IDF: Full Speed Ahead for Intel SSDs

Intel held a media briefing today regarding its solid state drive (SSD) business, outlining speed, size, OEM partnerships, and some tasty benchmark numbers. SSD product line manager Kishore Rao, got the ball rolling by outlining the two types of SSDs Intel would be releasing in the coming months. Intel will be releasing six drives total, two under the Extreme SATA SSD line, and four under the Mainstream SATA SSD name. The Extreme drives will initially come in only the 2.5-inch size, with 32-and-64 GB flavors. The Mainstream drives will be available in the 2.5-inch form factor as well, but will also come in the 1.8-inch size, allowing all those netbooks and ultraportables the kids are crazy about these days to utilize solid state speed without a huge sacrifice on size. Both sizes will come in 80 GB and 160 GB varieties.

Besides capacity, what exactly are the differences ? While both the Mainstream and the Extreme drives boast 250 MB/sec. sequential read speeds, the Mainstream “only” writes at 70 MB/sec., in contrast to the 170 MB/sec. write speed of the Extreme drives. Due to the increased speed, the Extreme drives use up to 2.4 watts of power, compared to the unbelievable 0.15 watts used by the Mainstream drives, though both series go down to 0.6 watts when idle. Also, the Extreme series are based on Multi-Level Cell (MLC) technology, whereas the larger Mainstream drives are Single-Level Cell (SLC) based. Finally, the Extreme drives have a two million hour life span, compared to half that for the Mainstream series.

After laying out the drive specs, Rao threw up some impressive benchmarks for the new drives, putting them up against the 5400rpm drives they will most likely be replacing. When running a spyware scan using Windows Defender, the Mainstream drives were 40-percent faster than a 5400 RPM drive. Other numbers include a 40-percent difference in installing Office 2007, a 100-percent difference when exporting email in Outlook 2007, and a hefty 140-percent when running a scan in Windows Defender while simultaneously patching World of Warcraft. The new Intel drives were also put up against several SSD competitors, however no names, sizes or models were listed. Going head-to-head with two competing SSD drives, Intel showed numbers that were almost too impressive to believe, with sequential read speeds anywhere from five times to nineteen times faster, and sequential writes up to eight times faster than the unnamed competition.

Intel ended the presentation with OEM partnership announcements, which included HP, Lenovo and Falcon Northwest. Each OEM appealed to a different aspect of the potential market, starting with HP showing off an Elitebook 2530 equipped with an SSD drive. Walter Fry, one of HP’s senior notebook architects, demonstrated how the new Intel drives handled basic multimedia tasks. Walter took vacation photos and put them into a Google-Picasa slide show and opened iTunes while copying video into a public folder. The SSD-based Elitebook finished the tasks in about 31 seconds, while the magnetic drive still wasn’t finished when the presentation ended. Intel also showed a server setup comparison, putting a server with 36 15,000 RPM drives against one with eight of the Extreme SSD drives, with the SSD-based server supposedly using 98-percent less power, 75-percent less space (an 8U server rack compared to a 2U rack), and six times faster read speeds.

The next demonstration was from Falcon Northwest’s general manager Bradd Berdelman, who showed why SSD drives in gaming rigs can outperform raided 10,000 RPM Velociraptors from Western Digital. Using the same configuration in two of Falcon’s FragBoxes, the SSD drive-based FragBox ran the gaming demo at nearly twice the frame rate as the Velociraptor-based system (32.65 FPS compared to 16.76 FPS). However, as one Australian journalist pointed out, Intel go the numbers mixed up on the slide.

With production on the Mainstream drives starting in a month (Extreme drives in three months), look for Intel to have a big presence in the SSD market right off the bat, and with the manufacturing capacity Intel brings to any market, maybe we will see some lower more reasonable prices before years end.

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