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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  • Nihility - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Don't forget that SSDs complete writes and reads faster than HDDs. Their peek power consumption is for less time so total power consumption should be reduced for most applications.
  • GTVic - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    The power consumption should be listed per GB so we can compare. But if the max. capacity is increasing by nearly 4x then doubling the max. power required may not be too bad.

    Apparently SSDs are not very good at idling so that may be an area where improvements can be made. Surprisingly they are not as cool as many people assume although I have yet to find a clear article on the subject.

  • Cat - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    In the article you say that the upcoming enterprise drive will be the first to use MLC, but in the chart comparing E-class drives, the 50 nm product is listed as using MLC.
  • Assimilator87 - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    What's the deal with Intel using MLC instead of SLC for the next gen X25-E? I got all excited when Intel first announced the enterprise refresh, but now it's just disappointing. I probably won't ever buy the E drive, but I still wanted to see it blaze through the benches =(
  • Randomblame - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    As usual the early adopters have been screwed. By the time mature useful ssds come out the first gen devices will be dead as evidenced by jack.FXs post. That's the price you pay for bleeding edge performance and bragging rights. My 3 striped cuda 7200.12s are still running strong and fast enough for now. This new generation may be the one to finally push me over to the ssd side though. I'm still waiting for that $1 per GB ratio though. A 160gb 3rd gen intel drive for $160 or less would STILL be hard for me to justify but it would be mighty tempting.
  • ytoledano1 - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Funny... I'm never an early adapter and this time I'm so glad I am. That 30GB SSD I bought a while back put me back a few, but the improvement in DB query time is 10-50 folds compared to a 10K RPM raptor. When have we seen this kind of improvement in GPUs, CPUs, RAM? Maybe in the 90s...
  • MadAd - Wednesday, October 6, 2010 - link

    I dont mind being 'screwed', I knew this when I bought it. Its made for speed not longevity and thats what I paid for.

    And instead of pushing all the high use stuff like caches onto mechanicals as many suggested, Ive put them all on the SSD instead and still ive only got 1.8TB of host writes used up.

    My philosophy is by the time its starting to get full and fail, SSD technology will far exceed todays standards and Ill be looking to upgrade anyway. Have fun with the cudas!
  • PsychoPif - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    What needs to happen for SDD is a nice drop in price. It's already faster and more convenient than HDD. It's the fact the it cost 20 times more that slows it adoption.
  • iwodo - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    This G3 spec is at best just similar to Sandforce 1222 controller. Which will properly be even cheaper then Intel's controller.
    2nd things is the use of very large capacitor for DRAM cache which will bring the cost of SSD up.

    So unless Intel aggressively prices these SSD
  • Chloiber - Tuesday, October 5, 2010 - link

    Faster Sequential Write
    Faster Sequential Read
    Faster Random Read
    Faster Random Write

    Yeah right.

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