Intel X25-M review
Incredibly fast and silent too, but solid-state is still far too expensive for the mainstream.
Solid-state drives are becoming a regular option for laptops and netbooks - one recent example being the Asus Eee PC S101. But to date there's been scant opportunity to buy one without a laptop attached.
Now Intel is launching a range of standalone consumer SSDs headed up by this 2.5in SATA unit, available in 80GB and 160GB models. There's also a 1.8in model, variations supporting IDE and USB and an X25-E model intended for server use.
SSDs can transfer data far more quickly than traditional platter-based drives, with seek times in particular seeing a dramatic improvement. With no need to spin up or seek, the X25-M claims a read latency of just 85s. That's orders of magnitude faster than the 4ms of our A-Listed desktop drive, the 1TB Samsung Spinpoint FDT.
Sustained transfers are lightning-fast too: in our tests, the X25-M's ten-channel parallel architecture helped it achieve an average read speed of 226MB/s - nearly twice the Samsung's maximum 124MB/s. And while regular drives lose speed when files are fragmented or located at the outer edge of the platter, SSDs give you full speed all the time.
This makes a measurable difference in everyday use. Our test system, based on an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650, achieved a benchmark score of 1.65 with a 10,000 RPM Western Digital Raptor as its system drive. Switching to the SSD increased this to 1.80.
The elimination of moving parts brings other benefits too. The SSD is completely silent, and should be more reliable than a traditional drive. Intel promises a mean time between failures of 1.2 million hours, twice what Samsung claims for its Spinpoint range. Drives can be smaller too: Intel has stuck to standard form factors, but the 2.5in drive is just 6mm deep, 2mm thinner than platter-based drives.
As a final bonus, power consumption is tiny as well, with the X25-M drawing less than a Watt even under heavy use. Some mainstream desktop drives suck up as much as 9W.
The big catch is the price. The 80GB model - tiny by modern standards - costs a jaw-dropping £442. That's impossible for the average PC user to justify, and relegates the drive firmly to the realms of specialist applications.
But chip prices are always falling, and the X25-M is a hugely encouraging glimpse at the future of PC storage. Once prices reach mainstream levels, we'll be first in the queue.