What's this? The long awaited specs for Intel's third generation SSD? Indeed.

Internally it’s called the Postville Refresh (the X25-M G2 carried the Postville codename), but externally it carries the same X25-M brand we’ve seen since 2008. The new drive uses 25nm IMFT Flash, which means we should get roughly twice the capacity at the same price. While Intel is sampling 25nm MLC NAND today it's unclear whether or not we'll see drives available this year. I've heard that there's still a lot of tuning that needs to be done on the 25nm process before we get to production quality NAND. The third generation drives will be available somewhere in the Q4 2010 - Q1 2011 timeframe in capacities ranging from 40GB (X25-V) all the way up to 600GB.

Despite the Q1 release of Intel’s 6-series chipsets, Intel is listing the new X25-M as being 3Gbps SATA only. The SATA implementation has been updated to support ATA8-ACS so it’s possible we may see official 6Gbps support once Intel has a chipset with native support.

The new drive’s performance specs are much improved. The comparison between old and new is below:

Intel Consumer SSD Comparison
  Intel X25-M G2 (34nm) Intel X25-M G3 (25nm)
Codename Postville Postville Refresh
Capacities 80/160GB 80/160/300/600GB
Sequential Performance Read/Write Up to 250/100 MB/s Up to 250/170 MB/s
Random 4KB Performance Read/Write Up to 35K/8.6K IOPS Up to 50K/40K IOPS
Max Power Consumption Active/Idle 3.0/0.06W 6.0/0.075W
Total 4KB Random Writes (Drive Lifespan) 7.5TB - 15TB 30TB - 60TB
Power Safe Write Cache No Yes
Form Factors 1.8" & 2.5" 1.8" & 2.5"
Security ATA Password ATA Password + AES-128

If these numbers are accurate, the new Intel drive should be roughly equal to Crucial’s RealSSD C300 and SandForce SF-1200 based drives. There are many different ways to measure this data however so the numbers may be higher or lower in our tests. Note that performance could also go up by the time drives are available as there's still a lot of tuning going on right now. I'd say that at these performance levels Intel had better be very aggressive with pricing because I'm expecting much better from the next-generation SandForce drives.

Write amplification appears to be more under control with the third gen X25-M. Intel upgraded the total 4KB random writes spec from 7.5TB - 15TB on the G2 to a much higher (and wider) range of 30TB to 60TB depending on drive and spare area.

Intel hasn’t disclosed any information about spare area, but given the huge increase in longevity of the drives I suspect that spare area has gone up as well (at least on the larger drives).

The G1 and G2 drives didn’t store any user data in the off-controller DRAM, the third gen drive changes that. A large part of why the C300 is so quick has to do with its large external DRAM, something Intel has avoided implementing in the past due to the associated risk of data loss. Intel refers to the 3rd gen X25-M has having a power safe write cache, which sounds to me like it has an external DRAM paired with a big enough capacitor to flush the cache in the case of sudden power loss.

Full disk encryption is the next big feature on the Postville Refresh. You get AES-128 support on the consumer drives. I’m guessing there’s a new version of the SSD Toolbox in the works as Intel is also promising Windows based firmware updates.

The new X25-M will be available in both 1.8” and 2.5” versions. The 1.8” drive tops out at 300GB, you’ll need the 2.5” form factor for 600GB.

In addition to the new X25-M there’s a new X25-E due out in Q1 2011. Codenamed Lyndonville, this will be the first Intel Enterprise SSD to use MLC flash. It’s not quite the same MLC used on the consumer drives but rather a modification of the 25nm process that trades data retention for longevity.

Standard MLC will last for 12 months after all erase/program cycles have been consumed. Enterprise grade MLC will last only 3 months after exhausting all erase/program cycles but will instead support many more cycles per cell.

The X25-E improves specs compared to its predecessor:

Intel Enterprise SSD Comparison
  Intel X25-E (50nm) Intel X25-E (25nm)
Codename Ephraim Lyndonville
Capacities 32/64GB 100/200/400GB
Sequential Performance Read/Write Up to 250/170 MB/s Up to 250/200 MB/s
Random 4KB Performance Read/Write Up to 35K/3.3K IOPS Up to 50K/5K IOPS
Max Power Consumption Active/Idle 3.0/0.06W 5.0/0.095W
Total 4KB Random Writes (Drive Lifespan) 32GB: 1PB
64GB: 2PB
100GB: 900TB - 1PB
200GB: 1PB - 2PB
400GB: 1.4PB
Power Safe Write Cache No Yes
Form Factors 2.5" 2.5"
Security ATA Password ATA Password + AES-128

Larger capacities, higher performance, AES-128 support and comparable lifespans to the old X25-Es are all in store early next year. Note that Intel tests 4KB random write performance differently on enterprise vs. consumer drivers so you can’t directly compare the numbers between the X25-M and X25-E. The X25-E will be 2.5” only.

Intel isn’t the only one working on a controller update. SandForce and Indilinx are both heading towards production versions of their next-generation controllers. I expect we’ll see preview class hardware before the end of the year, with mainstream availability in Q1 2011.

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  • Finally - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    ...and how's the pay @ the Intel marketing division?
  • greenguy - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    linuxpro has a point. I've checked the newegg ratings for Intel SSDs versus the competition, and Intel has the opposition beat for reliability (e.g. number of low egg ratings). Maybe things have changed since I last looked though. I have some x25-V and I love them.

    And also, most typical computer use is reading lots of small files, not transferring video back and forth (which is usually stored on HDD because of $/GB anyway).
  • Jim1900 - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    I have been holding off on a Sandforce drive for that very reason. It looks like it will be Intel for me, though I will wait to see how the G3 version works. I have SSDs on my laptop and 5 other PCs where I don't want to deal with disk crashes. But on my main PC, I still use a platter.
  • haukionkannel - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    I am not seeing any fast drop down in price untill other manufactures comes with their smaller node models. Intel can collect some money by being the first in this smaller node SSD techology. In longer run allso us consumers will profit for this ofcource, because the production cost will come down with higher dencity.
    But year 2011 or 2012 may be the year when SSD really may make it's breakthrough. Tha capasity is so big that it is usefull also for storage and not just a boot drive, for the prize.
  • Axz - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Can someone explain why a reduction of 9nm (~ 25%) in process would reflect in double capacity for the same price?
    Thank you.
  • atkoj - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Because the components are 2D not linear.

    32*32 = 1024
    25*25 = 625

  • mianmian - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    The cost is roughly proportional to area density:
    75% * 75% = 56%
  • Iketh - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    the same reason 640x480 resolution is four times the resolution of 320x240... at a quick glance, you'd think it's double

    the same reason why 1080p is double the resolution of 720p

    you have 2 dimensions of space, not 1
  • chrysrobyn - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    What is the square area of a device that is 34nm on a side?
    What is the square area of a device that is 25nm on a side?
    What is the ratio of the area of the two devices?

    Multiply all the above answers by a common area and compare the device counts.
    Extra credit: Convincing marketing that rounding is not the same as truncating.
    Extra credit: Comparing the size of the minimum lithography feature with the size of the minimum printed transistor.
  • Ninjahedge - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    While I do not see myself getting a 600 SSD anytime soon, the possibility of their arrival means that the workables at 250 and lower will now be coming within reach.

    I still think that this technology is still rather nascent and needs to stabilize, but as they get the hand of it, you will see buisnesses START to buy this and once that happens you will see the pricing models begin to change....

    The thing is, what is the best split for installation? Obviously, games that do heavy data loads would not see much from being installed on an SSD (first load time, that's it), but what proggies benefit the most from the boku buckeroos? Is there any way to split the load?

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