The OCZ Vertex 3 240GB blew us away when we reviewed it earlier this month. Its lighting fast transfer speeds and application performance left no room for the competition to breathe -- including the once-praised Samsung 470 Series and Crucial RealSSD C300 drives. The Vertex 3 proved to be dramatically faster than its predecessor, and perhaps just as important, that speed comes at nearly the same cost.

Having surpassed some of the best SSDs we've tested, we were left to wonder if the Vertex 3 would remain unattested in the short-term. With Crucial's M4 shaping up to be a mainstream drive, who else could rise to the challenge? We may have an answer to that question today as we test the closest thing the Vertex 3 has to competition: Intel's new flagship SSD 510 Series.

Considering all the achievements Intel earned with its X25-M drives, hardware enthusiasts were to expect Intel to oppose OCZ's juggernaut. The company has recently launched three new SSD lines: the 310, 320 and 510 Series.

The SSD 310 Series is intended for notebooks or other small form-factor devices and comes in 40/80GB flavors that use 34nm MLC NAND flash memory. They feature the same controller used by Intel's X25-M G2 (the Intel PC29AS21BA0) and offer read/write speeds of 200/70 MB/s over SATA 3Gb/s.

The SSD 320 Series is the first to pack Intel's new 25nm MLC NAND flash chips, but it also uses the PC29AS21BA0 controller, inherently limiting the drives to SATA 3Gb/s. The 310 and 320 drives should be competitive in terms of pricing and reliability, but they're not meant to break performance records.

That's precisely where the SSD 510 Series steps in, though to be honest the drive isn't exactly what we expected. For starters, it uses older 34nm MLC NAND flash, which is more expensive than 25nm memory. Even more shocking, Intel has abandoned its in-house controllers for a foreign solution.

The SSD 510 Series is driven by the Marvell 88SS9174-BKK2, and that makes it far less unique than Intel's previous drives when you consider that Crucial and Corsair use the same controller. It's believed that Intel settled for the Marvell because of timing, as they simply didn't have anything ready to compete at the top of the chain.

Nonetheless, Intel will handle its own firmware, so its drives are likely to perform differently to those by other manufacturers. With the addition of SATA 6Gb/s, the 250GB SSD 510 Series supposedly hits top reads of 500MB/s, while the 120GB that we are reviewing today is a tad slower at 450MB/s. Let's see how these figures check out...