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Lower prices from Intel and others could push SSDs into the mainstream in 2010

Intel is announcing a new generation of Solid State Drives (SSDs) using 34nm NAND flash memory from IM Flash Technologies, its joint venture with chipmaker Micron Technologies. IMFT had previously announced production of 34nm NAND flash in November of last year, but various problems had led to a delay in the scale of mass production that Intel needed.

The most important thing that Intel will be able to do with the new SSDs is lower their prices in order to spur consumer purchasing. Intel says the new drives are so much cheaper because of "the reduced die size and advanced engineering design" of the new SSDs. Many consumers have been waiting patiently for prices to drop and the market to stabilize before jumping in with a purchase, despite the dramatically improved performance that SSDs can offer.

The two largest hurdles for SSD adoption have been cost and capacity. Although designs for SSDs as large as 1TB have been announced, their cost will still be much greater than traditional HDDs. Most users who adopt SSDs in a desktop setting will choose to pair a SSD boot drive with a larger magnetic drive.

NAND flash built on the 32nm process by Samsung and Toshiba, along with a much improved JMF612 flash controller from JMicron, are expected to lead to lower prices on competing SSDs from other manufacturers.

 “Our goal was to not only be first to achieve 34nm NAND flash memory lithography, but to do so with the same or better performance than our 50nm version,” said Randy Wilhelm, Intel's Vice President and General Manager of the NAND Solutions Group.
“We made quite an impact with our breakthrough SSDs last year, and by delivering the same or even better performance with today’s new products, our customers, both consumers and manufacturers, can now enjoy them at a fraction of the cost.”

This improved performance is not shown in the X-25's sustained sequential write speed, which can only achieve up to 70 MBps. Instead read latency is now 65 microseconds and write latency is just 85 µs. That compares to read and write seek times of 4.2 ms and 4.7 ms, or 4200 µs and 4700 µs, on Western Digital's VelociRaptor drives. The VelociRaptors, spinning at 10,000 rpm, are the fastest SATA hard drives using traditional magnetic storage media.

The X25-M has a maximum sustained sequential read speed of up to 250 MBps, unchanged from its predecessor. There aren't any apparent major changes to Intel's flash controller, which still uses the same 10 lane Parallel Channel Architecture with ONFI 1.0 compatible flash.

Support for Windows 7 and the TRIM command, which improves performance when deleting files, will be available later in a firmware update. There will also be an end user tool which will help users to optimize the performance of their SSDs on the Windows XP and Windows Vista operating systems.

Interestingly, Intel will continue to use the X25-M moniker in 80GB and 160GB sizes. However, new SKUs are starting to appear with the 34nm 80GB (SSDSA2MH080G2C1)and 160GB (SSDSA2MH160G2C1) models. A 320GB model is expected to arrive later, but has not yet been announced. The X18-M, which comes in a 1.8 inch form factor, will begin shipping with 34nm parts later this quarter.

Intel originally introduced the 80GB X25-M for $595 less than a year ago. Now, the new 34nm 80GB X25-M will sell for $225 to the channel for quantities up to 1,000 units. The 160GB version will be available at $440 to the channel at the same quantities, down from a remarkable $945 at its launch in December.

Kingston Technology has partnered with Intel to sell rebadged X25-M and X25-E SSDs before, and is expected to quickly adopt the new product line. This could give consumers an additional price break.

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Price decrease
By Nihility on 7/21/2009 11:11:23 AM , Rating: 2
If prices keep going down at this rate, I'll be able to afford a decent sized drive some time in 2011.

Around 160 GB for $125

RE: Price decrease
By KingstonU on 7/21/2009 11:31:07 AM , Rating: 5
Anandtech proved that the system performance increase per $$$ spent is actually better than upgrading your CPU. So I for one am not just comparing $/GB of these SSDs versus $/GB of traditional hardrives. Granted I would still love to have them reach $1.00/GB sooner rather than later. I may jump on one when they are $2.00/GB.

