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Although we have reviewed our share of SSDs in the past, we haven’t seen many NVMe based solid state drives. In fact, only one from Dino back in March of 2015. These PCIe 3.0 x4 drives have been steadily improving in raw speed, and Input/Output Operations Per Second (IOPS), since that point and have almost doubled what we saw with the Kingston offering. We are finally starting to see new ones hit the shelves.
Intel has surfaced again in this space with their latest PCIe NVMe based SSD, the new 750 Series. This drive promises impressive read speeds of 2,200 MB/s reads while writes are supposed to reach 900 MB/s. Let’s look at some other details below and see how it really performed!
Specifications and Features
In the table below, you can see some of the detailed specifications of the drive. We already know the interface is PCIe 3.0 x4. This communicates with the drive via the Intel CH29AE41AB0 controller on Intel’s 20nm 128Gb MLC flash.
Performance on the 400 GB drive is rated at 2200 MB/s reads with 900 MB/s writes (both at 128K file size). The 800 GB drive, surprisingly, slows down just a bit at 2100/800 MB/s reads/writes and the 1.2 TB drive comes in the fastest at 2500/1200 MB/s. IOPS on the review drive are said to reach 430K/230K, the 800 GB slows down a bit to 420K/210K, and the 1.2 TB goes up to 460K/290K respectively.
|Intel 750 SSD Series Specifications
|400 GB (also 800 GB and 1.2 TB)
|PCIe 3.0 x4
|Intel 20nm, 128Gb MLC
|2.5″ 15mm SFF-8639 or PCIe Add-In Card (HHHL)
|101 x 70 x 15mm, 125g
|1.2 million hours
|Sequential Read/Write Speeds (6 GB/s)
|2200/900 MB/s (400 GB), 2100/800 MB/s (800 GB), 2500/1200 MB/s (1.2 TB)
|Max random 4K Read/Write
|400 GB – 430,000/230,000 IOPS, 800 GB 420,000/210,000 IOPS, 1.2 TB 460,000/290,000 IOPS
|Power Consumption (Typical)
|400 GB/800 GB/1.2 TB – Active Read: 9W/9W/10W, Active Write: 12W/15W/22W, Idle: 4W/4W/4W
|70 GB Writes/day (following JEDEC JESD218 standards)
|Service & Support
Below are a list of key features from the Intel Website –
- >4X Performance vs. Intel SATA Solid State Drives
- Excellent Performance per Dollar
- Industry Leading NVM Express Interface
- Exceptional Workload Efficiency
- Outstanding Immersive User Experience
- Faster Game Load TImes
- Ultra High Definition (4K) Video Creation
The retail packaging of the Intel SSD reminds me of, well, Intel processors. The size is around the same as well (at least for CPUs which do not include a cooler). You have the familiar Intel blue along with what looks like a die map around the top edge. Also in blue is a picture of the drive, its capacity and what interface resides inside (as you can get this in U.2, M.2). The back of the box shows some high-level specifications like bandwidth and IOPS.
When you open up the box, inside you are presented with the 15mm high (will not fit in most laptops!) SSD. Below the box is where you will find the accessory stack which includes the M.2 adapter, U.2 adapter, driver disk, and some screws to mount it to a drive cage/baffle.
Below we see our first pictures of the drive. On the Intel 750 we really do not see too much in the way of aesthetics to be honest. The top of the drive has the Intel logo as well as some printed specifications about the drive. We typically do not see specs on the drive, or at least on the front or top anyway. On the bottom of the drive, we see a nice ribbed pattern which looks like, and acts like, a heatsink. There are thermal pads on all sides of the PCB where it makes contact with the aluminum shell, helping to shed some heat.
One may have noticed, or recalled from earlier, this SSD is a lot thicker than your typical 2.5″ drives. Whereas most SSDs are 7mm or 9mm, this drive comes in with a 15mm height to house three PCBs shoe-horned inside the chassis.
The last picture shows the connection… this is not your standard SATA-based drive ladies and gents! Intel allows you to buy this drive in U.2 form or M.2 on one end (while its SAS on the drive itself) in order to connect this drive to your PC. The 750 Series also comes in “add-in” card (PCIe) form as well as the 2.5″ form factor we are reviewing.
Zooming in on the drive after I took it apart (four screws – I assume this voids the warranty), We see the exposed PCB and several thermal pads on the ICs. These thermal pads make contact with the chassis and help get the heat out. With drives this fast we have seen problems before, but in M.2 format, and it’s almost becoming a necessity to prevent throttling. While the drive does get warm to the touch under prolonged loading, I didn’t see any throttling in our testing.
We can see the Intel CH29AE41AB0 controller and the 20nm MLC IC’s.
Below is Intel’s Solid-State Drive Toolbox. This piece of software allows you to check the status of the drive via SMART details and gives you an idea of its overall health and life remaining (I’d imagine its a graphical representation of the SMART data). You are also able to perform diagnostics, secure erase, tune, and update your firmware through this utility.
Test System and Methods
|Test System Components
|MSI X99 Gaming Pro Carbon
|Intel i7 6950X @ Stock (4.2 GHz)
|GSkill Trident Z DDR4 3200 MHz CL 15-15-15-35
|Intel 750 Series 400 GB
|AMD R7 260
Each SSD is Secure Erased (SE) using the included utility to make sure we get the best results possible. We do this before each and every test run to give the comparison samples the best environment possible for testing. Below are the tests we run with a brief description.
