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Conclusion: X25-M Strikes Hard!

Intel's X25-M Solid State Drive Reviewed
By

Bottom line: Intel’s promises weren’t exaggerated.

The new X25-M is the first of several flash SSDs that will hit the market between now and early 2009. We received a 2.5” 80 GB drive sample based on MLC flash memory. Thanks to a 10-channel design and the smart new flash controller that Intel designed in-house, a product that is based on a technically inferior MLC flash memory technology is capable of outperforming the excellent SLC-based Samsung 64 GB SATA-2 SSD. It does so in throughput, and especially in I/O performance, which is typically horribly handicapped when using MLC-based drives.

Intel Inside

The flash memory chips are largely the same as the MLC products offered by Toshiba, Hynix and others, but the true secret behind the stunning results of the X25-M is the new controller. It does the splits of efficiently priming MLC NAND flash performance, while reducing NAND flash cell wear. Intel says it reduces the number of read/write cycles by having the controller not only distribute data across the ten flash channels, but also aggregating and assigning write operations, so it will only trigger actual writes when they are needed. We don’t have the means to verify this in detail, but looking at all the results we can see that Intel did an amazing job, which should also fire up competition in this market.

Still Room to Grow

All that said, the X25-M still is not the top-dog if you look at efficiency. Samsung’s SLC-based 64 GB drive manages to stay on top of things when it comes to application performance in SYSmark 2007 Preview. It has lower idle power and lower power when providing a defined data stream, such as during video playback. It simply offers faster write performance. Granted, the trade-off is a significantly higher price and less capacity.

A possible dark side in the excellent test runs of X25-M is the inconsistent write performance if the workload is changed drastically, especially from I/O-heavy to sequential operation or vice versa. This hurts this model’s potential in servers environments, as you cannot rely on a minimum write throughput.

Get it On, Intel!

Intel will address performance hunger even more soon with its X25-E, which is an SLC flash version of the X25-M. If the X25-M looks this good next to Samsung’s top offering, we can only imagine what the -E version is going to be able to do.

Pricing on the X25-M is set at $595 in quantities of up to 1,000 and Intel says the drive will start shipping the week of September 8th. Intel still has to prove that it can deliver this great-looking product sample to the mainstream market in quantities. If it does, it’ll be having Samsung’s lunch.

Technical Data

Manufacturer Intel Samsung
Family X25-M SSD SATA 3.0 Gbps 2.5"
Model Number SSDSA0SH080G1GN MCCOE64G5MPP
Tested Capacity 80 GB 64 GB
Rotational Speed (RPM) flash flash
Platter - -
Interface SATA/300 SATA/300
Cache (MB) 16 MB -
NCQ Yes No
Height 6.5 mm 9.5 mm
Weight 78 g 72 g
MTBF 1.2 Million Hours 2.0 Million Hours
Operating Temperature 0-70°C 0-70°C
Specified Idle Power (low-power) 0.06 W 0.24 W
Measured Idle Power (low-power) 0.07 W 0.24 W
Operating Shock (2 ms, read) 1000 g 1500 g

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  • 0 Hide
    timaahhh , September 8, 2008 3:33 PM
    Very nice Intel, I couldn't drop that much cash into a harddrive, otherwise I'm sold :p .
  • 0 Hide
    customisbetter , September 8, 2008 3:49 PM
    200 Mb read solid. sweeeeeeet. i want one.
  • 1 Hide
    DXRick , September 8, 2008 3:53 PM
    Yummy! They greatly improved the write performance for a MLC drive.
    I would like to see it in a desktop compared to a VelociRaptor.
  • 5 Hide
    modtech , September 8, 2008 4:01 PM
    I look forward to the distant day storage devices are silent, last for a lifetime, contain no moving parts and perform like champs. We're nowhere near that day but it's coming closer one step at a time. :) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2008 4:03 PM
    It'd kill the velociraptor. SSD's are that much faster than regular magnetic HD's.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2008 4:09 PM
    Yeah I'm surprised this review didn't include Velociraptor.
  • 0 Hide
    helopilot , September 8, 2008 4:38 PM
    Great review - Thanks! Request for future SSD reviews: please include the warranty period. SSDs are new technology and the length of the warranty is very important factor in my buying decisions.

    Agree with your conclusions: Intel has a killer product here. I *need* two of these - to go! :) 
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2008 4:38 PM
    Check out hothardware's review of these SSD's they did include the velociraptor.
  • -1 Hide
    Lavacon , September 8, 2008 4:46 PM
    modtechI look forward to the distant day storage devices are silent, last for a lifetime, contain no moving parts and perform like champs. We're nowhere near that day but it's coming closer one step at a time.


    Nontech?
  • 1 Hide
    DXRick , September 8, 2008 5:19 PM
    Quote:
    Yeah I'm surprised this review didn't include Velociraptor.


