Review: Intel's new 80GB SSD is faster than the best HDD

Intel's X25 boasts a 256.7MB/sec. burst speed

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Power consumption is a lesson in obfuscation. It makes absolute sense that a hard drive with moving parts will use more power than an electronic hard drive with no moving parts. Extrapolating on that idea, it then makes perfect sense that putting an SSD into a laptop will cause it to use less power than if it had a mechanical hard drive. It's also looking at the situation in a vacuum.

All of the electronics in your portable use power. The CPU and the GPU are prime among them. The type of work you're doing -- how processor- or graphics-dependent they are -- are prime culprits in sucking your wattage. Then there's your LCD screen. Its brightness control is a huge factor in determining how much of your battery is being chewed on at any given moment. But here's the kicker: If you are judicious in setting your power levels and sleep times for your screen brightness and mechanical hard drive, sliding an SSD into the notebook is not going to do much for you.

Move forward in technology, however, and things change dramatically. If you're looking at a laptop with an ultralow voltage processor and a (relatively) small LED lighted screen, a mechanical hard drive makes no sense whatsoever. It will become the boat anchor for your operating times. An SSD, on the other hand, complements the low power consumption inherent in such a system. The combination of all power-saving components is how manufacturers have been able to reach high-single-digit operating times and even to touch on double-digit power ratings.

Capacity and enterprise models

Capacity has been a factor in the reluctance of vendors to adapt SSDs, but Intel appears to have hit the bull's eye at 80GB, a comfortable size for laptops. (Unless, perhaps, you're running Vista -- Ridata's 64GB SSD had only 3.97GB available once the operating system, drivers and software were installed. Vista immediately painted it red -- for critically low capacity.)

There are also enterprise models of Intel's drive available for business computing users who require a slightly higher performance level: the X18-E and X25-E Extreme SLC models. What separates these from the X18-M and X25-M is the technology behind them.

Theoretically, the performance potential available from Intel's 80GB X25-M is slower because it uses multilevel cell (MLC) NAND technology; in other words, it stores multiple bits per cell. The X18-E and X25-E drives, on the other hand, use SLC technology, considered the faster of the two strategies by virtue of its 1-bit-per-cell storage rate.

I certainly can't argue with the premise behind that (it makes sense), and until I can get my paws on one of Intel's Extreme SLC models -- expected out within 90 days -- for comparison, it would be arrogant of me to jump to a conclusion one way or the other.

Conclusions

All that being said, I will probably stick with more traditional hard drives, at least for the near future. This is mostly because I don't ever intend on owning a netbook -- I doubt I could press a single key, given the size of my fingers. So if I were going to buy tomorrow, my preference would lie with the Scorpio Black. The performance hit is minor, and the capacity is four times that of the X25-M.

For a potential Netbook owner, however, the way it looks right now is that the X25-M is the king of the hill of mainstream SSDs. It may have taken Intel longer than most to come to the table, but it's brought a better feast.

Bill O'Brien is a freelance writer who has written a half-dozen books and more than 2,000 articles on computers and technology, including Apple computers, PCs, Linux and commentary on IT hardware decisions.

Functional Drive Data Comparison

  Capacity Buffer size Spindle speed Interface
Intel X25-M 80GB N/A N/A SATA 3.0Gb/sec.
Ridata SSD Ultra-S Plus 64GB N/A N/A SATA 3.0Gb/sec.
Western Digital Scorpio Black HDD 320GB 16MB 7,200rpm SATA 3.0Gb/sec.
Western Digital Velociraptor HDD 300GB 16MB 10,000rpm SATA 3.0Gb/sec.

HD Tach Throughtput Speed Tests

  Burst Speed Average Read Random Access CPU Utilization
Intel X25-M 256.7MB/sec. 230.2MB/sec. 0.1ms 2%
Ridata SSD Ultra-S Plus 138.7MB/sec. 112.4MB/sec. 0.4ms 3%
Western Digital Scorpio Black HDD 238.8MB/sec. 63.8MB/sec. 15.1ms 2%
Western Digital Velociraptor HDD 250.3MB/sec. 105.6MB/sec. 7.0ms 2%

Boot Up Times (in seconds)

  Cold Boot Restart
Intel X25-M 1:19.0 1:10.8
Ridata SSD Ultra-S Plus 1:28.2 1:14.3
Western Digital Scorpio Black HDD 1:16.8 1:15.7
Western Digital Velociraptor HDD N/A N/A
Testing software: Simpli Software HD Tach

Transferring 8.06GB (in seconds)

  Copy To Copy From
Intel X25-M 264.3 221.4
Ridata SSD Ultra-S Plus 363.4 274.5
Western Digital Scorpio Black HDD 262.7 288.8
Western Digital Velociraptor HDD 264.0 242.4

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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