The PC storage world was undeniably boring, and spinning, before SSDs came along. SSDs were expensive and somewhat exotic at first, but still worth every penny. SSDs deliver revolutionary speed that unlocks the true potential of the CPU, and you cannot seriously claim to have a performance PC today if it doesn't have a slab of flash attached to the SATA port.
Therein lies the problem. The SATA connection was designed for old spinning HDDs and not optimized to provide the ultra-low latency and blistering speed that SSDs crave. SSDs outstripped the limitations of the trusty old SATA port over the last few years, and prices have dropped to the point of commoditization. New SSDs are only making small incremental gains with each release, and it seems the days of big performance boosts are over.
...until NVMe came to save the day. NVMe is a refined interface designed from the ground up for non-volatile memories, which includes DRAM and future PCM/MRAM, and it runs over the inherently faster PCIe bus. In other words, it's more than fast enough for a bunch of NAND chips packed onto a PCB. Unfortunately, NVMe made its debut in the enterprise space. Salivating enthusiasts the world over had to live vicariously through enterprise hardware reviews, impatiently waiting for the day NVMe finally made its way to the desktop.
Intel has ended the waiting with the new NVMe Intel SSD 750 Series, designed for enthusiasts and gamers alike, that lays claim to the title of the fastest storage hardware available to consumers.
The 750 Series comes in two capacities of 400 GB and 1.2 TB and leverages a PCIe 3.0 x4 connection to blast out up to 2,400 MBps of sequential read speed and 1,200 MBps of sequential write speed (1.2 TB model). For IOPS, the 750 offers up to 440,000 read and 290,000 write. That is nearly quadruple the IOPS performance of anything else on the market, including the latest m.2 models.
The Intel 750 Series SSDs certainly aren't going to fit in your laptop, but Intel is turning the storage world on its ear by also offering 2.5" versions. These still communicate via PCIe 3.0 x4 and offer the same exceptional performance as the larger Add-In Cards (AIC). Most 2.5" SSDs are 7 mm thick, but the 750 Series are 15 mm and will leverage an SFF-8639-compatible connector to connect to special connectors on motherboards. The cable will connect to an SFF-8643 connector, and motherboard manufacturers already have embedded connectors coming to market. ASUS also has an m.2-to-8643 connector, and we expect others will use this approach as well.
The 750s are bootable with the UEFI stack, but Intel is only guaranteeing compatibility with Z97 and X99 platforms with Windows 7 64-bit (and up) at this time. This doesn't mean the drives will not work with all prior chipsets, just that compatibility (particularly for booting) will be spotty. Intel is compiling a compatibility matrix for older hardware that will be available to the public. There is the chance that motherboard vendors will update older UEFI stacks to be compatible with the new cards, but that remains to be seen.
The 750 Series is a re-purposed and slightly modified version of the Intel P3x00 DC (Data Center) Series. The 750 features Intel L85C 20 nm MLC NAND connected to a monstrous 18-channel controller, and 9 percent overprovisioning provides 70 GB of write endurance per day for the five-year warrantied period. This will be more than enough for the average consumer, and even enough for some prosumer applications.
What else could one possibly want? Well, a reasonable price is going to be at the top of the list for most. The 750 Series features an MSRP of $389 for the 400 GB model and $1,029 for the 1.2 TB. Perhaps the only oddity is the lack of an 800 GB model. With the amazingly low cost, especially when compared to the price of other PCIe SSDs with a fraction of the performance, Intel should have a winner on its hands.
There really is no other storage hardware on the market to even compare to the Intel 750; it simply doesn't get faster for consumers. Did I say fire-breathing? The 750 Series is available now, and at less than $1 per GB we hope Intel has a few million of these in stock. Look to these pages soon for our full review with real-word testing.
UPDATE: 4/2/2015 4:15: Corrected Z77 to Z97