    They tested it in a laptop and thus only compared it to laptop HDs. However, given the latest articles about SSD for gamers and 14 SSDs compared (neither of which compared it to a VelociRaptor), I would think they would want to address those interested in using a SSD in a desktop.
  • 0 Hide
    NightLight , September 8, 2008 5:38 PM
    man this look sweet! i'm getting one! go intel!
  • 0 Hide
    4655434b20594f55 , September 8, 2008 6:48 PM
    Quantum Leap In Performance? in short yes.
    It is a small leap in performance. Maybe not as small a leap as the word quantum should describe.
    (Quantum Physics - a science of incredibly small things)
  • -2 Hide
    Area51 , September 8, 2008 7:00 PM
    Isn't Intel releasing SLC drives Also.. I thought this was the low-end MLC SSD Drive. If the Samsung part is a SLC then shouldn't we compare it to Intel's SLC also?
  • -1 Hide
    anon_reader , September 8, 2008 7:44 PM
    Ok...you guys just completed a "roundup" test of the fastest notebook drives on August 28. Why did you compare the X25-M to the SLOWEST of all the 7,200 RPM drives (the Seagate) you tested?

    My bet is that the WD Scorpio Black would have equalled or outperformed the X25-M in several of the applications benchmarks -- which would be the same result that IDC got in their benchmarks.

    And what's up with this "simulated startup" workload? Why on earth not test the actual startup (which, unlike your simulation, accurately tests synchronous IO capabilities). Again, in ACTUAL rather than simulated workload tests, these SSD's generally underperform the manufacturer's overblown claims. IDC's benchmark tests showed 7,200RPM HDD startup times faster than SSD. So...why "simulate" a startup workload?

    Finally -- why do the actual application benchmarks continue to show only marginal (and often -- MINISCULE) performance advantages for SSD?

    Based on the results of your 8/28 tests, if the X25-M had been compared to the WD Scorpio Black, the SSD probably would not have even come out on top in the applications tests.

    Looking at the application benchmarks, these flash-in-the-pan SSDs clearly have a long way to go before they can even reach across-the-board speedup of 2x over a fast HDD, much less meet the SSD hypesters ridiculous performance claims.

  • 0 Hide
    Master Exon , September 8, 2008 7:45 PM
    Yeah so how much?
  • 1 Hide
    anon_reader , September 8, 2008 7:55 PM
    Master ExonYeah so how much?


    Well, the X25-M scored 119 on SYSmark 2007 (overall) and the 'slowpoke' Momentus HDD scored 111. I think I want more than a measley 7% improvement before I'd (a) spend $700 and (b) give up 200GBytes of capacity.

    Don't you think?

  • -1 Hide
    anon_reader , September 8, 2008 8:00 PM
    anon_readerWell, the X25-M scored 119 on SYSmark 2007 (overall) and the 'slowpoke' Momentus HDD scored 111. I think I want more than a measley 7% improvement before I'd (a) spend $700 and (b) give up 200GBytes of capacity.Don't you think?


    Fyi...in case you missed it...it's at the bottom of the page:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/Intel-x25-m-SSD,2012-11.html
  • -2 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2008 8:23 PM
    Sorry, not impressed. Performance only slightly better then conventional HDD? WTF are these guys doing.

    It seems like the SSD industry is looking to ONLY match the performance of the HDD where the technology should really shine well above it. Your telling me that whipping a read/write head over a disk spinning at 7200 RPM's performs comparable to reading and writing electrons directly out of a transistor? WTF? I am supposed to be impressed by this?

    If you can't read data off an SSD drive AT LEAST 4x faster then an HDD, don't bother me with it. The technology is not ready for prime time and the minor savings in power do not justify the tremendous cost per GB premium.

    Intel should be ashamed of even admitting making this drive. The whole SSD industry is a wash IMHO, this technology has been over promised and under delivered for such a long time I don't think the SSD industry knows what they are doing anymore. SSD should be cheaper, faster, and offer far greater storage capacities and near ubiquitous by this point in time after the promises made in the 90's.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , September 8, 2008 10:04 PM
    Am I the only one that thinks what Intel is doing is merely providing a template for other companies to copy and sell them that template at a modest profit?

    And there is no contest that SSDs are a wash, right now. But this is an emerging technology that is going to be continually refined.

    Add to the mix Fusion IO's entry into the storage market (a flash pci express card) and SAS plugs being included on standard motherboards (some of the new x58s) we see a battle for the future of storage/hard drives and the removal of the bottle neck that has plagued computers for far too long.

    In my mind it's about time there was a serious push to remove the bottle neck of storage. Only the bleeding edge people are gonna be out a buck but how is that different from any other emerging technology?

    Go Intel for refining MLC tech and adding a controller.
  • 0 Hide
    asdasd123123 , September 8, 2008 10:59 PM
    1000 years mtbf? Did they use a time machine or what?
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