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Intel X25-M, round 2 : 10 SSDs compared
by Marc Prieur
Published on August 27, 2009

Launched in September 2008, Intel’s X25-M was a real bomb on paper. With the help of MLC flash, Intel was in a position to offer an 80 GB model at €500, while also giving amazing performance for that time with read speeds of 250 MB/s and, more modestly, writes of 70 MB/s.

To achieve this, Intel put the accent on its 10 channel architecture, very effective wear levelling as well as more efficient usage of blocks of memory by including a cache for writing. This allowed Intel to announce that its X25-M supported writing over 100 GB/day for 5 years. At a time when everyone doubted how dependable SSDs were in the long term, an announcement of this type from Intel amounted to manna from heaven.

However, although the Intel X25-M blew us away in the first tests, we did note a very significant fall in performances when we subjected the SSD to very different loads (see this article). Intel’s only response was to qualify these results as “expected”. Expected for Intel perhaps but this didn’t correspond to our expectations with regard to SSDs: to see performance fall is one thing, especially as the X25-M was way out in front of the competition anyway, but it is quite another for performances, under some circumstances, to fall lower than those of 5400 rpm drives!

Unfortunately, at the time, not many in the tech media world had noted the problem and it was only after an article by an English language site came out in February and created a bit of a stir on the other side of the Atlantic, that Intel decided to correct what they’d told us was “expected behaviour”. The corrrection came in April in the form of the new 8820 firmware, available on this page.
Inside the Intel
Here is a reminder of what an X25-M looks like under the bonnet.

Inside the drive, you find a 20 chip PCB (10 on each side) marked with the Intel and Micron logos, both companies being partners in the production of flash memory, an Intel controller and a 16 MB Samsung SDRAM chip.

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