Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04/20/review_update_storage_ssd_intel_x25_m/

Intel X25-M solid-state drive firmware update

Speed booster

By Leo Waldock

Posted in Hardware, 20th April 2009 12:50 GMT

Review Intel has updated the firmware for its four models of mainstream solid-state drives, the 80GB and 160GB 1.8in X18-M and 2.5in X25-M.

Intel X-25M and X-18M

Intel's X-25M and X-18M: upgraded

You may recall that during our review of the 80GB X25-M we were faced with the task of updating the firmware from version 8510 to 8610 and it was bloody hard work. For one thing, our Intel Skulltrail motherboard detected the new firmware as malware and tried to protect the system from the drive. For another, the process was horribly similar to the old school method of updating the Bios on a motherboard.

We had to boot into Dos, run the update, run a utility called HDDErase, and then format the drive before we could reinstall the operating system. When we finished the new firmware had no appreciable effect.

The latest firmware update from Intel is version 8820 - you can download it here - and it breaks new ground in a couple of ways.

The new firmware is supposed to "enable your SSD to deliver the best performance in your PC", a statement that has been taken by some commentators as a tacit admission that the X18-M and X25-M shipped with a fragmentation problem that leads to the drive becoming cluttered with junk.

Intel X-25M

Inside Intel's X25-M

The other change is that the method of updating the firmware is now very simple and doesn’t involve any formatting of your drive. Download the 3MB ISO image, burn it to CD and use it to boot your PC or Mac. The utility automatically checks for Intel SSDs that require updating, and the process is complete in a matter of seconds. Restart the system with the CD in the drive and the software will check the firmware version and should hopefully declare that the drive has been updated.

The update worked flawlessly on our drive, and the already present installation of Windows Vista, the apps and the files were all left intact.

HDTach 3.0.1

Intel X25-M update CrystalDisk

Firmware 8610
Click for full-size screengrab

Intel X25-M update CrystalDisk

Firmware 8820
Click for full-size screengrab

We tested the X25-M with both firmware versions 8610 and 8820, and were generally impressed by the update. Bizarrely, according to the synthetic HD Tach benchmark, the new firmware slows the read and write speeds by ten per cent.

CrystalDiskMark

Intel X25-M update CrystalDisk
Intel X25-M update CrystalDisk

Firmware 8610 (top) and 8820

On the other hand, CrystalDiskMark shows that the write speed doubled from 35MB/s to 70MB/s. It was a similar story in ATTO Disk Benchmark, where the write speed also jumped forward. The read speeds evened out where they had previously been a touch erratic.

CrystalDiskMark Results
Sequential Access

Intel X25-M update CrystalDiskMark

Throughput in Megabytes per second (MB/s)
Longer bars are better

Random Access

Intel X25-M update CrystalDiskMark

Throughput in Megabytes per second (MB/s)
Longer bars are better

HDTach Results

Intel X25-M update HDTach

Throughput in Megabytes per second (MB/s)
Longer bars are better

Intel X25-M update HDTach

Time in Milliseconds (ms)
Shorter bars are better

In our file transfer tests we copied 2GB of files between a 120GB OCZ Vertex SSD and the Intel X25-M, and we also transferred files within the same drive.

2GB File Copy Results

Intel X25-M update File Transfer

Time in Seconds (S)
Shorter bars are better

2GB File Transfer Results

Intel X25-M update File Transfer

Firmware 8610 - OCZ Vertex as source drive
Time in Seconds (s)
Shorter bars are better

Intel X25-M update File Transfer

Firmware 8820 - OCZ Vertex as source drive
Time in Seconds (s)
Shorter bars are better

The new firmware was consistently better than the original version and we ended up with a warm happy glow that the X25-M had taken a big step forward.

PCMark05 Results

Intel X25-M update PCMark05

Longer bars are better

The only note of caution we would offer is that you'd be rash to update the firmware on your Intel SSD without first backing up of your data, just in case.

Verdict

Intel’s 8820 SSD firmware update makes the performance of its mainstream family of solid-state drives more consistent, and the update process is now as simple as we could wish for. ®

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