Intel 750 Series 1.2TB NVMe PCIe SSD Review

What Is NVMe?

With all of the NVMe talk over the last few months, perhaps you're wondering what all of the fuss is about.

Non-Volatile Memory Express, or NVMe, is a new specification optimized for NAND flash and next-generation solid-state storage technologies. Over the course of several years, CPU and DRAM speeds have increased. But mechanical hard drives and the interface to them have stayed stagnant. NVMe was designed to shrink the gap between fast DRAM and the storage feeding data to the system.

Several companies are involved in the NVMe initiative. In this review, we're focusing on Intel and its SSD 750 SSD. However, the interface on which this product rides was co-developed by several companies. Many of them already have NVMe products in the wild, though most exist in the enterprise segment.

The technology has already spread across several several different platforms. Most will use Intel's SSD 750 in Windows (8.1 already has a native NVMe driver). I've tested Intel's NVMe-capable products with Microsoft's native drive and Intel's own software, and found the Intel driver superior in performance. The company also has a SSD 750 driver for Windows 7.

When Intel introduced its Sandy Bridge architecture, DDR3-1600 was prevalent. Haswell-E with DDR4 moved mainstream DRAM transfer rates t 2400 MT/s with enthusiast-oriented kits in the 3000 MT/s range. Between those points in time, hard drive performance stayed in the 150 and 200 MB/s range for sequential operations. SSDs using the AHCI command set helped close the gap. However, the limits of SATA, an interface designed for mechanical disks, quickly limited growth for future products.


The Intel SSD 750 falls into the add-in card category, though Intel also released it in 2.5" trim with a SFF-8639 connector. The 18-channel controller was never designed for use in SATA Express (SATAe) or M.2 form factors.

Some enthusiasts are disappointed in the lack of SATA Express products available today. But different strokes for different folks, right? At this time, SATAe with two lanes of PCIe 2.0 (or 1000 MB/s) is already too slow for high-performance SSDs. I wouldn't be surprised if the first SATAe product to enter the market is not an SSD at all. Western Digital has already made good progress on a hybrid drive that employs SATAe.

These form factors are accompanied by specifications beyond just their connector types. Power consumption and cooling capacity are important considerations, too. A M.2 SSD that is roughly the width, depth and thickness of a stick of gum can't dissipate the same amount of heat as a HHHL PCIe card with a big heat sink. The Intel SSD 750 SSD is rated for up to 25W. M.2 SSDs are limited to less than 10.


The 2.5" implementation of the SSD 750 uses a SFF-8639 connector. On the other end of the interface cable is a mini-SAS HD connector, which was introduced with SAS 12Gb/s RAID controllers and HBAs as a way to shrink the footprint on the card and increase signal integrity. 

SATA brought necessary changes to improve rotating media, but was never designed for the speed of flash. The first SATA 6Gb/s SSD was already limited by the interface in sequential workloads. The command set was intended for storage devices with higher measured latency. NVMe with a direct link to the CPU via the PCIe bus reduces both physical and underlying communication latency.

The command set reduces latency by decreasing the size of the commands and the number required to complete an I/O operation. Essentially, you have less data flowing back and forth on the back end. This frees bandwidth and CPU overhead at the same time.

One of the more interesting aspects of NVMe is its new queue depth limits. SATA supports one command with 32 queues at a time. NVMe supports 64,000 commands with up to 64,000 queues at a time. Your client workload will never get anywhere near that ceiling; meanwhile, multitasking performance should increase right out of the box.

NVMe also supports commands from more than one processor core at a time and prioritizes the requests. This is another feature that will benefit enterprise workloads more than the client space. 

For client users, NVMe means lower latency. This leads to a better user experience and overall level of satisfaction from your PC.

Later this year, consumer NVMe devices built for mobile platforms like Ultrabooks and even tablets will increase battery life. The new specifications are autonomous with the storage device in control of stepping down to lower power states.

NVMe is already up to revision 1.1, but the group is working to further optimize the command set for future use. 

Non-volatile memory isn't limited to the NAND flash we have today. NVMe will eventually pair with other storage technologies. 3D NAND will last us for several more product generations, but new technologies are already in development to replace it.

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  • mapesdhs
    Typo on the 1st page, it states, "Up To 22400 MB/s" for sequential read.
    Presumably that's supposed to be 2400. ;)

    Ian.

    PS. Would be handy to include just one good normal SATA SSD as
    a comparison reference, eg. 850 Pro 512GB.
    7
  • CRamseyer
    Thanks Ian, we'll get the typo fixed ASAP.

    Let me see what I can do about putting a 2.5" performance drive in the charts. I'm building new charts now for PCIe-based devices.

    Looks for the other SM951 capacity sizes and Predator soon.
    6
  • tridon
    Quote:

    PS. Would be handy to include just one good normal SATA SSD as
    a comparison reference, eg. 850 Pro 512GB.


