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Intel SSD DC P3700 800GB Review - Ludicrous Speed for the Masses!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Intel
Tagged: ssd, pcie, NVMe, Intel, DC P3700

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction:

Intel has a nasty habit of releasing disruptive technology, especially in the area of computer storage. Among the first of those releases was the X25-M, which was groundbreaking to say the least. At a time where most other SATA SSDs were just stopgap attempts to graft flash memory to a different interface, Intel's SATA SSD was really the first true performer.

With performance in the bag, Intel shifted their attention to reducing the cost of their products. The next few generations of the Intel line was coupled with leadership in die shrinks. This all came together in the form of SSD releases of increasingly reduced cost. Sure the enterprise parts retained a premium, but the consumer parts generally remained competitive.

Now Intel appears to have once again shifted their attention to performance, and we know it has been in the works for a while now. With the SATA bottleneck becoming increasingly apparent, big changes needed to me made. First, SATA, while fine for relatively high latency HDD's, was just never meant for SSD speeds. As SSD performance increased, the latencies involved with the interface overhead (translating memory-based addresses into ATA style commands) becomes more and more of a burden.

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The solution is to not only transition to PCIe, but to do so using a completely new software and driver interface, called NVM Express. NVMe has been in the works for a while, and offers some incredible benefits in that it essentially brings the flash memory closer to the CPU. The protocol was engineered for the purpose of accessing flash memory as storage, and doing so as fast and with the least latency as possible. We hadn't seen any true NVMe products hit the market, until today, that is:

Behold the Intel SSD DC P3700!

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Read on for our initial review!

Specifications:

Straight from Intel:

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Note the segmentation going on here. 3 products ranging from P3700 to P3500, the lowest of which has the lowest grade ('Std') flash, and is therefore rated at a lower write speed and endurance. End to end data protection is no joke, and that process is detailed in my last editorial on the matter (certainly worth reading if you want to know how Intel does its validation testing). Along with the drop in flash grades comes a very welcome drop in cost, with the low end down to ~$1.50/GB. Not too shabby for a product that can handle 2.5GB/sec and 450k random read IOPS!

Packaging:

Not much to say here, as these are enterprise samples, which we get in a simple static bag. Besides, I don't think those huge specs above are going to really sink in until you see actual benches, so lets get to it!

June 3, 2014 | 03:25 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Will this have better performance than M.2 drives?

June 3, 2014 | 03:42 AM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

A lot better.

June 3, 2014 | 04:56 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Is TRIM supported? How well does the garbage collection work?

June 3, 2014 | 08:14 AM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Yes, of course TRIM is supported. This time with it's own real command, not a repurposed SCSI command, either. This drive is meant for continuous IO, so the majority of GC takes place during writes. 

June 3, 2014 | 02:31 PM - Posted by Havor (not verified)

That's only partial true, and is totally depended on a high cue depth.

For desktop use the difference is mostly not that great, only during high (database) load will this SSD really shine.

Btw why dont you test with HD traces, as it gives a more realistic picture then the more or less useless synthetic benches that you now use.

At least even PCMark gives a better picture how a SSD/HDD will preform on the desktop.

June 4, 2014 | 12:39 AM - Posted by jgstew

Although it is true that this SSD is fastest at higher Queue depths, it is incorrect to say the speed of the P3700 is dependant on higher Queue depths. The speed advantage of the P3700 outperforms nearly all drives at a Queue Depth of 1 which is where most consumers will see the most benefit.

June 3, 2014 | 06:23 PM - Posted by balls (not verified)

M.2 is a form factor not an interface. It can work with SATA, or PCI express AHCI or future PCI express NVMe. I think a better rundown of exactly what the NVMe really means for computing might be in order. It is confusing the hell out of me and many others.

June 5, 2014 | 01:05 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

We are working up a longer piece on the matter, but the short version is that there is significantly less per-IO overhead when compared to AHCI, meaning SSDs that can handle high IOPS can do so with less CPU overhead required.

June 3, 2014 | 04:25 AM - Posted by Brokenstorm

Are these drives bootable?

And you should remove "As you can see, these are *really* low prices, especially for the 16nm..." from the Pricing and Availability.

June 3, 2014 | 08:16 AM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Thanks for the catch! Fixed. That's what I get for writing at 3 AM :)

Oh, and yes, they are bootable!

June 3, 2014 | 01:59 PM - Posted by Bill (not verified)

Is there significant improvement in windows boot times? How's game loading and software loading?

I know these cards are beasts, but they are useless to average hobbyists unless they can really improve real life performances.

June 5, 2014 | 01:06 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

This 'beast' performs much more like a RAM disk than like any SSD you'd be used to, as far as what a given hobbyist would 'feel'.

