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The market of solid state drives is growing up at a rapid rate, the manufacturers regularly announcing new models. Most importantly, the competition has led to the long-anticipated decline in prices. Although flash memory itself does not get cheap too fast, the relatively large production volumes, especially compared with early SSDs that used to be nearly unique products, leaves some elbowroom for price maneuvering for the manufacturers. It is due to the competition, too, that they have to look for new customer-oriented options and extend their product range. For example, one of the SSDs to be tested today, the Intel X25-V, is the result of such extension into the low-end market sector. The rest of the products are quite exciting as well. We’ve got an updated V series model from Kingston whereas the other two SSDs represent the first steps of Western Digital, the famous HDD maker, in this field.

It is also the first time we will apply our new testing methodology to solid state drives. Let’s now take a look at each of the products we are about to test.

Testing Participants

Intel X25-V SSDSAM040G2GC, 40 GB

 

Products from Intel should be well known to everyone who is interested in solid state drives. It was Intel that, with its X25-M and X25-E series, dramatically changed our notions about SSDs based on MLC flash memory as those series were absolutely free from the previously common problem of low random writing performance. This dramatic improvement was achieved by means of a 10-channel controller that was very effective at caching requests as well as at distributing them among the memory cells, which is not an easy matter when it comes to flash memory. The tradeoff for such an impressive performance was that those SSDs had a lower sequential write speed than their opponents.

Later on, the X25-M series was revised. It acquired flash memory manufactured on thinner tech process (which helped double the top storage capacity), a larger cache (32 instead of 16 megabytes) and an updated controller. The second-generation controller features TRIM, a special command that helps prevent performance degradation of write operations (you can learn more about it from our earlier review).

And now we’ve got the new models. The letter E in the name of the X25-E series is for Extreme whereas the letter M in “X25-M” is for Mainstream. Thus, the new X25-V series is obviously a Value one. In fact, it was made out of the 80GB second-generation X25-M by cutting the number of flash memory modules in half. So, this SSD has only five memory access channels but the rest of its features have been inherited from its progenitor including the excellent controller, 32 megabytes of cache and TRIM (as well as NCQ support). The flash memory did not change. It is the same MLC flash memory of the joint Intel and Micron manufacture. The reduced number of memory access channels has an expected effect on the product specifications: the declared read and write speeds are 170 and 32 MBps, respectively. The series includes only one model with a capacity of 40 gigabytes but an 80GB model is expected in Q4 2010.

The price of this model is affordable indeed, so we are going to carry out an interesting experiment. We will benchmark the performance of a RAID0 array built out of two such SSDs. On one hand, this is but slightly more expensive than one 80GB X25-M drive, but on the other hand, this RAID array built using the driver for Intel’s South Bridge is free for the user. Many people may want to increase the capacity or performance of their disk subsystem, so we will see if you can do that by simply adding a second SSD to your existing one.

Simple rails for installing the SSD into a standard 3.5-inch disk bay are included into the kit. This is a good example for all other manufacturers as such rails do not cost much considering the price of the SSD itself. Users will be glad to find a means to install the SSD into their computers easily.

The firmware version of this SSD is 2CV102HD.

Intel X25-E SSDSA2SH032G1GN, 32 GB

 

A model from this series participated in our tests once, but we now want to check out the 32GB one, especially as we’ve changed our testbed and testing methods. We also want to see how this small-capacity server-oriented product based on SLC flash memory compares with the newer products. It uses Intel’s first-generation controller and does not support TRIM. It has specified read and write speeds of 250 and 170 MBps, respectively.

We wonder what disk subsystem will be faster: this rather expensive SSD or a couple of affordable X-25V drives combined into a RAID array.

The firmware version of this SSD is 045C8860.

 
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