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
NAND IMFT 34nm MLC IMFT 25nm MLC
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
NAND IMFT 50nm SLC IMFT 25nm eMLC
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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  • jwilliams4200 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Anand:

    I would expect the write lifespan to be directly proportional to the SSD capacity.

    For example, if you had said 7.5, 15, 30, 60 TB lifespans for the 80, 160, 300, 600GB SSDs, then it would make perfect sense to me.

    But this "30TB - 60TB" spec for "80/160/300/600GB" SSDs is hard to believe.

    Can you clarify the relationship between lifespan and capacity with Intel?
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    I believe it's not just lifespan but over provisioning that matters as well, the latter we don't have any indication of at this point.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    True, but for that to make sense, the SMALLER capacity SSDs would need to have a higher over-provisioning percentage than the larger SSDs. Just looking at the capacities (300 instead of 320, 600 instead of 640), it seems likely that the larger SSDs have higher percentage over-provisioning.

    But as you say, there is no clear indication from Intel.
    Reply
  • Jack.FX - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    X25-M 80GB can handle only 7.5TB writes??? Well, that means, that my SSD should be dead already. I've already 9.5 TB host writes, SSD seems to work fine, media wearout indicator is at 96%. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    That's the minimum lifespan, you can obviously exceed it :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • -=Hulk=- - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    4KB Random Writes (Drive Lifespan)

    -> 4KB writes!
    Reply
  • Jack.FX - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Can you explain why random writes lifespan should be any different from "normal" writes lifespan?

    Anyway, my SSD is heavily fragmented, because I turned NTFS compression on. 80 GB is a little bit too small and 160GB cost a little bit too much for me. Therefore most of writes on my SSD are random. I also encrypted whole SSD with Truecrypt (that disables TRIM). Still, performance is quite good.
    Reply
  • jwilliams4200 - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    Random 4KB writes will have much higher write amplification than larger block sequential writes. Higher write amplification means that more flash memory gets written compared to the actual user data that is written. More flash memory being written means a shorter lifetime. Reply
  • Alexander Morou - Saturday, February 26, 2011 - link

    I contacted Intel about this same question. The 7.5TB write threshold refers to the writes per cell. So the 9.5 TB host writes for the entire drive is of little concern, unless you've written to every cell with 7.5 TB of data, then you'd have a problem, but until then, it's nothing to worry about. Reply
  • XZerg - Tuesday, October 05, 2010 - link

    What the heck!?!?!? This is pretty much in line with a mechanical drives - what is the power advantage now? Except for idle consumption:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3734/seagates-moment...
    Reply

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