RE: Price decrease
By MrDiSante on 7/21/2009 11:55:40 AM , Rating: 5
It depends. I rarely (if ever) turn off my desktop, I just sleep it and I have Vista with 4GB of RAM. Since I pretty much always have 2GB or more free and I really use a relatively small number of applications, Vista's Superfetch does a very good job of masking the fact that my HDD is less responsive than SSDs. On the other hand I do enjoy having 1TB of storage. I'm not saying SSDs aren't worth it for everyone, just that in my case the ROI just isn't there.

RE: Price decrease
By therealnickdanger on 7/23/2009 9:20:10 PM , Rating: 2
I would like to chime in on this as someone who WAS in the same position as you once. I was content with the performance of SuperFetch just like you are now, with all the extra unused RAM that you have, but my G.Skill SSD rocked my frickin' world. Vista + apps now all reside on my 64GB SSD and all my other files sit on the HDD RAID-1. It's a match made in heaven I tell you!

Keep in mind that my SSD is ancient technology by comparison to these - I've got the "dreaded" JMicron 602B controller. Honestly, it's been half a year of use and it's 3/4 full and it's still rockin'! My other PCs (7200RPM) and work PC (VelociRaptor) feel noticeably slower when doing ANYTHING in comparison.

I can only imagine what it's like to have an X25-M or Indilix-powered SSD! IMO, it's definitely worth spending up to $200 on a great SSD, even now, before they're mainstream. I'd say that if you have any cash that you've been wanting to upgrade with, do THIS.

RE: Price decrease
By Major HooHaa on 8/1/2009 7:25:06 AM , Rating: 2
When putting together my current Vista P.C, I wanted to a dual hard drive set up, that was to keep clogging up my C: drive to a minimum. I have two 500 GB hard drives with 16 megabyte caches and this seems to have worked well.

I have been reading about the new SSD drives and I assumed that they were modules that connected via the SATA port's and never considered that a hard drive would be sitting on a PCI card.

I have been looking at SSD drive benchmarks online and my next PC may well have an SSD drive as a C: drive which would mainly hold Windows, a few applications and the Virtual Memory. While my second drive would be a traditional, decent capacity hard drive.

RE: Price decrease
By geekman1024 on 7/22/2009 5:53:40 AM , Rating: 3
Moore's Law Part Deux: Computer parts price will drop by 60% every 18 months.

Lets hope it's true. ;-P

just so you know
By omnicronx on 7/21/2009 11:38:50 AM , Rating: 5
This showed up in the RSS feed this morning with something like 'Confidential, do not release until 11AM', but it still showed the exact title (i.e You could see before 11 that Intel went to 34nm and expected 60% price cut).

The link was broken, but still ;)

RE: just so you know
By TomZ on 7/21/2009 1:17:14 PM , Rating: 3
Here I thought that DT didn't do NDAs.

RE: just so you know
By astrodemoniac on 7/21/2009 2:04:49 PM , Rating: 3
lol I saw that too xD

By SiN on 7/21/2009 11:41:28 AM , Rating: 3
I guess when you can only go so far with advancements in CPU design its time to remove the one bottleneck holding back performance for the past decade or so. God I hate loading times. Props to those who are pushing the tech. More advancements cant come sooner.

Its just a shame this didn't happen sooner. Cant wait to get a rig with SSD's. Which reminds me... When does Fusion IO expect to launch a price competitive product en mass for consumer retail.

RE: Bottleneck
By bubbastrangelove on 7/21/2009 12:40:02 PM , Rating: 2
Judging by where they're currently at, no time soon.

Fusionio 80 GB SLC PCIe ioDrive - $3,589.99 new
Fusionio 160 GB SLC PCIe ioDrive - $7,209.99 new
Fusionio 640 GB MLC PCIe ioDrive - $9,699.99 new

They do have jaw dropping performance however.

RE: Bottleneck
By penguinhunter on 7/21/2009 3:31:13 PM , Rating: 2
Looks like that model is going to target the high end desktop market.

RE: Bottleneck
By bunnyfubbles on 7/22/2009 2:57:48 AM , Rating: 2
wow, I just had a nerdgasm

of course those numbers aren't too insane for that price to hold up vs. some of these other SSD drives in RAID, especially if we're supposed to see performance increases and price decreases as per this article

By MrDiSante on 7/21/2009 11:38:29 AM , Rating: 4
Support for Windows 7 and the TRIM command, which improves performance when deleting files, will be available later in a firmware update.

