Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction and Specifications

Back in April, we finally got our mitts on some actual 3D XPoint to test, but there was a catch. We had to do so remotely. The initial round of XPoint testing done (by all review sites) on a set of machines located on the Intel campus. Intel had their reasons for this unorthodox review method, but we were satisfied that everything was done above board. Intel even went as far as walking me over to the very server that we would be remoting into for testing. Despite this, there were still a few skeptics out there, and today we can put all of that to bed.

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This is a 750GB Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X - in the flesh and this time on *our* turf. I'll be putting it through the same initial round of tests we conducted remotely back in April. I intend to follow up at a later date with additional testing depth, as well as evaluating kernel response times across Windows and Linux (IRQ, Polling, Hybrid Polling, etc), but for now, we're here to confirm the results on our own testbed as well as evaluate if the higher capacity point takes any sort of hit to performance. We may actually see a performance increase in some areas as Intel has had several months to further tune the P4800X.

This video is for the earlier 375GB model launch, but all points apply here
(except that the 900P has now already launched)

Specifications:

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The baseline specs remain the same as they were back in April with a few significant notable exceptions:

The endurance figure for the 375GB capacity has nearly doubled to 20.5 PBW (PetaBytes Written), with the 750GB capacity logically following suit at 41 PBW. These figures are based on a 30 DWPD (Drive Write Per Day) rating spanned across a 5-year period. The original product brief is located here, but do note that it may be out of date.

We now have official sequential throughput ratings: 2.0 GB/s writes and 2.4 GB/s reads.

We also have been provided detailed QoS figures and those will be noted as we cover the results throughout the review.

Read on for our review of the 750GB P4800X!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction, Specifications and Packaging

Introduction:

It’s been two long years since we first heard about 3D XPoint Technology. Intel and Micron serenaded us with tales of ultra-low latency and very high endurance, but when would we have this new media in our hot little hands? We got a taste of things with Optane Memory (caching) back in April, and later that same month we got a much bigger, albeit remotely-tested taste in the form of the P4800X. Since April all was quiet, with all of us storage freaks waiting for a consumer version of Optane with enough capacity to act as a system drive. Sure we’ve played around with Optane Memory parts in various forms of RAID, but as we found in our testing, Optane’s strongest benefits are the very performance traits that do not effectively scale with additional drives added to an array. The preferred route is to just get a larger single SSD with more 3D XPoint memory installed on it, and we have that very thing today (and in two separate capacities)!

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Rumor Central:

You might have seen various rumors centered around the 900P lately. The first is that the 900P was to supposedly support PCIe 4.0. This is not true, and after digging back a bit appears to be a foreign vendor mistaking / confusing PCIe X4 (4 lanes) with the recently drafted PCIe 4.0 specification. Another set of rumors centered around pre-order listings and potential pricing for the 280 and 480 GB variants of the 900P. We are happy to report that those prices (at the time of this writing) are way higher than Intel’s stated MSRP's for these new models. I’ll even go as far as to say that the 480GB model can be had for less than what the 280GB model is currently listed for! More on that later in the review.

Specifications:

Performance specs are one place where the rumors were all true, but since all the folks had to go on was a leaked Intel press deck slide listing figures identical to the P4800X, we’re not really surprised here.

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Lots of technical stuff above, but the high points are <10us typical latency (‘regular’ SSDs run between 60-100us), 2.5/2.0 GB/s sequential reads/writes, and 550k/500k random read/write performance. Yes I know, don’t tell me, you’ve seen higher sequentials on smaller form factor devices. I agree, and we’ve even seen higher maximum performance from unreleased 3D XPoint-equipped parts from Micron, but Intel has done what they needed to do in order to make this a viable shipping retail product, which likely means sacrificing the ‘megapixel race’ figures in favor of offering the lowest possible latencies and best possible endurance at this price point.

Packaging:

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Packaging is among the nicest we’ve seen from an Intel SSD. It actually reminds me of how the Fusion-io ioDrives used to come.

RSI Star Citizen Sabre Raven Ship.jpg

Also included with the 900P is a Star Citizen ship. The Sabre Raven has been a topic of gossip and speculation for months now, and it appears to be a pretty sweet looking fighter. For those unaware, Star Citizen is a space-based MMO, and with a ‘ship purchase’ also comes a license to play the game. The Sabre Raven counts as such a purchase and apparently comes with lifetime insurance, meaning it will always be tied to your account in case it gets blown up doing data runs. Long story short, you get the game for free with the purchase of a 900P.

