Intel adopts SK Hynix flash for Pro 2500 Series SSD

On the surface, Intel's new Pro 2500 Series looks like a relatively dull update to the firm's family of business-oriented client SSDs. The latest entry is based on the same old SandForce controller and 6Gbps SATA interface as the the Pro 1500. The performance specifications haven't changed, though there are some new low-power states designed specifically for Intel's upcoming Broadwell platform. Those states are meant for notebooks, so they shouldn't affect the 2.5" version of the Pro 2500 destined for e-tail channels.

The NAND seems fairly conventional, too. It's built on a 20-nm process, and it's doled out in 64Gb (8GB) chunks that should ensure decent performance for lower capacities. But the flash doesn't come from Intel's joint fabrication venture with Micron. Instead, it rolls out of SK Hynix's fabs. Increased demand drove the decision to source NAND from a third-party manufacturer.

Unlike some other SSD makers, Intel isn't sneaking the NAND in through the back door. The company is frank about using Hynix chips in the 2.5" versions of the Pro 2500. Notebook makers are evaluating M.2 variants with the same NAND, too, though it sounds like homebrewed flash may be an option for those units. In any case, the M.2 drives won't be sold separately through consumer channels. Any products with Hynix NAND will have identifiable product numbers.

James Slattery, marketing manager for Intel's non-volatile memory group, describes the outsourced flash as "fully vetted." Intel performs the same component-level validation as it does with its own NAND, and finished drives are subjected to the same battery of tests as other Pro-level parts. In fact, quality and reliability director Venkat Vasudevan told us the Pro 2500 underwent to even more initial validation testing than usual, just because it was Intel's first implementation of Hynix NAND.

Vasudevan expects the Pro 2500 to be just as reliable as its forebear, which has an excellent track record according to Intel's field reliability data:

Although failure rates were a smidgen higher in the first few months of availability, the Pro 1500 has leveled off at about 0.1%—the lowest we've seen quoted for any SSD. Even the return rates have been well below Intel's failure target. If the Pro 2500 follows suit, it will be very reliable indeed.

Intel is confident enough to cover the Pro 2500 with a five-year warranty. That's pretty standard for business-grade products, and so is the 256-bit AES encryption support. Compliance with the latest IEEE and TCG Opal specs is included, and the drive is validated to work with security software from the biggest names in the business. Encryption can also be managed remotely with Intel's vPro utility.

The Pro 2500 is scheduled to start selling today at $95 for 120GB, $130 for 180GB, $160 for 240GB, and $305 for 480GB. Plenty of consumer-grade drives are available at lower prices, but they can't match the Pro's longer warranty and additional validation testing. For this type of product, Intel argues that the total cost of ownership is more important than the initial asking price. The firm even has TCO calculator software to help IT professionals justify SSD upgrades to corporate bean counters.

Yep, this SSD is bland enough that I mentioned the accompanying accounting software. In my defense, even Slattery admits that the Pro 2500 "is not cutting-edge technology." The big story here is the NAND—specifically, the addition of third-party sourcing to Intel's strategy. Slattery told us the firm is actively considering outsourced NAND for other SSDs. Perhaps one of those will combine foreign flash with more intriguing tech.

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