2017 would have been much different if Intel’s first-generation 32-layer flash had performed as well as its new second-gen 64-layer. For most of the year, Samsung dominated with third-gen V-NAND and Toshiba still shipped 15nm planar flash. Both types of flash produced a better user experience than IMFT's 32-layer MLC/TLC. Now things are looking up for Intel as it plows into 2018 armed with a very competitive NVMe SSD powered by improved flash.
Earlier this month, Intel and Micron announced plans to end their joint NAND development after a twelve-year partnership. The two companies will finish developing the third-gen 3D NAND technology together but then take separate paths. It’s difficult to say what sent the NAND partnership over the edge, but many analysts had predicted the breakup. The venture isn't entirely dissolved, though. Intel and Micron will continue to develop 3D XPoint together even though Intel is still the only company with products using the high-speed memory.
A recent leak may explain why the 760p, which is a replacement for the 600p, jumps into the 7-series tier. The leaked information claims that QLC NAND, which holds four bits per cell, will power a new 660p model that should debut before the end of the year. Those new SSDs might have spurred Intel to put more distance between the new entry-level QLC drive and the TLC-based 760p.
It’s still early in the year, but other companies are already reacting to IMFT’s high-speed 64-layer TLC. Just hours ago, Samsung released the new SATA 860 Pro and EVO models that contend with Intel’s 545s and Crucial’s award-winning MX500. Samsung decided to stick with its price premium for the EVO series, so it can't match the Crucial MX500's price point. Now Samsung's new NVMe 900 series, due for a makeover in April, will have to contend with the Intel 760p.
The 760p is the best overall SSD value on the market, but that only applies if your system supports the NVMe protocol and you don’t need workstation-class endurance. The 760p could benefit from optimizations for application performance, but firmware updates can add some pep there. Notebook users should take notice of our MobileMark results—the 760p delivered an excellent mix of performance and battery life.
2018 will mark the end of the flash shortage and the return of competition to the consumer SSD market. Plentiful flash means plentiful competition. We expect Crucial to jump into the NVMe space for the first time, but Adata will enter the fray with a similar hardware configuration first. HP will also release a similar product. SMI is poised to capitalize with its SM2262, which may become the next SandForce SF-2281-esque controller that entices more companies into the SSD market.
The Intel SSD 760p looks like an excellent value at $79, $119, and $199, but you'll need to monitor how fast consumer SSD prices fall throughout the year. At this point, there is very little reason to shop for a SATA SSD unless your other components limit your upgrade path.
Like the 600p, the new 760p doesn’t come to market with a 1TB option. Intel will ship the 1TB- and 2TB-class models later this quarter. The high-capacity drives are a better fit for most of our readers, but pricing may leave some teetering between a low-cost 1TB SSD or a high-performance 1TB 760p. Intel will win that battle every time if it can keep pricing closer to $350 than $400. We shouldn’t have to wait long to see how the story unfolds.
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