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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  • jamescox - Monday, June 9, 2014 - link

    "Why isn't the new spec internal thunderbolt?"

    Thunderbolt is PCI-e x4 multiplexed with display port. Intel's new SSD is PCI-e x4. I don't think we have a reason to route display port to an SSD, so thunderbolt makes no sense. Was this sarcasm that I missed?

    "At some point the hard drive should be replaced by a PCI-express full length card that accepts NAND cards, and the user simply buys and keeps adding cards as space is required. This can already be done with current technology, no reinventing the wheel required."

    What protocol are the NAND cards going to use to talk to the controller? There are many engineering limitations and complexities here. Are you going to have 18 channel controller like this new Intel card? If you populate channels one at a time, then it isn't going to perform well until you populate many of the channels. This is just like system memory; quad channel systems require 4 modules from the start to get full bandwidth. It gets very complicated unless each "NAND card" is a full pci-e card by itself. Each one being a separate pci-e card is no different from just adding more pci-e cards to your motherboard. Due to this move to pci-e, motherboard makers will probably be putting more x4 and/or x8 pci-e slots with different spacing from what is required by video cards. This will allow users to just add a few more cards to get more storage. It may be useful for small form factor systems to make a pci-e card with several m.2 slots since several different types of things (or sizes of SSDs) can be plugged into it. This isn't going to perform as well as having the whole card dedicated to being a single SSD though. I don't think you can fit 18 channels on an m.2 card at the moment.

    Anyway, most consumer applications will not really benefit from this. I don't think you would see too much difference in "everyday usability" using a pci-e card vs. a fast sata 6 drive. Most consumer applications are not going to even stress this card. I suspect that sata 6 SSDs wil be around for a while. The SATA Express connector seems like a kludge though. If you actually need more performance than sata 6 (for what?), just get the pci-e card version.
    Reply
  • jeffbui - Thursday, June 5, 2014 - link

    "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"

    Too bad Intel is all about profit margin. Having to compete on price (at low profit margins) gives them no incentive to go into the consumer space.
    Reply
  • sethk - Saturday, June 7, 2014 - link

    Hi Anand,

    Long time fan and love your storage and enterprise articles, including this one. One questions - what the driver situation on NVMe as far as dropping one of these into existing platforms (consumer and enterprise) and being able to boot?

    Another question is regarding cabling for the non-direct PCIe interfaces like SataExpress and SFF-8639? It would be great if you could have some coverage of these topics and timing for consumer availability when you do your inevitable articles on the P3600 and P3500 which seem like great deals given the performance.
    Reply
  • T2k - Monday, June 16, 2014 - link

    How come you did not include ANY Fusion-IO card? In enterprise space they are practically cheaper than the P3700 and have far bigger sizes, for less money, consistently low latency, not to mention advanced software to match it... was it a request from Intel to leave them out? Reply
  • SeanJ76 - Wednesday, May 20, 2015 - link

    Intel has always been the best in SSD performance, and longevity. I own 3 of the 520 series(240GB) and have never had a complaint. Reply

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