Intel SSD DC P3700 800GB and 1.6TB Review: The Future of Storage

With the introduction of its SSD DC P3700, P3600, and P3500, Intel is giving us our first taste of the PCIe-based NVMe specification. We take the flagship P3700 for a drive in its 800 GB and 1.6 TB incarnations. Just how fast is the future of storage?

PCI Express-based SSDs are nothing new. OCZ and Fusion-io have been pumping them out for years. The interface facilitates freedom from the physical and architectural limitations of SATA. In the past, though, PCIe SSDs were simply SATA-attached drives glued together with an HBA on a single add-in card. There were notable exceptions, such as Micron's P320h and P420m, which used a native PCIe-to-NAND controller. But most were just brute force attempts at higher performance. Even previous Intel products like the SSD 910 were a group of solid-state devices connected to Hitachi SAS adapters. 

Clearly, they employed a form factor different from the rotating hard drives we're accustomed to reviewing. But architecturally, PCIe-attached SSDs were still familiar. Some boasted ridiculously fast performance, but they always felt like niche products. There was no one standard binding them together, giving the product class legitimacy.

With the introduction of NVM Express, an official interface specification for accessing solid-state storage through PCI Express, manufacturers now have a set of guidelines that not only releases them from the limitations of AHCI, but also provides a wide range of interoperability benefits. In the next section, we'll take a deep dive into the specifics of NMVe and its various incarnations. Before that, though, let's take a look at Intel's newest NVMe-based drives (the first of their kind to land in Tom's Hardware's lab).

Eager to move the dial on NVMe right out of the gate, Intel is introducing a full range of compatible drives. Officially dubbed the SSD DC P3700, P3600, and P3500 the company's latest represent the same general use cases as their SATA-based predecessors. Mainly, the three product families are differentiated based on write performance and endurance, just as we've seen so many times before. Capacities also vary, ranging from 400 GB to a massive 2 TB. All versions are available in either a half-height, half-length (HHHL) PCIe add-in card or a 2.5", 15 mm-thick SFF-8639 form factor.

*ratings are "up to"

Compared to the performance figures we're used to seeing in our SSD reviews, these numbers are promising. All three line-ups promise good read performance for both sequential and random operations. Write performance also appears strong, scaling across the trio of product families.

Of course, if you're already familiar with the existing PCIe-based storage hardware out there, these specifications aren't as obscene. In fact, contenders like Micron's P320h and P420m match or exceed many of those bullet points. We even have an OCZ Z-Drive R4 from 2011 that provides similar performance in certain areas.

So, what makes these drives better? In short, cost. The SSD DC P3500 is the most aggressively priced, selling for about $600 at a 400 GB capacity point. The 400 GB P3600 sets you back $783, while the P3700 lands at $1207. For a little bit of perspective, many enterprise-oriented PCIe-based SSDs still command anywhere from $5 to $10 per gigabyte.

For this review, we are focusing on the 800 GB and 1.6 TB Intel SSD DC P3700s. Within each product family, there are big capacity-based differences that typically affect write performance. It's impressive to see write endurance exceeding 36 PB from that 2 TB model in the table below.

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Before we run the SSD DC P3700 through our test suite, lets take a closer look at the technology behind NVMe.

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

    (3500 scores highest, while the 3700 scores lowest)
    1
  • redgarl
    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.
    0
  • Nuckles_56
    "Intel's 2 TB model purportedly needs 650 LFM across the drive"

    What the hell is LFM?
    3
  • JeanLuc
    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.
    0
  • pjmelect
    Quote:
    "Intel's 2 TB model purportedly needs 650 LFM across the drive"

    What the hell is LFM?


    Linear Feet per Minute of airflow
    4
  • pjmelect
    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
  • Nuckles_56
    Anonymous said:
    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
  • xXXGamesmasheRXXx
    These Expensive Numbers!
    0
  • WyomingKnott
    Did I misread the charts, or did this drive consistently come in second or third except in consistency?
    0
  • chewrock
    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
  • drewriley
    Anonymous said:
    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
  • drewriley
    Anonymous said:
    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
  • drewriley
    Anonymous said:
    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.
    0
  • drewriley
    Anonymous said:
    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.
    -1
  • drewriley
    Anonymous said:
    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
  • bin1127
    Wanted to make a joke about the name but, nevermind.
    0
  • f-14
    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
  • saturn85
    Anonymous said:
    Anonymous said:
    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.
    0