Intel SSD 750 1.2TB Series PCIe Review

The Intel 750 is the first NVMe SSD released into the consumer market. It offers users some pretty killer performance at a price point that is roughly twice that of top performing SATA SSDs. We’ve historically been big on PCI Express SSDs here, because they get around the SATA bottleneck that holds many standard 2.5-inch SATA Solid State Drives down at around 550MB/sec max throughput. PCIe SSDs are able to utilize full PCIe X4 or X8 Gen 2 or Gen 3 bandwidth, hitting speeds well in excess of 1GB/sec in many cases. The Intel SSD 750 Series is the first set of consumer SSDs to use the new super-fast NVM (non-volatile memory) Express standard, bringing a new level of performance to everyday computer users. Still, though laying Flash memory down on a PCIe card has its advantages, many of the solutions currently on the market, save for some high-end, expensive offerings from the likes of Fusion-io, actually still utilize SATA controllers on their backend interface to the Flash memory, usually in a multi-controller RAID setup, that then has to be bridged to PCI Express on the other side.

SSD Performance Test

NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) technology is transforming SSD’s as we know them. NVMe is a protocol built for current and future non-volatile storage solutions. Designed specifically for solid-state non-volatile memory, NVMe is revolutionary because it lowers latency and CPU overhead with a streamlined command stack. Back in April we were able to review the 1.2TB model. After seeing the results we were quite impressed, however, at over $1,000 the 1.2TB model does not completely fit the bill for most, unless you are an enthusiast or workstation user. NVMe is a standard specification that provides a massive improvement in both random and sequential performance in comparison to the dated legacy AHCI protocol of SATA based SSD’s. Our testing has shown that a single NVMe drive can provide performance equivalent to or greater than a 6-drive SATA array. NVMe allows for greater queue depths, higher levels of parallelism and much higher IOPS than AHCI. Going with a PCIe SSD in data centers is a direction that increases rapidly. This was quite evident when we kept hearing people ask about the 400GB model more often than the 1.2TB model, especially when compared to the SM951. For most gamers and storage nuts the 400GB model is far more within reach because of its lower price point and because of this we took it upon ourselves to attain the 400GB Intel 750 Series SSD for review. Now that it is in our hands, how does it compare?

PCIe SSD are going viral nowadays

Endurance level

Despite Samsung’s enthusiastic claim of offering the first consumer-orientated NVMe SSD, Intel ends up with the checkered flag. PCIe-based SSDs represent the pinnacle of storage performance. But in the seven years since Fusion-io released its ioDrive, few native PCIe-based solid-state drives have surfaced. The Intel 750 Series is Intel’s latest SSD for the high performance client and workstation storage market. It features a 1.2TB capacity, up to 2500MB/s sequential read and 1200MB/s sequential write and 1.2 million hours MTBF for the ultimate reliability. Intel SSD 750 Series delivers the future of storage today with Intel’s first PCIe based consumer SSD, combining four lanes of PCIe 3.0 with state-of-the-art NVM Express (NVMe) interface for truly amazing performance. The enterprise segment, where the ioDrive resides, prioritizes performance over cost. The rest of us live in a world where $5000 PCs (much less single components) are rare.

