Whenever Intel develops a new generation of SSDs based entirely on in-house technology, the result is usually a product that turns heads. Several times, Intel has set a new standard for SSD performance, starting with its original X25-M. Their most recent shake-up of the consumer SSD market was the Intel SSD 750, the first consumer NVMe SSD. Such significant releases don't happen every year, and in the intervening years Intel's competitors always catch up and surpass Intel.

However this year's revolution from Intel will be very hard for the competition to match anytime soon. All of Intel's previous record-setting SSDs have relied on the drive's controller to stand out from the crowd. This time, Intel's advantage comes from the storage medium: its 3D XPoint memory technology, a new nonvolatile memory that offers much higher performance than flash memory.

The Intel Optane SSD 900P

The new Intel Optane SSD 900P is a premium NVMe PCIe SSD offering the highest level of performance, with a moderate capacity. The Optane SSD 900P is intended for high-end desktop systems and workstations with very disk-heavy workloads. The Optane SSD 900P isn't for everyone and won't be displacing any existing products - it exists alone in a new product tier, with prices that are more than twice what the fastest flash memory based SSDs are selling for.

Optane is Intel's brand name for products featuring 3D XPoint memory.  The Intel Optane SSD 900P is actually the third Optane product to be released, but it's the first family member to go after the high end consumer market segment. The Intel Optane Memory M.2 drives released earlier this year have capacities far too small for general-purpose storage use and instead have been marketed for use as a cache device to be paired with a mechanical hard drive. Intel's caching strategy works and can bring a hard drive's responsiveness up to the level of mainstream SSDs, but it has downsides. The Optane Memory caching requires a few extra steps to setup, and the caching software will only run on Intel platforms introduced this year: Kaby Lake or newer.

The Optane SSD DC P4800X is Intel's flagship enterprise SSD, and it is priced accordingly—putting it far out of reach of consumer budgets, and even with a price tag of over $1500 for 375GB it has been quite difficult to acquire. In the enterprise storage market, the P4800X has been highly sought after, but it isn't appropriate for all use cases and is not a threat to the many enterprise SSDs that prioritize capacity over performance and endurance.

The Optane SSD 900P will still cause some sticker shock for consumers expecting prices in line with M.2 PCIe SSDs, but it is acceptable for the kinds of machines that might be packing multiple GPUs or 10+ CPU cores. The Optane SSD 900P probably wouldn't be the only drive in such a system, but it would work well as a blazing fast primary storage device.

Intel Optane SSD 900P Specifications
Capacity 280 GB 480 GB
Controller Intel SLL3D
Memory Intel 128Gb 3D XPoint
Interface PCIe 3.0 x4
Form Factor HHHL Add-in card or
2.5" 15mm U.2
HHHL Add-in card
Sequential Read 2500 MB/s
Sequential Write 2000 MB/s
Random Read IOPS 550k
Random Write IOPS 500k
Power Consumption 8W Read
13W Write
14W Burst
5W Idle
Write Endurance 10 DWPD
Warranty 5 years
Recommended Price $389 ($1.39/GB) $599 ($1.25/GB)

The Intel Optane SSD 900P is initially launching with 280GB and 480GB capacities. Both sizes will be available as PCIe 3.0 x4 half-height half-length add-in cards, and the 280GB model is also available as a 2.5" U.2 drive. Higher capacities may be added later, but Intel isn't promising anything yet. The sequential transfer speeds are nothing special for a NVMe SSD these days—Samsung's 960 PRO can hit much higher read speeds and slightly higher write speeds. The random read and write IOPS are far higher than any consumer SSD has offered before.

Intel's specifications for power consumption show one big reason why the Optane SSD 900P is a desktop-only product. Laptops are not equipped to supply up to 14W to a SSD, and they usually aren't equipped to cool a drive that idles at 5W instead of 50mW. The level of performance offered by the Optane SSD 900P cannot currently fit within the power budget or space constraints of a M.2 card.

The five year warranty Intel offers is typical for a high-end SSD in today's market, but doesn't compare to the 10 year warranty that Samsung's flagship 850 PRO SATA SSD offers. On the other hand, the 10 drive writes per day write endurance rating is far higher than most consumer SSDs get; 0.3 DWPD is more typical.

The Intel Optane SSD 900P starts shipping worldwide today, and here is our review of the 280GB version.

Who is the Optane SSD 900P for?
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  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    I got myself a bucked of salt. The necessary requirement to swallow that Houdini "2.7x better" claim from the launch PR.

    I've been rendering stuff since the days of 3d max for frigging DOS. And I am yet to experience a scenario where CPU load is not in the 99% range.

    Having a rendering job that cannot feed the CPU to above 10% load with the insanely fast 960 pro has got to be an unprecedented case of cooked-up benchmark in human history.
    Reply
  • extide - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Did you read the article? It pretty clearly explains how they got that result, and it makes sense. Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Oh yeah, I get it. Hypetane is a synthetic beast. Which allows to showcase said advantage as long as you focus on it in a carefully devised and completely detached from real-world usage workload.