1) I know I'm nitpicking, but Trim doesn't improve performance when deleting files. It improves the long-run performance of the drive which would otherwise be negatively affected by file deletions. In fact, since you're performing a write instead of just a delete it would probably decrease it "when deleting files".

Anandtech does a great job of explaining it:

2) Why a firmware update? Why not right away? It's not like the haven't known for months and months that they'd need this. I personally wouldn't buy an SSD because the cost is prohibitive, but if I were to, I'd be pretty annoyed at the fact that by the time the firmware update shipped my drive's performance would have degenerated and would take a lot of effort to bring back.

RE: Trim
By omnicronx on 7/21/2009 12:18:33 PM , Rating: 3
I know I'm nitpicking, but Trim doesn't improve performance when deleting files. It improves the long-run performance of the drive which would otherwise be negatively affected by file deletions.
1)Actually that is only one of the purposes it serves, although I think thats more a secondary thing. From my point of view the main purpose is to improve write performance because of the change in the deletion process. Simply put, it faster to write to empty pages, but the problem is SSD's can write to 4K blocks but can only delete 512K blocks. This causes problems as the SSD does not know which 4k blocks are in use so a full write cycle actually requires 512K. (copy entire block to cache cache, delete 4k block(or more) and write entire block back to drive over existing pages, which results in lowered performance

Essentially what happens with Trim on a delete is the entire 512K block is copied to cache, the to-be deleted block is removed from the cash, finally the Trim command is called and deletes the entire 512k block on the SSD drive. Once this is done it copies the cached block back to the drive whose pages are now empty which increases write performance. I may be wrong on this, but that's my interpretation.

2)It may not have been implemented on original drives, which is something that can always happen with new products. As an early adopter, you should know that spec's change, and features are added.

RE: Trim
By DOOA on 7/22/2009 1:17:58 PM , Rating: 1
I am running Vista 64 on a Gateway FX laptop with two Patriot SSD's in raid 0. Performance has dropped considerably since the fresh install so I decided to backup, run the Trim software on them and recreate the raid. After 12 frustrating hours I am back to exactly where I was with the same degraded performance. The SSD's are still much faster than the hard drives they replaced, but until there is better support for SSD's I cannot recommend them for regular users.
The blazing speed and subsequent drop in performance does not give a good "user experience"

By Curelom on 7/21/2009 12:15:21 PM , Rating: 2
What would be a reasonable timeframe for us to be able to see these in the wild?

RE: timeframe
By nihim on 7/21/2009 1:04:52 PM , Rating: 2
The article says within the quarter and a quarter is three months long. Three to six months before they are widely available would be my guess but it could be sooner.

RE: timeframe
By Guspaz on 7/21/2009 1:57:10 PM , Rating: 3
The article said the X18-M drives would be available later this quarter. The X25-M drives are available today (according to the article) and should be filtering into the supply chain.

Seems like were not getting the trend just yet
By nugglife4me on 7/21/2009 1:33:40 PM , Rating: 1
I'm not sure why most people (posting comments) are all talking about replacing magnetic storage, and $/GB comparisons, and 'I will buy one when it reaches $/GB' type comments. This technology, still in its ramp up stage, has a very useful purpose, its speed. Being as capacity is relatively low and prices high you have to look for the trade off here. Put this low capacity/high speed drive where it will impact you most - say, as you boot drive, then load all your apps and storage onto your big ole' magnetic beast. Basically we have a 'hybrid' situation of drive storage, this is no different then when people were using three drive setups(1 - OS & 2xRaid=0 - Programs/Cache/etc) so now we have a replacement for the OS drive where it may see the most benefit. No need for 'replacement' more like 'augment' your current setup with one of these drives. At 32GB you would have plenty of space for a few current games you might be playing at any given moment and use your current drive array for OS/Storage. I think we need some additional testing of performance of these drives paired with traditional magnetic storage in different configurations so people can start to see how this technology can benefit them NOW, at the ~$100 price point everyone loves to talk about in their current systems. I'm not looking to dump my 3 x 32GB Raptors in raid 0, but rather relegate them to storage and loading programs and add one of these for boot duty. Lets be real, for a gaming/heavy office app machine, the performance is your goal, power savings doesn't come into play in this instance.

