Final Words

At the high level, SSDs are still the key to truly solid performance and this is where the issues with the JMicron based MLC drives are really unfortunate, because it means that the most accessible SSDs on the market can actually deliver a pretty bad user experience. But if you look at what Intel's X25-M and the Samsung SLC drives can deliver, it's really quite good.

As I've mentioned before, the random write issues with JMicron JMF602 based MLC SSDs are simply unacceptable and in my opinion they make the drives unusable for use in any desktop or notebook that you actually care about. Next year we may see a JMicron controller that fixes the problem but until then, I'd consider those drives off limits.

This thing is fast, and I want one in my system...actually, two. It's the only SSD that I would actually go out, buy and stick in my desktop machine at this point. I think that's the first time I've ever said something like that in a review, but I'm absolutely convinced. I've been using SSDs in my systems for a few months now and I'm hooked.

What Intel did with the X25-M is show the world what is possible with MLC flash. You get better than SLC performance, at lower than SLC prices. Despite that, the absolute only thing that bothers me about Intel's X25-M is the price. Although Intel is totally justified in pricing the X25-M at $595, I was hoping for pricing inline with the JMicron based MLC SSDs. At $300 - $400 this would be a no brainer for any enthusiast, and honestly even at $595 it's worth considering if you have other drives for data storage.

The other complaint is obviously capacity; at 80GB you can get by with this being the only drive in a corporate notebook or even your personal notebook if you've got external storage, but in a desktop machine 80GB is a bit shallow. Thankfully with better reliability than conventional hard disks you should be able to put two of these in RAID 0, doubling capacity without any fear of reduced reliability. Then we get back to the pricing problem unfortunately.

If Intel can get capacities over 100GB at reasonable prices in the near future, I'd say that the X25-M would be the best upgrade you could possibly do to your system. I'm curious to see what pricing and availability will be like for the 160GB drives, but Intel is being pretty tight lipped about them.

The implications of the X25-M are tremendous. I mentioned before that it is the great equalizer between the notebook and desktop, you can finally have a desktop usage experience on your notebook if you've got one of these in there (or a SLC SSD). If capacities grow quickly enough, these SSDs could mean that desktops would start accepting 2.5" drives, allowing for smaller form factors. Apple is already doing this on the Mac mini, and we've seen 2.5" drives used in systems like the ASUS Eee Box, but now you don't have to give up performance.

Intel didn't start the SSD revolution but it sure did kick it into high gear. Companies like Samsung and JMicron are really going to have to step up their game if they want to compete with Intel going forward. While Intel was light on details about the tricks they implemented in their controller, it's clearly enough to completely change the way we look at MLC SSD performance. And if this is the sort of performance we can expect out of its MLC drive, I'm wondering what will happen when we look at its SLC drives.

To me this is bigger than Nehalem, but then I look at the price tag and think that Nehalem will probably be a cheaper upgrade. Intel redefined the performance of the MLC SSD, I only wish they also redefined the price...

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  • aeternitas - Thursday, September 11, 2008 - link

    Converting all your DVDs to divx is a silly idea. Why would you want to lose dynamic range and overall quality (no matter the settings) for a smaller movie size when 1TB costs 130$?

    SSD = Preformance (when done right)
    HHD = Storage.
    Reply
  • johncl - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    Noise isnt a big problem on a 3.5" in a media pc as the other poster states. But heat can be a problem, especially if you plan on passively cool everything else in the computer. An SSD will solve both problems, but only if the SSD is the only disk in the system. From what I understand you want to have both in yours which makes sense since movies/music occupy a lot of space. In that case you will not experience any improved performance since the media would have to be read off the mechanical drive anyway.

    Your best bet would be to build yourself a small media server and put all noisy hot mechanical disks in that and use small SSDs on your media pc (and indeed any other pc). That way you get the best of both worlds, fast response on application startup/OS boot, silent and no heat - as well as a library of media. You would probably have to use a media frontend that caches information about all media on your server though so it doesnt have to wait on server harddisk spinup etc for every time you browse your media. Perhaps Vista Media Center already does this?
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Thursday, September 11, 2008 - link

    An SSD will not "solve" a heat problem. The hard drive adds only a small % of heat to a system and being lower heat density it has one of the less difficult requirements for cooling.


