Final Words

The vast majority of PCIe SSDs have been disappointing up to this point. We either saw poorly implemented designs that offered SATA RAID on a PCIe card or high priced, proprietary PCIe designs. The arrival of NVMe gives SSDs the breathing room they need to continue to grow. We finally get a low latency, low overhead interface and we get to shed SATA once and for all.

Intel's SSD DC P3700 gives us our first look at an NVMe drive, and the results are impressive. A single P3700 can deliver up to 450K random read IOPS, 150K random write IOPS and nearly 2GB/s of sequential writes. Sequential reads are even more impressive at between 2 - 3GB/s. All of this performance comes with very low latency operation thanks to an updated controller and the new NVMe stack. CPU efficiency is quite good thanks to NVMe as well. You get all of this at $3/GB, or less ($1.4975/GB) if you're willing to give up some performance and endurance. As an enterprise drive, the P3700 is an excellent option. I can't imagine what a few of these would do in a server. At some of the price points that Intel is talking about for the lower models, the P3xxx series won't be too far out of the reach of performance enthusiasts either. 

Intel's P3700 launch deck had a slide that put the P3700's performance in perspective compared to the number of SATA SSDs it could replace. I found the comparison interesting so I ran similar data, assuming perfect RAID scaling from adding together multiple DC S3700s. The comparison isn't perfect (capacity differences for one), but here's what I came up with:

A single P3700 ends up replacing 4 - 6 high performance SATA drives. If you don't need high sustained 4KB random write performance, you can get similar numbers out of the cheaper P3600 and P3500 as well. This is a very big deal.

Once again we see Intel at the forefront of a new wave of SSDs. What I really want to see now however is continued execution. We don't see infrequent blips of CPU architecture releases from Intel, we get a regular, 2-year tick-tock cadence. It's time for Intel's NSG to be given the resources necessary to do the same. I long for the day when we don't just see these SSD releases limited to the enterprise and corporate client segments, but spread across all markets - from mobile to consumer PC client and of course up to the enterprise as well.

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  • andrewaggb - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    that's really the question isn't it. I'm skeptical until somebody proves otherwise. Seems like you'd need a bios update at a minimum.
  • BeethovensCat - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    Yes, this would be key. Would be annoying to buy a card and not be able to boot Windows from it. Would it be only be possible with Z97 based chipsets or also Z87? Have a relatively new Z87 card. As much as I don't want to change to Apple, one must admit they are better at getting some of these things right. Come on Intel (Asus) - make it possible to boot from one of these on a Z87 motherboard and I will buy one right away!!
  • Taurothar - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    Honestly, it's up to the motherboard's capabilities. A bios update should be possible but it depends on many things like how the PCIe lanes are distributed etc, I wouldn't count on getting the full performance out of a chipset designed before PCIe SSDs. PCIe RAID cards have the controller to boot from built in, but these stand alone SSDs mean the chipset or other onboard controller has to be able to recognize it, that might not be as simple as a bios update.
  • morganf - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    I was disappointed that the 4K QD1 read was no better than 40 MB/sec that can be achieved by SATA / AHCI SSDs like the Samsung 840 Pro.

    FusionIO has been getting twice that (i.e., around 80 MB/sec) for years. I was expecting NVMe to achieve something similar.

    But maybe the 40 MB/sec is an OS driver limitation? Perhaps FusionIO is able to get around that because they have their own driver.
  • boogerlad - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    Why does the p3500 have such low 4k random write IOPS? Is it merely the worst case/steady-state performance? Is it much lower quality NAND? Is it lack of over provisioning and not a problem if the drive is not filled to the brim? I've been waiting for a product like this for a very long time. To be honest, I was surprised Intel was the one to deliver. It looks like they checked out of making innovative products looking at their CPU lineup.
  • boogerlad - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    Then again, I guess as long as 4k qd1 write speeds are the same as the p3700, it doesn't really matter. Many enthusiasts will buy the p3500 and put it under a consumer workload anyways that rarely has qd > 1.
  • Dangledon - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    Low random write performance is probably an indirect reflection of TLC. The endurance numbers make this pretty clear. TLC has relatively long P/E dwell times. These times become apparent when garbage collection is triggered by sustained random write workloads. I don't know whether these devices support overprovisioning. Having it might help deal with spikey workloads as long as the "runway" is long enough. Though, frankly, the P3500 was not designed for a high random write workload.
  • Dangledon - Wednesday, June 4, 2014 - link

    My bad. They're using MLC, not TLC. The reserve/spare capacity is 7% on the P3500, which in-part accounts for the relatively low endurance. Intel is probably also doing NAND part binning, using the poorest quality parts in the P3500.
  • rob_allshouse - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    One comment (and I do work for Intel, to be open about it)... but the P3700 does this all in x4 while the p420m does it in x8, so half the PCIe lanes consumed. I didn't see this in the article, and feel like it's very relevant. It also explains the disparity in sequential read performance.
  • mfenn - Tuesday, June 3, 2014 - link

    I find it interesting that this article is presented as an enterprise SSD review and even goes so far as to decry the performance of previous implementations, but does not mention Fusion-io or Virident. We've had 500K IOPS and latencies in the tens of microseconds for years now without Intel or NVMe, those are not the stories here.

    NVMe is not some wonderful advance from a performance point of view, and should not be presented as such. What it is is a path towards the commoditization of relatively high performance PCIe SSDs. That's an incredibly important achievement and should have been the focus of the discussion.

    As it stands, this article follows the the Intel marketing tune a little too closely and does not respect the deep market insights that I've come to expect from AnandTech.

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