We talk with Robert Allshouse, Business Development manager of Intel's NAND group. He talks about Intel's SSDs which are now hitting mass production. The products are guaranteed to work from 0c-70c. They use less power and take far more of a beating than their disk counterparts. Just get ready to unload your wallet.


Rob Wray: Hi, my nameís Rob from MP3 Car. Weíre here at CES 2009 at Intelís booth, and Rob from Intel is here with us giving us a quick demo of some of their memory thatís been in the press recently. So youíve got three different modules of memory here which are all very interesting.

So this guy here, heís an eighty gigabyte module that sells for what? About $500 on New Egg? This guyís about, is $1,000, and how ĖĖ

Intelís Robert Allshouse: Thatís 160 gigabyte. And this little one down here is another eighty gigabyte. Itís the same drive in a slightly smaller form factor for your more small form factor net tops and other smaller applications.

Rob Wray: Okay.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: Using a micro static connector instead of the standard static.

Rob Wray: So how long do these last?

Intelís Robert Allshouse: The typical life for the consumer level drives is theyíre expected a five-year useful life, and that useful life is at a ten-gigabyte write per day.

Rob Wray: Right.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: So since the technology has finite write cycles. You can read as much as you want, so itís a read-intensive application. By continually reading maps from there, youíre not affecting the life.

Rob Wray: Right. So you were telling me a little bit before about multilevel drives. So the multilevel drives, you can write two bits of data per transistor, and the single level drives you can write one bit of data per transistor. So it sounded to me like most of our readers are really going to be interested in the multilevel, because you get the same read performance off the multilevel versus the single level, and just your write performance is degraded, and it sounds like with five years writing ten gigs a day, the MLC is going to capture everybody unless youíre trying to run a database server or something with tons of writes.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: Thatís right. The SLC drives, our thirty-two and sixty-four gigabyte drives, at near the same price points, are really focused on those sequel server guys with high write intensive applications. The five-year useful life for these drives is for most consumers plenty, and itís actually more than enough. The difference in the writes as you were saying, itís about seventy megabytes per second write on the MLC drive. And itís 150 megabytes per second write on the SLC drive.

Rob Wray: Right.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: The reads are about the same. They both flood the SATA bus at about 250 megabytes per second in reading. So youíre read performance between the consumer level and the enterprise level drive are the same.

Rob Wray: We were also talking about boot times. So boot times you said was one of the least impressive benefits out of flash, but a lot of people that we work with decide to resume from hibernate, and since thatís just a read application we should get a pretty good boost and resume from hibernate, but not boost Ė booting.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: Yeah, you definitely Ė I mean, you see definite improvements in your boost. You know, five, ten seconds. But a lot of whatís happening, if you go look at a boot demo side by side, youíll see the IO light is not flashing as much because itís going so much faster, but youíre still waiting. And there are a lot of other things that happen during boot besides just IO.

Iím less impressed by that as much as something like hibernate, or really application load performance. Because application load where youíre random IO performance shows the huge difference, and youíll see a demo on that where you can see you know, files transferring and applications loading immediately in real time.

Rob Wray: Well, letís get into that demo.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: Alright. So the primary purpose of this demo is to show how while file transfers are happening in large applications, you donít slow down the rest of your system. So right now weíre copying a 680-meg set of files, at the same time weíre going to open up Picasso, look at six large pictures, create a collage, and then choose another IO-intensive application like opening up iTunes, which then looks in your folders, sees if there are new songs to look for, all while thatís happening. And this takes about thirty seconds before the collage is done, and playing.

Rob Wray: So the CES show floor is loaded with tons of vendors, probably hundreds of vendors, trying to sell you memory for your laptop. Whatís the difference between stuff that would go in an inexpensive laptop or itís floating all around the halls versus what we see here?

Intelís Robert Allshouse: So there definitely is a big difference, and theyíre all based on the same NAN technology with the exception of MLC and SLC, but really underlying it is NAN. But what you do for say additional camera where youíre writing maybe a couple hundred times maximum in the life of the drive, and youíre writing at the speed of moving a five-megapixel image or maybe even high def video at thirty megabytes per second, itís different than what youíre trying to do on a laptop. And so you do have different rates.

The most simple grade would be a USB or an SD card, and those are designed around consumers who are just moving small amounts of data rarely. Youíre not using it all day, every day. And then you move to your net top, net book type design, where itís still small density and itís off-the-shelf components building a small density low cost SSD. And at the high end, you have some drives like this one that have architecture design and route very high performance. Ten channels and parallel operating versus maybe two or four in the lower end drives for net book type applications.

Rob Wray: Right. So the other thing you guys have done, you were telling me before is youíve written some Ė in your controllers, youíve written things to optimize the write processes so itís faster. You have more DRAM and things like that that you wouldnít see in consumer grade.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: Absolutely. A problem inherent in technology behind these is you canít write a single bit, and so what you may run into is depending on how a vendor writes their algorithms, they may have to do two, four, ten times the amount of writes to change the amount of data they want to change. Weíve optimized that to get down to about 1.1 times. The termís called write amplification. So it says that if youíre at two times versus one time, youíre getting half useful life. Weíre only doing about 10% extra writes and weíre best in class in the industry.

Rob Wray: Thatís great. Well, thanks for taking the time to give us such a thorough interview.

Intelís Robert Allshouse: My pleasure. Thank you, Rob.

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