Goodbye SATA, hello PCI Express! At long last the tyranny of the SATA 6Gb/s interface is over. Intel has taken the wraps off its first PCIe based consumer and workstation solid-state drive, and it’s a doozy.
The 750 Series is a fully functional PCIe Gen 3 x4 drive with bootable NVMe support, and at least initially will be available in 400GB and 1,200GB capacities. As one would expect given the interface, the 750’s performance is impressive, with read speeds up to 2.2GB/s and writes up to 900MB/s just for the 400GB drive! The 1.2TB model ups those numbers to 2.4GB/s and 1.2GB/s, respectively. Nothing is disclosed yet regarding the 750’s controller, but we can confirm it utilizes Intel’s 20nm MLC flash NAND.
||Intel 750 PCIe Solid-State Drives
|Random 4K Read
|Random 4K Write
|Seq. 128KB Read
|Seq. 128KB Write
||4 / 12 W
||4 / 22 W
||PCIe Gen 3 x4
If those figures don’t seem impressive, then Intel has some more to offer. According to Intel’s own testing, the 750 Series 400GB offers twice the random IOPS performance of Samsung’s SM951 and the Fusion IOdrive2. Intel then decided to pit no less than FOUR Samsung 256GB 850 Pro SSDs in RAID 0 mode against its 1.2TB behemoth, and once again the 750 drive offered better than twice the random read IOPS performance. Ouch.
The 750 Series will be available in a half-height, half-length (HHHL) card form-factor, but for even smaller systems Intel is offering the option of a 2.5” form-factor drive. A 2.5” PCIe powered SSD to be precise, something that is achieved via a PCIe riser card in combination with a SFF-8639 connector cable.
As such, we likely won’t be seeing the 750 Series show up in laptops any time soon – not that it is suited for them anyway. The 750 Series is just a bit of a power-hungry monster; it will draw four watts at idle and twelve during writes for the 400GB model, with that figure increasing up to 22 watts for the 1.2TB model under an intense workload.
Intel’s choice of PCI Express for the 750 Series was a smart one, but it needs some explanation for consumers. The SATA 3.0 (6Gb/s) interface has been a bottleneck for some time, but what is less understood is that its replacement, SATA Express, was already a bottleneck before the standard made it to market. SATA Express itself could offer Gen 2 and Gen 3 support but it was always limited to x2 slot in terms of bandwidth (2GB/s for Gen 3). The more recent M.2 standard is more flexible with a max capability of a Gen 3 x4 connection, but with the big caveat of if the motherboard manufacturer had chosen to support it (most Z97 boards are still x2). Intel has chosen to avoid these muddled waters entirely and stick to a PCIe Gen 3 x4 interface in order to guarantee performance.
Unfortunately, that brings us to a secondary performance issue. For consumers to get maximum performance out of the 750 Series drive they will need to make sure they plug it into a PCIe slot that is directly fed by the CPU’s built-in PCIe lanes.
Current Intel processors such as the 4790K only offer 16 PCIe slots, so either consumers would need to reduce the primary GPU down to x8 bandwidth or the 750 would be forced to use PCIe lanes off the chipset for a small performance hit.
For enthusiasts looking to pair the 750 SSD with a dual-GPU system this means X99 will be the only way to go. Dual-GPU users will already be aware of the 5820K’s 28 PCIe lane limitation so nothing really changes there, x8+x8+x4 would leave plenty of room for that processor. In an ideal world everyone would have an X99 motherboard paired with a 5930k or better processor and such things wouldn’t matter, but until then the 750’s bleeding edge performance is going to continue to showcase bottlenecks in modern Z97 and older platforms.
Platform support aside, Intel’s 750 Series PCIe solid-state drives are presently unrivaled in performance and set a new bar in terms of storage performance from a single SSD. Its PCie Gen 3 x4 interface will give it access to a wide range of enthusiast and workstation class systems and guarantee a certain high threshold of performance, though for absolutely best performance one is still going to need an X99 platform. Intel also declined to mention pricing, but given the incredible performance of the 1.2TB 750 against four SSDs in RAID 0 we are going to go out on a limb and guess price is the last thing on some people’s minds.