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Intel gets spanking new SSD

X25-M replacement

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Intel has replaced its mainstream X25-M solid state drive with the 320, which is more than two times faster doing sequential writes.

The 320 uses third-generation 25nm process technology, unlike the 510, which Intel announced earlier this month and which relied on older, second generation 34nm technology. The smaller process size used by the 320 means its dies can have many more cells and, indeed, capacity ranges from 40GB up though 80, 120, 160 to 300GB – and on to a surprisingly high 600GB. The replaced X25-M topped out at 160GB.

Performance is up as well as capacity. The 320's maximum read IOPS rate is 39,500 on the higher capacity models, comparing to the X25-M's 35,000. The write IOPS numbers are up to 23,000 on the 320 versus 8,600 on the X25-M, a substantial improvement in read/write asymmetry. The bandwidth figures show a similar pattern of improvement, with the 320's sequential write bandwidth being up to 220MB/sec, contrasting with the X25-M's 100MB/sec. The read bandwidth numbers are 270MB/sec for the 320 and 250MB/sec for the X25-M.

Intel doesn't say but we assume the 320, like the X25-M, uses 2-bit multi-level cell technology. Intel has radically improved its controller and firmware and deployed hidden capacity to speed I/O and, hopefully, provide a useful working life. The 320 is positioned as a desktop and notebook SSD, and has a 3Gbit/s SATA interface. This is one point of difference with the 510 which uses a faster 6Gbit/s SATA interface.

The 510 is capacity-limited compared to the 320, coming in 120GB and 250GB variants, has much poorer IOPS numbers at 20,000 read IOPS and 8,000 write IOPS, but significantly faster bandwidth with 450-500MB/sec for sequential reads and up to 315MB/sec for sequential writes.

The Intel numbering scheme suggests to us that a 520 might be coming, a 25nm version of the 510.

How does the 320 compare to competitors? It's slower than Other World Computing's Mercury Extreme Pro (30,000 random read IOPS, 50,000 Random write IOPS, 285MB/sec sequential reads, 275MB/sec sequential writes) but perhaps the 320 will keep going at its rated speeds for longer.

Samsung has a 470 with a 3Gbit/s SATA interface and lower capacities: 50GB - 200GB. That single level cell product does up to 31,000 random read IOPS, 21,000 random write IOPS, 250MB/sec sequential reads and up to 220MB/sec sequential writes. The 320 compares quite favourably with this SSD.

OCZ's Vertex 2 Pro is another notebook SSD with a 3Gbit/Sec SATA interface. It offers up to 50,000 random read IOPS, and 285MB/sec sequential reads and 275MB/sec sequential writes. The 320 is outclassed on these headline performance numbers here. Perhaps, again, Intel will say the 320 maintains its rated speed for longer and has a better price/performance profile. We'll have to see.

It's interesting to compare the tonne of SSD pronouncements coming out of Intel now with those from 2006 or so, when there were questions about whether Intel would actually stay in the flash business. No doubts now.

Prices for the Intel 320 SSD, based on 1,000-unit quantities, are: 40GB at $89; 80GB at $159; 120GB at $209; 160GB at $289; 300GB at $529 and 600GB at $1,069. You'll need to check retailers and e-tailers for consumer pricing. All models include a limited three-year warranty from Intel and 128-bit AES encryption and Intel's SSD toolbox plus downloadable Intel Data Migration Software "to help clone the entire content of a previous storage drive (SSD or HDD) to any Intel SSD". ®

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