Enthusiasts are always-on the lookout for the newest and fastest technology. This is specifically what I do here at TweakTown. I am on a never-ending quest for the ultimate enthusiast OS disk. Over the past year, we have examined what will deliver the ultimate storage performance in an OS setting, and SATA based RAID 0 has been the clear winner to date.
Recently we have seen a wave of PCIe based SSD's hit the market all claiming to break the chains of the SATA bottleneck. It is true that certain the PCIe drives recently introduced do have sequential performance that exceeds SATA III bandwidth, and in that respect, they do break the SATA bottleneck. PCIe drives such as OCZ's recently launched Revo 350, Comay's Blade drive, Plextor's M6E, Samsung's X941 and so on can all deliver superior sequential performance in comparison to a SATA based SSD.
When it comes to choosing the ultimate OS disk, those big time, sequential numbers as we have demonstrated time, and time again, mean exactly nothing in an OS environment. Random file performance, 4k write performance at a low queue depth in particular, is what makes for a superior performing OS disk. SATA based RAID 0 delivers far superior 4k random write performance to the recently launched PCIe drives I mentioned. In fact, the only consumer based PCIe drive that can actually outperform a high performing single SATA based SSD in a heavy usage enthusiast setting is Samsung's X941 m.2 PCIe SSD. However, when we RAID 0 our SATA based SSD's, the PCIe drives I listed get blown away in an OS environment.
The main downfall all of these PCIe SSD's is that they communicate utilizing the AHCI protocol. Using AHCI drivers means these PCIe drives cannot take full advantage of the PCIe interface's superior latency potential. This is where NVMe comes in to change everything. The NVMe protocol is so superior to AHCI that it is almost hard to fathom. We aren't going to get into why it's so superior here, but if you want to know all the details, you can read Paul Alcorn's "Defining NVMe" article.
We want to know if Intel's game changing NVMe PCIe drive, the DC P3700, can actually outperform our fastest SATA based RAID 0 array in an OS environment. Intel has demonstrated that their new DC P3700 can provide performance equivalent to (7) DC S3700's when attached via an HBA card. This demonstration, however, pertains to secondary attached storage arrays in a data center setting and not an operating system volume in an enthusiast setting. Nothing we have tested to date has been a remote threat to dethrone even a 2-drive SSD SATA array's performance superiority when utilized as an OS disk, so this should be an interesting showdown.
It is important to keep in mind that Intel did not design the DC P3700 with consumer-based workloads in mind. The DC P3700 is an enterprise drive through and through. However, because the DC P3700 is not priced completely out of the enthusiast's budget, you can be certain it will make its way into some upper tier enthusiast's PC's; after all, it's the fastest single SSD ever made.
Today we have our fastest arrays composed of Intel's powerful 730 480GB SATA III SSD's in RAID 0. So far, Intel's 730 series SSD has been a SATA based RAID 0 juggernaut. Nothing else we have tested is in the same league, which is the reason Intel's 730 480GB SSD is TweakTown's current SATA based RAID 0 champion. The showdown is on; it's Intel vs. Intel. The fastest motherboard based SATA array vs. the fastest PCIe drive ever made, Intel's NVMe based DC P3700 PCIe SSD.
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