    Speed of the HTPC shouldn't be an issue, unlike a highly mixed use desktop scenario all one needs is to use stable apps without memory leaks then they can hibernate to get rid of the most significant boot-time waiting. Running the HTPC itself the OS performance difference would be trivial and the bitrate for the videos is easily exceeding by either storage type or an uncongested LAN.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    To be honest most decent HDDs don't make significant noise anyway, even further quelled by grommets or suspending the drive.

    Also, the reads will occur on the drive you're reading the movie from - so if you plan to use an external HDD as the source, this will make no difference whatsoever.
    Reply
  • dickeywang - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    Imaging you have a 80GB SSD, with 75GB been already occupied by some existing data (OS, installed software, etc), so you only have 10GB space left, now lets say you write and then erase 100GB/day on this SSD, shouldn't the 100GB/day data all be written on the 5GB space? So each cell would be written 100GB/5GB=20cycle/day, so you will reach the 10000cycle/cell limit within less than 18months.
    Can someone tell me if the analysis above is correct? I guess when they say "100GB/day for 5 years", they should really take into account how much storage space that is un-occupied on the SSD, right?
    Reply
  • johncl - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    A good wear leveling algorithm can move about "static" blocks so that their cells are also available for wear. I do not know if the current implementations use this though. Anyone know this? Reply
  • Lux88 - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    I remember reading a number of SSD reviews, but it's first time I read about the pauses. Indeed, quick search revealed 5 articles, starting from May 2007, but the conclusions only mentioned a high price and a small capacity as drawbacks. Nothing about freezing nor pauses. Some of these 5 probably were SCL-drives, some MLC.

    It's funny how a simple multitasking test can reveal an Achille's heel of large group of products, just when a product appears that doesn't suffer from this particular drawback.

    Overall good article and good info. So good that all the previous articles on the matter of SSDs on this site seem bad in comparison. Thanks for the info anyway, better late than never ;).
    Reply
  • eva2000 - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    If the OCZ Core controller does indeed have 16KB on chip cache for read/writes maybe that's the problem as OCZ Core pdf states for their SSD

    "each page contains 4 Kbytes of data, however, because of the parallelism at the back end of the controller, every access includes simultaneous opening of 16 pages for a total accessible data contingent of 64 Kbytes"

    ????
    Reply
  • araczynski - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    looks quite promising. maybe within about 2 years they'll get the bugs worked out, a more realistic price, and an extended life span, and i'll replace my regular drives. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    "No one really paid much attention to Intel getting into the SSD (Solid State Disk) business. We all heard the announcements, we heard the claims of amazing performance, but I didn't really believe it. After all, it was just a matter of hooking up a bunch of flash chips to a controller and putting them in a drive enclosure, right? "

    You mean you did not pay attention? I know I did, because Intel has always been serious with things of this nature. That and they are partnered with Crucial(Micron) right ?. . . Now if this was some attempt at sarcasm, or a joke . . .

    Seriously, and I mean VERY seriously, I was excited when Anandtech 'reported' that Intel/Micron were going to get into the SSD market. After all affordable SSDs are very desirable, never mind affordable/very good performing SSDs. That, and I knew if Intel got into the market, that we would not have these half-fast implementations that we're seeing now from these so called 'SSD manufactures'. Well, even Intel is not impervious to screw ups, but they usually learn by their mistakes quickly, and correct them. Micron (most notably Crucial) from my experience does not like to be anything but the best in what they do, so to me this seemed like a perfect team, in a perfect market. Does this mean I think Micron is the best ? Not necessarily. Lets me just say that after years of dealing with Crucial, I have a very high opinion of Crucial/Micron.

    "What can we conclude here? SSDs can be good for gaming, but they aren't guaranteed to offer more performance than a good HDD; and Intel's X25-M continues to dominate the charts."

    Are we reading the same charts ? These words coming from the mouth of someone who sometimes mentions even the most minuscule performance difference as being a 'clear winner' ? Regardless, I think it *is* clear to anyone willing to pay attention to the charts that the Intel SSD "dominates". Now whether the cost of admission is worth this performance gain is another story altogether. I was slightly surprised to see a performance gain in FPS just by changing HDDS, and to be honest I will remain skeptical. I suppose that some data that *could* effect FPS performance could be pulled down while the main game loop is running.

    Either way, this is a good article, and there was more than enough information here for me(a technology junky). Now lets hope that Intel lowers the cost of these drives to a more reasonable price(sooner rather than later). The current price arrangement kind of reminds me of CD burner prices years ago.
    Reply

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