The X25-M was a tremendous first attempt by Intel to get into the SSD market. In our review of the SSD I wrote that Intel just Conroe’d the SSD market, and if it weren’t for the pesky 80MB/s sequential write speed limitation the X25-M would’ve been given the title: World’s Fastest Drive.

Its successor, the X25-M G2, was a mild update that brought prices down through the use of 34nm NAND. Remember that Intel is also 49% owner of the IMFT joint venture and as a result can be quite competitive on NAND pricing (and quite early to adopt new NAND technologies).

Intel’s goal all along was to drive down the cost of SSDs. Looking at the history of MSRPs with the X25-M (not to mention the M, which stood for Mainstream in the product name) this shouldn’t come as a surprise:

Intel X25-M Pricing History
  2008 2009
40GB - $125
80GB $595 $225
160GB $1000+ $440

The third generation X25-M was to drive down costs even further, this time thanks to Intel’s 25nm NAND. You’d be able to get twice the capacity at the same price point as the X25-M G2. The value drive would be an 80GB offering, the mainstream drive would be 160GB and the high end drive would be 320GB.

The drive would offer higher performance. The controller was to be completely redesigned, with the “oversight” that limited sequential write speed to only 100MB/s corrected entirely. In addition, the third generation Intel SSD would add full disk encryption - making it even better suited for enterprise customers. Going after the enterprise market was Intel’s plan to really make money on SSDs in the long run. Instead of just selling corporations a CPU, chipset and wireless controller in a notebook, there would be an SSD on top of all of that. Perhaps eventually even have some security software courtesy of McAfee.

The third generation X25-M was originally due out in the middle of 2010. As is usually the case with schedules, the “G3” slipped. The middle of the year became the end of the year and the end of the year became Q1 2011.

To make matters worse, the specifications Intel was talking about for its third generation drive/controller weren’t all that competitive. We published the details last year knowing that the competition would do better. Intel’s redesigned controller was late and underperforming. Internally, Intel knew it had a problem.

Intel aimed for the majority of the market with the X25-M, it had set its sights on lowering cost, but it left the high performance enthusiast market entirely uncared for. A void that SandForce filled quite nicely with its unique brand of controllers.

With a hole in the roadmap and an unwillingness to cede complete control of the high end market to SandForce, Intel did the unthinkable: developed a new SSD based on a competing controller technology.

Intel’s SSD 510 Powered by Marvell
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  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Like Anand I'm shocked Intel went this route. After touting the random read/write so heavily (and for good reason) they pull this stunt and look horrible. I'm an owner of an 80gig G2 and love it but have been in the process of justifying an upgrade so I can put the 80gig in my laptop. I'm willing to sacrifice a bit of sequential performance (just like I did with the G2 over other competitors), but this is a complete step backwards.

    And remember the review unit was the larger drive. Put the 120gig version in those benchmarks and the critical numbers that are so low to start with are only going to become much worse. Just like all of the previous releases due to high cost the majority of people will be purchasing the smaller-sized drives (most people bought Intel 80gig when 160gig was out, etc.).

    When you are competing on firmware only, and that firmware is not the best to begin with (in comparison to Sandforce), you have to be perfect, and in this case Intel just didn't produce.

    Very disappointed indeed.
  • Concillian - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    "After touting the random read/write so heavily (and for good reason) they pull this stunt and look horrible."

    They don't look horrible, they are 2nd or 1st in most of the real world tests, Improving on the G2 performance.

    Random performance is lower, but the real world tests demonstrate that random performance has reached a point where it is "enough" for typical workloads.
  • semo - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Whose real world are we talking about here? Average Joe "real world", mainstream "real world", enthusiast "real world"... you get the idea.

    As an average user (net browsing, office apps, flash gaming, etc...) this sort of performance is great. However, the same user would benefit just as much from a much cheaper 60GB SSD. The 510 is neither cheap overall or in $/GB sense. My "real world" is using VMs and lot's of tests involving high QDs and IOPS so this drive is not for me... At that price, capacity and performance, I don't know who this drive is for.
  • TEAMSWITCHER - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    It's a bit surprising that the Crucial C300 (on the 6 GB/s) interface did so well in the real world benchmarks. This drive is a year old and still competitive. Newegg had them on sale a couple weeks ago for only $480.00. Which is a bargain compared to the $615.00 for the Intel 510. This is an interesting technology to watch, with lots of plot twists and upsets. I can't wait to see the crucial M4.
  • Lonesloane - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    I see the price point of the new Intel 510 drives extremely critical. Intel have always charged more than the competition and got away with it due to the fact that on the other hand there was the good quality, compatibility and reliablity of their SSD products.

    Now it seems like a clear win for Sandforce, especially if we take the superior write amplification of the sandforce controller, which is a big advantage regarding the reduced write cycles of the new 25nm NAND.
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    You have to tell them to stop sending you Ferraris because no one buys Ferraris. The 120GB versions of both the OCZ and Intel drives are much more relevant, and we dont have the foggiest clue how they line up. And even if we did, we would not know how the 40/60/80 GB versions stack up against each other. I am currently shopping for a 40-60GB SSD and I cannot even to this day get a clear answer on which product is better (performance per dollar). And all of these drives have been out for at least year....
  • 7Enigma - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    Exactly. I posted above about this and it will seriously hurt Intel as the poor random read/write will only become worse.
  • Concillian - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    "I am currently shopping for a 40-60GB SSD and I cannot even to this day get a clear answer on which product is better (performance per dollar). And all of these drives have been out for at least year.... "

    This is a concern and all you really need to know is how they reduce capacity.

    They can do it by reducing the number of chips (usually will see a performance hit)
    They can do it by using the same number of chips, but each stores less (usually will perform about the same)

    When you look at the OCZ 25nm "debacle" it was this very decision that created the issue. The 25nm flash itself was not the problem (even though that got a fair bit of the blame)... it was how they implemented it. They used half the 25nm higher density chips in the drives, reducing performance. This also meant reserving one block for over-provision meant it was larger in size, so that ate into the usable capacity. The solution still uses 25nm chips, but they're the same number of chips as 34nm, so they perform at about the same level.

    There probably needs to be a chart at the beginning like the video card articles showing details for each drive. It would clear up any issues, as well as something that can be referred to in the future. I refer to the old video card reviews when looking for things like ROP / texture counts, memory bandwidth, speeds, etc... because those charts have really useful information in them.
  • jnmfox - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    We need a round-up of OS boot drives (40/60/80 GB). I love my 80GB G2 but I’m not interested in paying more than $200, hopefully less, for an SSD.
  • Stargrazer - Wednesday, March 2, 2011 - link

    I too would love to see the numbers for the 128(-ish) GB versions.

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