Intel's solid state drives will enable 24-hour laptops

A laptop that lasts all day on a single charge is the holy grail of mobile computing. But according to Intel, that's just one of the benefits of its new range of solid state drives (SSDs) announced at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco today.

Storage solutions are not normally the stuff of IDF headlines. That's usually the job of unfeasibly fast new processors and hyper efficient mobile platforms.

But if Intel's claims are accurate, its new SSDs will have an enormous impact on the performance and efficiency of all kinds of PCs – server, desktop and mobile.

Today's announcement confirms that Intel is prepping two families of drives, one aimed at servers and one for desktop and laptop PCs.

Making SSDs mainstream

First out will be the X25-M and X18-M mainstream drives for desktops and laptops. Due to go into production within 30 days, these flash-based hard drives come in standard 2.5-inch and 1.8-inch form factors and support standard SATA disk interfaces.

At launch the X25-M and X18-M will be available in 80GB with 160GB models to follow later this year.

Raw performance numbers for these mainstream drives include sustained read speeds of up to 250MB/s and write speeds of up to 70MB/s. But if anything, the real world impact of the drives is even more impressive.

As Intel rightly points out, disk performance has improved only gradually over the past decade or so – only by around 30 per cent since 1996. Meanwhile, CPU performance has exploded to the tune of approximately 17,500 per cent over the same period.

Consequently, Intel reckons its SSDs finally solve the hard disk performance bottleneck that has been holding PCs back for years.

Proof of performance

Compared to a laptop with a standard 5,400rpm hard disk, for example, Intel says every day tasks such as exporting emails from Outlook are completed 100 per cent faster with one of its new SSDs.

To prove its point, Intel had a battery of extremely impressive demos on display. Using the popular I/O Meter application, Intel demoed an HP laptop with the new SSD achieving an astonishing 12,000 read operations per second.

An otherwise identical laptop with a conventional magnetic-disk based drive managed just 200 operations per second.

Operation whizz

Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that a solid-state drive from a competing manufacturer only cranked out 300 operations per second.

Indeed, it's the superiority over other SSD offerings that really make Intel's new drives stand out. Intel reckons the use of its own compute-quality NAND flash memory along with a custom designed controller and firmware gives it a massive advantage and allows it to really deliver on the promise of SSDs.

Intel also showed a desktop system running the X25-M SSD producing double the frame rates of an otherwise identical system powered by a pair of 10,000rpm hard disks in the demanding 3D game Crysis. All very impressive stuff.

No moving parts

Of course, thanks to the absence of moving parts, SSDs are also more reliable and power efficient than conventional drives. As a technology, they really are an all-round win and Intel's arrival in the market should finally push SSDs into the mainstream.

As for server drives, Intel announced the X25-E drive which benefits from even faster Single-Level Cell (SLC) NAND flash that boosts raw write performance to 170MB/s. Massive performance aside, the big benefit of the X25-E for data centres is a claimed power reduction of 98 per cent compared with conventional hard disks.

The X25-E goes into production in 90 days and will be available in 32GB and 64GB trim.

All of which leaves the rather important matter of pricing. Press as we might, Intel simply would not give any indication other than to say it intends to make SSDs into the "mainstream".

Nevertheless, we're extremely excited by the potential of Intel's SSD drive plans. An end to hard disk thrash and associated performance lagging is an extremely welcome prospect. We'll know just how good they really are soon enough. Intel says we'll have samples within the next week or so.


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