Intel’s X-25M solid-state hard drive represents a major leap forward for the solid-state drive category. While we’ve heard about the benefits of solid-state hard drives for years–faster access and boot times, improved battery life–Intel’s drive raises expectations for the category as a whole. You will most definitely have to pay more for it. Intel’s official pricing is $595 per 1,000 units for our 80GB model, and actual pricing for individual units is more like $700 at online retailers. That gives this drive the worst gigabyte-to-dollar ratio among competing products. But if improving performance is your main concern, the Intel X-25M is the clear winner, and we recommend it to those of you for whom price is unimportant..
Instead of storing data on traditional hard disks, solid-state drives use large blocks of flash-based NAND memory, which means these drives have no moving parts to malfunction over time. With no physical platter to spin like traditional hard drives, SSDs are faster at accessing data, and they also use less power and generate less heat, of particular benefit to laptops.
At the time of this review, Intel only offers one 80GB capacity drive, but it’s available in 2.5-inch and 1.8-inch sizes for compatibility with a variety of modern desktops and laptops. The Serial ATA data and power inputs on the Intel drive mirror those of other SSDs as well as traditional hard drives, so while you may need drive rails to adapt it to a desktop chassis, the physical cable connections remain unchanged.
As exciting as we find SSDs, and in particular Intel’s new model, their limitations are not insignificant to the average consumer. As you can see from our chart below, the price-per-gigabyte of a typical 160GB desktop hard drive is almost 10 times less than that of previous generation SSD drives, and almost 25 times that of Intel’s new model. That makes the value proposition for Intel’s new SSD, from a pure-gigabytes-per-dollar perspective, very hard to stomach.
You should also keep in mind that because of the nature of flash memory technology, solid-state hard drives have a relatively well-defined time before failure. An article by Robert Hallock at Icrontic.com called “The Hows and Whys of SSDs” provides a more in-depth, but also accessible description of the issue. The gist is that you get about 100,000 read-write cycles before the memory will wear out. As Hallock puts it, “While 100,000 cycles seems slight, it’s more than 100GiB of new information written to the disk every day for five years before approaching failure.” Perhaps your drive usage is more demanding, and if so, you’d be wise to weigh it carefully before springing for Intel’s expensive new drive.
To test the performance of Intel’s X-25M drive, we installed it in a Dell Inspiron E1505 laptop with a 2GHz dual-core processor and 32-bit Windows Vista Ultimate. For comparison we used a 200GB Seagate Momentus laptop hard drive with a 7,200rpm access speed (most traditional laptops drives are rated to 5,400rpm), and a 128GB Patriot Warp V.2 solid-state drive.
First, we installed Windows Vista Ultimate separately onto each clean drive and copied over our standard 10GB folder that we use for all hard-drive benchmark tests. Next, we performed a combined read and write test by measuring the time it took for the hard drive to copy all 10GB to another folder on the disk. We also ran our laptop battery drain test, which gauges how long a laptop will last on battery power while playing a movie. Finally, we subjected each drive to a boot speed test, hand timing how long it took to go from pressing the power button to a ready-to-go-Windows cursor.
The Intel X-25M was the clear winner on every test. Its read/write access speed was just under twice as fast as either the Patriot solid-state drive or Seagate’s 7,200rpm laptop hard drive. We’re also particularly impressed by the battery drain test, wherein the Intel drive kept our Dell laptop running for almost 20 minutes longer than its competition. And while its boot time advantage might be less dramatic, the Intel drive still maintained an observable edge. The verdict is clear, then: the Intel drive is faster, and will keep your laptop running longer, than either a traditional hard drive or its solid-state competition.
While it might not be surprising that the X-25M outperformed a traditional hard drive, we were impressed at the extent to which the Intel drive surpassed the Patriot SSD. Intel attributes its advantage to a ground-up design philosophy that’s more thorough than its SSD competitors. If the proof is in the benchmarks, Intel seems to have achieved its goal. The prices need to come way down on solid-state drives before they achieve mainstream acceptance. The capacity also needs to increase for them to compete with standard hard drives for the sheer amount of data they can hold. But for gamers, travelers, digital media creators, or anyone for whom performance or battery life are the most important factors in buying or building a computer, Intel’s X-25M has shown that it is at least the best-performing internal storage device on the market.