SSD Benchmark Results

In terms of features it has TRIM, garbage collection, and S.M.A.R.T. support as well as power-loss protection. Also, the latest version of Intel Toolbox supports the Intel 750 and includes a bunch of useful tools and features such as SSD health monitoring, diagnostic scans, a firmware updater, a secure erase function, and a system tuner. In short, though this design approach does effectively get past the SATA bottleneck, bridging and translation from one serial interface to another like this, adds latency and nips at overall throughput. However, more recently, major manufacturers have been collaborating on the NVMe or NVM Express interface that was designed to offer direct high speed serial interfaces for NAND Flash Non-Volatile Memory (or NVM) natively over PCI Express. Essentially, an NVMe controller offers an optimized, dedicated interface for Flash to connect to the PCI Express links in a system. The NVMe standards consortium consists of companies like Micron, Seagate, SanDisk, Samsung, PMC, Cisco, EMC, Dell and of course, Intel. Why would you then use an mSATA SSD for your system? The Intel SSD 750 Series is so cutting-edge that most PCs simply won’t be able to either accommodate them at all or use them as a main bootable drive. So let’s first establish what you can and can’t do with them. Ever since our SSD DC P3700 review, there’s been massive interest from enthusiasts and professionals for a more client-oriented product based on the same platform. With eMLC, ten drive writes per day endurance and a full enterprise-class feature set, the SSD DC P3700 was simply out of reach for consumers at $3 per gigabyte because the smallest 400GB SKU cost the same as a decent high power PC build. The Intel 750 Series is available in two form factors: a half-height PCI Express expansion card and what looks like a standard 2.5in drive. However, the latter isn’t a typical 2.5in SATA drive, and in fact uses a new SFF (small form factor) 8639 connector that’s designed especially for this new drive type. Intel didn’t ignore your prayers and wishes and with today’s release of the SSD 750 Intel is delivering what many of you have been craving for months: NVMe with a consumer friendly price tag in a 2.5″ form factor via SFF-8639 or a PCIe add-in card.

Intel PCIe SSD Features a strong storage option

Products

Intel SSD 750 Series 400 GB

Intel SSD 750 Series 1.2 TB

Capacity 400 GB 1200 GB
Controller Intel 3rd Gen Enhanced for NVMe Intel 3rd Gen Enhanced for NVMe
Flash Intel 20nm MLC Intel 20nm MLC
DRAM 2GB 4GB
Sequential Read Up To 2200 MB/s Up To 2400 MB/s
Sequential Write Up To 900 MB/s Up To 1200 MB/s
Random 4K Read Up To 430,000 IOPS Up To 440,000 IOPS
Random 4k Write Up To 230,000 IOPS Up To 290,000 IOPS
Endurance 70 GB Per Day 70 GB Per Day
Required Airflow 100 LFM 300 LFM
Warranty 5 Years 5 Year

Laboratory Results

Intel’s 750 Series SSD’s are currently the only client-based NVMe drives available through normal retail channels. Intel’s 750 Series SSD’s are available in two form factors, a HHHL AIC (Half Height Half Length Add-In-Card) PCIe slot SSD or a 2.5″x 15mm SSD with an 8639 connector. With the M.2 SSD release, SSDs could reach much higher speed levels than before. The 750 Series employs no power saving measures, its enterprise DNA is all about raw power and high IOPS making it a desktop enthusiast’s dream. The enterprise drives storage with large R&D budgets, and desktop derivatives often follow with less aggressive specifications. Intel and its competitors already have NVMe products in datacenters. They’re so fast that we often find them in cache systems as tier 0. We previously tested the 1.2 TB 750 series drive and the only knock against it is a $1000 price tag. Most consumers are unwilling to dish out a thousand bucks for storage, no matter how well it performs. Fortunately, Intel has a 400GB version priced within the reach of most desktop enthusiasts. Priced at just $1 per gigabyte, the 400GB 750 Series SSD is generating a lot of interest in the Enthusiast community.

Download Specs sheet from here

Real-World SSD Test

Speaking of the Enthusiast community, Gamers listen up. When talking with TweakTown’s in-house video card expert Anthony Garreffa, he informed me that hard core gamers are finding that there is a distinct advantage when running an Intel 750 Series SSD as a gaming SSD. Generating textures in real time is very taxing on any storage device, and this is where a 750 Series SSD gives you a huge performance boost. As most of you know, we believe that providing results with the drives running as our boot volume 75% full is far more relevant than providing you with results from empty SSD’s in an FOB or lightly used state. Testing boot volumes also allows us to comment with authority on how the drive/array handles when used as you will be using it. This method of testing takes more time and effort, but we believe it is well worth it. Generating textures from a 750 Series SSD is insanely fast, so the world literally generates before your eyes, so much faster than it does with a SATA SSD, it will make your head spin. In the near future, Anthony and I will be working up a test to show the impact a good PCIe NVMe SSD will make on your gaming experience.

