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Intel in (halfhearted) SSD boost

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In a limited announcement that wrong-foots expectations, Intel has moved just one of its solid state drives to a 34nm process technology, making it faster and cheaper without increasing capacity.

Intel's existing X25-M and X18-M products come in 80 and 160GB capacities and use 2-bit multi-level cell technology on a 50nm process. The 32GB and 64GB X25-E is a single-level cell SSD which is faster than the MLC products. Commentators have been expecting the whole range to move to 34nm process technology, facilitating a doubling of capacity and higher speed.

Instead, only the X25-M has immediately moved to the 34nm process. Sure, it's faster. And it's also had a price cut. But as before, it only comes in 80 and 160GB versions. Naturally, it's drop-in compatible with the current version. It has a 25 per cent reduction in latency to 65 microseconds. Write performance for the 80GB version is doubled to 6,400 4KB IOPS, with up to 35,000 read IOPS. The 160GB product gets its write IOPS boosted slightly higher, to 8,600 IOPS.

A second generation 34nm X18-M is nearly ready. It will begin shipping later in the quarter, and we understand that its performance characteristics should be the same as the X25-M.

Intel has not announced a doubled capacity 320GB SSD (X25-M or X18-M) product at 34nm. Nor has it said anything about a 34nm X25-E product. Both were simply left out of the announcement. As the 34nm X18-M is going to ship later this quarter this implies that any 34nm X25-E or 320GB X25/18-M products will happen in the fourth quarter at the earliest. This is just a few weeks away, and our reading of the situation is that both of them have been pushed out to 2010.

The X25-E's performance is 35,000 random 4KB read IOPS and 3,300 4KB write IOPS, which means the generation 2 X25-M is faster for write IOPS and equivalent for read IOPS. Surely, Intel must have made X25-Es on the 34nm process. If it has and there is no product announcement, then it looks as if its performance is not up to snuff and Intel needs to tune it.

The X25-M will support Microsoft Windows 7 when it becomes available. At that time, Intel plans to deliver a firmware update to allow support of the Windows 7 Trim command, along with an end-user tool to allow users to optimize the performance of their SSD on Windows XP and Vista operating systems. That will be welcome.

Channel prices for the X25-M 80GB are $225 for quantities up to 1,000 units. This compares to the original introduction price of $595 a year ago. The 160GB version is also cheaper, at $440, compared to $945 at introduction. ®

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