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Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 SSD Performance Update
Date: Oct 26, 2009
Author: Marco Chiappetta
Introduction and Related Information

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In all of our recent solid state disk (SSD) coverage that featured one of Intel's X25-M drives, a common, underlying performance trend consistently emerged. The Intel drives were always amongst the top performers in read performance, and were unquestionably the best with regard to random writes.  However, in sequential write performance Intel X25-M SSDs always seemed to trail competing offerings.

While trying to gain some additional insight into the situation, we had a couple of off the record conversations with some folks at Intel , and asked if the company had any plans to optimize sequential writes on their SSDs, but we didn't get a specific answer other than the standard company line about possible optimization coming with future firmware updates. Based on some rumors we had heard, we also asked if Intel had been deliberately holding back the sequential write performance of their drives for one reason or another, to which we weren't dignified with a response. But today, we can't help but think there was something to those rumors.

Intel 34nm X25-M 160GB Solid State Drive

Intel has just released a firmware update for their 34nm Gen X25-M solid state drives that not only boosts sequential write performance, but adds support for the TRIM feature as well. A performance optimization tool is also being release today, for users of Windows Vista and XP, who won't be able to take advantage of TRIM. Here are a few snips from the official press release with some details:

"On the heels of the Microsoft Windows 7 introduction, Intel Corporation today announced the availability of the Intel Solid-State Drive (SSD) Toolbox, with Intel SSD Optimizer and firmware update, for its 34nm Intel X25-M Mainstream SATA SSDs. The latest tools are designed to help better manage and retain the out-of-box performance of Intel SSDs...

...The Intel SSD Toolbox allows users to more effectively monitor and manage the SSD’s health. The firmware upgrade and Intel SSD Optimizer use the Windows 7 ATA Data Set Management Command (known as Trim) to help keep the Intel SSD running at continued high performance. In addition, the SSD Toolbox and Optimizer also allow the respective enhancements to work with Windows XP and Vista operating systems...

...For 34nm X25-M 160GB owners, the firmware update also offers a performance boost to sequential write speeds by delivering up to 100MB per second, a 40 percent performance improvement over the existing firmware version."

We flashed one of our Intel 34nm Gen 2 X25-M 160GB SSDs with the new firmware and ran a handful of tests under Windows 7 to see what kind of affect it had on performance. Details of the update process and optimization tool are posted on the next page, followed by some before and after benchmarks.

The Update and Optimizer Utility

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Owners thinking about updating the firmware on their 34nm Gen 2 X25-M drives can rest assured that the update process is very easy and straight forward.

Once the update had been downloaded from Intel's support site, users are required to either burn an .ISO image to CD or copy the necessary files to some other bootable device. We chose the CD method. With the .ISO burned to a CD, a bootable disc is created which will automatically run through the update process.

We should note that the SATA controller cannot be configured for RAID mode when performing this update, and the controller must be set to ATA or compatibility mode. With that done, however, simply boot the update CD and follow the on-screen prompts. First, users are asked if they want to perform the update.

Then after a system scan is complete, the utility will update whichever compatible Intel SSDs it finds within the system. The entire process takes no more than a couple of minutes.

Intel warns that there is a chance of data loss when performing the firmware update, but to date, we have not lost a single bit of data when updating an Intel SSD's firmware. Of course, your mileage may vary, so please, record a backup before following through with the update procedure.

As we've mentioned, Intel's new firmware update for their 34nm Gen 2 X25-M SSD also adds support for TRIM. The TRIM attribute of the ATA data set management command synchronizes the operating system’s view of deleted files with those that are deleted, but not erased from the drive. TRIM tells the SSD which data blocks are no longer in use. This helps stabilize the performance and health of the SSD over time.

TRIM will be available natively to users of Windows 7, but not to users of Vista or XP. The new optimizer toolbox also being released today, however, gives users the ability to execute the commands manually to optimize their drives The Toolbox also makes it possible to schedule and run the Optimizer automatically, which Intel recommends be run once a day to ensure maximum performance.

