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Intel's SSD DC P3700: Up Close and Personal

Intel SSD DC P3700 800GB and 1.6TB Review: The Future of Storage
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The SSD DC P3700 is an impressive-looking piece of hardware. The half-height, half-length PCIe x4 add-in card is dominated by a large heat sink. Intel doesn't employ any active cooling. It instead relies on airflow from chassis fans to keep this 25 W board under its thermal ceiling. 

The drive isn't covered by just a dumb block of aluminum. Rather, what appears to be a decorative label actually conceals a plate that helps funnel air through the heat sink. It forms a channel that exploits the front-to-back cooling of most servers. Moreover, there's actually a heat sink inside. It's dedicated to the controller and sits inside of the larger sink. The smaller heat sink extends beyond the bottom of the larger sink and is held in place by an aluminum band. This allows for more consistent pressure on the processor, increasing the efficiency of heat transfer.

Why did Intel go through so much trouble designing this product's cooling? Like many PCIe-based SSDs and RAID cards, the SSD DC P3700 pulls the full 25 W allowed from a PCI Express slot. Thermal management is a priority though, and there are also lower-power modes that let you use this drive in systems not equipped with adequate cooling. 

With the heat sink pulled off, you can see that the board is loaded with NAND packages (in total, our 800 GB model has 36). Each package hosts 20 nm Intel HET (High-Endurance Technology) MLC NAND. In the SSD DC P3700 series, this amount of raw flash adds up to about 25% spare area.

On the controller side of the PCB, all of the NAND and DRAM packages are topped with thermal gap pads that interface with the heat sink.

The SSD DC P3700 uses NAND we've seen on some of Intel's existing products. But the controller is all-new. A great many of the SATA-based SSDs we review employ an eight-channel design. The P3700's processor supports an astounding 18 channels and operates at 400 MHz. Naturally, you get a ton more parallelism, which plays to one of NVMe's strengths.

Our review unit also hosts 1.25 GB (256 MB x 5) of DDR3-1600 DRAM. The NAND and DRAM placement on both sides of the board is identical. They're almost mirror images of each other.

Intel's NVMe-based product line has one other trick up its sleeve. You can buy these drives to drop into a PCIe slot or in 2.5" enclosures. Now, you might be asking how to attach a 2.5" drive that communicates over PCIe, right? That's where the SFF-8639 connector specification comes in.

This enterprise connector specification is where the industry is heading. What might not be totally clear is that it allows for a single connector able to support current SATA and SAS drives, and facilitates PCIe signaling. The unused portion of the SATA/SAS connector exposes the PCI Express lanes, along with the required sideband signals and clocks. But while the connector supports multiple interfaces, it's up to the system manufacturer to expose the right hook-ups. You may see SFF-8639 drive bays limited to SATA/SAS or PCIe, for example. And don't expect this stuff on the desktop anytime soon. As of now, it's an enterprise-only specification.

We really like the table above because it also shows the specifics of SATA Express, which always comes up when we talk about NVMe and SFF-8639. Unlike SFF-8639, SATA Express requires a host mux in order to tell the system whether the drive is using SATA or PCIe for connectivity.

It's unfortunate that we don't have an SFF-8639-attached SSD DC P3700 to look at because we still have a few concerns. Although the form factor is rated at the same performance as an add-in card, its environmental specs are completely different. Intel says that the PCIe board can handle between 0 and 55 °C. The 2.5" models are only rated for 0 to 35 °C ambient. The add-in card needs the typical 200-300 linear feet per minute to achieve those temperatures. Hitting 35 degrees imposes more serious requirements. Intel's 2 TB model purportedly needs 650 LFM across the drive, for example. That could prove challenging, since most servers put storage up in the front of their enclosures and use fans to pull air over the device's surface.

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  • 0 Hide
    blackmagnum , August 13, 2014 12:17 AM
    A large heat sink on an SSD? This thing is too hot to touch!
  • 0 Hide
    saturn85 , August 13, 2014 2:19 AM
    will this kind of ssd suffer from write wear out/reduce lifespan?
  • 1 Hide
    xback , August 13, 2014 2:44 AM
    In the 1st table on page 1, the "4k random write IOPS" are reversed :) 

    (3500 scores highest, while the 3700 scores lowest)
  • 0 Hide
    redgarl , August 13, 2014 3:55 AM
    OCZ already went there and even made their own connector for providing more bandwith to SSD... just a shame that now Intel try to remove the carpet from beneath the feet of OCZ. Well, old tech is new tech.

    By the way, OCZ revodrive was priced similarly, I don't see that big fuzz from Toms here.
  • 3 Hide
    Nuckles_56 , August 13, 2014 4:00 AM
    "Intel's 2 TB model purportedly needs 650 LFM across the drive"

    What the hell is LFM?
  • 0 Hide
    JeanLuc , August 13, 2014 5:04 AM
    The active power consumption numbers on first table are wrong (I hope!) 35,000 watts active?

    Edit:
    It's not actually wrong it might just be my out of date browser I'm using in the office but for me the numbers aren't lining up correctly.
  • 4 Hide
    pjmelect , August 13, 2014 5:29 AM
    Quote:
    "Intel's 2 TB model purportedly needs 650 LFM across the drive"

    What the hell is LFM?