Read on for our full review of the Intel Optane SSD 900P (in both capacities)!

Intel Quad RAID-0 Optane Memory 32GB Bootable Without VROC Key!

Subject: Storage | October 4, 2017 - 09:24 PM |
Tagged: x299, VROC, skylake-x, RAID-0, Optane, Intel, bootable, boot

We've been playing around a bit with Intel VROC lately. This new tech lets you create a RAID of NVMe SSDs connected directly to newer Intel Skylake-X CPUs, without the assistance of any additional chipset or other RAID controlling hardware on the X299 platform. While the technology is not fully rolled out, we did manage to get it working and test a few different array types as a secondary volume. One of the pieces of conflicting info we had been trying to clear up was can you boot from a VROC array without the currently unobtanium VROC key...

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Well, it seems that question has been answered with our own tinkering. While there was absolutely no indication in the BIOS that our Optane Memory quad RAID-0 was bootable (the array is configurable but does not appear in the bootable devices list), I'm sitting here looking at Windows installed directly to a VROC array!

Important relevant screenshots below:

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For the moment this will only work with Intel SSDs, but Intel's VROC FAQ states that 'selected third-party SSDs' will be supported, but is unclear if that includes bootability (future support changes would come as BIOS updates since they must be applied at the CPU level). We're still digging into VROC as well as AMD's RAID implementation. Much more to follow, so stay tuned!

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: PC Perspective

Introduction

Introduction

We've been hearing about Intel's VROC (NVMe RAID) technology for a few months now. ASUS started slipping clues in with their X299 motherboard releases starting back in May. The idea was very exciting, as prior NVMe RAID implementations on Z170 and Z270 platforms were bottlenecked by the chipset's PCIe 3.0 x4 DMI link to the CPU, and they also had to trade away SATA ports for M.2 PCIe lanes in order to accomplish the feat. X99 motherboards supported SATA RAID and even sported four additional ports, but they were left out of NVMe bootable RAID altogether. It would be foolish of Intel to launch a successor to their higher end workstation-class platform without a feature available in two (soon to be three) generations of their consumer platform.

To get a grip on what VROC is all about, lets set up some context with a few slides:

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First, we have a slide laying out what the acronyms mean:

  • VROC = Virtual RAID on CPU
  • VMD = Volume Management Device

What's a VMD you say?

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...so the VMD is extra logic present on Intel Skylake-SP CPUs, which enables the processor to group up to 16 lanes of storage (4x4) into a single PCIe storage domain. There are three VMD controllers per CPU.

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VROC is the next logical step, and takes things a bit further. While boot support is restricted to within a single VMD, PCIe switches can be added downstream to create a bootable RAID possibly exceeding 4 SSDs. So long as the array need not be bootable, VROC enables spanning across multiple VMDs and even across CPUs!

Assembling the Missing Pieces

Unlike prior Intel storage technology launches, the VROC launch has been piecemeal at best and contradictory at worst. We initially heard that VROC would only support Intel SSDs, but Intel later published a FAQ that stated 'selected third-party SSDs' would also be supported. One thing they have remained steadfast on is the requirement for a hardware key to unlock RAID-1 and RAID-5 modes - a seemingly silly requirement given their consumer chipset supports bootable RAID-0,1,5 without any key requirement (and VROC only supports one additional SSD over Z170/Z270/Z370, which can boot from 3-drive arrays).

On the 'piecemeal' topic, we need three things for VROC to work:

  • BIOS support for enabling VMD Domains for select groups of PCIe lanes.
  • Hardware for connecting a group of NVMe SSDs to that group of PCIe lanes.
  • A driver for OS mounting and managing of the array.

Let's run down this list and see what is currently available:

BIOS support?

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Check. Hardware for connecting multiple drives to the configured set of lanes?

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Check (960 PRO pic here). Note that the ASUS Hyper M.2 X16 Card will only work on motherboards supporting PCIe bifurcation, which allows the CPU to split PCIe lanes into subgroups without the need of a PLX chip. You can see two bifurcated modes in the above screenshot - one intended for VMD/VROC, while the other (data) selection enables bifurcation without enabling the VMD controller. This option presents the four SSDs to the OS without the need of any special driver.

