Mechanical hard drives have certainly served consumers well over the years. They sit in our PCs, spinning away day and night without issue. Other tech has come and gone, but still the HDD has remained although in recent years SSDs have taken a chunk of the market for those looking at performance over capacity. The key term there is performance as pretty early on in their lifespan SSDs hit the limit of SATA connectors at around 560MB/s. Since then we’ve seen PCIe used a little, new motherboards have adopted M.2 in its various form factors and then there is the tech that never was, SATA-Express. Recently Intel launched their latest SSD which aims to lead the market down a new path (NVMe) with the bonus of performance well in excess of anything we have seen from M.2 and SATA to date. This is our Intel 750 Series SSD Review.
Intel 750 Series SSD Review – The 750 SSD
In many ways the 750 Series SSD will look like a few other products we have seen in the past, such as the PCIe based M6e Black Edition from Plextor. It too was a half height PCB with large metal heatsink. Where things differ is that under the heatsink on the M6e was a M.2 drive and the PCB acted as a bridge to the PCIe slot. Here we have a more traditional design with the components mounted on the PCB itself and not restricted by any other form factor. This is a true PCIe Gen3 X4 product. The architecture also differs from what we might expect on traditional SSDs too. Your average SATA SSD for example uses AHCI technology to communicate, the 750 Series is NVMe based. The benefit? In basic terms NVMe has far higher throughput nothing sums this up better than the following:
This vastly increases performance in random operations on the drive, the type of workload which impacts real world responsiveness. So while most SATA drives offer the likes of 100,000 IOPS, the Intel 750 Series gives us a rated speed of over 440,000 IOPS read, 290,000 write. The use of PCIe lanes and direct access to the CPU also means a reduced latency (20-120 ?s ).
Peak speeds also see a significant increase over traditional SSDs and the M.2 models we have seen so far with the 1.2Tb 750 Series offering 2400MB/s read, 1200MB/s write (A 400GB 2200/900 MB/s model is also available as is a 2.5″ form factor which requires add-in card). Write power use does increase to provide this performance with the 1.2TB drawing 22w, dropping to 10w under read operations and idling at 4w. As far as other features go, we have status LEDs, TRIM, power failure protection and the drives are rated for 70GB of writes per day with 219 Terabytes Written spec. The warranty is 5-years and as expected we get a mix of Intel 20nm MLC NAND, Micron cache (1-2GB DDR3 depending on model) and CH29AE41AB0 18-channel Controller. Formatted capacity in Windows 8.1 is 1.09TB.
Intel 750 Series SSD Review – Software
As with Intels other SSDs, the 750 Series is supported by SSD Toolbox which allows us to monitor and maintain our drive. We can for example use it to configure our OS for SSD performance, secure erase the drive and update the firmware if needed.
Intel 750 Series SSD Review – Performance
Key Test Specifications: Intel Core i7-5960X, ASRock X99 OC Formula, 4x4GB DDR4, Windows 8.1 64Bit. (mSATA testing via riser card, all drives use the highest capacity model available to us.)
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BlackMagic HD Video Benchmark:
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File Copy Tests:
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Battlefield Map Load:
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Intel 750 Series SSD Review – Conclusion
Looking first at the build quality and design of the Intel 750 Series SSD (in its PCIe form factor) we have a drive which taken on its own looks nice. The large metal heat spreader looks pretty cool for example. That said, this is a drive which is aimed at high end users, enthusiasts etc. It would therefore have been a nice touch for Intel to add a little more flair, using a black PCB and heatsink for example. Maybe adding a thin metal heatspreader on the back (red?) to match the type of motherboard it is likely to be paired with. Component choice is good though, we can have no complaints about the use of Intel Controller and NAND along with Micron cache. Quality brands with a great track record for reliability and performance.
We have two important notes for those considering the drive too. First, for full functionality (such as use as a Windows boot drive) we need to be using a recent UEFI based motherboard (think Z97/X99) with Windows 7/8. Additionally Intel do not offer encryption on this product, keeping that for the non-consumer focused models. Neither are an issue, but worth keeping in mind when building a system around the 750 Series.
For pricing the UK seems to have settled on £390 for the 400GB, £920 for the 1.2TB. In the US we see $410/$1100. Comparing that to the likes of the Plextor M6e Black Edition (256GB/$299) we see that Intel are offering a better $ per GB figure overall. So while the cost of the larger model initially seems steep, the value is actually pretty good. The SSD Toolbox does add a little extra to the overall package, it is nice and easy to use as well as being responsive and stable. The 5-year warranty is also a plus point.
Moving to performance we have one area where the drive could on the face of things be criticised… write speeds, if we are comparing to the PCIe based Revodrive 350 that can write faster (it is essentially 4xSSD in RAID) in theoretical tests. That is a very specific scenario though and in the likes of real world copy tests, despite having a lower rated write speed the 750 Series exceeds the performance of the Revodrive. A 20GB transfer completes about 20% faster on the Intel model as one example. Elsewhere the results continue to impress, HD Video work for example is crazy fast… so fast in fact it broke out testing software when trying to estimate the FPS speed available. Load times, great. Random performance, class leading and it was great to see the drive actually exceed the rated maximum speed from Intel. They quote 2400/1200 MB/s. We saw performance closer to 2700/1350 MB/s… leaving M.2 and SATA models far, far behind.
Summary: The kick that the stagnant SSD market has needed for some time. The 750 Series SSD from Intel will significantly enhance your system and offers industry leading performance. One of the very few products to ever win our Diamond Award.