Samsung Evo Specs:

  • Form Factor: 2.5 inch
  • Interface: SATA 6Gb/s (Compatible with SATA 3Gb/s & SATA 1.5Gb/s)
  • NAND Flash: 32 Layer 3D V-NAND
  • Thickness: 7.0 mm
  • Optimized performance for everyday computing needs
  • Sequential read speed 540 MB/s; Sequential write speed 520 MB/s; Random read speed 100K; Random write speed 90K
  • Energy efficient – improves battery life by up to 50 minutes vs. hard disk drives
  • Worry-free data security with AES 256-bit, TCG/Opal v.2 and Microsoft eDrive full-disk encryption
  • Backed by a five-year limited warranty
  • Cable, screws, and bracket sold separately
  • Random Write

    Intel’s SSD 750 is a client-oriented high-performance SSD based on the same controller used in the DC 3700/3600/3500 families. This latest series was designed for use in workstation environments or enthusiasts who demand the best possible storage experience. Finally, the endurance of the 400GB model is rated for up to a maximum of 127TB written (70GB per day) over the course of its 5-year limited warranty. The 750 Series utilizes Non-Volatile Memory Express technology to deliver exceptional performance with low system resource overhead. Given the pedigree and feature set, you don’t even need to ask if the SSD 750 is fast. Do you need to ask a Lamborghini owner if his car is quick? Today, the company’s SSD 750 Series brings this cutting-edge NVMe technology down to the more mainstream performance/enthusiast market. We’ve got a beefy 1.2 Terabyte PCIe card on hand to show you what it’s made of and how it performs.

    SSD design and features

    Random Read

    Even though the SSD 750 is built upon the SSD DC P3700 platform, it’s a completely different product. Intel spent a lot of time on redesigning the firmware to be more suitable for client applications, which differ greatly from typical enterprise workloads. The SSD 750 is supposed to be more focused on random performance as the majority of IOs in client workloads tend to have random patterns and be small in size. A MacBook Pro Using an SSD is a real fast computer that can hardly beat. The half- and full-height cards offer more surface area than a 2.5″ drive to mount components, which is good because Intel’s third-generation controller with NVMe optimization uses more channels to the flash than typical eight-channel processors in this space. The performance comes from reading and writing to 18 flash packages at one time on the 1.2TB model we’re testing today. The sequential write speeds may seem a bit low for such high capacities for that reason, but ultimately Intel’s goal was to provide better real world performance rather than focus on maximum benchmark numbers, which has been Intel’s strategy ever since the X25-M days. Intel does manage to stuff these components into a 2.5″ version with stacked PCBs as well, but the add-in card with its larger surface cooling area requires less airflow to keep the drive happy.

    Design and Features

    It’s likely that your PC won’t have one of these connectors, so you can install the 2.5in drive via an M.2 slot instead – but there will be a slight performance impact as a result. To do this you’ll need the drive, an SFF-8639 to SDD-8643 (mini SAS) cable that Intel provides, and an M.2/SATA power connector adapter. Intel’s 750 Series SSD is available in two capacities 400GB and 1.2TB. Both capacities are available in two form factors, a half-length, half-height AIC with a single slot x4 connector and a 2.5″ x 15mm Z-height standard form factor with an 8639-compatible connector. Sequential R/W performance for the 400GB 750 is listed at 2200/900 MB/s. 4K random read performance is listed at up to 430,000 IOPS. 4K random write performance is listed at up to 230,000 IOPS. Both available form factors (AIC & 2.5″) carry identical performance ratings. The latter is necessary since the M.2 doesn’t require the power needed by the drive.

