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Intel unveils solid-state drives

Posted: 21 Aug 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:solid-state drives  business notebooks  Open NAND Flash Interface  NAND flash chips 

Intel Corp. has introduced a family of solid-state drives (SSDs) claiming significant performance advances over its many competitors. However, the company would not reveal prices.

Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo said they will use the drives on their notebooks and Sun Microsystems said it will use them in its servers. With the new products, HP displaced an existing vendor to use only Intel SSDs as options for all its business notebooks. "Their performance level is head and shoulders above anyone else," hitting levels of throughput near the maximum possible under Windows, said Walter Fry, a notebook architect at HP.

Fry said the Intel SSDs provide as much as 3x the performance of some competitors. HP will not adopt other vendor's drives until they get within ten per cent of the Intel performance, he added.

"Most SSD vendors have products based on flash-card designs, but Intel took a fresh look at how the NAND chips communicate with a system and developed a new controller," said Jim Handy with Objective Analysis.

Handy said he has not yet seen independent benchmarks for the Intel drives. Whatever the performance, SSDs are still expensive at Rs.342.87 ($8) or more per GB compared to prices approaching 25 cents per GB for hard disc drives.

"We don't expect the two to come to parity anytime in the future," said Fry.

Intel said it gets its performance boost from a controller that uses ten parallel channels. The channels support the native command queuing technique of the serial ATA interface enabling up to 32 concurrent operations. Chips in the drives use the Open NAND Flash Interface version 1.0 co-developed by Intel and Micron.

Intel will ship 80GB drives for desktops and notebooks within 30 days and 160GB versions early next year using its multi-level cell NAND flash chips. They will support reads at 250MBps, writes at up to 70MBps and 85µs read latency.

Severs versions based on single-level cell chips, initially at 32GB shipping by the end of the year. A 64GB version will ship early next year. The server drives will support reads at 250MBps, writes at up to 170MBps and 75µs read latency.

The server drives can deliver 35,000 I/O operations/s on a 4KB read and 3,300 IOPS on a 4KB write. The drives come in 1.8-inch and 2.5-inch sizes, similar to hard disks.

Intel said the desktop and notebook drives can last up to five years with writes of up to 100GB/day, far beyond typical user practice. It did not specify lifetime for the server drives.

SSDs have much shorter than the product life times than hard disc drives due to the uneven wearing of flash cells. Intel claims its wear leveling algorithm keeps cell usage to within a four per cent variation across the device.

Intel's initial foray into flash modules for notebooks, its so-called Robson cards used for notebook system cache, failed to gain market traction. That's because the cards had relatively low performance, high prices and were tied to Microsoft Vista. Intel will support new versions of the cards across a wider variety of Windows version with chip sets coming in 2009.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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