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Intel's X25-M Solid State Drive Reviewed

Conclusion: X25-M Strikes Hard!

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

FamilyX25-MSSD SATA 3.0 Gbps 2.5"
Tested Capacity80 GB64 GB
Rotational Speed (RPM)flashflash
Cache (MB)16 MB-
Height6.5 mm9.5 mm
Weight78 g72 g
MTBF1.2 Million Hours2.0 Million Hours
Operating Temperature0-70°C0-70°C
Specified Idle Power (low-power)0.06 W0.24 W
Measured Idle Power (low-power)0.07 W0.24 W
Operating Shock (2 ms, read)1000 g1500 g