You know how we said in previous reviews that the enthusiast market hasn’t had much action and is just starting to take off? Well, right when we thought we were starting to see some fast PCIe SSDs, Intel decides to step in and release a beast. “A beast you say?” Yes, a fast, high capacity, NVMe, PCIe lane destroying beast! A beast of which those stories about things that go bump in the night could not have prepared you for. Let us introduce you to Intel’s latest disruptive monstrosity, the 1.2TB Intel 750 PCIe SSD.
Glorious isn’t it? We sure think so, and not just because of looks or capacity, but the speed it pushes and the technology behind it. By utilizing PCIe 3.0 x4 and Intel’s latest 18-channel NVMe flash controller, the Intel 750 was able to achieve speeds of nearly 2.7GB/s during our testing! That is more than four times that of the highest end SATA 6GB/s SSDs on the market, and even faster than the fastest M.2 PCIe SSDs available! This type of performance is an enthusiast’s dream come true!
After the Intel DC P3700 series received so much attention by enthusiasts in our review , it was only a matter of time until Intel released a consumer variant. Not only is the Intel 750 the first consumer released NVMe SSD, but also, it is Intel’s first PCIe Gen3 x4 SSD developed for the client enthusiast and workstation market. That is right, a powerhouse SSD envisioned for high-end systems and not your typical mom and pop’s builds. If you are looking for bleeding edge performance and top value in the consumer segment, look no further. Just wait until you see the price! This Intel PCIe SSD simply takes the crown.
WHY NVME OVER PCIE AND SATA?
We have covered PCIe and NVMe SSDs a few times in the past. These two technologies are much more apparent in the enterprise class segment of the market, however, there are benefits to us in the consumer segment. For those who are not in the know, we will cover these technologies once again.
The PCIe interface allows for SSDs to achieve faster overall throughput as they are not limited by the SATA interface. The latest PCIe Gen3 architecture furthers performance by removing much of the overhead that there was in PCIe Gen2, as well as doubling the bandwidth. With PCIe 2.0, there was basically a 20% loss in performance due to 8-bit to 10-bit encoding. Also, bandwidth is limited to about 500MB/s per lane. With PCIe 3.0, they removed the 8-bit to 10-bit encoding scheme and replaced it with a more efficient 128-bit to 130-bit encoding scheme. This drops the overhead from 20% down to a mere 1.54%. In terms of bandwidth, it is effectively doubled from the 500MB/s to 1GB/s per lane. Thus, overall PCIe 3.0 allows for actual transfer speeds of about 985MB/s per lane versus about 400MB/s over PCIe 2.0.
Now, let’s move onto NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) and explain why it came about and how it benefits us. Years ago before flash went mainstream, there was the AHCI interface. This was designed for use with high latency, slow performing hard drives. SSDs, on the other hand, are low latency, high speed devices. The AHCI logical interface for SSDs, while highly compatible, is very inefficient. NVMe was built from the ground up to replace the AHCI logical interface over the PCIe bus to allow greater performance out of flash storage devices. It better exploits parallelism, and provides lower latency due to a streamlined storage stack. Its command structure is much smaller as it has ten admin commands for queues and transport and three I/O commands for SSD functionality. With less latency there is also a reduction in CPU cycle usage by over 50%.
Overall, NVMe allows for a cooler running machine, higher IOPS, much better reliability. The fact that NVMe is a native technology agnostic protocol from which manufacturers can build on, rather than work around as they do with SATA, make this host controller interface a standard for years to come when NAND flash becomes a thing of the past.
With these two technologies combined with a direct path to the CPU, end users can expect more speed and responsiveness out of their storage. In terms of OS support, Windows 8.1 and Server 2012 R2 both support NVMe straight out of the box, however, older versions need a driver for support. Other operating systems such as Linux and even Chrome OS support NVMe as well.
COMPATIBILITY AND EASE OF INSTALLATION
When testing the Intel 750, we were able to install Windows 8.1 onto the device with ease. No special drivers or additional software were needed, and it was detected immediately during the storage selection prompt during installation. In order to install the OS onto the Intel 750, we first went into the UEFI, disabled CSM support and booted off our install media via the “UEFI: <install media name>” option. After Windows installed, the main boot option shows as “Windows Boot Manager.” This also means that it can be utilized with both hardware fast boot modes and Windows fast boot feature. The only issue we encountered was that it had longer boot times than typical SATA drives. Check out our review to see our analysis on boot time utilizing the 400GB model to learn more.
Bootability verification goes for both our Z97 and X99 systems. Beyond these, we are unable to verify system support. Intel lists OS support for Windows 7 64-bit, Windows 8 64-bit, and Windows 8.1 64-bit and it requires motherboards to have UEFI 2.3.1 or later.
SPECIFICATIONS, PRICING, AND AVAILABILITY
The Intel 750 series of SSDs are available in two form factors, 2.5″ 15mm with a SFF-8639 connector and the half-height, half-length (HHHL) add-in card form factor such as we have on our bench today. The 2.5″ form factor will be better utilized in prosumer server and client systems rather than your typical desktop PC. Capacities are available in 400GB and 1.2TB. This seems quite limited but here’s the kicker; the MSRP on the Intel 750 Series is $389.00 for the 400GB and $1029.00 for the 1.2TB. That is right, Intel is releasing this SSD into the retail market at or under $1 per GB! Sequential read and write for the 1.2TB model is rated for up 2,400/1,200MB/s for while random 4K performance is rated for up to 440K/290K IOPS read/write. The 400GB model is rated for up to 2,200MB/s read and 900MB/s write and up to 430K/230K IOPS read/write. Intel is definitely pushing the boundaries by offering such a great price to performance ratio.
Intel is also including an updated version of the Intel Toolbox with the release of their 750 Series NVMe SSD. It 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 terms of power, the 2.5″, and add-in card form factors, utilize both the 3.3v and 12V rails, rather than the 5V rail as we see with most consumer SATA SSDs. These are rated for an average read and write wattage of 12W read and 9W write for the 400GB model and up to 22W read and 10W write for the 1.2TB model at a QD128 under sequential read and write workloads with 64KB data. Both have an idle power draw of 4W.
This SSD features your standard TRIM and garbage collection support as well as power-loss protection, however, it does not come with any type of hardware encryption; Intel has saved that feature for its enterprise class SSDs. Finally, the endurance is rated for up to a maximum of 219TB written and the Intel 750 series is backed by a 5-year limited warranty.