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Intel tempts with preproduction solid-state drives

Chipmaker uses its developer forum to show off solid-state drives that will ship later this year, while an Intel fellow describes his "addiction" to the drives.

An Intel executive demonstrated upcoming solid-state drives at this week's Intel Developer Forum in Shanghai, noting that the chipmaker is on track to deliver the drives later this year.

Meanwhile, an Intel fellow describes his "addiction" to solid-state drives in a blog posted Wednesday.

Intel solid state drive
Intel solid-state drives Intel
SSDs, if you don't already know, are based on flash memory chip technology and have no moving parts. Hard-disk drives, in contrast, use read-write heads that hover over spinning platters to access and record data. With no moving parts, SSDs avoid both the risk of mechanical failure and the mechanical delays of hard drives. Therefore, SSDs are generally faster and more reliable. The catch is the cost: SSDs are currently much more expensive than hard drives.

Knut Grimsrud, an Intel fellow who leads an R&D group responsible for developing new mainstream storage innovations, described in a blog the difference between using a hard drive and a solid-state drive.

"I played the part of Guinea Pig and had one of our pre-production solid-state drives installed in my IT laptop...I was unprepared for the powerful instant high it gave my system," he said in his blog. There was a "dramatic difference in how my system responded," he noted.

"Then the day came that my SSD was retrieved for data mining...and my original hard-disk was put back into my laptop. There's no way to feel the pain quite as intensely as having to go back."

(Note: I can second Grimsrud's statements. I own a SSD MacBook Air. Once you use an SSD and realize that there is a world without hard drive bottlenecks, a hard-drive-based system seems very old.)

Intel is expected to make an announcement about SSDs in the second quarter.

Features of upcoming Intel SSDs
Features of upcoming Intel solid-state drives Intel

David Perlmutter, executive vice president/general manager of the mobility group, commented at IDF Shanghai on the input/output, or I/O, issues related to hard drives.

"CPUs, graphics, and media chips have improved significantly year after year, but I/O remained very limited in performance," Perlmutter, said. I/O refers to the data transfer speed of the hard drive. Even with the fastest processor in the world, he said, an I/O bottleneck can put a crimp on performance.

Intel currently offers small-capacity chip-level (what are called Thin Small Outline Packages or TSOPs) technology that provides end-product sizes ranging up to 16GB. But this modest line of products will get a big boost in the second quarter when Intel offers 1.8- and 2.5-inch SSDs ranging from 80GB to 160GB in capacity. Intel's SSDs will compete with Samsung, for example, which is slated to bring out a 128GB SSD in the third quarter.

Click here for more stories on IDF Shanghai.