance!
    >Muh data retention!
    >Muh reliability!
    >Muh random I/O!
    >Muh this drive isn't exactly what I want in my PC, so instead of using PC Part Picker to find a suitable drive for my incredibly critical tastes, I'm going to post a comment on a news article expressing how disgusted I am by how this drive isn't up to _MY_ standards.

    FUN FACT: Did you know that companies design products for people besides yourself?
  • b4bblefish - Thursday, June 23, 2016 - link

    Meh... it's not that they make products for people besides us. It's that for the price it's a horrible deal. You can buy better more reliable drives for a lot cheaper especially if it's targeting the entry level consumer market. So why bother entering this segment and offer something without any value?
  • JoeyJoJo123 - Thursday, June 23, 2016 - link

    Because these drives are likely aimed at bulk government/corporate purchases, not really for consumers as the price/performance ratio is terrible. Government/corporate entities will end up buying bulk, even when the price isn't the best available, from what the business analysts approve as reputable companies; not because it's a wise purchase from an IT perspective.

    I guarantee you this: It's got an Intel sticker, so it'll be bought in droves by people who don't know, even if it sucks. See: Pentium 4.

    And secondly, nobody should ever care for brand image. Every brand releases crap products from time to time. Some brands do this more often than others. Always evaluate products on an individual level, not because they happen to come from some "reputable" brand.
  • techconc - Thursday, June 23, 2016 - link

    I agree with most of your post. However, you went off the rails with regard to brand image. Yes, you shouldn't buy based on brand image alone. However, all things being equal, brand reputation does come into play. Companies earn a reputation, for better or worse, based on the quality of the product they produce. Completely disregarding that history isn't very good advice.

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