Sometimes, it takes an established industry giant to bring out the best in a brilliant new technology.
Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) wasn't kidding this summer when it promised to put a new face on solid-state drives. The chip giant's first serious foray into the $35 billion storage drive market hits the street this week, and the early buzz is phenomenal.
AnandTech Chief Executive Anand Lal Shimpi writes that the new Intel X25-M is the first product that has ever made him want to "actually go out, buy and stick in my desktop machine" right away. The Tech Report concedes that the drives are very expensive at about $600 per 80 gigabytes of storage space, but it's still "an absolute bargain" if you measure value in price per high-speed data transfer. These are the tech enthusiasts who set the tone for the rest of the market, and both have been kicking the tires of new processors, hard drives, and the like for a decade or more.
Consider the mobile computing market first. With performance that varies from respectable to mind-blowing, low power drain, and no moving parts, this is the perfect storage solution for laptops and other portable gadgets. Spinning magnetic disks in small packages are slow, eat batteries for breakfast, and tend to break if you drop 'em. That's why Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) builds flash-based iPods and iPhones, though they don't need Intel's level of performance quite yet.
Then, look at the enterprise market. STEC (Nasdaq: STEC ) and SMART Modular Technologies (Nasdaq: SMOD ) make business-class flash drives to power massive data banks like video-on-demand libraries. Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) builds entire media servers around the extreme performance and reliability of solid-state storage. IT managers love to keep their data centers cool and quiet, so memory chips are desirable from that angle, too.
The X25 delivers scary performance under some circumstances such as reading massive data sets (hello, corporate America!) or working with several applications at once (a.k.a. a normal day at my desk). Through smart design and quality components, Intel has overcome some glaring problems with drives built around lower-cost multi-level flash memory cells. It's still not cheap enough to blow traditional disk makers like Western Digital (NYSE: WDC ) and Seagate Technology (NYSE: STX ) to pieces yet, but it's just a question of time.