A trend? Intel releases $125 'affordable' SSD

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On the heels of OCZ Technology Group’s release of its first sub-$100 solid-state drive (SSD), Intel said Monday that it is shipping a $125 SSD called the X25-V Value SATA SSD.

Affordable is the word Intel wants associated with this drive, but the price per gigabyte is the same as that of its higher-capacity consumer SSDs. The new drive simply offers less storage space and lower performance for a lower price. But industry analysts said the trend of offering lower-capacity SSDs for around $100 may spur adoption of nonvolatile memory in what has been a somewhat flat market over the past year.

“I think consumers will consider this product. Equipment manufacturers definitely will,” said Michael Yang, a flash memory analyst at iSuppli Corp.

The X25-V is a 2.5-inch, 40GB SSD that is being marketed by Intel as an “entry-level” drive for use in netbooks and as a secondary drive in dual-drive desktop computers, where it would serve as a “boot drive” to offer users faster boot times and faster access to key applications.

Last week, OCZ Technology released its own “affordable” SSD, the Onyx SATA II drive.

The Onyx is a 32GB SSD that, like other consumer-grade flash drives, is based on multilevel cell (MLC) NAND and offers 125MBps sequential read and 70MBps sequential write speeds.

With SSDs, capacity affects performance. The greater the capacity, the better the performance. That’s because SSDs are built with multiple parallel I/O channels from the drive’s controller chip to the NAND flash chips that store data. Generally, the greater the number of NAND flash chips, the greater the number of parallel channels or bandwidth to access the data on those flash chips.

SSDs with capacities of 64GB or more are typically built on eight-channel architectures, according to Yang. Micron’s RealSSD C300 drive, which has a capacity of 256GB, has the largest number of channels for a consumer-class drive, with 16.

Prior to the X25-V, Intel sold two SSD lines, the X25-E for data center server applications and the X18-M and X25-M for consumer products. Both the X18-M and X25-M SSD models are marketed for laptop and netbook computers. They come in 1.8- and 2.5-inch form factors, respectively.

The X25-M drive has a 10-channel architecture and comes in 80GB and 160GB capacities and has sequential read/write data transfer rates of up to 250MBps and 100MBps, respectively. An 80GB X25-M SSD can be had for around $230 at online sites like Macbuy.com.

Intel’s new X25-V is built on a five-channel architecture and has ten 4GB NAND flash chips. It has sequential read/write speeds of 170MBps and 35MBps With 4KB random reads, the drive can produce up to 25,000 I/O operations per second for reads and 2500 I/O per second for writes.

Intel said the drive has a 1.2 million-hour mean time before failure (MTBF) rate, but most industry experts do not consider MTBF to be a reliable method of measuring drive longevity, preferring write/erase cycles instead. Most multilevel cell NAND flash memory products have a maximum of 10,000 write/erase cycles.

The X25-V has native command queuing as well as trim support to increase performance.

When it comes to price per gigabyte, hard disk drives are still far cheaper than SSDs. According to Yang, SSDs cost from $2.50 to $3 per gigabyte, while hard disk drives cost around 10 cents per gigabyte. “For less than $100, you get a hard disk drive with a terabyte of capacity,” Yang said.

According to Gregory Wong, a flash memory analyst at Forward Insights, pricing for nonvolatile memory, such as the NAND flash used in SSDs, has remained flat or increased slightly over the past year, and adoption has likewise been relatively flat. The brightest growth for SSD is in portable devices, such as MP3 players and smartphones.

“I think what Intel and OCZ are shooting at is a price point for the consumer,” Wong said. “And it’s whatever capacity you can get for $100. In my discussions with Intel, they’re seeing good uptake of their 40GB SSD, but it’s not going to replace a hard drive in a notebook.”

SSDs are far superior to hard disk drives when it comes to performance, power use and ruggedness. Unlike hard disk drives, SSDs have no moving parts, so there’s less of a chance that they’ll break due to impact, which makes them particularly good for use in mobile devices.

Hard disk drives have read/write heads on actuator arms that, like the arm of a record player, must move across a disk platter to access data. That takes time. SSDs can access data at the same speed no matter where it’s stored in the flash memory, which makes them particularly good for retrieving random data.

For example, one of the fastest hard disk drives on the market today is the 10,000 rpm, 300GB, Western Digital VelociRaptor. In a Computerworld test, that drive had a 105MBps average sequential read rate and a 100MBps sequential write rate. The VelociRaptor uses 6.08 watts of power when reading or writing and 4.03 watts when idle.

In comparison, the X25-V uses just 1.5 watts when active and 0.75 watts when idle. However, as Wong points out, a hard drive only accounts for about 10 percent of a netbook or desktop’s power consumption, so it will not greatly affect battery life or the user’s electric bill.

A 300GB VelociRaptor drive sells for at least $199 at online retail sites like Pricegrabber.com. So for about half that price, you can get nearly twice the read performance with Intel’s X25-V, and that translates into faster boot-up and application response times.

Intel claims that the X25-V is almost four times faster than a 7200 rpm hard disk drive. “SSDs can replace or co-exist with traditional hard disk drives,” Intel states in its marketing material. “Users keep their existing HDD as a means of higher-capacity data storage. This capability is commonly referred to as a boot drive, since the SSD accelerates boot or start-up time.”

According to Stephen Yang, product manager for solid-state drives at online retailer Newegg.com, the Intel solid-state drive is its top-selling SSD.

“This new value entry from Intel means more customers will have the chance to experience the benefits of SSDs, not just in notebooks or high-end PCs, but in mainstream desktops as a boot drive. This is the right price point to help convert more users to SSD computing,” Yang said.

This story, "A trend? Intel releases $125 'affordable' SSD" was originally published by Computerworld.

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