Depending on who you believe, the solid-state storage revolution is on the horizon, just over it, a few years away, or already upon us. Analysts, journalists, and forum fanboys can't seem to come to an agreement on exactly where we are in the process. One thing seems certain, though: At least for some markets, it's not a question of if solid-state storage will take over from traditional mechanical hard drives, but when.
Of course, the mechanical hard drive is by no means dead. The torrid pace of platter development is still yielding impressive increases in performance and capacity. But as the price of solid-state alternatives tumbles, SSDs are sure to carve out a niche in the mobile space, where their superior shock tolerance and low power consumption are more important than storage capacity. Solid-state drives won't just make their way into notebooks, though. The near-instantaneous seek time of flash memory offers tantalizing performance potential for any workload dominated by random I/O requests. SSDs aren't nearly as impressive when it comes to sequential transfers, but they're getting faster on that front, too, making them interesting options for high-end desktops, workstations, and servers.
So solid-state drives are going to be big. Very big. And everyone wants a slice of the pie. It's no wonder, then, that industry giant Intel is eager to get in on the action. The company is in a rather unique position to serve the SSD market, too, with expertise not only in the chip manufacturing capability essential to populating a drive with memory, but also in the storage controller design that largely dictates performance.
Intel formally detailed its solid-state drive plans at IDF just a couple of weeks ago, revealing not just a single drive, but an entire collection of products that will trickle out in the coming months. The first of these SSDs to hit the market will be the X25-M, which boasts an impressive 250MB/s sustained read rate, a 70MB/s sustained write rate, 80GB of storage capacity in a 2.5" form factor, and support for Native Command Queuing. Read on to see how this drive stacks up against a mix of solid-state and mechanical alternatives through our exhaustive suite of performance, noise level, and power consumption tests.