The first SSDs of 2014 have been announced

Dave James

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Crucial have unveiled their new M550 series of SSDs, hot on the heels of Intel's SSD 730 drives. These are the first new SSDs of the year, and represent two of the big boys in SSD manufacturing.

Crucial's M550 is an update to their incredibly successful M500 series, and as such still retains the same commitment to performance and pricing. The M550 drives are competitive with the top SSDs on both of these fronts.

Crucial are using a slightly revised Marvell memory controller in their new drive, along with parent-company Micron's 20nm NAND Flash to provide the storage. The M550 range comes with a little more space than their M500 counterparts, shifting from 480GB to 512GB, and from 960GB to a full 1TB for the relevant drives.

Interestingly Crucial are also set to offer most of the M550 range - up to 512GB capacities - in both mSATA and M.2 form factors for slimline notebooks and small form factor PCs. Like Samsung before them, they're looking at creating the same performance and pricing with those tiny devices.

Though these are consumer drives, like the M500 series, they also share a lot of their DNA with the enterprise/business sector hardware. That means they're more reliable and ought to last longer too.

Those fat capacitors betray the Intel drive's enterprise roots

Like Crucial, Intel are also looking to their enterprise drives to fill out the latest range of consumer SSDs. The new SSD 730 series are dead-ringers for the DC S3500 business drives and that means they've got proper Intel-created memory controllers in them. That's interesting because Intel had been burned using their own controllers before, and had subsequently opted for the laggardly SandForce controllers in their recent consumer drives.

What's different from the enterprise drives though is this is the first released product to demonstrate Intel's SSD overclocking . I chatted with Intel's Dan Ragland about this at IDF last year and it's intriguing just how quickly it's gone from being a lab experiment to being inside a final product.

The Intel memory controller has been overclocked from 400MHz to 600MHz and even the actual NAND bus itself has seen a 18MHz hike in speed. That last one is more conservative as a flaky NAND bus is more likely to irrevocably bork your data.

This all gives the Intel SSD 730 drives impressive performance - slightly quicker in many benchmarks than the competing Crucial M550 - but if you're looking at the 480GB Intel vs. the 512GB Crucial the latter is nearly £100 cheaper.

That's a big price gap, especially when the Intel is at best only 10% quicker. Stay tuned, we'll have full reviews of both drives soon.

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