A password bug forced Intel to halt shipments of its new 34nm X25-M G2 SSDs after some customers -- including OEM builder Puget Systems -- complained of data corruption if a password is set on the drive in the system BIOS and then is changed or disabled later. Intel was able to hammer out a firmware update that squashes the bug and resume shipments of the new drives.
For those who purchased one of the potentially faulty drives before they were pulled, Intel has posted the firmware update to its website. The firmware applies to both the X25-M and X18-M SSDs on 50nm (black case, G1) and 34nm (silver case, G2), however there are some issues with the latest firmware.
According to Intel, some Nvidia chipset-based systems, including Macs, will not recognize an Intel SSD. The solution? Install the SSD in a different system to update the firmware and then reinstall in the Nvidia rig. Other potential roadblocks include a "known website compatibility" issue with Apple Safari (Intel recommends running Firefox to download the update), and the Firmware update Tool does not support updating SSDs in systems running RAID.
We've longed bemoaned the real-world write performance of most SSDs, which often falls short of the much speedier read speeds. Even worse, surmises HotHardware, is the potential for an SSD's write performance to degrade over time.
"The flash memory used on today's SSDs is comprised of cells that usually contain 4KB pages that are arranged in blocks of 512KB," writes HotHardware. "When a cell is unused, data can be written to it relatively quickly. But if a cell already contains some data -- no matter how little, even if it fills only a single page in the block -- the entire block must be re-written. That means, whatever data is already present in the block must be read, then it must be combined or replaced, etc., with the new additional data, and the entire block is then re-written."
The good news is most manufacturers are attacking the problem head on via firmware. One such example is OCZ's implementation of the Indilinx firmware, which the company plans to include on all Vertex series drives. When the drives are idle, Indilinx and other similar SSD firmware sweep through an SSD's cells looking for and removing so-called "garbage data."
HotHardware got its hands on one of OCZ's new Vertex drives outfitted with the Indilinx firmware and the results are pretty surprising. After "dirtying" the drive with chunks of data, performance degradation became apparent while running the ATTO Disk Benchmark. But after letting the drive sit idle for 5 minutes, performance numbers were nearly restored to new condition.
Solid state drives continue to go through growing pains, and not even Intel can avoid having to beat back bugs in this relatively new market. After some customers reported slowdowns following extended use with the first generation of X25-M SSDs, Intel pushed out a firmware update to fix the problem. Now it appears the company's new 34nm X25-M G2 SSDs are also in need of a firmware update, but for a different problem.
According to OEM system builder Puget Systems, a defect exists in the new drives which causes data corruption if a password is set on the drive in the system BIOS and then is changed or disabled later.
"There was a lot of confusion, but it was clear that something was wrong with these first units - enough so that Newegg and other online vendors had also pulled them entirely from their sites," Puget wrote in a blog. "We too stopped listing them, and began contacting our customers who were expecting us to ship them out this afternoon."
Puget says Intel was able to work out a firmware fix for the problem rather than rework the drives, however the updated firmware won't be available for another two weeks. In the meantime, Intel has stopped shipping the new drives until the fix is fully implemented.
Much to the delight of power users who avoided the temptation of spending too much for too little capacity in Intel's first-generation X25-M solid state drives, the chip maker earlier this week announced a second generation of SSDs with a die shrink (34nm down from 50nm) and reduced pricing. Even better, Intel's latest pricing has at least one competitor reevaluating its own price points.
That competitor is OCZ, who said it plans to reduce prices on its Vertex, Agility, and Colossus SSD lines. Pricing for Intel's 80GB and 160GB X25-M (34nm) check in at $2.81 and $2.75 per GB respectively, while all but one of OCZ's nine drives receiving a price cut will undercut Intel by at least a few cents per GB, with the 128GB Agility expected to cost $2.11 per GB.
While OCZ is so far the only manufacturer to announce price drops, don't be surprised to see other third-party SSD makers forced to do the same as a result of Intel's comparatively aggressively pricing strategy.
Look for OCZ's price cuts to go into effect in the coming weeks.
Thanks to the recent move to 34-nanometer manufacturing, Intel has been able to create a new series of SSDs, which will (eventually) sport higher capacities, and reduce costs. The new price for the 80GB X25-M drive is $225 (a 60 percent decrease from the $595 price tag a year ago). The 160GB version is down to $440, which is down from its introductory price of $945.
Though, we’ll have to wait a bit for higher capacities. According to Intel’s marketing manager for the NAND Products Group, Troy Winslow, “What we decided to do is split 34-nanometer into a two-step process.” The first step will be to cost-reduce existing 80GB and 160GB drives. “And what we'll do later--and it's not even going to be this year but first half of next year--we will introduce, also on 34 nanometer, a performance enhancement and a doubling of the capacity.”
