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Intel Releases Sluggish M.2 NVMe DC P3100 SSD Series (Update: Controller And Pricing)

Update, 10/28/2016, 2:30pm PT: Intel confirmed that the DC P3100 Series uses the SMI SM2260 controller, which is also found on the 600p. We also now have pricing information, which we listed in the table below. 

Intel recently refreshed its enterprise SSD portfolio with a wide range of 3D TLC SSDs, and today it announced that it has rounded out its offerings with its first M.2 NVMe SSD. Intel's new DC P3100 series certainly isn't the first M.2 NVMe SSD to hit the market, but it marks a crucial step forward for Intel, which has experimented with the M.2 form factor for its previous-generation SATA SSDs. The DC P3100 series sets a new low benchmark for several metrics, but the incredibly low specifications are due in part to Intel's lack of a common SSD capability and its focus on the low end of the market.

That focus on the low end of the data center SSD market makes sense, especially for the blossoming NVMe segment, which is trending towards low-cost solutions. Intel designed the DC P3100 for read-centric workloads, such as boot drives, web hosting, search indexing, and edge caching. Intel even has a handy calculator for common data center workloads that can help you ferret out how much endurance your SSD needs.

Intel DC P3100 Series128GB256GB512GB1TB
NANDIntel 3D TLCIntel 3D TLCIntel 3D TLCIntel 3D TLC
Form Factor (PCIe 3.0x 4)M.2 2280 SS NVMeM.2 2280 SS NVMeM.2 2280 SS NVMeM.2 2280 SS NVMe
Random Read/Write IOPS (up to)27,000/2,20052,500/5,50088,000/10,000114,000/9,000
Sequential Read/Write MB/s (up to)720/551,400/1001,200/1451,800/175
Endurance (TBW)72145300580
Endurance DWPD 3-Year/5-Year0.52/0.310.52/0.310.52/0.310.52/0.31
Avg. Power Consumption (W)
MTBF/AFR2M Hours/0.73%2M Hours/0.73%2M Hours/0.73%2M Hours/0.73%

The DC P3100 appears, at least on the surface, to be a data center version of the Intel 600p, which the company designed for the consumer market. The M.2 SSD features the 2280 form factor and communicates over the PCIe 3.0 x4 connection with the NVMe protocol. The single-sided design increases compatibility and also mirrors the design of the 600p.

The DC P3100 has lower performance specifications than its (seemingly) client counterpart, but this is likely due to the different test methodology used for data center SSDs, which quantify steady-state (worst-case) performance. Intel hasn't provided a lot of information on the new SSD, such as the controller technology used. We also don't know if the DC P3100 uses an SLC cache, but it likely does.

The new series features abnormally low sequential write performance--the entire series is slower than an HDD in this metric; the 128GB model even dives as low as 55MB/s, which is below some USB sticks. This is likely due to the harsher steady state testing, which reveals post-SLC cache performance.

Intel is the only SSD vendor that does not utilize a direct-to-die (or equivalent) write scheme in tandem with its SLC cache. This feature allows the SSD to write directly to the TLC NAND when the buffer is full, but instead, Intel's SSDs still have to pass all data through the SLC cache--even when it's full. Intel has been using third-party SSD controllers from SMI for its client products, and we suspect it is leveraging the same for the DC P3100. It is inexplicable why Intel doesn't have this common technology on its 3D TLC NAND products, but we imagine the company is working on it. It certainly highlights the weakness of using third party controllers (i.e., less innovation).

The SSDs also have low random write performance that dips down to 2,200 IOPS for the 128GB model. This is still better than any HDD, so it should be suitable for the bottom end of read-centric workloads. 

Intel provides DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day) endurance metrics for both five-year and three-year spans, though it is notable that the warranty ends if you surpass the rated write endurance, which it measures with the MWI counter (E9 SMART attribute). The SSD offers a competitive power consumption profile of 5.5W during average use, which is much lower than HDDs. The density (up to 1TB) and power consumption metrics are a few of the key attributes that make the DC P3100 desirable; it even idles at 10mW, which is exponentially lower than any HDD.

The DC P3100 is bereft of the normal features that we expect with an enterprise SSD, such as power loss protection. It also doesn't appear to offer end-to-end data path protection, but it does support AES-256 encryption. The DC P3100 also has a somewhat lower 1.6 million hour MTBF (0.73% AFR) than we are accustomed to, but we expect these tradeoffs with a value-centric SSD.

Intel's continued focus on the low end of the market is timely; SSDs are continuing to displace more HDDs from both mundane and high-performance applications. The 15K HDD is going the way of the dodo, and some project that other 2.5" models aren't far behind, such as 2.5" 7,200RPM HDDs that data centers often use for similar read-centric use cases.

Intel indicated that the DC P3100 is available now, and we have the MSRP listed in the table above.

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.