Intel gets some competition

The OCZ Summit line of solid state drives uses a new controller from Samsung as well as 64MB of cache to speed up performance, in particular write speeds. Does this new 250GB SSD have what it takes to compete against the Intel X25-M?
UPDATE: We have just posted a performance preview of the OCZ Vertex series as well!  It uses a completely new controller technology from Indilinx rather than Intel, Samsung or JMicron.  Be sure to give it a read!

It would be trivial to say that our coverage of solid state drives has increased dramatically over the past 12 months.  It was really the release of the Intel X25-M series of drives that really made the market perk up and pay attention to this growing segment of devices; it brought reliable, glitch free speed at “decent” prices to SSDs for really the first time.   Since then companies like Samsung, OCZ Technology, Kingston and even Corsair have seen the light and are making a solid push into the market.

Last month we looked the first strong competitor from OCZ, the Apex series, that used a unique “RAID in a drive” design combining a pair of SSD controllers.  While the drives were faster than previous JMicron-based designs, there is still a lot of room for improvement.  The OCZ Summit series of solid state drives is definitely that.

The OCZ Summit Series of SSDs

The OCZ Summit series of solid state drives is based on a brand new controller from Samsung – so new in fact that our testing drives were actually “glued” together and the name of the controller was sanded off before they arrived to us here.  Because these are very early engineering samples they aren’t pretty looking – hand applied stickers, etc.  But what is important of course is performance, not looks.

OCZ Summit Series 250GB SSD Preview - New Samsung MLC - Storage 37

The Summit series of SSDs comes in the same 2.5″ form factor with a standard SATA data and power connection.  MLC flash memory is still the key technology here in order to keep prices down and storage capacity high.

OCZ Summit Series 250GB SSD Preview - New Samsung MLC - Storage 38

The Summit drive we received in for testing is a 250GB model with double-stacked Samsung memory chips.  The controller chip, a new model from Samsung, but because of the glue holding the PCB in place, we didn’t risk pulling the drive out in this engineering states.  The retail drives will be much more “disectible”. 

If we could flip over the PCB we’d not only find the controller but a dedicated 64MB of on-board cache as well that is used to speed up performance on the drive.

OCZ Summit Series 250GB SSD Preview - New Samsung MLC - Storage 39

As I mentioned before, the Summit drive has the same SATA data and power connection that you’ll find on any other 2.5″ or 3.5″ hard drive on the market. 

The cache on the OCZ Summit drive is really what will help it stand out from previous solid state offerings.  While having cache on board with standard hard drives has been the norm for many years, it was long thought that the speed of flash memory negated the need to have dedicate memory on drives for performance reasons.  After all of our experience with JMicron controller and the very slow writes they were famous for, we have learned that cache is still a technology SSDs can take advantage of.

What exactly does the Summit (and other upcoming SSDs with cache on-board) use the cache for?  Essentially, the drive can use the 64MB of local memory to sort, organize and save writes sent to the drive from the operating system so that the controller can more efficiently execute the flash writes and hopefully negate slow down.  As is the case with flash memory writes, if data needs to be read from the memory, reshuffled and saved again, the 64MB of on-board cache can also be a performance enhancing element. 

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