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Intel X25-M 80GB Solid State Hard Drive Review

Author: Ryan Shrout
Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Intel
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Power, Noise and Conclusions

Power Testing - to be continued

Due to an error on our part, we accidentally tested our sample of the Intel X25-M with an older firmware that did not have all the updates and features enabled for power consumption that will be installed on the retail available drives.  Because of that, all of my numbers that were ready for today's article were pretty much useless but we'll be testing the drive again in the coming days with the updated firmware.  Expect an update to this review and a front page news post for the latest. 

Noise Levels - nearly null

As with all the SSDs we have tested the Intel X25-M is silent - can you hear your USB thumb drive working when it's plugged in?  I thought not. 

Performance

Intel boasted quite a bit about the performance of its entry into the solid state drive market and as it turns out all the hype was justified - the Intel X25-M 80GB SSD is screaming fast and blows away all of previous best storage options!  The benefits of solid state drives, including incredibly low random access times and consistent random and sequential read speeds, are all apparent with Intel's drives but in many areas the performance of the X25-M was well above even our previously tested SSDs.  Anything that involved reads from the drive, such as burst rates and sustained read tests, saw a big performance advantage for Intel.

In the HDTach sustained read tests, for example, the Intel X25-M 80GB SSD recorded a speed of 229.8 MB/s while the VelociRaptor drive from Western Digital was only 108 MB/s.  Even paired up in a RAID 0 array, two VelociRaptors could only muster 194.3 MB/s in sustained transfer.  The applications tests in PCMark05 and PCMark Vantage ranged from 20% to 200% gains for the Intel drive.  IOMeter, the most robust testing suite we use, gave the advantage to the X25-M in all four testing suites often times by a considerable margin. 



Inside an Intel X25-M SSD

The one area the Intel X25-M SSD might have been a bit underwhelming was in write speed tests.  As I noted in the introduction to this review, the multi-level cell NAND architecture that Intel utilized to keep the costs low is also responsible for keeping the write speeds a bit lower as well.  That does not mean the Intel drive's performance is bad, it's just not nearly as impressive as the results we saw in our read testing.  And let's be clear - for the majority of home users read speed will be more important for daily usage and will be responsible for any physical benefits you actually feel. 

Capacity and Pricing

One thing that Intel has yet to fix for the solid state drive market is the pricing issue - the 80GB X25-M drive is set to run you $595.  For SSDs, that price is not really out of the ordinary; you can find a 64GB Samsung SSD selling for $790 but you can also find an OCZ 64GB SSD selling for $259.  What's the difference?  Mainly performance and the controller on the SSD that mitigates transfer rates.  So while the Intel X25-M 80GB drive is expensive it is inline with, if not slightly better than, the price/performance ratios of other top-end solid state drives. 

Another aspect of these drives is the capacity they offer, regardless of the price.  Is 80GB enough for you on your notebook?  Your desktop?  Your HTPC?  I would wager that it would be fine for your notebook but for your desktop not so much.  That means that you'll definitely have to have secondary storage when using an SSD for your primary system drive - cheap 1.0 TB drives are easy to find for under $200.  Is this a solution for everyone?  Absolutely not; at least not yet.  I know that I will be picking up a couple for a video production system though.

Final Thoughts

Intel's first entry into the solid state drive arena is a success.  All of the performance claims that Intel made about the product before our testing were met and that doesn't happen very often in this industry.  If you want the top performing storage solution for your system and can live with a limited capacity (either with a specific usage model or other storage mediums) then Intel's X25-M drive is your best option today. 

If nothing else, Intel's appearance in the SSD market is definitely shaking things up.  I have spoken with a couple of SSD vendors about this competitor and they are honestly worried about how Intel will affect their market share, their margins and their ability to compete.  But what is bad for competitors is usually good for competition and good for consumers.  Here's hoping we see many more progressions in capacity and speed on SSDs moving forward!


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