Intel 750 Series review

Intel 750 Series review

Last Updated on by Daniel Lawrence

The industry’s first consumer NVMe SSD shows what happens when you ditch SAS and SATA. The drive can be used on any PC, but to boot from it, you will need an NVMe-aware BIOS, which is currently (4/2/2015) a very rare thing outside of the enthusiast space.

Intel’s 750 series SSDs are here, offering NVMe (NonVolatile Memory express) storage that’s blisteringly fast. A high-end PC is the only device capable of supporting this advanced storage technology, at least for the enthusiast subset of the masses. Although the 750s are fast in certain benchmarks, it’s with a capital ‘F’.

Welcome to the cutting edge of the storage

intel 750 serise

SSDs from the 750 series is so cutting-edge that the first people to benefit from their speed will have very special computers. Would you like to write something down? Are you seated? Here’s what we’ll need.

The 750 series is available in two forms: a half-height, half-length PCIe expansion card that uses an x4 PCIe slot and a standard 2.5-inch model. Despite looking like your typical 2.5-inch SSD, the latter uses the new SFF (Small Form Factor) 8639 connector designed for that technology, as well as SATA Express.

Although your PC does not have the SFF-8639 connector, you can still use the 2.5-inch drive if you have an M.2 slot, albeit at a slight performance penalty. Your motherboard manufacturer will provide an adapter to connect the SFF-8643 (mini SAS) cable to the M.2/SATA power connector. You will also need the Intel SFF-8639 to SFF-8643 (mini SAS) cable. Because M.2 does not provide the 12-volt rail that the 750 series requires, a SATA power connector must be used. An NVMe SSD operating at a higher frequency requires much more power than a SATA SSD operating at 600MBps.

In order to use the full potential of the Intel 750 series, or any other NVMe drive, you will also need an M.2 connection with four PCIe 3.0 connections. In most cases, M.2 is connected through Gen 2 PCIe ports from the chipset, including those on Intel’s new X99 chipset. In fact, even if they were Gen 3 chipsets, the DMI bus feeding them is limited to 2GBps. In certain benchmarks, we saw 2.5GBps and had heard reports of 3.5GBps with the expansion card model.

To boot or not to boot

Furthermore, the 750 series can be used as secondary storage with the right connector, but you need a BIOS that supports NVMe in order to boot from it. While motherboard vendors could add NVMe capability to older BIOS versions, it might not be a financially sound choice for their mainstream boards, whose users will probably never miss NVMe. I don’t think it will happen with anything but the latest enthusiast systems.

In addition, Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology, which is the RAID on most Intel motherboards, does not yet support running NVMe drives in RAID. The setup would not boot from Windows RAID, but you could use it. A 750 series SSD is a great choice if you want shorter boot times and better Windows performance.

Performance

750 serise

Our analysis is that most users will stick with the expansion card drive due to the cabling problems associated with the 2.5-inch drive and the limitations of many M.2 implementations. The company might have had the same thought when it sent us the model to test.

Before we installed the Intel NVMe drivers (Windows 8.1 has its own), we saw 1.3GBps sequential reading and 900MBps sequential writing (4MB) scores in CrystalDiskMark 3. Intel’s drivers boosted the reading speed to 1.6GBps and the writing speed to 1.4GBps. The individual write speed for small 4KB writes was rated at 229MBps, but with a queue depth of 32, it was 832MBps. Multiple queues are a key feature of NVMe.

We switched to Iometer, however, because Intel was throwing out numbers like 2.5GBps. With Intel’s recommended file size of 128KB, we got just about there. Nice. Based on a beta version of CrystalDiskMark, it displayed around 2.7GBps.

There was 2.5GBps worth of fantastic activity going on. We then abandoned the server scenarios and returned to client-desktop scenarios, where things were once again slow.

Usually, users only pay attention to disk performance when they are copying large amounts of data. Our artificial benchmarks are backed up by copying large 20GB files, and a 20GB mix of files and folders. Since SSDs and NVMe are so fast, we usually use a RAM disk to eliminate the need for a secondary drive.

During this ad-hoc testing of the 750 series, we achieved 1.5GBps with the 20GB archive and 1.2GBps with files and folders. The files and folders were copied manually using XCOPY from the command line, and the Windows file and folder copying routines were called from a Visual Basic script. The results were similar. Not bad, but slower than anticipated.

PC Mark was used to determining the impact of adding the 750 series on overall performance. It actually lost to the RAID 0 SATA SSD array (two Samsung 840 Pro) that shipped with our Core i7-5960X/X99, 32GB Polywell X9900E4. There is no statistical significance in the difference between 3,493 and 3,503, but it shows that you can get a lot of value from a SATA RAID system.

We were unable to determine at the time of this review exactly what was throttling raw sequential throughput-Windows, the RAM disk, the NVMe drivers, or simply the drive itself. As a result, you will see large gains over SATA simply because NVMe uses PCIe, but most client usage is relatively straight-line and won’t fully utilize NVMe’s capabilities. The benefits of multitrack editing, transcoding, and the like may be greater than simply copying a single file.

Although this next comment is subjective in the sense that it is subjective, it did seem that Windows ran more smoothly after the 750 series was installed. I could be imagining things. In handling multiple I/O requests, NVMe may be more efficient because it provides multiple queues.

Relatively low-cost

Despite expectations of a fast laptop, we didn’t think the 750 would be affordable. However, it is. The 400GB version costs $389 (either type) and the 1.2TB version costs $1,029 (either type). It’s expensive by SATA SSD standards, but cheap when compared to the more than $1,000, 480GB OCZ Revo Drive 350, the $500/256GB Plextor M6e, and Kingston’s $750 Hyperx Predator PCIe SSD.

 While the latter is currently available at a heavy discount, Intel’s 750 series competition will drop in price very soon.

Drives in the 750 series are covered by Intel’s five-year warranty and can be written on 0.3 times per day. The latter is a new concept from Intel: It means the warranty will allow you to write up to 30% of the drive’s total capacity per day without invalidating the whichever-comes-first warranty. On the 400GB model, that’s 133GB per day, and on the 1.2GB model, it’s 400GB per day-an an extremely large amount of data for a non-enterprise drive.

Pros Cons
Affordable for its class Minimally faster on client PCs than cheaper SATA RAID 0
Fast PCIe performance Requires NVMe-aware BIOS for use as a boot disk

Conclusion

Because of the relatively tame performance in some tests and the lack of NVMe support in legacy PCs, we can recommend the 750 series only to the high-end crowd, with the caveat that you may get just as much performance for less cash with a RAID 0. The 750 is an excellent server-load solution, it’s a single-drive option, it has a fantastic warranty, and if you have an NVMe-aware BIOS, you’ll have a story on this soon. rein the clear.

SATA RAID or a PCIe/M.2 solution, such as Kingston’s HyperX Predator PCIe SSD, are typically the only practical options for increasing storage performance for the average desktop user. NVMe won’t stay under the radar for long: Expect big gains very soon.

Finally, not all SSDs are capable of handling RAID. Samsung’s 840s and Intel’s 735s do, but other drives are hit-and-miss. Look for a story on that soon.