Intel's christens the launch of NVMe into the datacenter with the Intel DC P3700 series of SSDs. NVMe standardizes interaction with non-volatile memory on the PCIe bus through an optimized register interface, command set, and feature set. The implications of the NVMe specification are huge for the future of solid state storage. For those looking for more details, we dive in deeper in our Defining NVMe - Hands-on testing with the 1.6TB Intel P3700 SSD article.
In short, NVMe provides better latency and performance in comparison to the legacy interfaces used by most SSDs, such as AHCI and SCSI. NVMe also provides a standardized approach that can leverage a common driver, instead of the varying proprietary drivers found in current gen PCIe SSDs. NVMe's higher performance and multiple parallel queues provide enhanced scaling in demanding environments. We found NVMe to lower latency and reduce CPU load, and system interrupts, in our testing.
The Intel DC P3700 is the first NVMe SSD on the market, and the excitement surrounding the NVMe interface somewhat overshadowed other key improvements Intel has made in performance tuning and reliability. NVMe is revolutionary, some liken it to the advent of Fibre Channel and SCSI, but it is not going to make every SSD a performance champion. Delivering great performance requires ingenious engineering and effort, and Intel has spared neither in their quest to provide what they consider the best PCIe SSD on the market.
Intel divides their SSD offerings into datacenter, professional, and consumer segments. In the datacenter segment, there are the DC S3700 and DC S3500 SATA SSDs and the new DC 'P' family for PCIe SSDs. The P series is broken into three categories defined by workload. The DC P3500 and DC P3600 are for entry and mid-level read-centric applications with conservative write workload requirements. It makes sense that the lower endurance is accompanied by lowered random write performance, those with light write workloads will not require blistering random write speed.
The mixed random performance for the reduced-endurance models remains high; this is largely due to Intel's performance tuning that optimizes the mixed workload read/write ratio. Read performance remains mostly unaffected in the DC P3500 and P3600 with only an incremental reduction compared to the flagship. This application-specific tuning keeps pricing very competitive while still providing high performance for read-centric workloads.
The DC P3700 series offers the most endurance and write performance, with up to 465,000/180,000 random read/write IOPS, and sequential speeds are equally impressive at 2,800/1,900 MB/s read/write. The DC P3700 features HET (High Endurance Technology) MLC and 10 DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day) of endurance, up to 36.5 PBW for the 2TB model. All models feature protection from host power failure via capacitors. End-to-end data protection contributes to an UBER rating of 1 sector per 10E17. All P series SSDs feature a five-year warranty period and an MTBF of 2 million hours.
The previous generation Intel 910 utilized a x8 PCIe 2.0 connection, but the faster speed and more efficient encoding of PCIe 3.0 allows the use of a x4 PCIe 3.0 connection for the P series. Utilizing fewer lanes is important due to chipset lane limitations. Power consumption stays within the standard PCIe spec of 25 Watts active, and the P3700 idles at 4Watts. There are additional low power settings of 20W and 15W for power-constrained environments.
Intel uses their own proprietary 18-channel CH29AE41AB0 controller on all P series drives. The P3600 and P3500 utilize standard MLC in lieu of the HET MLC used for the P3700. One of the best aspects of the P series is the small HHHL (Half-Height Half-Length) form factor that crams in a maximum of 2TB of capacity. This small footprint allows installation into the slimmest servers, and the P series is available in a 2.5" 15mm form factor with the new SFF-8639 connector. This enables front bay loading on servers with compatible backplanes.
Intel remains committed to delivering the same performance consistency featured in their SATA offerings, and builds upon that standard by enhancing low queue depth performance. Today, we test the DC P3700 against the leading PCIe SSD competitors, the Micron P420m and the HGST FlashMAX II, but first let's take a closer look at the DC P3700.