2011 seems to be the year that Solid State Drives (SSD) will move into the mainstream. Manufacturers are dropping the prices of this technology to help integrate them into more user systems. It has been well documented that SSD perform much faster than their mechanical platter driven brethren and other than adding memory to one’s computer the next best way to improve performance is the addition of a Solid State Drive.

Intel, well known for its CPUs also makes Solid State Drives and their X-25M drive is regarded as one of the most reliable and economical SSD’s on the market. This model has gone through a few revisions and the current one is aimed at the mainstream market. This version of the X25-M Mainstream is based on 34-nanometer (nm), multi-level cell (MLC) NAND flash technology and is aimed at mobile and desktop clients. It has advertised speeds of up to 250 MB/s on reads and up to 70 MB/s on writes.

At the current price points, SSDs are not about capacity but more about speed. Unless you wish to spend a lot of money on a larger capacity SSD most models should be used for running the operating system and leaving the data storage for a mechanical hard drive. To make this SSD more enticing Intel has dropped its SSD price making them even more competitive with other SSD brands.

The Intel X25-M MAINSTREAM comes packaged in a blue cardboard box with the model name and drive capacity printed on the front. The back shows an image of the drive along with some additional information in several languages.

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Inside the package we find the Intel X25-M Mainstream solid-state drive along with a pamphlet, CD with install and warranty instructions, a 3.5" drive adapter, two sets of screws and an Intel SSD sticker. Does your SSD rock? The Intel one does!

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The drive comes protected in an anti-static bag. The X25-M Mainstream is silver with a surrounding black plastic border designed to make the drive the same size as a 2.5” hard drive.

Within this border is a label with the model and serial number along with drive capacity and firmware version. The back of the drive has the standard SATA and power connectors.

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On the sides and bottom of the drive are screw holes for mounting the device. If installing the X25-M Mainstream into a desktop Intel provides a 3.5" adapter.

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Specifications:

Intel X25-M Mainstream (SSDSA2MH080G2R5) SATA Solid-State Drive

Intel Mainstream SATA Solid-State Drive (34nm NAND Flash Memory Product Line)
Model Name Intel X25-M Mainstream SATA Solid-State Drive
NAND Flash Components Intel Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND Flash Memory 10 Parallel Channel Architecture with 34nm MLC ONFI 1.0 NAND
Bandwidth Sustained Sequential Read: up to 250 MB/s
Sustained Sequential Write: up to 70 MB/s
Read Latency 65 microseconds
Write Latency 85 microseconds
Random I/O Operations Per Second (IOPS)1 Random 4 KB Reads: up to 35,000 IOPS Random 4 KB Writes: 80 G X25/X18-M – up to 6,600 IOPS
Interface SATA 1.5 Gb/s and 3.0 Gb/s
Form Factor, Height, and Weight X25-M: 2.5 ̈ Industry Standard Hard Drive Form Factor
• 7 mm – 76 grams +/- 2 grams
• 9.5 mm – 80 grams +/- 2 grams
Compatibility SATA revision 2.6 compliant. Compatible with SATA 3 Gb/s with Native Command Queuing and SATA 1.5 Gb/s interface rates
Life Expectancy 1.2 million hours Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF)
Power Consumption Active: 150 mW Typical (PC workload2) Idle (DIPM): 75 mW Typical
Operating Shock 1,500 G/0.5 ms
Operating Temperature0°C to +70°C
RoHS and Halogen Free Compliance Meets the requirements of EU Lead Free and Halogen Free Compliance Directives

Available Tools Download the firmware update at www.intel.com/go/ssdfirmware Download the Intel SSD Toolbox with Intel SSD Optimizer at www.intel.com/go/ssdtoolbox

High-Performance Storage for Notebook and Desktop PCs
Intel Solid-State Drives represent a revolutionary breakthrough that delivers a giant leap in storage performance. Intel Solid-State Drives are designed to satisfy the most demanding gamers, media creators, and technology enthusiasts. These new drives bring a high level of performance and reliability to notebook and desktop PC storage, at a fraction of the cost of the previous generation of Intel SSD products.

Wait Less. Do More.
Why wait for a traditional hard disk drive to spin up? Unlike traditional hard disk drives, Intel Solid-State Drives have no moving parts, resulting in a quiet, cool, highly rugged storage solution that also offers faster system responsiveness. And for notebook PCs, the lower power needs of Intel Mainstream SATA SSDs translate to longer battery life and lighter notebooks. Higher performance with more durability means you can be truly mobile with confidence.

Better by Design
Drawing from decades of memory engineering experience, and new industry leading, compute-quality 34nm NAND Flash memory manufacturing processes, Intel Mainstream SATA SSDs are designed to deliver outstanding performance. They feature the latest generation native SATA interface with an advanced architecture employing 10 parallel NAND flash channels equipped with multi-level cell NAND flash memory. With powerful Native Command Queuing to enable up to 32 concurrent operations, Intel Mainstream SATA SSDs deliver higher input/output per second and throughput performance than other SSDs on the market today—and drastically outperform traditional hard disk drives. These drives also feature low write amplification and a unique wear-leveling design for higher reliability; meaning Intel drives not only perform better, they last longer.