June 8, 2014 | 01:36 PM - Posted by HPVD (not verified)

really nice to heat that it is bootable!!
- Thought this would be really difficult because it's now no more AHCI but NVMe.
This topic can be very sensitive regarding the environment the drive is setup in.
Could you please give some more information regarding the possibility to boot?
Did you test it on your own?
which OS?
which Driver?
which board?
which bios-version?

does it work directly "out of the box" or do you have some special tricks?

Many many thanks!!!

June 10, 2014 | 03:46 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Bootability is more of a dependency on BIOS support for NVMe communication (as opposed to SCSI / STORPORT / AHCI), so we're going to have to see how support rolls out for it.

June 10, 2014 | 04:02 PM - Posted by hpvd (not verified)

yes I thought that too. But I ask my workstation board maker (supermicro) and they told me that booting should work - the board is fine even without a brand new bios - if the ssd support that....

June 3, 2014 | 05:08 AM - Posted by Ceres (not verified)

The speed and overall performance are amazing!!!
Seeing this there is only one question; price-wise comparison to the new SF3700 PCI-e SSDs.

Pity you did not put the mainstream Samsung Evo 840 in the comparison charts; the 4-5X times performance increase would give just the needed feeling of this Intel goody.
Those that got that eye-catching Mac-Pro must be flabbergasted seeing this :))

June 3, 2014 | 08:26 AM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Do you mean the Samsung part that appears in Macs? That part caps out at ~50k IOPS and 800 MB/s, where this part goes 450k IOPS and 2.5 GB/s. It may be faster than SATA, but it still doesn't hold a candle to this new Intel part. 

June 3, 2014 | 08:44 AM - Posted by Ceres (not verified)

I did not write it properly, sorry :) (spacing IS important).

There were 2 different things I wanted to say.

1. The broad audience just got used to SSDs in classic (HDD) format; considering that one of the drives mass market is most aware of is Samsung 840 Pro/Evo, since featured in many build guides, I thought that it would make a big impact, for many readers, seeing it compared to this revolutionary Intel drive.

2.MacPro was another thought; considering that it's really expensive (for those of us who like to make our own PCs) and it's being marketed as a "candy", I think that even putting the most expensive version of this Intel PCIe SSD drive into a home-made PC, leaves that MacPro as a brand marketing product.

June 3, 2014 | 06:27 AM - Posted by Levalis (not verified)

Can you do a boot time and heavy application launch (games, Adobe stuff) benchmark with this puppy please ? Real world metrics are also important.

June 3, 2014 | 08:23 AM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

There wasn't enough time to dig into it thus far, but I will likely clone over a heavily used system to check these sorts of things out. That sort of testing takes way longer than the 14 hours we had to play with it prior to the official announcement. 

I can say that from what I've seen in the benches, especially IOMeter, this thing is going to handle any heavy IO workloads at the equivalent of anywhere from 4-8 of the best / fastest SATA parts, depending on workload. It will be to the point where the CPU becomes much more of a bottleneck during boot, etc. 

June 3, 2014 | 01:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It will be to the point where the CPU becomes much more of a "bottleneck during boot, etc.

Amazing. Seems like it been a long wait for NVMe. Thanks for the quick review. Looking forward to seeing more.

June 3, 2014 | 07:48 AM - Posted by remon (not verified)

"As you can see, these are *really* low prices, especially for the 16nm equipped 256GB and 512GB models. I can't wait to see what happens to holiday sale prices on these!"

The 256GB and 512GB models? Where were they in the review?

June 3, 2014 | 08:18 AM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Sorry that was an excessive cut/paste from the Crucial MX100 review we just did.

June 3, 2014 | 10:55 AM - Posted by Polycrastinator (not verified)

So at what point are these just excessive for most users? I feel like the 180GB Intel 520 I have in my desktop is plenty fast enough for everything I do (although I'm not working with anything super high IO), are we reaching a point where only specialists really benefit from these new components? I've been wondering the same thing about m.2 and SATA Express: great to have the option, but will a normal consumer notice the difference?

June 3, 2014 | 11:34 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

That is a decision that will be different for every consumer, based on what application and the mount of disposable income available.

June 3, 2014 | 11:43 AM - Posted by Josh Walrath

Intel went plaid with this drive.

June 3, 2014 | 03:02 PM - Posted by Mnemonicman

Someone best activate the secret hyper jets if they want to keep up with this drive.

June 5, 2014 | 08:51 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Not without your Liquid Schwartz, you won't!

June 3, 2014 | 01:06 PM - Posted by HM (not verified)

outstanding performance, but for regular usage / loading programs I guess it just passes the bottleneck of loading stuff to other areas of the PC!?

June 5, 2014 | 01:07 PM - Posted by Allyn Malventano

Right you are, but there are times where SSDs are the bottleneck, depending on what you're doing. This product makes that much less likely to happen, giving better net gains to upgrading other parts of the PC.

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