Friday , 31 October 2014
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Intel SSD DC P3700 Review (800GB) – NVMe for Enterprise…and Enthusiasts?

With the release of the SSD DC P3700, Intel has delivered on the most anticipated piece of storage technology in recent memory.  This release is all about NVMe.  We have been hearing about NVMe for years, but an end product always seemed just out of reach.  We also expected the first devices to be exorbitantly priced enterprise SSDs.  While not the first to market, the Intel solution will be available to the masses and it will be priced to move.   This is not something you can always count on for an enterprise product.

UPDATED! Check out our P3700 Enthusiast Report here as well!

Intel P3700 PCB Angled Top

So, what makes NVMe special?  NVMe is a host interface controller specification that is a complete replacement for AHCI.  For those keeping track at home, AHCI is currently in its second decade of release and is in dire need of replacement.  AHCI was released at a time when storage meant rotating drives and AHCI was designed around that fact.  If you wasted a few extra clock cycles with AHCI, the latency in the physical media was more than enough to mask those inefficiencies.  Today, NAND and the physical interfaces are at a point where microseconds of delay can affect performance.

IntelP3700-NVMe

Looking at a simplified graph, NVMe brings the storage closer to the CPU.  While NAND latency stays the same, you are reducing/removing a large portion of the software and controller latency.  This shifts the burden back to NAND manufacturers for improvements going forward.  It also reduces the number of clock cycles required per IO.  This should allow for high IOPS environments to have reduced CPU loads.

We have to be honest, even we were excited when we received this product in the mail.

SPECIFICATION

Unlike SATA drives in the past, Intel didn’t just announce a single SSD, they announced 3 different products, all with different capacities and performance.  The names should look familiar as they closely match their SATA line.  Intel breaks the products up based on write endurance (or NAND quality).  All of the options are available as PCIe add-in-cards or SFF-8639 2.5″ drives and all use a PCIe Gen3 x4 interface.  Performance ramps up to an astounding 460K read IOPS and 180K write IOPS.

IntelP3700-ProductSpecs

What probably catches most peoples eye is the price.  With the P3500 coming in at $1.50/GB, it is priced well below the competition.  In fact, it is a range that many people might think to use it in a hobbyist system.

INTERNAL COMPONENTS

Our review unit is the PCIe 800GB P3700.  The exterior looks fantastic and has a great weight to it; it feels like a premium device.  Now, most of that will be lost once it goes into a server, but the looks are also functional.  The single PCB is covered on one side by a large heatsink that helps dissipate the 25W that the card can consume.

Intel P3700 LabelUnder the heat sink, we have the large Intel flash controller.  This 18-channel monster provides way more parallelism than the typical 8-channel controller.

Intel P3700 PCB Front2The controller is backed by 1.25GB of DDR3-1600 DRAM.  The DRAM is spread across 5 packages on both sides of the PCB.

Intel P3700 PCB Back

Our sample was outfitted with 36 NAND packages.  Each package contains Intel 20nm HET-MLC.  This high endurance NAND is what allows the P3700 to hit 10 drive writes per day of endurance.  Intel let us know that the P3700 has ~25% spare area, while the P3600 has ~12% and the P3500 has 7%.  This amount of spare area is typical for these types of drives.

Out review unit is a x4 Gen3 PCIe add-in-card, but the product line also comes in a 2.5″, 15mm form-factor.  While this size might look familiar to enterprise customers, the connector probably does not.  That is because Intel chose what will soon be the most common connector for enterprise products, SFF-8639.  This connector specification is the Swiss Army Knife of storage connectors.

IntelP3700-SFF8639

As you can see, every single current and future interface is supported on the same connector.  What is beautiful is that it is backwards compatible with SATA and SAS.  If you don’t believe us, go ahead and pick up any SATA or SAS device and look at all the extra room on the opposite side of the connector.  SFF-8639 takes that space and uses it for the x4 PCIe lanes, SMBUS lines and PCIe clock and reset.  With this setup, an enterprise system could be configured in a way that any current and future drive could be supported in a single slot.

With the release of the SSD DC P3700, Intel has delivered on the most anticipated piece of storage technology in recent memory.  This release is all about NVMe.  We have been hearing about NVMe for years, but an end product always seemed just out of reach.  We also expected the first devices to be exorbitantly priced enterprise SSDs.  While not the first to market, the Intel solution will be available to the masses and it will be priced to move.   This is not something you can always count on for an enterprise product. UPDATED! Check out our P3700 Enthusiast Report…

Review Overview

Enterprise Features
Performance
Consistency
Endurance
Price

NVMe Changes The Game!

Summary : Intel's new P3700 NVMe SSD enters the marketplace as a powerhouse enterprise SSD, with a price tag that is sure to lure in those enthusiasts and lower tier companies looking for the best!

User Rating: 4.63 ( 2 votes)
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About Ben Chase

  • felix

    Since you say that you will test later on with consumer workloads,it would be nice to see an ANVIL and AS-SSD to see what is this device able to do compared to our normal everyday 2.5″ SSD’s

  • Carl

    Try and sweet talk Intel into giving you a P3500 to review.

  • AntonAM

    Why do you change the meaning of colors on graphs (iops against other drives)? It’s rather annoying.

  • NoldorElf

    It’s looking like PCI-E SSDs may hit mainstream in a few years, especially if the price goes down.

    The question is, how big is the market for this type of SSD versus say, an M.2 drive? Hopefully we’ll see more entrants come in.

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Well really…. how long before we see M.2 NVMe?

  • Arne Berg

    Nice Review! looking forward to the consumer workloads tests
    maybe one of these in my Music /workstation computer and a 3500 for the gaming machine

  • Carl Forks

    Is it bootable?

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Sure is…with Windows 8. I have tested it on the Asus H871 Plus, ASRock Z97 Extreme 6 and Z87 Extreme 11ac. My thoughts are that it is bootable with ANY newer motherboard that allows one to switch to URFI boot rather than legacy. I will cover this in the consumer review.

  • dravo1

    Is Intel actually doing RAID 0 on this board or is RAID now obsolete for the PCIe SSDs?

    • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

      Negative….straight controller…single PCB…no RAID solution…it is pretty sweet.

      You guys are taking away the meat and gravy of my consumer side of the report!

      • steven shultz

        So in a VMWare host, say, would you rely on Intel’s “End-to-End” data protection & backups and not worry about raid / drive failures?

      • http://thessdreview.com Les@TheSSDReview

        Absolutely.

  • 88mm

    Sorry if I missed this in the article, but what is the USA/North America release date for this new NVMe drive from Intel? I am building a new enthusiast pc rig and have contemplated splashing out for one. Also, I am going to be using a mix of M.2, sata ssds (Samsung 850 Pros) and maybe one of these Intel P series NVMe drives. I wanted to get an LSI RAID card (12gb/s) and run RAID 5. What setting RAID setting would you recommend?

  • eh

    Hey, quick question: what software was used to run the SNIA tests?

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