So what does all this mean? Simply, we won’t see drives over 300GB until next year. Still though, the price cuts are very welcome.
Crucial this week announced what it describes as a "revved-up line" of SSD products, while also noting that the M225 series is the fastest, highest capacity Crucial SSDs to date.
"By upgrading their system with a solid-state drive, mobile computer users will enjoy a faster, more rugged system with storage built for mobility. The fact that SSDs don't have any moving parts makes Crucial solid-state drives quieter, cooler, and more durable than traditional hard drives," said Robert Wheadon, Lexar Media's senior worldwide product marketing manager.
The M225 series is available in 64GB (CT64M225), 128GB (CT128M225), and 256GB (CT256M225) capacities with the following speed grades:
256GB: 250MB/s read, 200MB/s write
128GB: 250MB/s read, 190MB/s write
64GB: 200MB/s read, 150MB/s write
The MLC-based drives also sport 64MB of DRAM cache and come with a 5-year warranty. The drives are available now for $160 (64GB), $330 ($128GB), and $600 (256GB).
Following the success of its high performance X25-M solid state drive, Intel is getting back into the SSD game, this time with higher capacity models that will reportedly offer a much better bang-for-buck.
According to German news site Golum.de, Intel's upcoming Postville family of SSDs will top out at 320GB, with both 80GB and 160GB capacities also planned. These will be MLC-based drives built around a 34nm manufacturing process. By comparison, the X25-M is an SLC-based drive.
Even so, the new series should be decent performers if Golum's information is accurate. The site says the Postville family will serve up read speeds over 200MB/s, putting them in line with the rash of high performance SSDs recently being offered by competitors. The new series might also use a new controller.
No official word on price or release date, but Golum did say both the 80GB and 160GB Postville drives will cost less than the X25-M (80GB).
It seems as though SSD manufacturers are increasingly taking aim at the performance market, and that's certainly the case with Corsair's new Extreme Series SSDs.
Available in 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB capacities, the Extreme Series X32, X64, and X128 boast read speeds of up to 240MB/s and write speeds of up to 170MB/s. All three drives also incorporate the Indilinx Barefoot controller and Samsung MLC NAND flash memory.
"The combination of the Indilinx Barefoot controller, Samsung flash memory, and 64MB of on-board cache delivers blistering, stutter-free performance, eliminating the bottleneck imposed by traditional mechanical hard disks," said Jim Carlton, VP of Marketing at Corsair.
In addition, Corsair says its Extreme Series also come with user-upgradeable firmware, which will later add features such as the upcoming TRIM command for Windows 7.
Corsair says the drives are available now, though we didn't spot any being sold at the usual online outlets. Suffice to say, no word on price.
Home users aren't the only ones reluctant to shell out big bucks for low capacity SSDs; companies are too. But while the former might be justified in waiting until the bang-for-buck ratio becomes a bit more favorable, a new report by J. Gold Association says that companies can save money by investing in SSDs right now.
"Our intent was to identify the true costs associated with equipping notebook computers deployed in the enterprise," said Jack Gold, principal analyst at the firm. "We discovered that the savings were very significant for a standard three year cycle."
According to the report, despite the comparatively high cost of SSDs, a company stands to save about $214 over three years and up to $492 if the notebook remains in service for five years. Part of the savings comes from in-warranty repair costs, which J. Gold Association claims averages out to $970 for a notebook with a conventional hard drive, compared to $715 for one equipped with an SSD.
Other reasons for the disparity include lower failure rates and less power consumption.
Several SSD owners have reported intermittent stuttering, a problem that usually creeps up on drives built around a JMicron controller. But according to Patriot, insufficient cache can also be the culprit, and the company's new Torqx M28 series seeks to solve the problem by doubling the amount of DRAM cache from 64MB to 128MB.
"The Torqx series SSDs takes the technology of SSD to the next level," says Meng J. Choo, Patriot's Flash Product Manager. "Competitor non-cache drives suffered from what consumers described as 'stuttering effect' which inhibited the drive performance. Torqx series addresses this issue with a DRAM cache that acts as a buffer for data transfer bottlenecks and increases the random and sequential read and write transfer speeds."
So far available in both 128GB and 256GB capacities, the Torqx M28 come rated at up to 220MB/s sequential read and up to 200MB/s sequential write speeds - respectable, but not earth moving. Somewhat more impressive, the drives come backed by a 10 year warranty, or at least double that of most hard drives.