With the above installed, and the slot configured for VROC in the BIOS, we are greeted by the expected disappointing result:

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Now for that pesky driver. After a bit of digging around the dark corners of the internet:

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Check! (well, that's what it looked like after I rapidly clicked my way through the array creation)

Don't even pretend like you won't read the rest of this review! (click here now!)

TinkerTry Gets a Real Look at the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X

Subject: Storage | August 14, 2017 - 08:09 AM |
Tagged: P4800X, XPoint, NVMe, HHHL, Optane, Intel, ssd, DC

We reviewed the Intel P4800X - Intel's first 3D XPoint SSD, back in April of this year. The one thing missing from that review was product pictures. Sure we had stock photos, but we did not have the product in hand due to the extremely limited number of samples and the need for Intel to be able to make more real-time updates to the hardware based on our feedback during the testing process (reviewers making hardware better FTW!). After the reviews were done, sample priority shifted to the software vendors who needed time to further develop their code bases to take better advantage of the very low latency that Optane can offer. One of those companies is VMware, and one of our friends from over there was able to get some tinker time with one of their samples.

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Paul whipped up a few videos showing the installation process as well as timing a server boot directly from the P4800X (something we could not do in our review since we were testing on a remote server). I highly encourage those interested in the P4800X (and the upcoming consumer versions of the same) to check out the article on TinkerTry. I also recommend those wanting to know what Optane / XPoint is and how it works to check out our article here.

One drive to rule them. Intel's new look for petabyte drives

Subject: General Tech | August 8, 2017 - 01:11 PM |
Tagged: Intel, ssd, petabyte, sata, M.2, ruler, Optane

Intel is increasing the storage density of SSDs with a brand new form factor which gets rid of the empty space that takes up the majority of a 2.5" SSD.  The new ruler format will fit up to a petabyte in a volume small enough to fit in a 1U rack space.  This is significantly smaller than the volume it would currently occupy in a server rack, and helps reduce the number of connections required.  If you used the the current 60TB monster from Seagate, you would still need 17 of the 3.5" drives to hit a single petabyte; not something which will fit into a single 1U rack.  The Inquirer wasn't given a launch date nor a price but we can assume this drive will not meet Ryan's approved price per gigabyte.

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"Although new formats are emerging all the time, this one seems particularly timely, coming as it does at a time when we have far exceeded the need for an SSD to take up even a standard 2.5-inch space, most of which is air."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: The Inquirer

X points to the spot; in 3D!

Subject: Storage | July 18, 2017 - 07:31 PM |
Tagged: XPoint, srt, rst, Optane Memory, Optane, Intel, hybrid, CrossPoint, cache, 32GB, 16GB

It has been a few months since Al looked at Intel's Optane and its impressive performance and price.  This is why it seems appropriate to revist the 2280 M.2 stick with a PCIe 3.0 x2 interface.  It is not just the performance which is interesting but the technology behind Optane and the limitations.  For anyone looking to utilize Optane is is worth reminding you of the compatibility limitations Intel requires, only Kaby Lake processors with Core i7, i5 or i3 heritage.  If you do qualify already or are planning a system build, you can revisit the performance numbers over at Kitguru.

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"Optane is Intel’s brand name for their 3D XPoint memory technology. The first Optane product to break cover was the Optane PC P4800X, a very high-performance SSD aimed at the Enterprise segment. Now we have the second product using the technology, this time aimed at the consumer market segment – the Intel Optane Memory module."

Here are some more Memory articles from around the web:

Memory

Source: Kitguru

Intel Core X-Series Coming to Alienware Area-51 Desktops

Subject: Systems | June 12, 2017 - 07:00 PM |
Tagged: radeon, PC, Optane, nvidia, Intel, geforce, gaming, desktop, dell, Core X-Series, Core i9, Area-51, amd, alienware

Dell has announced upcoming Alienware Area-51 gaming desktops featuring Intel's new Core X-Series processors, with CPU options up to the 10-core Intel Core i9 7900X and GPU configurations up to dual GeForce GTX 1080 Ti or triple Radeon RX 580 graphics.

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"The Alienware Area-51 is our flagship gaming desktop, in this next generation, a new Intel architecture based on ‘Skylake-X’ technology has come to the high end desktop arena; Intel introduces the new Intel Core XSeries processors with a new level of Intel Core i9 options.

