Solid-state drives are finally coming into their own -- they're faster, more durable and use less power than traditional mechanical hard drives. However, the strongest indicator that this may be the storage technology of the future is Intel's release of its X18 and X25 SSDs.
In our tests, the X25, released this week , is twice as fast as the next fastest SSD we've tested and beats the fastest hard disk drive in reads and ties it in writes. The 80GB version, which I tested, is priced at $595 for quantities up to 1,000.
So, what's different about these drives? Well, I can tell you that it is one of the fastest drives -- solid state or not -- that I've tested thus far. Intel turbo-charges this drive by interleaving NAND flash chips and using 10 parallel channels and optimized firmware.
SSD vs. HDD
One of the fastest drives I've reviewed recently is Western Digital's Velociraptor hard drive. Its 10,000rpm spindle speed and 16MB buffer had it returning a 250.2MB/sec. burst speed and 105.6MB/sec. average read through HD Tach. In my file transfer tests, with 4,661 files of various types totaling 8.05GB, writing the data to the Velociraptor took a mere 4.4 minutes, and reading the data from it and writing it to another drive took only 4.04 minutes.
To be fair, the Velociraptor is too large for most laptops and netbooks (it's a 2.5-in. drive wrapped in Western Digital's 3.5-in. IcePack heat sink form factor). The next fastest I looked at (in the same article) was another Western Digital drive, the Scorpio Black, with a burst speed and average read result of 238.8MB/sec. and 63.8MB/sec., respectively.
Intel's X25-M has them both beat. The SSD turned in 256.7MB/sec. and 230.2MB/sec. burst and transfer rates, respectively. Actual file transfers ran just 4.4 minutes and 3.7 minutes to and from the SSD. Intel says the X25-M has a MTBF rating of two million hours, which would match that of traditionally longer lasting single-level cell (SLC) NAND memory's 100,000 write cycles. This is achieved through wear-leveling firmware, which evenly distributes writes throughout the drive versus allowing them to be concentrated on one group of cells.
How is its speed in comparison with another SSD? No problem: Ridata's 64GB Ultra-S Plus is almost half the speed of Intel's X25-M when tested under HD Tach, while its real-world file-transfer times are noticeably slower. The X25-M is a fast SSD.
Boot speed and power consumption
Boot speed is dependent on several things, including the speed of the drive and the amount of drivers and software you're loading during the process. There's also the system BIOS.
On the system I used to test the drive, I started timing from the moment I hit the power-on button to when Vista's sidebar appeared. (It took, on average, almost 22 seconds to get out of the BIOS and into the actual Windows Vista boot cycle.)
The X25-M booted under loaded conditions (every piece of software and all drivers needed to run the system) in just 1.32 minutes. When I stripped some of the excess out of the start-up, boot time dropped to 1.18 minutes. In contrast, Ridata's 64GB Ultra-S Plus needed 1.47 minutes to boot with all drives and software included and 1.23 minutes when pared down.
The surprise here is the Scorpio Black hard disk drive, which went through a loaded boot in 1.28 minutes -- faster than either SSD -- although when booting into a stripped environment, it stalled a bit at 1.26 minutes. The mechanicals of the drive imposed more of a burden on the boot process than the depth of the boot environment itself, perhaps bearing out the advantages of an SSD with no moving parts.
Obviously, small boot environments affect actual boot times. That's one of the reasons why initial SSD testing gave them such an advantage. The drives, at that point, had too little capacity to produce a robust environment, and so they booted rather quickly with the little they had.