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The X25-E Enterprise SSD

Intel’s X25-E SSD Walks All Over The Competition
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Intel's enterprise-class SSD looks like its mainstream brother, the X25-M, and in fact it is not totally different. The firmware and flash memory are different, of course, as the X25-E is based on fast SLC flash memory chips, while the X25-M incorporates cheaper MLC flash. This has a direct impact on capacity. While the X25-M is available at 80 GB and 160 GB capacity points, the X25-E is limited to 32 GB and 64 GB for now. However, a 128 GB model is on the roadmap for Q4/2009, by which time the mainstream X25-M is expected to reach 320 GB. These higher capacities will be possible once flash memory production can be switched from today’s 50 nm manufacturing process to the next generation 34 nm process.

Sharing The Same Basis

We opened up both products and found the same Intel controller and DRAM chip, the latter serving as internal cache memory. Some people may complain, but this approach makes sense from an economic standpoint. We prefer to have a look at the actual results rather than the approach taken, and as already mentioned, the results are impressive.

SATA Not Ideal

The X25-E drives still have a weakness that may prevent them from being deployed into true enterprise environments: they are still only based on the Serial ATA interface, while Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) has become the standard in enterprise environments. SAS provides important features, such as expanders and dual data ports, which can be used to maximize performance or redundancy. That said, this isn’t a serious issue, as SAS supports STP, the SATA Tunneling Protocol, which allows you to connect Serial ATA hard drives to SAS controllers.

Impressive Performance and Efficiency

While the X25-M is limited to 75 MB/s write throughput, the X25-E drive does not have this bottleneck, and provides write performance that is not too far away from its read performance. If you’re interested in I/O performance—which is the main reason for creating such a drive—you can expect a performance increase of 10x to 25x when compared to a fast 15,000 RPM hard drive. There is a performance boost of between 30% and 5X when compared to other enterprise flash SSDs. And as if this were not enough, the X25-E requires even less power than any of the other solutions to deliver its impressive performance.

Write Amplification Kept In Check

In examining this new drive, we also had a look at an issue known as write amplification. Since flash memory has to be written in blocks, writing a small amount of data causes a write operation of at least a certain block size, which may be 64 KB, 128 KB or even more. As a result, multiple small writes may take a lot of time, as the entire block has to be rewritten. This not only creates performance issues, but also may become an issue for long term reliability.

Performance concerns not only focus on low write performance, but also on changing performance characteristics. Flash controllers may adjust to suit high I/O or high throughput operation; maximizing one can affect the other. Intel’s flash SSD controller utilizes a DRAM cache memory, among other things, to reduce write amplification, and we found that the performance of the X25-E is pretty balanced indeed. Writes neither take considerably longer than reads, nor did we find varying performance when we tested I/O performance after lots of sequential operation or vice versa. Let’s look at the results.

Manufacturer
Intel
Family
X25-E
Model Number
SSDSA2SH032G1GN
Capacity
32 GB
Other Capacities
64 GB
Rotational Speed (RPM)
n/a
Platter
-
Interface
SATA/300
Cache (MB)
16 MB
NCQ
Yes
Height
6.5 mm
Weight
78 g
MTBF
2 Million Hours
Operating Temperature0-70°C
Specified Idle Power (low-power)0.06 W
Measured Idle Power (low-power)0.04 W
Operating Shock (2 ms, read)1,000 G
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  • 3 Hide
    Anonymous , February 27, 2009 10:41 AM
    Recently, I've seen an article about performance degradation in the X25-M due to internal fragmentation, have you looked into if this also applies to the X25-E?
  • -1 Hide
    zodiacfml , February 27, 2009 11:17 AM
    hard drive makers will be scratching their heads on this one. i've read some social networking and dating sites that uses around 200 to 600GB only of data.
  • 8 Hide
    WyomingKnott , February 27, 2009 12:10 PM
    Your previous review was of another flash-based product, the ioDrive from Fusion-io. If only you had included it's benchmarks in this article's figures, it would have been a most interesting shootoff. Any chance of updating the charts? Or do I just have to flip back and forth between the two articles?
  • 6 Hide
    dark_lord69 , February 27, 2009 12:54 PM
    WyomingKnottYour previous review was of another flash-based product, the ioDrive from Fusion-io. If only you had included it's benchmarks in this article's figures, it would have been a most interesting shootoff. Any chance of updating the charts? Or do I just have to flip back and forth between the two articles?