Gamers looking for the best that Intel has to offer that love gaming and have creative hobbies that employ resource intensive applications should anticipate the new Area-51 with Intel Core X-series processors. Geared to deliver the best gaming experiences in 4K, 8K and in VR environments, this new rig is powered for gamers running applications that prioritize clock with the 10-core option running at speeds of up to 4.5GHz using stock settings.

The Area-51 featuring Intel Core X-Series is ideal for customers who explore the world of megatasking, doing many system demanding tasks at the same time, and are looking for a complete, reliable solution from a trusted brand."

The Area-51 desktops feature (from Dell):

  • Iconic triad high quality, uniquely engineered chassis built to deliver exceptional airflow, thermal management, and user ergonomics for daily use and future upgrades
  • Supports NVIDIA SLI and AMD Crossfire graphics technology, with dual and triple GPU options
  • Introduces Intel Optane Memory technology and M.2 SSD storage options to Area-51
  • Built for gaming enthusiast wanting the absolute best gaming performance played with a VR, 4k or 8k display
  • Designed with power supplies that provide modular cabling and a 1500W option with 80 Plus Gold efficiency for clean and efficient power
  • Alienware Command Center includes AlienFX, AlienAdrenaline, AlienFusion, Thermal and Overclocking Controls

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Specifications:

  • Chipset:
    • Intel X299 w/unlocked BIOS for overclocking, CPU Socket R4 (2066 pins)
  • Processor Options:
    • Intel Core i7 7800X (6-core, 8.25MB Cache, up to 4.0GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Technology)
    • Intel Core i7 7820X (8-core, 11MB Cache, up to 4.5GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Technology)
    • Intel Core i9 7900X (10-core, 13.75MB Cache, up to 4.5GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max 3.0 Technology)
  • Single Video Card Options
    • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti, GTX 1060, GTX 1070, GTX 1080, or GTX 1080 Ti
    • Liquid Cooled NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080
    • AMD Radeon RX 570 or RX 580
  • Multi GPU Options
    • Dual NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070, GTX 1080, or GTX 1080 Ti (NVIDIA SLI Enabled)
    • Triple AMD Radeon RX 570 or RX 580 (AMD Crossfire Enabled)
  • Memory Support
    • 4x 288-Pin DDR4 UDIMM Slots
    • 8GB DDR4 at 2667MHz standard, additional memory available up to 64GB of quad-channel 2667MHz or 2933MHz (HyperX)
  • Storage Options
    • Single drive: 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s or 256GB - 1TB M.2 PCIe SSD
    • Dual drive: 128GB - 1TB M.2 SATA SSD (Boot) + 2TB 7200RPM SATA 6Gb/s (Storage)
    • Intel Optane Accelerated Options
      • 16GB Intel Optane memory accelerated 1TB 7200RPM HDD
      • 32GB Intel Optane memory accelerated 1TB - 2TB 7200RPM HDD
    • Slot-Loading Dual-Layer DVD Burner (DVD±RW) (Standard)
    • Slot-Loading Dual Layer Blu-ray Disc Reader (BD-ROM, DVD±RW, CD-RW)
  • Internal High-Definition 7.1 Audio (Standard)
    • Dual Killer E2500 Intelligent Networking (Gigabit Ethernet NIC)
    • Dell 1820 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi/Bluetooth 4.1 or Killer 1535 802.11ac 2x2 WiFi/Bluetooth 4.1
  • Front Ports
    • 2x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
    • 3.5 mm headphone and 3.5 mm Mic Port
    • Media Card Reader
  • Rear Ports
    • 2x RJ-45 Killer Networks E2500 Gigabit Ethernet Port
    • 2x Hi-Speed USB 2.0
    • 6x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A
    • 1x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-A
    • 1x SuperSpeed USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C w/ 15W PowerShare technology
    • 1x SPDIF Digital Output (TOSLINK)
    • 1x Line-In (blue port)
    • 1x Front L/R / Headphone (green port)
    • 1x Center Channel / Subwoofer (orange port)
    • 1x L/R Rear Surround (black port)
    • 1x L/R Side Surround (white port)
  • Operating System:
    • Windows 10 Home (64-bit) (Standard)
    • Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)

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The release date and pricing have not been announced, but Dell states these Intel Core X-series desktops "will be available late summer" with pricing information soon to come.

