Intel SSD roadmap revealed

It looks as though Intel has learned a harsh lesson from the original line of X25-E SSDs, and is now planning to use multi-level cell NAND flash memory in its forthcoming Extreme branded drives. What's more, the master of silicon reportedly has a 600GB SSD in the works too.

The gossip comes from a leaked roadmap that appeared on a couple of sites over the weekend, including French Apple site MacBidouille. According to the roadmap, Intel is planning a large-scale refresh of all its SSD ranges towards the end of this year and the beginning of 2011.

Let's start with the aforementioned X25-E, which is due for an overhaul in the first quarter of 2011. The new line of Extreme drives, codenamed Lyndonville, will come in capacities of 160GB, 200GB and 400GB; a massive increase compared with the 32GB and 64GB X25-E drives available today.

The main change here is that Intel has abandoned costly single level cell (SLC) memory in favour of cheaper multi-level cell memory. However, the roadmap notes that the MLC NAND used in this case is 'enterprise grade' meaning it should be able to cope with a larger amount of writes than standard MLC memory.

Although these drives are likely to be expensive, the use of MLC memory should bring down the cost per gigabyte significantly compared with the current SLC-based drives.

Next up is the 'Postville refresh' of Intel's X25-M range of mainstream SSDs, which will feature 25nm MLC NAND chips rather than the 34nm chips used in the current line-up, although not the enterprise-grade chips. Apparently scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2010, the new drives will come in capacities of 160GB, 300GB and 600GB.

Similarly, Intel's budget series of X25-V drives is also getting the 25nm MLC treatment, with an 80GB drive planned for the fourth quarter of this year, and another 40GB SSD waiting in the wings for the first quarter of 2011.

On top of all this, Intel's also taking the broom to its smaller 1.8-inch SSDs, with 25nm MLC-based 160GB and 300GB X18-M drives lined up for the first quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, the bottom section of the roadmap has a few details about a new range of "small form factor" SSDs, which will be based on Intel's older 34nm MLC technology.

Basically, it looks as though Intel is eager to counter the invasion of affordable Sandforce-based drives that are now challenging its tired-looking range of SSDs in terms of both performance and price. Intel and Micron announced they were already mass-producing their first 25nm MLC NAND chips in May (pictured), and this roadmap suggests Intel is keen to start using them as soon as possible.