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Brace of Intel SSDs imminent

Low- or high-end as you prefer

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Intel is spreading its solid state drive (SSD) wings with new models at the top and bottom of its range.

The current lineup has three models: X18-M and X25M mainstream 2-bit multi-level cell (MLC) SSDs using a 34nm process, with 80 or 160GB capacities and 1.8in or 2.5in form factors. Then there is the slightly older technology X25-E, E for enterprise, which uses faster but more expensive single-level cell (SLC) technology in 32 and 64GB capacities using a 50nm process. The X18-M and X25-M transitioned from that process to the newer 34nm one a few months ago but the X25-E missed out, for reasons unknown.

Those reasons are becoming clearer. We know Intel has developed a 3-bit MLC SSD chip on the 34nm process and we think that Chipzilla is moving to a sub-30nm process by the end of the year. Intel presented at a Bell Micro conference in the US and said there will be a new X25-E line, we think the name stays the same, with SLC technology and three capacity points: 50GB, 100GB and 200GB.

This product should sample in April 2010 and be generally available in July 2010. There is no word on the interface but we suspect 6Gbit/s SAS as the obvious one. There are no words on read and write speed nor on the process technology. We think it will be using either the 34nm process or the coming sub-30nm one.

Intel did say the 50GB one would cost $350, claming that represented a 40 per cent price cut on current X25-E pricing.

That's the high-end refresh. At the low-end there will be a new X25-V, V for value, chip with MLC NAND and a 40GB capacity. This uses the 34nm process and is being sampled by server and other manufacturers now with general availability slated for January 2010; it's close. The price is said to be $120 and the idea is to use it as a boot drive, getting rid of the minute's wait whilst Windows stutters into Ram from your hard drive - amen to that.

We say there "will be" such a chip, but Kingston appears to be shipping it already with its SSD Now V 40GB boot drive priced at £70-75. It is optimised as a boot disk, with read speeds up to 170MB/s but a slow sequential write speed of 40MB/s.

With it sampling shipping now we our assessment is that it uses 2-bit MLC NAND. All this leaves us thinking there could be an X18-M and X25-M refresh coming around the middle of 2010 with a move to the sub-30nm process and 3-bit MLC technology. We might see capacity points of 100GB, 200GB and 300GB or thereabouts.

Since Intel and Micron jointly developed the sub-30nm process we can expect Micron to announce Flash products using it as well.

STEC, meanwhile, currently under assault from seven or eight law firms pursuing class actions against it for allegedly misleading investors over OEM sales of its SSDs, has said its 6Gb/s SAS interface ZeusIOPS SSD will ship next week. It should have sequential read speeds up to 350MB/s and sequential writes not much slower at 300MB/s.

It's also lifted the wraps on a refresh of its Mach8 non-storage array SSD, with a Mach16 model coming. It will feature on-chip encryption and a 3Gb/s Sata interface with sequential read speeds of up to 250MB/s and sequential writes up to 225MB/s. We have no information about its capacity, and whether it's going to use SLC or MLC technology. ®

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