Intel releases SSD firmware update

Written by Ben Hardwidge

April 14, 2009 | 12:27

Tags: #firmware #internal #mainstream #random #ssd #update #write #x18-m #x25-m

Companies: #intel

Intel’s Mainstream series of SSDs have courted some controversy over the last few months, after the venerable tech site PC Perspective revealed some that the drive’s write speeds slowed down after continued long-term use. Intel initially dismissed the claims, saying that the results couldn’t be replicated by Intel and that the site’s synthetic tests didn’t represent real-world use anyway. Nonetheless, Intel has now backtracked on this position and released a firmware update that apparently fixes the issue.

The firmware update applies to Intel’s X25-M and X18-M solid state drives, and can be downloaded from here. The official line from Intel is that the update “has several continuous improvement optimisations intended to provide the best possible user experience with the Intel SSD.” However, The Tech Report also quotes Intel saying that the update includes “a resolution for a performance issue first reported by the PC Perspective review website,” adding that customers should “keep in mind that the risk of a typical PC user experiencing this issue is very low.”

Naturally, PC Perspective’s first response was to retest the X25-M with the new firmware, and the site reports very positive findings. The site had previously found that internal random write fragmentation over time would slow the drive’s random write speed, and this problem couldn’t be corrected by a standard defragmentation. This kind of internal fragmentation is supposed to be cleared up by the drive on the fly, but it PC Perspective’s results indicated that the drive could get into a situation where so much fragmentation had occurred that the drive got stuck in a rut, with average write speeds dropping to as low as just 17.2MB/sec.

With regards to the new firmware, PC Perspective quotes Intel as saying that "any of our SSDs will see periods of reduced performance after significant random write fragmentation (white noise random fragmentation, not what Windows generally does with its “random” writes) as the drive cleans this all up mixed with additional data being written. This new firmware does not change this fact. What it does do is prevent the drive from getting into a state where further sequential writing will not recover the drive.”

After running the firmware update, the site now reports HDTach write results that are consistently around 80MB/sec, without any major drops, and this was after the site threw what it calls “a brutal attempt at fragmentation” at it, in which single-sector random writes were targeted at a small section of the drive for several hours. It looks as though the X25-M is now capable of consistently defragmenting itself on the fly, while also processing new random writes at full-speed.

There’s just one problem with this, which is that if the drive wasn’t performing both defragmentation tasks and random writes at the same time, then it should theoretically be able to go above 80MB/sec, but it doesn’t. PC Perspective says it’s made an “educated guess” that Intel has “imposed a hard limit of 80 MB/sec to their M series drives” in order to differentiate it from the X25-E. Either way, at least it looks as though the drive is now meeting its quoted write speeds.

Do you have an Intel Mainstream SSD, and have you noticed any slowdown after long-term use? Let us know your thoughts in the forums.
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