Intel wants to help gamers, others overclock their SSDs

Overclocking technology to be presented at Intel developer forum next month

Without saying exactly what it will be, Intel plans to make a "big splash" near the end of the year or the beginning of next with a product that can "overclock" solid-state drives (SSDs).

"This is a product we're looking into but we have not released yet. So I'm not able to go into great detail about a future product ... as far as specs and such," said Alan Frost, marketing and communications manager for Intel.

What Frost could say is that the SSD product will allow users to tweak the percentage of the drive that's used for data compression.

Overclocking typically refers to pushing past the recommended processor clockspeed, thereby increasing performance over what is specified by a manufacturer. In the case of SSDs, Intel is using the term "overclocking" to define modifying its specified SSD parameters.

At its Intel Developers Forum next month in San Francisco, Intel has scheduled an information session on overclocking SSDs. Frost said the session will remain at a high level, and it will not reveal specifics about the product.

The conference session, titled "Overclocking Unlocked Intel Core Processors for High Performance Gaming and Content Creation," is aimed at system manufacturers and developers as well as do-it-yourself enthusiasts, such as gamers.

"Anyone interested in the performance tuning and overclocking experience on desktop and mobile platforms," the session description states.

Frost stressed that Intel executives are still talking in back rooms about what markets might benefit from creating an SSD with flexible provisioning properties.

"We've debated how people would use it. I think the cool factor is somewhat high on this, but we don't see it changing the macro-level environment. But, as far as being a trendsetter, it has potential," Frost said.

Michael Yang, a principal analyst with IHS Research, said the product Intel plans to release could be the next evolution of SandForce controller, "user definable and [with the] ability to allocate specified size on the SSD."

"Interesting, but we will have to see how much performance and capacity [it has] over existing solutions," Yang said in an email reply to Computerworld.

Late last year, Intel began using the third-party SandForce (now owned by LSI) controller for the first time in its SSD 520 flash drive.

"The premise of SandForce SSD controllers is compression. By compressing data, less time is required to transfer data from and to the SSD," Yang wrote. "Is Intel talking about its own controller? Or are they simply 'glamorizing' something they already have?"

Data compression would first and foremost increase the capacity of a drive, but it could also lead to greater performance. Frost cautioned that allocating a percentage of an SSD's capacity for compression would come at a cost. That cost could be shorter endurance, according to analysts.

"If you overclock and get faster performance and capacity and sacrifice endurance by doing so, well, then you could still enjoy the benefits if you are in a mostly read-intensive environment," said Joseph Unsworth, Gartner's NAND flash and SSD research vice president. "I suspect DataCenter server IT admins would also be savvy enough (especially at hyperscale level) to exploit this advantage."

Frost made it clear that the SSD overclocking product won't be for the average consumer, whom he still thinks is learning what the term "solid-state drive" means.

"SSD penetration is getting better, but still small overall," Frost said. "The market for this is not big."

This article, Intel wants to help gamers, others overlock their SSDs, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

See more by Lucas Mearian on Computerworld.com.

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