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Intel’s SSD Plans

Intel's X25-M Solid State Drive Reviewed
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Intel introduced its flash disk product line at IDF in August 2008; now we’re seeing the first product sample. The firm intends to release mainstream products based on affordable MLC flash technology first at 80 GB capacity, offering both 2.5” and 1.8” form factor standards using the SATA/300 interface. The 1.8” version is based on micro SATA. Higher capacity versions at 160 GB will follow later, as well as the high-speed X25-E at 32 GB and 64 GB. These professional drives will be based on SLC flash, and while the MLC-based X25-M reviewed today should appear at retail in October, the SLC version X25-E won’t be available before the end of the year.

The fact that there are several SSD products scheduled for 2009 makes it clear that Intel intends to traverse the storage path on a mission. Next year will see a shrink from 50 nm to 34 nm, which we expect will double storage densities. The roadmap talks about 160+ GB for the MLC devices and 64+ GB for the SLC models.

Intel expects the disk drive market to be shrinking in favor of flash-based or flash-assisted solutions, which isn’t really surprising: flash memory is on the brink of replacing conventional hard drives in high-end servers, where transaction performance and I/O capabilities count most, and in the lowest end, where 8 GB to 32 GB flash is smaller, more robust and more affordable than any hard drive. But as soon as capacity is required, flash drives don’t stand a chance, and they will continue to cost considerably more per gigabyte.

Intel sees a massive future for hard drives that come with an additional cache memory—so-called hybrid hard drives (H-HDDs). Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any new hybrid drives since their first appearance in mid-2007, so we’re curious to see what the future might still bring. It does make sense, but the first implementations could deliver neither improved battery life nor improved performance.

Roughly 30% flash-based drives by 2012 still seems optimistic, but these numbers may include an increasing number of netbooks and low-cost PCs for emerging countries, which will for sure only be equipped with low-cost flash storage.

Intel’s comparison is biased towards flash drives, which, on average, are not as light and not as power-efficient as shown on this slide.

Although the new X25-M drive is targeted at the mainstream, we found that it will be highly attractive even for enterprise environments, just because the Intel flash SSDs are extremely dominant when it comes to I/O performance. Click the image on the right to look at Intel’s comparison between hard drives and flash SSDs when 120 drives are used in an enterprise environment. Although it’s heavily biased towards flash drives (SAS hard drives provide much more than the shown 100 MB/s throughput), it makes a good point: flash SSD arrays offer better throughput, around 20x to 100x better I/O performance and they only require a fraction of the energy to deliver this performance. We’ll look into this in our benchmark section as well.

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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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