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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  • mindless1 - Thursday, September 11, 2008 - link

    Sometimes the cure is worse than the problem. Reply
  • Gannon - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    Don't worry derek I still heart you guys! :P

    Here's some cool software to check out (they have free trial version)

    http://www.whitesmoke.com/landing_flash/free_hotfo...">http://www.whitesmoke.com/landing_flash...otforwor...

    Maybe it will help escape complaints from the grammar nazi's, I think a lot of grammar is BS anyway. Language evolves constantly. It's a flexible tool to communicate.
    Reply
  • Nihility - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    An excellent review. The benchmark results were always confusing in the past. No one would try to explain why an SSD with seemingly superior specs can't outperform a 7200 drive in media test. Thanks for putting the time in to resolve this issue.

    As for buying a drive like that, the price is still too steep for me to consider and you definitely made it clear that buying a jmicro SSD is out of the question.
    As for further testing, I'm very interested in seeing how a good SSD performs as an external drive over USB. The robustness and sturdiness of the drive is very important for something you lug around. We all know how bad bandwidth is over USB but I wonder how the latency will fair.

    Keep up the good work.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    One of the other reviews I read said this SSD's controller will learn hard drive usage patterns, and get faster over time. Any tests of this feature? Reply
  • leexgx - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    not sure how thay can lern

    i did wunder why thay never put any DRAM buffer on SSD drives as i was expecting SSD to suffer badly from lack of buffer any MLC drives basicly suck (16kb buffer per flash chip) unless its the intel MLC drive lol or an SLC drive seem mostly ok, but an intel SLC going to rock when thay get tested
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    The Intel drive will learn hard drive usage patterns however it does so over an extremely long period of time, not something I could develop a test for in my time with the drive.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • whatthehey - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    ...that doesn't think too much about HDD performance, particularly when we're talking about insane prices. Sure, rebooting and reloading all of your apps will feel much faster. Personally, when I reboot I walk into the kitchen or bathroom, walk back a few minutes later, and I don't notice the delays. Not to mention, I only reboot about once a month (usually when nVidia releases a new driver that I need to install).

    Another major problem I have is the tests as an indication of the "real world". Take the whole antivirus thing. I hate AV software and software firewalls, which is why I don't use Norton, AVG, Avast, McAfee or any other product that kills performance, sucks up memory, and only prevents virii/trojans after an update. AV software is just a BS excuse to pay a $60/year subscription and get nags every time your subscription expires. So there's on "real" scenario I don't ever encounter.

    Archive extraction can be pretty disk intensive as well, but how often do you need to extract a 5GB archive? Okay, so let's say you're a pirate and you do that daily... great. Now you can extract faster, but you have an SSD that can only hold 14 or so large archives. It's a nice illustration of SSDs being faster, but it's completely impractical. I have a 1TB drive just for all the movies, images, music, and disc images I have floating around.

    The tests show that SSDs can help a lot, but I for one use capacity far more. Between several games, my standard apps, and Vista I think I would use most of the 80GB. Then I think of the price and I could grab a couple VelociRaptors or even four 1TB Samsung F1 drives. I'll be truly impressed when I can get at least 320GB of SSD for less than $200. Actually, it's more like I want a good SSD with a reasonable capacity for under $100. Until then I'll just stick with my slower drives and avoid worst-case situations where HDD performance is a problem as much as possible.

    The article was good, and I appreciate the info on the MLC issues with JMicron. That confirms my suspicion that inexpensive flash drives are worse than standard mechanical drives. Intel has addressed the problem, but price is now back to where we were last year it seems. I guess the real problem is that I'm just not enough of an "enthusiast" to spend this much money on 80GB of storage... not counting stuff like that old 4GB hard drive back in the day that set me back over $200. Give it a few more cycles and I think I'll be ready for SSDs.

    PS - Also, who cares about $600 CPUs when you can buy $200 CPUs and overclock to higher performance levels? I don't think we'll ever see overclocked SSDs or HDDs.
    Reply
  • DerekWilson - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    i wouldn't be so sure about not seeing overclocked SSD ...

    as this article points out, intel puts a focus on reliability ... but to do so they do sacrifice performance. the voltage applied to the transistors to store data is calibrated to write the cells quickly while maintaining a good life span. a higher voltage could be applied that would allow the cells to be written faster but would reduce the number of writes that a cell could handle.

    if intel says 100gb a day for 5 years ... i don't need that by a long shot. i would be very willing to sacrifice a lot of that for more speed.

    i actually spoke with intel about the possibility of overclocking their ssd drives at idf -- it is something that could be done as it is controlled via the firmware of the drive. if intel doesn't convolute their firmware too much or if they allow enthusiasts to have the necessary control over settings at that level we could very well see overclocked SSDs ...

    which would be very interesting indeed.
    Reply
  • shabby - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    I was so close in buying one of those ocz drives, in fact the reason i didnt buy it was because it was a special order that took 2 weeks.
    Excellent write up, especially about the jmicron/mlc "glitch".
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Monday, September 08, 2008 - link

    Any reason why the WD GP drive does so well in the multitasking test? Even better than the VelociRaptor? Reply

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