    NVMe SSD test

    Alternatively, you can get the PCIe expansion card, which is easier to install. It simply requires an x4 (or higher) PCIe 3.0 connector. Just drop the card in and away you go. The only minor stumbling block is that, because this SSD taps straight into your processor’s PCIe 3.0 bus, it will be nabbing four of the lanes. Enhanced power-loss protection is provided by onboard capacitors. Data protection is enhanced by up to 32GB of the drives memory dedicated to XOR internal data parity. Endurance is rated at up to 70GB per day or 219 TBW (Terabytes Written). Power consumption is listed at 12W active / 4W idle. The 400GB drive has a MSRP of $389 and the 1.2TB drive $1029. Intel backs the 750 series with a five-year limited warranty. For Intel LGA 1150 systems – where the processor has only 16 lanes – this could have a potential impact on graphics performance, since graphics cards usually take up all 16 of those lanes.

    SSD technical specifications

    Intel released the SSD 750 Series in two form factors and two capacity sizes for a total of four product SKUs. Most will purchase this drive in its traditional half-height half-length (HHHL) PCIe card form factor. In our previous review our sample was delivered without the retail packaging, this time around we got the whole shebang. The packaging follows the typical color scheme as Intel’s CPUs so it is easy to distinguish. Capacity is listed on the front and the specs are on the back. As mentioned, Intel also has a 2.5″ 15mm model (SFF-8639 connector) for system integrators to use in small form factor designs. The two capacity sizes could be somewhat contentious: 400GB and 1.2TB. The 750 Series suffers a wide gap in pricing between the 400GB ($389) and 1.2TB ($1029) models. We would love to see an 800GB version fill this space at less than $800. The SSD 750 we’re looking at today is a half-height PCIe X4 card that operates over a Gen 3 PCI Express interface for nearly 4GB/sec of available bandwidth. The 750 Series ships with a half-height and full-height adapter bracket, as well as USB media with the drivers and Intel’s SSD Toolbox utility software. Both capacities should be available by the end of April 2015. The card is actually specified to hit 2.4GB/sec max for sequential reads and 1.2GB/sec for sequential write throughput. That’s over 4X the performance for reads and over 2X the performance for writes, versus a standard SATA SSD and it’s the fastest consumer-class solid state storage product we’ve had come through our door, at least in terms of its specifications.

    Available Capacities

    At the time of launch, the SSD 750 will only be available in capacities of 400GB and 1.2TB. An 800GB SKU is being considered, but I think Intel is still testing the waters with the SSD 750 and thus the initial lineup is limited to just two SKUs. For most systems, the real-world impact should be minimal. It’s likely that only SLI/CrossFire setups, where bandwidth is limited by the reduced number of lanes, will encounter issues. Moreover, X99 systems have 40 PCIe 3.0 lanes so it shouldn’t be an issue here. After all, the ultra high-end is a niche market and even in that space the SSD 750 is much more expensive that existing SATA drives, so a gradual roll out makes a lot of sense. Intel introduced us to NVMe by first launching the 1.2TB 750. At that moment, SATA was instantly relegated to second tier performance; even our powerful SATA arrays are unable to perform on the same level as a single 750 Series NVMe PCIe drive. The only drawback is the $1000 price tag. Even though the 1.2TB 750 is still under a buck per gigabyte, the TCO is very high for most. Luckily, Intel makes an equally fast 400GB version. $400 bucks puts this drive into an affordable range for most enthusiasts, without compromising on performance. Equally fast at 1/3 the capacity is quite an accomplishment and a testament to Intel’s engineering prowess. I think for enthusiasts the 400GB model is the sweet spot because it provides enough capacity for the OS and applications/games, whereas professionals will likely want to spring for the 1.2TB if they are looking for high-speed storage for work files (video editing is a prime example).

    Under the large heat sink is the same third-gen controller modified for NVMe. It employs 18 channels to read and write to the flash. The low-overheard command set paired with the large number of channels and Intel’s 20nm MLC ONFi NAND flash delver sequential read performance at up to 2400 MB/s. It’s difficult to say that with a straight face; I feel the corners of my lips pressing against my ears. The SSD 750 Series doesn’t let up when it comes to sequential writes either, at least on the 1.2TB model. Intel claims 1200 MB/s sequential write performance. The 400GB model purportedly achieves 2200 MB/s sequential reads and 900 MB/s sequential writes. Those numbers remain aggressive, even though the 400GB model only uses half as many channels to the flash.