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Intel aims flash at tablets, netbooks

Shrunken X25-V gets m-SATA treatment

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Comment Intel has implemented its X18-M and X25-V flash products in a tablet and netbook form factor with the m-SATA SSD 310 line.

The 40GB 310 has exactly the same I/O performance as Intel's 40GB X25-V with 25,000 random read IOPS, 2,500 random-write IOPS, and 170MB/s sequential-read and 35MB/s sequential-write speeds.

Its 80GB brother has almost exactly the same I/O profile as the 80GB X18-M and X25-M with 35,000 random-read IOPS, 6,600 random-write IOPS, 70MB/s sequential-write bandwidth but 200MB/s sequential-read compared to the X18-M and X25-M's 250MB/s. That's the only difference: 50MB/s lower sequential-read bandwidth. The 310 uses the same 10-channel controller architecture as do the X18 and X25, so Intel must have left something out of the 80GB 310 compared to the 80GB X18-M and X25-M to account for the missing 50GB/s read bandwidth.

As with the X18 and X25, Intel provides a mean time before failure (MTBF) number; 1.2 million hours in the case of the 310 and equivalent-capacity X18-M and X25-V. It does not disclose the number of bits in the multi-level cell technology used in the 310 line, but we guess it's 2-bit, as the capacity levels are modest at 40GB and 80GB.

What about endurance? The 310's technical documentation states: "The Intel SSD 310 will have a minimum of five years of useful life under typical client workloads with up to 20 GB of host writes per day." It will also support 50,000 power on/off cycles.

A scan of the technical documentation shows no TRIM support.

Intel is saying that the 310 is useful as an accelerated I/O device alongside ordinary hard disk drives for tablets and netbooks, but we can't see that happening in tablets.

If a tablet manufacturer shoved a single-platter Hitachi GST ZK500 or Seagate Momentus Thin in a tablet to get 250GB of bulk capacity, and had a 40GB or 80GB 310 as well for faster I/O, then that would increase the cost of goods and complicate the operating system I/O. You would think it would be simpler for tablet manufacturers if Seagate came up with a hybrid Momentus Thin – a single-platter version of its XT, the disk drive with a small NAND cache. The drive manages what data to put in the NAND cache, not the tablet OS.

There is more space in netbooks, but there again we would think the increased cost-of-goods would argue against including a hard drive and a 310. Were Intel to produce a 160GB version of the 310, the need for a bulky hard drive alongside this natty little solid state drive (SSD) would go away for most netback applications. As tablets are thought to be even more read-intensive than netbooks, their need for high-capacity storage is less, anyway.

A combined SSD and HDD design is possibly useful for high-end thin notebooks where cost is less of a consideration.

Intel says that there will be more flash announcements following the 310. One we might look forward to would be a refresh of the X25-E single level cell (SLC) line. It could do with a speed boost and a leap to the 6Gbit/s SATA interface. Intel fab partner Micron's RealSSD P300 shows what can be done. ®

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