    Linear Feet per Minute of airflow
  • -1 Hide
    pjmelect , August 13, 2014 5:33 AM
    Quote:
    "Intel's 2 TB model purportedly needs 650 LFM across the drive"

    What the hell is LFM?


    Linear Feet per Minute of airflow
  • 0 Hide
    Nuckles_56 , August 13, 2014 5:33 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    "Intel's 2 TB model purportedly needs 650 LFM across the drive"

    What the hell is LFM?


    Linear Feet per Minute of airflow


    Ah that makes sense now
  • 0 Hide
    xXXGamesmasheRXXx , August 13, 2014 5:39 AM
    These Expensive Numbers!
  • 0 Hide
    WyomingKnott , August 13, 2014 7:27 AM
    Did I misread the charts, or did this drive consistently come in second or third except in consistency?
  • 0 Hide
    chewrock , August 13, 2014 9:01 AM
    My OCZ Revo drive is a first generation PCIe model I got on sale from New Egg. No problems. What is iNTEL trying to claim? Nothing. Their new interface spec is just making it possible for low-tech users to install a product that OCZ has been selling for years.
  • 0 Hide
    drewriley , August 13, 2014 11:20 AM
    Quote:
    In the 1st table on page 1, the "4k random write IOPS" are reversed :) 

    (3500 scores highest, while the 3700 scores lowest)


    Fixed - Thanks!
  • 0 Hide
    drewriley , August 13, 2014 11:23 AM
    Quote:
    Did I misread the charts, or did this drive consistently come in second or third except in consistency?


    You are correct, there are PCIe SSDs that can beat the P3700, but Intel undercuts the price on those SSDs by a wide margin. SSDs that are in the same price ballpark as the P3700 don't come close in most tests.
  • 0 Hide
    drewriley , August 13, 2014 11:24 AM
    Quote:
    will this kind of ssd suffer from write wear out/reduce lifespan?


    Yes, these SSDs still have a write endurance specification that is listed on the first page. The P3700 can withstand 10 drive writes per day (DWPD) for a full 5 years.
  • -1 Hide
    drewriley , August 13, 2014 11:30 AM
    Quote:
    OCZ already went there and even made their own connector for providing more bandwith to SSD... just a shame that now Intel try to remove the carpet from beneath the feet of OCZ. Well, old tech is new tech.

    By the way, OCZ revodrive was priced similarly, I don't see that big fuzz from Toms here.


    The OCZ RevoDrive's that are similarly priced are more consumer drives and not enterprise like the P3XXX series from Intel. These drives will have more write endurance and greater sustained IOP performance, which is what enterprise customers pay for. Also, NVMe isn't an Intel unique thing. Expect to see all PCIe SSD companies, including OCZ, to follow.
  • 0 Hide
    drewriley , August 13, 2014 11:34 AM
    Quote:
    My OCZ Revo drive is a first generation PCIe model I got on sale from New Egg. No problems. What is iNTEL trying to claim? Nothing. Their new interface spec is just making it possible for low-tech users to install a product that OCZ has been selling for years.


    I wouldn't say Intel is trying to claim anything. They are following\leading an industry specification that most companies will move to eventually, including OCZ. Native booting is obviously one benefit, but low latency and fewer CPU cycles required are what enterprise customers are happy about.
  • 0 Hide
    bin1127 , August 13, 2014 7:51 PM
    Wanted to make a joke about the name but, nevermind.
  • 0 Hide
    f-14 , August 14, 2014 11:55 AM
    Quote:
    Wanted to make a joke about the name but, nevermind.

    AKA Megatron ?

    i don't see the point in this, it reminds me of the ISA memory storage cards. i can't see this lasting more than 5-10 years as some company already figured out how to do this with RAM (samsung wasn't it?) and is working on the need for storage drives altogether and just have RAM drives that don't lose their data sort of an mpci but in a 304-9 pin dimm slot form factor if i recall properly ?

    so these nvmhci might be on the market now but when that company brings their solution to market it's going to eliminate the need for pcie and sata except for optical disc reading and graphics cards. but i am sure those manufacturers will be looking for a way to incorporate gpus into DIMM slot factors to take real advantage of boards with 32+ PCIe lanes like socket 2011/X79/X99 solutions.

    it would eliminate the pathway needs for alot of peripherals and decrease the size of M/B tremendously to where you'd only need a PC the size of a 9"x 6"x 8" case which USB 3.1 and display port/thunderbolt/lightning eliminating the need for alot of built ins
  • 0 Hide
    saturn85 , August 15, 2014 9:02 AM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    will this kind of ssd suffer from write wear out/reduce lifespan?


    Yes, these SSDs still have a write endurance specification that is listed on the first page. The P3700 can withstand 10 drive writes per day (DWPD) for a full 5 years.


    oh, i see, i think i have miss that part. when NVMe first come to my mind, i thought their storage chips have move to non volatile memory base like PCM, ReRAM and ST-MRAM. but now only i notice their storage chips are still NAND base.
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