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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  • apriest - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    I'm using TrueCrypt 7.0a with a Core i5-520 (hardware AES support) on an Intel 80GB G2 and I don't notice a measurable drop in performance. If I have time later, I'll benchmark it with hardware AES support enabled and disabled to see what the real numbers are.
  • JHX - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    Encryption wears on the SSD a lot more in general.
  • iamkyle - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    So what's going on with 64GB @ 2PM? :P
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

  • AkumaX - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

  • Perisphetic - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    A chill went down Seagate's, WD's & Hitachi's backs...

    Seriously, death to the mechanical dinosaurs of yesteryear. They should go the way of the VHS.
  • aegisofrime - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Sadly they will probably cost a thousand at launch. Oh well. Hopefully this brings the 80GB ones into the realm of mass affordability at least.
  • therealnickdanger - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Current pricing seems to be under $2-3/GB for most drives of the best variety(SF, Indilix, Intel). If this means "roughly twice the capacity at the same price", like Anand says, then we're talking $1-$1.50/GB once prices stabilize. Simple math means a possible price between $600 and $900 for the 600GB drive.

    Let's say it comes out an MSRP of $999 just for the hell of it... it won't take long for the price to drop. Considering that the Intel refresh won't support SATA-6Gbps (judging by the performance specs), I can't say I would want one anyway. The next batch of SSDs from OCZ, Corsair, Mushkin, G.Skill, Patriot, etc. will likely all support SATA-6Gbps and blow the doors off Intel just as the current Crucial RealSSD C300 does for roughly the same cost/GB.

    Intel would have to be really competetive on price for its refresh to compete against the coming lineup of new controllers from other manufacturers and it doesn't look like Intel has upped their write speeds much...

    Ah, but then it occurs to me that Intel's process advantage would allow them to sell higher capacity drives for less... so I guess what I'm saying after all this is that I can't wait to see an SSD wrap-up next February! :)

    Plus, did anyone else notice the fact that the Intel refresh drives use 2x the load power??
  • Iketh - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    the sequential read speeds are clearly limited by 3Gbps sata as implied by the article
  • therealnickdanger - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    ... exactly my point?

    The G3 Intel SSDs, the refresh, are still SATA-3Gbps. As I stated above, I think this will put Intel at a disadvantage as more next-gen SSDs using SATA-6Gbps roll out about the same time.

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