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.