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IDF 2013: Intel shows off tiny, powerful Pro 1500 SSDs for enterprise

Compared with traditional hard drives, solid-state drives (SSDs) are already impressive space savers. In most cases no bigger than a stack (not even a full deck) of playing cards, they made thinner and more energy-efficient computing possible in a way that even a decade ago was unthinkable. With an eye on how these qualities can affect the enterprise market, as part of its annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF), Intel has released the Solid-State Drive Pro 1500 Series of drives — some of which make even traditional SSDs look like hulking behemoths.

The usual 2.5in style of SSD is still available for the 1500 Series, which is based on 20nm MLC Intel NAND flash memory and boasts sequential read speeds of up to 540MBps and sequential write speeds of up to 490MBps (with random reads at 41,000 IOPS and random writes at 80,000 IOPS), as well as the hardware-level encryption that would seem to be a necessity for its intended enterprise or datacentre applications.

But the real news with respect to the 1500 Series is its utilisation of the new 80mm M.2 form factor, which eschews the usual drive casing for a drive that offers almost as many capacities as the 2.5in model (both are available in 80GB, 120GB, 180GB, 240GB, and 360GB storage options, and the 2.5in drive adds 480GB), while consuming 55mW less power when active (140mW versus 195mW) and 70mW less power when idle (55mW compared with 125mW).

As potentially exciting as these developments are, they're not exactly fresh pieces of news, since we covered the M.2 form factor at last year's IDF, back before it had its current name (then it was only being called NGFF, short for "next-generation form factor"). What is news is the adoption of the new name (our press contact said it happened just within the last few months) and its appearance in a major line of products.

Though M.2 is probably not yet within sight of unseating the 2.5in form factor, even in just the business space, its impressively superior power consumption and its forward-looking design (with PCI Express migration a real possibility) suggest M.2 could take over the segment still dominated by mSATA more quickly than most of us expected.

And if it takes off, it won't be long before it's the order of the day in consumer products as well, which could lead to a drastic expansion of the storage potential of tablets, smartphones, and the kind of wearable tech Intel was so hot on at IDF this year. Storage as small as that using the M.2 form factor can already go almost anywhere, and in terms of sizes there's nowhere to go but down.