- Crystal Disk Mark – Run at Default Settings (5 Pass)
- AS SSD – Run at Default Settings
- IoMeter 2010 – Ran Manually with QD32 for the 4K Tests
- ATTO – Run at Default Settings except the QD Set to 10
Our first benchmark is CrystalDiskMark. CDM is a test of reads and writes of mostly incompressible data. In the first graph, which covers write capabilities, we see the Intel SSD lagging behind in the Sequential QD32T1 test as well as straight sequential. 4K writes were right on par with the other, faster drives, while 4K QD32T1 was a bit behind the pack.
The results seemed a bit low to me so I scoured the web to find another review that used CDM. I found one (thessdreview.com) and confirmed, for whatever reason, my results are low. Their results come in at 1043, 859, 1016, and 347 MB/s respectively. Their numbers line up a lot better with the other drives and expected performance. I have tried fresh installs, used their driver, etc. so I am not sure why my results in this test are lower.
The read performance appears to be much closer to what one would expect when compared with the results I found above. The read performance, on paper, for all these drives are fairly close and we can see actual results are in the ballpark as well.
Moving on to our next benchmark, AS SSD, which also uses incompressible data (all incompressible), shows the Intel 750 doing a pretty good job here keeping up in sequential reads against the “faster” 950 Pro and OCZ RD400. In the 4K test, it was close the OCZ drive, but the Samsung cleaned up here. Looking at the 4K-64Thrd tests with a high queue depth, it really shined and beat out the pack.
Regarding writes in this benchmark, we are seeing more of the same…middle of the pack in sequential writes, and just about matching the OCZ drive in 4K writes. When you get into higher queue depths, the Intel 750 pulls away from the pack.
Overall the drive scored 3,276 easily beating out the other drives in the review.
In our always fun to run IOMeter results, we are seeing the Intel 750 fall behind in 2MB writes, right up there with the other guys in 2MB reads, close to the OCZ in 4K writes (behind the Samsung), and trailing the pack in 4K reads here.
4K write IOPS were spot on (specifications are 120,000 IOPS) coming in just shy of the 120,000 IOPS spec and 119,672. Things look good here!
Last up is ATTO. ATTO uses highly compressible data and is typically used to form the specifications of SSDs in many cases. With the specifications of the Intel drive at 2200 MB/s reads and 900 MB/s writes, the drive has easily eclipsed its ratings in both reads and writes. 4K reads and writes are also showing faster than the other two drives. Others than that, the faster spec’d drives show their mettle surpassing it in this “best circumstance” benchmark.
Anvil Storage Utility
Last up in our test suite is a comprehensive benchmark in Anvil Storage Utility. This benchmark tests various files sizes and queue depths to give a good overall picture of how the drive performs. So far, in the overall score, this is the highest testing drive at 9,727,70 beating out the other drives here which scored below it. The OCZ hitting 9,599.21 while the Samsung came in appreciably lower here at 8,837.15 even though these drives are both spec’d higher. So a very good showing in this all inclusive benchmark. It makes me wonder if we saw some throttling on the M.2 based drives. Hmm…
The Intel 750 Series in its 2.5″ U.2 form, “the cabled NVMe solution” brings you all the performance of the M.2 SSD, but in a 2.5″, 15mm size. The 750 in this form factor comes with either a U.2 to SAS and M.2 to SAS cables so it will work in any motherboard which has either of those two connectors and supports NVMe (SAS is on the drive side). One selling point for going this route over the M.2 sticks are the ability for the chassis to keep things cool and prevent throttling as has been a concern with the Samsung drive in many reviews. No such throttling here!
Performance, in our testing, fell right about where the Intel spec’d the drive out. In most cases it was a bit slower than the other drives used to compare it against in this review, but that was an expected outcome as it isn’t listed to be faster on paper. Intel takes a more reliable type approach in lieu breakneck speeds. Will anyone really notice this difference? Not in most cases. It’s still MUCH faster than its SATA counterpart, that is for sure.
Pricing on the Intel 750 400 GB in the 2.5″ form factor is sitting at $329.99 from Newegg.com. Not a bad price considering how much faster these drives are over their SATA counterparts. If you look at other drives like the Samsung 950 Pro M.2, it comes at $319.99 at Newegg, is faster, and has more capacity coming in at 512 GB. Toshiba/OCZ have also recently put out their first PCIe 3.0 M.2 consumer/enthusiast level drive in the RD400… it is also priced competitively, faster on paper, and with more capacity. With this in mind, I would have liked to see the Intel drive slightly undercutting the other drives if only for the capacity difference.
Overall the Intel 750 drive, in either PCIe based or U.2/M.2 is a solid drive. Intel’s track record of reliability is preceding itself here being generally heralded as one of the most trustworthy brands, having solid customer service, and perhaps that is why the price is a bit high… who knows. In the end, its performance was overall much faster than SATA as we would expect, but did fall behind the other drives. So if you are looking for the fastest drive on the market, you will have to look somewhere else. Make no mistake about it this is one fast drive, it will presumably a reliable drive, and should be a consideration for you when choosing your next PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe based SSD.
– Joe Shields (Earthdog)