RE: Seems like were not getting the trend just yet
By Guspaz on 7/21/2009 2:11:01 PM , Rating: 1
Some points:

- Cost per gig matters if you can't afford to pay for it

- Just using it as your boot drive won't provide that much of a speed benefit. You'll boot fast, but applications and everything else will load slowly. You're going to want your OS *and* your apps on your solid state drive, and your bulk data elsewhere

- 32GB is barely enough for Windows and supporting files! Windows Vista/7 can easily attain 10+ gigs for the Windows directory alone. With individual games pushing 10-15 gigs these days, 32GB won't get you anywhere. 64-80 would be a bare minimum for most people trying to put any apps on it.

- You can't find any decent SSD drives at $100. You can find an OCZ Agility (Indilinx) 30GB drive for $137 on NewEgg, but that's almost fourty bucks more and 2 gigs less. That's the cheapest Indlinx or Intel drive I'm seeing.

- Not everybody is putting these in desktops. Remember, SSDs are typically 2.5" drives, the form factor designed for servers and notebooks. You need an adapter just to mount the thing in a desktop chassis. Of course, if the case manufacturers were smart, they'd start including 2.5" bays/adapters with their higher-end cases. Throwing a single 3.5" to 2.5" adapter (which hold two 2.5" drives) could be a very smart thing for a high-end desktop case.

By sxr7171 on 7/21/2009 6:31:35 PM , Rating: 2
If you can't afford $140 then I have to say this is for performance computing not ultra-budget computing.

Plus, you have no idea what the heck you are talking about. I have been running Win 7 64-bit (large installation than 32-bit) for several months on a 32GB SSD. I love the performance and lack of moving parts in my machine. I have as of today 16.7 GB free and 32GB comes to 29.7GB formatted.

You have to know some basic things like setting a custom swap file, and disabling hibernate. It boots so fast that on the rare occasion hibernate is better than just plain sleep it doesn't even matter since resuming from a HDD is the same as fresh booting from an SSD.

By sxr7171 on 7/21/2009 6:26:05 PM , Rating: 2
I current use a 32GB SLC SSD on my laptop. Half of it is free running Win 7 64-bit.

I keep my data on a homeserver anyway. If I need extra space, and I mean really need it I could get a 32GB SD or 64GB Expresscard. But I don't, I don't need to carry large media files around, that's what an iPod or even 2.5" external is for.

On a desktop, why would anyone need more than 32GB for single OS or even 2 OSes. With 64GB you could comfortably triple boot or even quadruple boot in a pinch. With 80Gb Quad boot is easily done. Your data can be on a 2TB drive in another slot or homeserver or RAID array or whatever.

Is X25-E price going to fall or not?
By anonymuos on 7/21/2009 3:55:05 PM , Rating: 2
I'm interested in the X25-E because if I'm going for an SSD for performance reasons, it might as well be the fastest.

By sxr7171 on 7/21/2009 6:37:02 PM , Rating: 2
That was my philosophy exactly and that's why I picked up an SLC SSD. It wasn't the X25-E since that was a $800 drive when I bought mine. Now it is only $350 which frankly isn't bad. When it hits $225 I would just buy it.

However a lot of evidence is starting to suggest that the X25-M and X25-E basically perform the same with minor variations on desktop usage patterns. They both use the same controller and that control's basic reason for existence was to overcome the issues associated with MLC NAND flash.

I still need to read more about it to see if it makes sense to get the X25-E. My nature is the same as yours to just get the best within reason, but it may not really benefit in this case.

By sxr7171 on 7/21/2009 6:39:48 PM , Rating: 2
What I mean to add is that with TRIM implemented there might not be a real world difference between the two in desktop use.

Something has changed
By Diesel Donkey on 7/21/2009 11:46:01 AM , Rating: 2
There aren't any apparent major changes to Intel's flash controller

According to Anandtech, something has changed:
The 34nm drives have a new controller and new firmware, also contributing to better performance

I guess maybe it doesn't qualify as "major", though.

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