Our Test System and SANDRA

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Our Test Methodologies:  Under each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations.  The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our ATTO benchmark tests. Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Processor -

Motherboard -

Video Card -

Memory -

Audio -

Hard Drives -


Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 965

Gigabyte GA-EX58 UD5
(X58 Express Chipset)

GeForce GTX 280

6144MB Corsair DDR3-1333

Integrated on board

Western Digital Raptor - OS
Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB

Operating System-
Chipset Drivers -
DirectX -

Video Drivers

Relevant Software:
Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit
DirectX 10

NVIDIA ForceWare v191.07

Benchmarks Used:
HD Tach
ATTO ver 2.41
SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP4

For our SiSoft SANDRA testing, we used the Physical Disk test suite. We ran the tests without formatting the drives and read and write performance metrics taked before and after the firmware update are detailed below.  Please forgive the use of these screen captures and thumbnails, which will require a few more clicks on your part.  However, we felt it was important to show you the graph lines in each of the SANDRA test runs, so you are able to see how the drives perform over time and memory location and not just an average rated result.

Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Read Performance Before


Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Read Performance After

Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Write Performance Before

Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Write Performance After

According to SiSoft SANDRA, Intel's firmware update for their 34nm Gen 2 SSDs seems to perform as advertised. Read performance is up slightly but write performance is increased significantly. Before the firmware update, the Intel X25-M offered about ~70MB/s, but after the update that number jumped up to just shy of 100MB/s.

ATTO Disk Benchmark

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ATTO is a more straight-forward type of disk benchmark that measures transfers across a specific volume length.  It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart.  We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes over a total max volume length of 256MB.  This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with NTFS partitions.

ATTO Disk Benchmark - Read/Write Performance
Version 2.41


Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Read / Write Performance Before

Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Read / Write Performance

The ATTO disk benchmark confirms what we saw with SANDRA on the previous page. In this test, the Intel X25-M, post update, offers about the same read performance, but significantly faster write performance. The improvements to write performance are somewhere in the neighborhood of 30%.

HD Tach Performance

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Simpli Software's HD Tach is described on the company's web site as such: "HD Tach is a low level hardware benchmark for random access read/write storage devices such as hard drives, removable drives, flash devices, and RAID arrays. HD Tach uses custom device drivers and other low level Windows interfaces to bypass as many layers of software as possible and get as close to the physical performance of the device being tested."

HD Tach v3


Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Read / Write Performance Before

Intel 34nm X25-M Gen 2 160GB
Read / Write Performance

Like all of the previous benchmarks we ran, the Intel 34nm Gen 2 X25-M's performance was enhanced across the board with its latest firmware according to HD Tach.  Read performance was slightly improved by a few MB/s, as was the drive's burst rate. Random access was even down slightly, while CPU Utilization increased by 1%. But its with regard to write performance that the X25-M's new firmware makes the most difference. In this test, write performance increased from about 78MB/s to almost 96MB/s, an improvement of roughly 23%.

Our Summary and Conclusion

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Performance Summary: After being flashed to the new firmware update, which enables TRIM support and faster sequential write speeds, the Intel 34nm Gen 2 X25-M 160GB drive offered increased performance in every benchmark we ran. Read performance with the new firmware update installed was roughly on-par with the previous version, although the numbers slightly favor the update, by a few MB/s at least. Write performance, however, was increased by over 30% in some cases.

Intel has done exactly the type of thing that PC enthusiasts appreciate. The company has taken an already excellent product, and improved it with an updated firmware and additional optimization tools that not only increase performance, but introduce new feature support as well. And best of all, they've done it for free. 

The introduction of TRIM support to the 34nm Gen 2 X25-M means that the drive will perform as close to its optimal, clean state as possible under Windows 7 as the drive is dirtied with garbage data over time. And the optimization tool that's part of the new SSD Toolbox means Windows Vista and XP users can benefit from TRIM as well. The release of this new firmware update and optimization tool really is a win-win situation for owners of Intel's 34nm Gen 2 X25-M.

We liked the Intel 34nm Gen 2 X25-M so much when we first evaluated it that we gave it an Editor's Choice award. The introduction of this new firmware update and optimization tool only sweetens the deal, and makes the 34nm Gen 2 X25-M even more desirable.

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