Taking a look at the drive itself we see there's not much to it. On one edge are the SATA power and data connectors and on the top there's a whole raft of technical information about what's inside. Apart from that, though, there's little to say, so let's get straight down to the performance tests.
We started our testing by adding the unformatted drives to our test bed then running the read test portion of HDTune. This program comprehensively tests performance of the entire disk and returns a clear and easy to read graph that pretty much sums up everything you could possibly need to know about the raw speed of a drive. There's also a write test included in HDTune, though we've only had the chance to test this on the Intel drive so we can't compare results.
Next, we loaded an identical installation of Windows onto each drive. We then test the boot, reboot, and shutdown speeds of the system with each drive installed. Following this we run the HDD portion of the PCMark Vantage test suite. This runs a whole host of simulated hard drive tests including Windows Vista booting, video editing using Windows Movie Maker, and importing music into Windows Media Player. At the end it returns an overall score but also breaks down the results into individual scores - we've reported both.
Finally, we timed how long it took to complete a run through of our Crysis timedemo. We run through the demo just once and turn all graphics details to low with resolution set to 800x600 to ensure the graphics card isn't a bottleneck. This way we can ensure as much as possible of the test is spent loading the game into memory and taxing the hard drive.
Looking first at the HDTune results, there's one figure that really stands out; the Intel X-25-M's access time. Registering at consistently below 0.1 secs, HDTune simply rounds the figure down to 0 secs, as that's all it can display. Now the difference between the Intel's <0.1ms access time and the 0.3ms of the OCZ SSD may not look like very much but it actually demonstrates that the Intel SSD is at least three times faster, which is a huge difference for two seemingly identical devices. When you then take into account the X25-M's 230MB/s read speeds, you have what's technically known in the business as a trouncing.
As mentioned, we don't have write speed results for the other drives so we can't draw any absolute conclusions, but even in isolation the figures are impressive. This drive still won't compete with a fast conventional hard drive when it comes to sequential write speed but it certainly isn't bad and conforms with the figures Intel was suggesting. Also, the fast access time (note how much slower it is than the read access time) counters this by making smaller random writes much faster than any conventional hard drive could manage. Essentially, if you regularly find yourself copying large files then you may want to avoid this drive, but for most other uses the X25-M should excel.
This is reflected in our PCMark Vantage figures that show the Intel drive simple annihilating the competition. Now, PCMark does tend to favour SSDs, even though in real world usage conventional hard drives are often faster (as is the case with the OCZ SSD vs the VelociRaptor). Nonetheless, the Intel drive still nearly doubles the performance of the OCZ drive.
Finally, our real world tests bring things back down to earth with a bump. While the X25-M does itself no disservice, it's quite clear that if game loading times and windows boot times are your priority then buying an SSD doesn't really gain you that much, if anything. However, what none of these tests really tell you is how fast day to day work can be. Opening programs like Firefox and Photoshop, flicking between windows, or simply scrolling through a folder of thumbnailed images, just feels more instant and makes the everyday use of a computer that little bit more enjoyable.
We expected great things when Intel announced it was to enter the SSD market and with the X25-M it has certainly delivered. Of course it costs a lot and the capacity is nothing compared to much cheaper hard drives, but that's always been the case with SSDs - you should only ever buy them for their speed. Ironic really, being as this isn't even the fastest SSD Intel are set to release in the coming months. That said, this drive probably strikes the best balance between price, performance and capacity to suit most enthusiasts' needs.