NVMe Arrives with Intel’s 750 Series SSDs

Review: No longer just for the Enterprise market, NVMe is here now…

Intel NVME SSD (1 of 3)

Today Intel is launching a pair of new SSDs as it’s 750 series of drives. Both of these offerings are PCI-E SSDs that take advantage of the NVMe standard. For those of you that are unfamiliar with NVMe or Non-Volatile Memory Express its a specification for accessing SSDs over the PCI-E bus. The first NVMe devices launched back in 2012 but with the advent of PCI-E 3.0 and Intel’s high-end client platform X99 the company has seen fit to revisit their implementation of NVMe.

When plugged into the X99 platform Intel’s new 750 Series SSDs have a direct four link wide PCI-E 3.0 connection to the CPU. This connection completely bypasses Intel’s platform controller hub (south bridge) and its DMI bus which uses four lanes of PCI-E 2.0 for traditional storage devices. The use of these new SDDs also, according to Intel, will not compromise the performance of multi-GPU setups due to the copious number of PCI-E lanes present on its Haswell-E. Enough infact for eight lane PCI-E 3.0 connections to four graphics cards and a four lane connection to one of these SSDs.

Intel is launching two SSDs to cater to two different form-factors. First up we have a workstation oriented half-height, half-length PCI-E board with a half-height bracket on it (a full size bracket is included in the box). This is the larger and faster of the two offerings and it comes with 1.2 terabytes of user accessible memory. Then we have the smaller of the two which is a 2.5″ form-factor drive that connects to a PCI-E slot via an SF-8643 PCI-E cable and has 400 Gigabytes of user accessible memory. There’s no official word on how much spare NAND Intel has equipped these drives with, but given Intel’s track record we’d expect there to be plenty.

Compared to SATA-based SSDs these new drives from Intel draw quite a bit of power. Intel says the 1.2 TB version draws a maximum of 22 Watts and the 400 GB version a maximum of 10 Watts. Idle power consumption is the same for both drives at 4 Watts. Hot plugging our 1.2 TB sample worked flawlessly.

Intel NVME SSD (2 of 3)

To test performance we used the open source tool Iometer and a widget called CrystalDiskMark. Needless to say Intel’s 750 series drives are extremely fast. So fast in fact that we have nothing remotely competitive to compare them to in our labs. Instead we going to compare our sample to a drive from Intel’s traditional competitor: AMD. Our 256 GB Radeon R7 SSD is an OCZ built drive branded with AMD’s colors and is a solid SATA III SSD. It is of course no match for anything in Intel’s 750 series but it offers us an excellent reference point for comparing SATA III SSD performance to the NVMe monster that Intel has created.

Here’s our testing platform:

Test system 2

For the sake of transparency we want you to know that Intel provided the 1.2 TB 750 Series SSD we’ll be testing today. Intel also provided the CPU, motherboard, and RAM used in this article for prior reviews. All the other parts we’re using were purchased at retail without the knowledge or consent of those companies. As always you can find our raw testing data on OneDrive. We took no outside input for this article other than the suggestions and support coming from our lovely forums, thanks guys.

As a head ups to people looking to install an Intel 750 series SSD, your motherboard will likely need a BIOS update to support this SSD. The Gigabyte motherboard we used had a new revision posted specifically for this purpose. You will also need to acquire an NVMe driver from Intel’s website to get maximum performance from these SSDs. This is necessary because as our initial results show there’s a sizable performance gap between the generic Windows driver and whatever secret sauce is in Intel version.

NVMe Driver Comparison

Okay, in this case saying that Intel’s driver offers a sizable advantage over the Windows driver is a little like saying that a McLaren P1 is a bit faster than a Nissan Leaf. The gap between the two is immense and you’re basically throwing most of the NVMe performance advantage away if you don’t use Intel’s driver.

Intel 750 SSD slide

Intel’s listed some pretty aggressive performance specifications for its Intel 750 Series 1.2 TB SSD. Let’s see if our sample can live up to those promises in the real world.

Intel Spec Check Iometer

Intel’s 1.2 TB 750 SSD actually outperforms its listed specifications by a little bit. It’s nice to see a company offer up conservative performance numbers for once.

Iometer NVMe to SATAIII

Using those same benchmarks we can see that the performance gulf between SATA III SSDs and NVMe SSDs is wider than the great plains of middle America. With a minimum advantage of nearly 2.5 times SATA III performance its clear that SATA III SSDs while massively faster than hard drives are completely out classed by NVMe SSDs. This is not a contest, this is a blow out that should make you question why OEMs even bother putting SATA ports on modern motherboards for use with SSDs.

Crystaldiskmark NVMe to SATAIII

Moving to CrystalDiskMark we can see that the performance landscape remains almost exactly the same. NVMe SSDs are to SATA III SSDs as the first SSDs were to hard drives.

As of press time we don’t have any word from Intel on pricing. We will update this post when we do. UPDATE: The 1.2 TB model we tested is priced at $1,029 and the smaller 400 GB model is priced at $389. These prices are inline with competing solutions and at least for the 400 GB model, they are just a bit out of the range that most people are willing to spend on an SSD.

Intel NVME SSD (3 of 3)

With Intel’s 750 Series of SSDs the company is once again redefining the consumer SSD landscape. These drives aren’t cheap but they are well-built, mindbogglingly fast, and easily the most interesting SSDs Intel’s launched in the last year. If you’ve got a pile of cash burning a hole in your pocket or you’re doing video production work then this is the SSD for you. If you’re still having trouble justifying the purchase of a 256 GB SATA III SSD then the time is not yet right for NVMe to change your computing experience. But take the performance of Intel’s 750 Series SSDs as a sign of things to come over the next couple of years and rejoice that this kind of performance is coming down the pipe to a workstation near you.S|A

The following two tabs change content below.
Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.