    For those of us that don't have these number in our heads, I get no real sense of how fast this really is compared to my ssd.
    3
  • unityole
    from what I see, intel with lower performance number is likely due to lower performance controller or flash or firmware, whichever it maybe we all know samsung like to clock controller/flash higher for better looking performance. reason that random write at QD1 is so fast probably because of NVMe. can't wait to see this go up against SM951 NVMe.
    0
  • unityole
    Quote:
    For those of us that don't have these number in our heads, I get no real sense of how fast this really is compared to my ssd.


    from HDD to SSD you see the huge latency drop by about 50x, where as fastest SSD compare to ram is maybe 30-50x dependent on ram/ssd. with NVMe can look forward to at least another 3x loss in latency.

    basically it'll be so much more snappier than your ssd for sure.
    4
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Does this quote from page 5 apply to this card: "In time, we hope to see a RAID 0 NVMe boot environment that would give this test a little more meaning."

    Is this card bootable in Windows 10 or not?
    1
  • CRamseyer
    I haven't tested it in Win 10 yet but I don't see MS going backwards with NVMe and not allowing it to boot.
    3
  • ralanahm
    Hi thank you for the article. If you ever reviewed a Mushkin scorpion deluxe could it be added to the chart? it has 2000 MB/s. the top one is a four 480-ssd raid on a card.

    http://poweredbymushkin.com/catalog/36-scorpion-deluxe-pcie-ssd
    0
  • Arabian Knight
    NVMe Samsung SM951 is coming soon . and I think it will outperform this card ;) ..
    0
  • atheus
    Maybe it's just me (I doubt it) — when I see an article on something like this the biggest question on my mind is what exactly am I going to get from going with something like this for a system build rather than 2.5" SATA SSD at less than half the price. In order to understand that, I've got to go dig out another article with 2.5" SSD stats and compare them there. Please consider putting the most prevalent main drive option of today into the charts next time you pop out a NVMe article.
    5
  • JoeMomma
    From what I have read about SSD speed, SATA3 is adequate for most people. A PCI-e storage or RAID will crush a 500Gb/s in benchmarks or workstation productivity apps pushing large file sizes. But for browsing, games and heavy use even Tom's tester said he could not "feel" the difference between a single SSD and a RAID that benchmarked much higher. Where I think NVMe shines is the ability to have a separate queue for each thread. I want the 400GB Intel 750 asap.
    0
  • AndrewJacksonZA
    Anonymous said:
    I haven't tested it in Win 10 yet but I don't see MS going backwards with NVMe and not allowing it to boot.


    Thank you Chris.
    0
  • jasonkaler
    What happens when you exceed the "70 GB Per Day" "endurance" ?
    At 1200 MB/s - that happens in one minute flat.
    0
  • danlw
    What exactly is "Service Time"? I read the TomsHardware article "How We Test HDDs And SSDs", but I'm still fuzzy on "Service Time". Using Battlefield 3 / WoW, for example, are those times how long it takes for the game to load? (I'm pretty sure Wow loads for me much faster than 57 seconds for me) What I'd like to see is a "Load Time" chart. Will an Intel 750 boot windows and load games faster than the other SSDs in the chart? That's where the value is for me - reducing load times.
    0
  • JQB45
    Quote:
    What happens when you exceed the "70 GB Per Day" "endurance" ?
    At 1200 MB/s - that happens in one minute flat.


    It will be fine so long as you don't do it to often. So write once to the drive and then as little as possible for the life of the drive and it will last a long time.
    0
  • Larry Litmanen
    What will be the boot time with this thing? 10 seconds? 5 seconds?
    0
  • kiniku
    Quote:

    PS. Would be handy to include just one good normal SATA SSD as
    a comparison reference, eg. 850 Pro 512GB.

    Quote:
    For those of us that don't have these number in our heads, I get no real sense of how fast this really is compared to my ssd.

    Yes. On all these sites it seems new SSD reviews these days contain droves of benchmark results and in the final words or conclusions it states something as ambiguous as "this is really fast!" Most of us already own an SSD. How about we move on from the magnetic drive era and give us SSD enthusiasts a conclusion. For example I enjoy the "diminished returns" comments in the monthly best CPU articles.
    3
  • unityole
    some people would be ok with just a 2.5" sata SSD. for people that are getting this, considering you are on a sata III ssd and you are trying to explain its just much better to have it over a sata I but they just wont budge because they dont think the difference is worth the cost, and they do have a point. sometimes its unnecessary to upgrade but we do it anyway.

    right now these pcie cost a lot, and it'll drop overtime, first it'll be 2.5" hopefully we see some tlc at 4TB a piece at 7 or 9.5mm, follow by these nvme ssd become available for majority of notebook.

    sata III compare to sata I is around 3 to 3.5x of sequential read/write performance, 4k increases by around 2-3x, and due to older gen SATA I ssd with older flash/controller/firmware etc, latency is about 2-3x higher. NVMe compare to sata III is about the same.
    1
  • Eggz
    Here's the Tom's review I've been waiting for! Great review!

    I am curious to know more about the "heavy conditioning" mentioned on the second-to-last page. It says that heavy conditioning the 750 changes the game entirely, but what exactly did achieving that entail?
    0
  • danlw
    Toms, you may want to investigate boot times. I read a review on another site, and the Intel 750 took significantly longer to boot than standard SATA drives - on the order of 10+ seconds longer to boot. I wonder if this was a configuration issue, or something about NVMe is not conducive to fast boots?
    0