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Intel Optane SSD 900P 280GB & 480GB AIC NVMe PCIe SSD Review

Intel Optane SSD 900P 280GB & 480GB AIC NVMe PCIe SSD Review
3D XPoint memory media makes its way into the mainstream desktop enthusiast market, shattering every performance metric that matters along the way.
By: Jon Coulter | PCIe in Storage | Posted: Nov 20, 2017 2:00 pm
TweakTown Rating: 100%Manufacturer: Intel

Introduction

 

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Two years ago, Intel/Micron introduced us to 3D XPoint memory media at a press event in San Francisco California. The performance claims presented were dazzling, to say the least. Since that day, we've been eagerly waiting to get a real 3D XPoint consumer SSD in our hands. Not a tiny caching module like Optane Memory, but a real retail enthusiast SSD with enough capacity to serve as a legitimate system disk. The wait is finally over. Intel's Optane SSD 900P is now hitting retail channels. We had heard rumors that the 900P would come to market at over $2 per gigabyte. Even at that price, we believed that if the 900P was able to live up to Intel's performance and endurance claims, it would certainly be worth the price of admission.

 

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Needless to say, we're pleasantly surprised to see the Optane SSD 900P sporting an MSRP that is less than $1.50 per gigabyte. This is roughly 3x the price of high-end flash-based NVMe SSDs, but in this case, you get what you pay for. Optane 900P SSDs can deliver up to 7x the random read performance of the best flash-based SSDs at QD1, and are rated at about 10x the endurance of their flash-based counterparts. For many of you, that actually makes Optane the better overall value.

 

 

What is 3D XPoint memory media and why is it better than NAND? 3D XPoint memory is a joint venture between Intel and Micron (IMFT). The actual IP outside of the memory itself is separate proprietary technology. Neither company will disclose what makes 3D XPoint tick, but we believe it is a form of PCM (Phase Change Memory) technology. Intel calls their 3D XPoint technology "Optane." Optane consists of 3D XPoint memory, Intel memory and storage controllers, Intel interconnect IP and Intel software.

 

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First and foremost, 3D XPoint is superior to NAND flash because it is much faster. 3D XPoint creates a new storage tier that falls between DRAM and NAND. On a cellular level, 3D XPoint memory media is 1000x faster than NAND. However, in the real-world, actual speed is limited by bus performance. So, you won't be getting 1000x faster performance than NAND flash-based SSDs can deliver due to interface limitations. 3D XPoint is also superior because it has at minimum 10x the endurance of NAND flash memory. Sustained performance is another huge advantage that 3D XPoint brings to the table. A 3D XPoint SSD runs at the same speed whether it is empty or full and under any condition. NAND-based SSDs get slower as they fill with data, and even slower when running sustained workloads. NAND SSDs rely on TRIM and GC (Garbage Collection) to maintain high performance, 3D XPoint SSDs do not.

 

Why do you need Optane? When evaluating SSDs for purchase, people tend to focus on sequential performance as the main indicator of how well an SSD will make their system perform. The bigger the number, the better the performance, right? Well, no that is almost always wrong. What matters most for overall system responsiveness is random read performance at low queue depths. Random read performance at low queue depths is where flash-based SSDs are at their weakest and where performance matters most. The difference between SATA SSDs and flash-based NVMe SSDs when reading random data at low queue depths is minimal at best. This is why for the most part, you cannot visibly differentiate between a PC that is running an on a SATA-based SDD or one running on a flash-based NVMe SSD. They both boot just as fast, and deliver virtually the same user experience as one-another. Optane technology is a game changer for one main reason - Intel's Optane 900P cranks out random read performance at low queue depths that can be as much as 7x better than the fastest flash-based NVMe SSDs. What this means in the real-world is very well illustrated by the following:

 

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Rendering the same 7-second scene with a Samsung 960 Pro takes 2.7x longer than it does when using an Intel SSD 900P - 17.4 hours vs. 6.3 hours. That is indeed game-changing.

 

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In a workstation environment, Optane 900P NVMe SSDs deliver up to 4x the storage performance of the fastest flash-based NVMe SSDs.

 

Having already tested Optane Memory caching SSD's we knew the 900P was set to redefine storage performance. Intel calls this giant performance leap "The New Normal." Even the taste of Optane we got from Optane Memory didn't prepare us for "The New Normal" that comes with a full-blown Optane SSD. It turns out that Optane SSDs live up to every claim made by Intel. The performance we got from our Optane 900P SSDs is mind-blowing. It is truly one of the few must-have pieces of hardware for any PC enthusiast that demands the very best.

 

If performance and endurance alone aren't enough to open your wallet, Intel has teamed up with RSI for the 900P launch.

 

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Included with the Optane SSD 900P is an exclusive digital Star Citizen spaceship called the "Sabre Raven." The "Saber Raven" pictured above is exclusive for Optane SSD 900P owners. This is actually a huge value-add. Some Star Citizen spaceships can sell for literally thousands of dollars. The Sabre Raven isn't worth thousands, but it is worth hundreds. In fact, looking at eBay, we've already seen Sabre Raven codes being sold without the drive for $300 and up.

 

 

Specifications

 

Intel Optane SSD 900P 280GB & 480GB AIC PCIe NVMe SSD

 

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  • Sustained Sequential Read: up to 2,500 MB/s
  • Sustained Sequential Write: up to 2,000 MB/s
  • Max 4K Random Read Speed: up to 550,000 IOPS
  • Max 4K Random Write Speed: up to 500,000 IOPS
  • Endurance: 280GB up to 5,110 TBW
  • Endurance: 480GB up to 8,760 TBW
  • MTBF: 1.6 Million Hours
  • Warranty: 5-Year Limited Warranty

 

MSRP: 280GB = $389.99 MSRP: 480GB = $599.99

 

Initially, the 900P series will be offered in two capacities and two form factors - U.2 and HHHL Add-In-Card (AIC). At this time, the U.2 form factor is only available at 280GB. The AIC form factor is available at both 280GB and 480GB capacity points. It is important to note that unlike flash-based SSDs, Optane SSDs don't rely on capacity for higher performance. The 280GB 900P is just as fast as the 480GB 900P. Another huge advantage Optane 900P SSDs have over their flash-based consumer counterparts is endurance. Currently, the best consumer flash-based SSDs slot in at about 1/2 drive-write per day of endurance. The SSD 900P Series is rated for ten drive-writes per day of endurance.

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