Source: Dell

MSI Unveils Fanless Cubi 3 PC Powered By Kaby Lake-U Processors

Subject: General Tech | June 7, 2017 - 02:35 AM |
Tagged: msi, SFF, barebones, nuc, kaby lake, Intel, Optane, computex

MSI recently introduced a new member of its Cubi small form factor barebones PC lineup. The Cubi 3 is a fanless PC that is build around Intel’s Kaby Lake-U processors and will arrive sometime this fall.

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Notebook Italia and Tek.No got hands on of the MSI mini PC at Computex.

The Cubi 3 is a bit larger than its predecessors, but with the larger enclosure MSI was able to achieve a fanless design for up to (U series) Core i7 processors. The SFF PC sports a brushed aluminum case that shows off the top of the CPU heatsink through vents that run around the top edge of the case. There are two flat antennas for Wi-Fi and Bluetooh integrated into the left and right sides of the case.

FanlessTech reports that the MSI Cubi 3 will sport 15W Kaby Lake-U processors from low end Celerons up to Core i7 models. These parts are dual core parts with HyperThreading (2c/4t) with 3 MB or 4 MB of L3 cache and either HD (615 or 620) or Iris Plus (640 or 650) integrated graphics. The processor is paired with two DDR4 SO-DIMM slots for up to 32 GB of 2133 MHz memory, an M.2 2280 SSD (there is even Intel Optane support), and a single 2.5” drive.

The Cubi 3 has an audio jack and two USB 3.0 ports up front, and what appears to be two USB 2.0 ports on the left side. Rear I/O includes one HDMI, one DisplayPort, two more USB 3.0, two Gigabit Ethernet, two COM ports, and one power jack for the 65W AC power adapter.

There is no word on pricing yet, but it is slated to begin production in August with availability this fall.

It is always nice to see more competition in this niche fanless SFF space, and the little box would not look out of place on a desk or even in the living room. What are your thoughts?

Source: Fanless Tech

Introduction, How PCM Works, Reading, Writing, and Tweaks

I’ve seen a bit of flawed logic floating around related to discussions about 3D XPoint technology. Some are directly comparing the cost per die to NAND flash (you can’t - 3D XPoint likely has fewer fab steps than NAND - especially when compared with 3D NAND). Others are repeating a bunch of terminology and element names without taking the time to actually explain how it works, and far too many folks out there can't even pronounce it correctly (it's spoken 'cross-point'). My plan is to address as much of the confusion as I can with this article, and I hope you walk away understanding how XPoint and its underlying technologies (most likely) work. While we do not have absolute confirmation of the precise material compositions, there is a significant amount of evidence pointing to one particular set of technologies. With Optane Memory now out in the wild and purchasable by folks wielding electron microscopes and mass spectrometers, I have seen enough additional information come across to assume XPoint is, in fact, PCM based.

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XPoint memory. Note the shape of the cell/selector structure. This will be significant later.

While we were initially told at the XPoint announcement event Q&A that the technology was not phase change based, there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and it is likely that Intel did not want to let the cat out of the bag too early. The funny thing about that is that both Intel and Micron were briefing on PCM-based memory developments five years earlier, and nearly everything about those briefings lines up perfectly with what appears to have ended up in the XPoint that we have today.

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Some die-level performance characteristics of various memory types. source

The above figures were sourced from a 2011 paper and may be a bit dated, but they do a good job putting some actual numbers with the die-level performance of the various solid state memory technologies. We can also see where the ~1000x speed and ~1000x endurance comparisons with XPoint to NAND Flash came from. Now, of course, those performance characteristics do not directly translate to the performance of a complete SSD package containing those dies. Controller overhead and management must take their respective cuts, as is shown with the performance of the first generation XPoint SSD we saw come out of Intel:

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The ‘bridging the gap’ Latency Percentile graph from our Intel SSD DC P4800X review.
(The P4800X comes in at 10us above).

There have been a few very vocal folks out there chanting 'not good enough', without the basic understanding that the first publicly available iteration of a new technology never represents its ultimate performance capabilities. It took NAND flash decades to make it into usable SSDs, and another decade before climbing to the performance levels we enjoy today. Time will tell if this holds true for XPoint, but given Micron's demos and our own observed performance of Intel's P4800X and Optane Memory SSDs, I'd argue that it is most certainly off to a good start!

XPoint Die.jpg

A 3D XPoint die, submitted for your viewing pleasure (click for larger version).

You want to know how this stuff works, right? Read on to find out!