Featuring the Intel SSD Toolbox with Intel SSD Optimizer
The Intel SSD Toolbox with Intel SSD Optimizer provides a set of applications to easily manage the health and optimize the performance of your Intel SSD. The Toolbox includes a powerful set of management, information, and diagnostic tools, and is designed to work best with 34nm Intel® SSDs. The Intel SSD Optimizer utilizes the new ATA Data Set Management Command (Trim Attribute) to help maintain your SSDs performance at “fresh-out-of-the-box” levels, and is specifically designed to run with Microsoft Windows 7.* Intel SSD Optimizer also works with Windows Vista and XP as well.

Most SSD reviews test the drive using Windows 7 running a host of synthetic and real world benchmarks. Since this drive has been pretty widely reviewed we decided to see how the Intel X25-M Mainstream would affect the performance of an older machine. For testing a venerable yet popular 2006 Black MacBook was used to see if the Intel X25-M Mainstream could breathe new life into this Apple Intel based laptop.

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The MacBook spec’s include an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz with 1 GB of 667 DDR2 memory. It is operating with a Hitachi 80 GB (HTS542580) 5400 2.5" hard drive; thus we are not sacrificing storage by replacing it with the Intel X25-M Mainstream 80 GB.

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Both drives were formatted using the Apple Disk Utility and then a fresh installation of Snow Leopard (10.6.0) was performed off an install DVD. Subsequently the OS X 10.6.5 Combo Update and Software Update application was run and all available updates were installed.

Each of these installations was timed and we see six minutes shaved off the initial install and three minutes off the Combo Update and Software updates.

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Next we timed the boot up and shut down times and took the average of five testings. Start up time went from 41.3 seconds using a mechanical hard drive to 18.1 seconds with the Intel SSD; while the shut down times were about a second or two different.

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For comparison a MacBook Air (2010) had a boot up time of 10.8 seconds. This time disparity may have to do with the Serial ATA (1.5 Gb/s) found in the older MacBook.

Next the Mac benchmarking program X-Bench was used to test the Hitachi hard drive and Intel X25-M Mainstream SSD run MacBook. Switching to the SSD improved the system score from 111.03 to 170.21. Running X-Bench on the MacBook Air yielded a score of 163.66.

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Looking at the Disk Test we see the Intel X-25-M’s advertised speeds were met on the writes in the 70s MB/sec but did not reach the 250 MB/sec on the reads which is most likely due to the lack of SATA 3 Gb/s interface on this older MacBook. Despite this fact we still see up to three fold improvements in read speeds with the Intel SSD.

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In everyday use the addition of the Intel X25-M Mainstream 80GB to this now five year old MacBook made it feel like a more modern machine. Applications launched almost instantly. Safari booted in 3 seconds with the SSD compared to 9 seconds on the hard drive, Photoshop CS 4 launched in 11 seconds as opposed to 28 seconds.

Even with the meager 1 GB of RAM the MacBook felt like a new machine with the Intel X25-M Mainstream in place.

The main issue with using the X25-M Mainstream on a Mac is that Intel incorporates their garbage collection through TRIM, which OS X does not currently support. This means drive speed will degrade over time as more data is written to the SSD. This may require eventual reconditioning to regain the SSD’s original speeds.

Some drives such as the newest Kingston SSDNow V+ series incorporate their garbage collection at the firmware level making it an OS agnostic SSD. Hopefully Intel will follow suit, as there are a lot of Macs in the world that would really benefit from an SSD transplant.

Some additional SSD optimizations for OS X can be found at this site. For those who wish to use the X25-M Mainstream with a PC, Intel offers their SSDToolbox at this link.

An alternative way to move an your current OS X install on the SSD is by using an external SATA to USB dock for mounting the Intel X25-M and migrating the information over using Carbon Copy Cloner. Then simply swap out the old hard drive for the SSD one.


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Conclusion:

The Intel X25-M Mainstream 80GB is a competitively priced SSD that offers excellent performance. Aimed for mobile and desktop clients it can breathe new life into an older system or make a cutting edge machine even better. Currently Intel SSDs are optimized to work with Windows 7 machines that can take advantage of TRIM support. Hopefully in the future a firmware upgrade will allow garbage collection to occur at the firmware level or the next version of OS X will support TRIM.

Even with the lack of firmware level garbage collection the Intel X25-M Mainstream is still a great way to turbo charge one’s Mac. Optimally one would like to run just OS X on the SSD and keep the data on a mechanical hard drive but that is not always so simple on a MacBook or iMac as those machines were not readily designed to accommodate two hard drives.

Once you switch to using to using the Intel X25-M Mainstream 80GB as your OS drive on either Windows or OS X you’ll never want to go back to the world of mechanical hard drives again!

9

Pros:
+Fast
+Low power consumption
+Works with both laptop and desktops
+Includes 3.5" adapter
+Brings new life to older laptops/desktops
+Built in TRIM support
+Works with Intel SSD toolbox
+Three-year warranty

Cons:
-Expensive
-Lacks firmware level garbage collection

Grades:  
Overall score-9-10
Design score-9-10
Performance score-9-10

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