    I agree right after I clicked on this article the first thing I thought is I wonder how this compairs to the IODrive form IOFusion.
  • 0 Hide
    chovav , February 27, 2009 12:58 PM
    .... and a costs/performance chart with maybe total yearly costs with drive price, watt etc.. maybe even say something about the raid hardware you'll be able to save.

    nice article though, good to see that for (rich) consumers the X25-M is the right choice.
  • 5 Hide
    deiceman , February 27, 2009 1:53 PM
    So when can we expect Tom's to upgrade their servers with Intel X-25E's so that we can truly experience this amazing drive in real time???
  • -1 Hide
    reddozen , February 27, 2009 2:20 PM
    I have one of these going into my new server I'm building actually. We'll eventually raid 4 of them. Should be a nice addition to the 4x Quad-core Shanghai's.
  • 6 Hide
    cangelini , February 27, 2009 3:12 PM
    WyomingKnottYour previous review was of another flash-based product, the ioDrive from Fusion-io. If only you had included it's benchmarks in this article's figures, it would have been a most interesting shootoff. Any chance of updating the charts? Or do I just have to flip back and forth between the two articles?


    That's coming, probably next week, in a head-to-head between the two!
  • 2 Hide
    royaldutchtweaker , February 27, 2009 4:09 PM
    omg walks over the competition?
    fusion-IO has over 100000 IO operations in the same benchmark as where this intel reaches ~6000...
    don't believe me? read the IOdrive review. it utterly crushes the intel, the Mtron and all other SSD's, not to mention normal hard drives
  • 1 Hide
    Area51 , February 27, 2009 4:45 PM
    I think you may have another bottleneck in your configuration. I have been able to get 250MB sustain read from both my MLC and SLC drives.
  • 1 Hide
    Area51 , February 27, 2009 4:59 PM
    Could it be that the Nocona platform's chipset is limited on bandwith with its SATA connections? By the way I was refering to the Intel MLC and SLC.
  • 1 Hide
    Area51 , February 27, 2009 5:09 PM
    cangeliniThat's coming, probably next week, in a head-to-head between the two!


    Can you please include cost compassion? I am trying to figure out that for the same $$ which gives me a better value. So if I had $10,000 which would be a better buy.
  • 1 Hide
    dwwolfe , February 27, 2009 5:41 PM
    Besides theoretical numbers, I haven't read anything about the real-world life-expectancy of these drives in workstations and/or high-volumn servers.
  • 2 Hide
    cangelini , February 27, 2009 8:30 PM
    Area51Can you please include cost compassion? I am trying to figure out that for the same $$ which gives me a better value. So if I had $10,000 which would be a better buy.


    Area, the piece is already written, but I'll check to see if there's a discussion on cost.
  • 0 Hide
    coopchennick , February 27, 2009 8:51 PM
    Usually I'd say who cares about power consumption, but it actually makes sense in this article! An extra couple watts for a desktop becomes much much more in a server full of drives.

    One thing I'd like to see is some sort of mainstream desktop hard drive in there purely for sake of comparison. Throw a Caviar blue in the mix or something - with just these benchmarks, I find it difficult to get a sense of the performance gap between these drives and the one in my desktop.

    But good article guys, lots of data.
  • 1 Hide
    apache_lives , February 27, 2009 10:14 PM
    TEST THE PERFORMANCE OF THE DRIVES AT CERTAIN % POINTS - EMPTY, 20% 50% 70% AND 99% - the performance changes from what i hear - would love to know the results :D 

    Intel SSD's - making your porn load quicker!
  • 0 Hide
    eyal , February 27, 2009 11:41 PM
    When looking at power efficiency one should compare equal setups and I see power usage of storage of 32GB compared against up to 450GB here. One will need 14 of the smaller SSDs to hold the same data as one HD. Where does this comparo account for this?
  • -6 Hide
    eyal , February 28, 2009 12:07 AM
    When looking at power efficiency one should compare equal setups and I see power usage of storage of 32GB compared against up to 450GB here. One will need 14 of the smaller SSDs to hold the same data as one HD. Where does this comparo account for this?
  • -7 Hide
    eyal , February 28, 2009 12:08 AM
    When looking at power efficiency one should compare equal setups and I see power usage of storage of 32GB compared against up to 450GB here. One will need 14 of the smaller SSDs to hold the same data as one HD. Where does this comparo account for this?
  • 0 Hide
    borune , February 28, 2009 8:48 AM
    The article looses a lot when the OCZ Vertex is not taken into account!
    or, is it only available in EU?
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