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Intel doubles capacity, drops price in refresh of popular SSD line

Lucas Mearian | March 31, 2011
Solid-State Drive 320 series offers up to 30 per cent drop in price; capacities increased by up to triple that of X25-M drives

Gregory Wong, an analyst with Forward Insights, said that while Intel has lowered its prices, it still amounts to about $1.80 per gigabyte. Wong expects mass adoption of SSDs by consumers won't occur until the price has reached about $1 per gigabyte, sometime in 2012 or 2013.

According to Yang, sales of consumer SSDs last year totaled $996 million. That is expected to more than double, to $2.2 billion, by the end of this year, he said.

Intel SSD 320 maintains the SATA II 3Gbit/sec. connectivity the company used in its second generation X25-M.

The new SSD 320 produces up to 39,500 I/O operations per second (IOPS) random reads and 23,000 IOPS random writes on its highest-capacity drive model.

The new SSD doubles sequential write speeds from its second-generation X25-M drive to 220MB/sec. sequential writes. The drive simply maintains the read throughput rate of the X25-M at up to 270 MB/sec., the company said.

Wong said that while computers coming out this year will begin incorporating the SATA III 6Gbit/sec. interface, Intel appropriately targeted the vast majority of systems in place today that use the SATA II standard.

"The SSD's upgrades includes some enterprise features: the data loss protection, and the surplus array of NAND, which is like overprovisioning to do wear leveling and such on the drive," he said. "They know it'll end up in the enterprise as well as the consumer market."

Intel has been selling its X25-M SSD since 2008. Over the past three years, the X25-M has become the best-selling SSD in the retail market, according to iSuppli. Intel has sold "millions" of the drives and discovered a surprising trend: The X25-M outsold Intel's SLC-based enterprise-class SSD, the X25-E, by as much as 7:1 to 8:1 in the enterprise.

Troy Winslow, Intel's director of marketing for NAND silicon systems, said it's "fair to say" that Intel's enterprise-class SLC-NAND flash SSD, the X25-E, "is going by the wayside."

"We believed SLC [single-level cell] was required, but what we found through studies with Microsoft and even Seagate is these high-compute-intensive applications really don't write as much as they thought," Winslow said. "Ninety percent of data center applications can utilize this MLC [multilevel cell] drive."

Enterprise-class SSDs have historically been produced using SLC NAND flash, which places only one bit of data per silicon cell. SLC NAND can natively ensure about 10 times the number of write-erase cycles as MLC -- about 100,000 writes vs. 10,000.


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