    Don't get me wrong. It is good that hypetane is now available in capacities that actually allow to use it. And if endurance turns out to be tangibly better than nand, I might actually buy it. Low queue depth performance is good, especially random read, which may not be of that much practical use to most of the people out there, but I could make good use of that.

    But it will remain "hypetane" even after I go and buy it. Because intel said "1000 times better", and it is not even 10 times better. A zero on its own might be nothing, but two zeroes after a positive number make quite a lot of difference.
    Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    "no other alternative nonvolatile memory technology is close to being ready to challenge 3D XPoint"

    Except for SLC, which was so good it was immediately abandoned once inferior and more profit friendly NAND implementations were available.

    A SLC based product coupled with MRAM cache will easily humiliate hypetane in its few strong aspects.

    Too bad NAND drives are now moving to TLC and QLC, even MLC is heading in the "luxury item" category. Too bad because 3D SLC has tremendous potential. Let's see if it gets realized.
    Reply
  • extide - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    How would that work. SLC is slower than Optane, can't be written at a block level, needs trash collection, etc. Then you cache it with a technology similar to Optane? Why not just build a drive with all MRAM, oh yeah, too expensive. Looks like Optane wins. Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Nope, SLC is actually faster. Look it up.

    And what it cannot do is write at the bit level. Which is not really a big deal. Even CPUs cannot address RAM at bellow a byte, if you want single bit operations, you have to use bitwise operators. Writing at a higher level is actually very efficient, because it reduces overhead. If single bit addressing was important, that's who computers would work.

    Furthermore, single bit writes produce a significant challenge when tracking wear levels. Hypetane still wears out, you know... It will be tremendously harder to accurately track wear at bit level, and I am abot 99.999999% sure it is not how intel does it, meaning that a lot of that supposed extra endurance will be forfeited by managing wear at a coarsely grained level. They won't be managing that at bit level, the overhead will be tremendous and will completely diminish potential advantages.

    The MRAM cache will reduce a lot of write amplification and garbage collection.

    It also looks like 3d SLC has about 3 times the density of the chips intel is currently using for hypetane.

    "Why not just build a drive with all MRAM" - density is too low. Which is also why we use RAM for working memory, I mean volatility can easily be solved by say adding a RTG battery to a DRAM drive, giving it effectively about a century of continuous, uninterrupted power. It is doable, but then again, redundant, and while it is true that the industry does a lot of pointless things nowadays, the only ones that qualify are those with a desirable usability to profitability ratio, and a RTG DRAM drive is simply too good to offer...

    "Looks like Optane wins" - anyone can win when running unopposed. The moment someone makes a SLC/MRAM hybrid and it loses to hypetane, I will retract my statement and admit I was wrong. I have zero problem with that ;)
    Reply
  • vanilla_gorilla - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    So you're saying Optane sucks because it would be slower than a drive that doesn't exist? Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    No, I am saying it "sucks" because for all intents and purposes, it is not any faster than a 2 year old drive that it was supposed to beat by a 1000 times.

    And the reason I put it "sucks" is because I never said it does suck. I give it a very realistic valuation. What sucks is how far that realistic valuation is from what intel promised. Which is entirely on them.
    Reply
  • name99 - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    He's saying two distinct things.
    (a) This costs too much for what it delivers. IF Samsung wanted to compete with it, they could do so with a suite of existing technologies. But they probably won't do so because there is little demand for a product like this; honestly it only exists so that Intel can say "see, 3D-XPoint is too, real".

    (b) The place where 3D-XPoint ACTUALLY makes sense is, more or less, what AnandTech says --- as a slower (but much larger) RAM replacement. That's what plays to the technology's strengths (simple controller, byte-level access). But Intel STILL are not shipping that --- which makes one wonder WTF not?

    It IS reasonable to point out that Intel has been lying about this product since the day it was announced, and that the only reason they're shipping these SSD drives is to throw up more smoke to hide the fact that the actually sensible use case remains (for some reason) impossible.

    Being a fanboy isn't about always praising your company, it's about refusing to criticize your company even when they're clearly in the wrong. Intel is clearly in the wrong here, in the sense that nothing that they promised about Optane is actually reality even today, two years after the announcement.
    If you think that's reasonable behavior, ask yourself how you would react if your favorite villainous company did the same.
    Would you be impressed if AMD announced that they're going to ship a GPU 1000x faster than the competition, and two years later all they have is something 2.7x as fast (under very specialized circumstances)?
    Would you let Apple off the hook if they said that the Apple car was going to have 1000x the range of a Tesla, then they shipped two years later, a car with 2.7x the range of a Tesla?
    Reply
  • Drumsticks - Saturday, October 28, 2017 - link

    Re: AMD example: if AMD claimed a product would be 100x or 1000x faster than Nvidia, but only delivered something 6-10x faster in the majority of cases, and on par in the rest, for only 2-3x more money, I'd still be pretty satisfied. Reply

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