Intel’s X25-M storage drives have been the market leader in consumer solid state drives since their initial release in 2008, boasting the fastest random I/O speeds of any consumer drive available, and sequential read performance as good or better than offerings from competitors like OCZ Technology. However, the X25-M’s sequential write speed still leaves something to be desired; competitors in the consumer market have already doubled Intel’s 80MB/s sequential write limit.

Now, OCZ has unveiled a limited edition consumer SSD based on the new Sandforce SF-1500 controller, able to saturate the SATA 3Gb interface for sequential reads and writes, and outperform existing market leader Intel on random writes. Unfortunately the Vertex LE still trails Intel’s 64MB/s random read performance, with “only” 52MB/s. For comparison, the fastest desktop hard drives available can only turn out random reads measured in hundreds of kilobytes per second, making even the slowest SSD hundreds of times faster than a mechanical hard drive.

The Vertex LE will only be available in limited numbers, 5,000 according to OCZ, however the same technology will eventually migrate down to the next performance SSD series from the company, the Vertex 2 due out in the coming months.

You may notice in Anandtech’s benchmarks that Crucial’s RealSSD product, expected to ship this month using a Micron controller, actually beats Intel’s random reads. However, random write performance on the RealSSD lags behind the X-25M at roughly half, putting it close to OCZ and other companies existing lineup. The RealSSD does boast the fastest sequential reads, however unless you are using a SATA 6Gb interface you will be limited to similar speeds already offered by other drives including the Vertex LE.

The entire SSD market has become fiercely competitive, thanks in part to last years flood of products based on the Indilinx Barefoot controller, which brought SSD prices down and brought performance of alternate products from OCZ, Patriot and others, up to a level that could compete with Intel. The newcomer to the market, Sandforce, is preparing for a fight with Intel that may see prices drop even further, as performance hits a wall that only the SATA 6Gb interface can break through.

Because of rapid development, improvements in flash memory speed, and more sophisticated controllers, SSDs are already faster than the SATA 3Gb interface found on most computers, which is too slow to handle the 300MB/s+ speeds seen in drives like the RealSSD. Luckily, the RealSSD supports the SATA 6Gb interface, though few computers support it at this point.

Of course Intel is not standing still while the rest of the market rushes past, in Q3 2010 the company is expected to introduce a new consumer SSD based around the 25nm flash product recently unveiled by their joint venture with Micron. Intel’s controllers are also expected to receive a performance boost, ensuring their performance remains competitive.