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Intel's X25-M Solid State Drive Reviewed

Intel's X25-M Solid State Drive Reviewed
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Looking back at recent developments in the flash solid state drive (SSD) market, we could tell that it was only a matter of time until Intel jumped in feet-first. Flash-based hard drives are about to assail the hard drive market from the very high end, where conventional hard drives are being outperformed by flash products, and from the low end, where cost and low power consumption count most. However, the mainstream has remained largely ignored, due to insufficient capacity, the intolerable cost of flash SSDs, and shortcomings, such as the absence of the power savings promised by many flash SSD makers. Being a true flash memory vendor—as opposed to so many others out there—Intel has the advantage of being able to design and refine its own product. And that’s what it has done. The X25-M is a multi-level cell (MLC) flash based drive that is capable of competing with the best single-level cell (SLC) drives on the market.

Flash SSD Facts and Overview

A solid-state drive means that the unit doesn’t include any moving parts as conventional hard drives do. As a result, flash SSDs are robust and potentially much more efficient. They’re also capable of providing almost instant access to data, while hard drives have to spend time moving arms and spinning disks to access individual blocks. We looked at the first flash-based SSD by Samsung exactly two years ago. It reached the 50 MB/s transfer speed that was offered by comparable 2.5” drives at that time, but it required half the power to operate.

The first retail products appeared a year later from Sandisk, Samsung and Ridata, and others followed a few months later, offering nice performance and attractive efficiency. But they still did not truly beat the magnetic hard drive.

M-Tron was the first company to ship a flash SSD that is actually capable of outperforming a hard drive very clearly. MemoRight followed up with increased performance, clearly positioning high-end flash SSDs to replace enterprise hard drives, but we found that most of the flash-based SSDs, despite being faster than hard drives, still could not provide improved energy efficiency (with a few exceptions). For us this is a huge issue, as everyone speaks about power savings, which, in fact often weren’t there. Our last article, which compared 14 flash SSD products, only recommends the latest offering by Samsung (also sold by OCZ), which combines impressive performance with excellent efficiency. The cost issue, however, has remained: good flash SSDs are expensive, to the point of being unaffordable to mainstream buyers.

The Intel Promise: 175x Better Disk Performance

Back at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco last August, Intel provided an insight into its flash SSD family, and spelled out the main performance points. One of the claims was a 175x performance boost over hard drives, which have only shown incremental performance increases over the last 10 years. This reflects our findings in the article Capacities Outran Performance, which we released almost two years ago. Some of you may already know the key data from various news and announcements: Intel intends to reach 250 MB/s read speed at 0.085 ms access time and revolutionary lower power consumption. This clearly is a challenge to the big guys in the flash market, namely Samsung, Toshiba and Hynix. Intel, which takes the fifth position behind its joint-venture partner Micron, obviously wants to change the balance of power by entering the storage business. Others, such as Hitachi, Seagate and Western Digital, are certainly watching closely. Let’s look at Intel’s first shake up of this competitive market.

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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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