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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  • phaethon1 - Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - link

    Nice post,

    I read in multiple channels about this SSD being able to be used as extra RAM. Then I contacted the technical support of Intel, and they do not have any clue about a software to enable this feature. Any ideas?
  • extide - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    SLC might be faster in sequential, but if you want sequential stripe a bunch of platters ..

    Also, I didn't say bit-level, I said block level. They present 512b blocks so you would assume the drive manages 'pages' in the size of 512b even though the underlying memory can be more fine-grained. SLC can't do that, plus there is still the whole garbage collection thing. If your hypothetical drive was actually a good idea, someone would make it. That's proof enough that it's not.
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    They didn't make one not because it is not good enough, but because it would be too good.

    That would set a bad precedent. Before you know it, people will start demanding quality rather than being content with what the industry dictates to them.

    Of course, if hypetane manages to make enough a hole in the pockets of big players, we will definitely be seeing some of that long-possible, deliberately untapped potential coming to life.

    "That's proof enough that it's not."

    You know, they make trucks that drive 24/7, under huge loads, and can go much long without maintenance than a regular personal vehicle. That's proof enough that the industry doesn't make things as good as it can, obviously, if it can make a heavily used and loaded truck more durable, that would be not only possible, but actually much easier to achieve for a regular car that's driven less, under less load. Yet they don't make it, even if that ends up costing human lives. And the reason for that is moar profit. Which is why they chose to only overbuild trucks, because that too maximizes profits. But not cars. Cars are far more profitable if need more servicing, and that doesn't result in profit losses as it would if it was commercial trucks, and if underbuilt cars end up costing human lives, that's a small price to pay for more profit. Engineering wise, is entirely possible and easily doable to make a car about 10 times more durable, and requiring 10 times less maintenance, and 10 times safer too, but they'd rather get the extra profit. And keep good engineering exclusive to military and commercial production.

    The reason they haven't made it is they didn't have a reason to make it. And the reason intel did hypetane is only because it has been a very long time since they did anything new. They had that in the works, and decided to release it in order to demonstrate some innovation, unfortunately, not without shamelessly lying about how well it will perform in advance.
  • Xpl1c1t - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    ddriver, i like your analysis. maybe the review system just wasnt equipped with rgb lighting, that would explain at least one order of magnitude of error in their results vs Intel's promises
  • jospoortvliet - Friday, November 3, 2017 - link

    > Engineering wise, is entirely possible and easily doable to make a car about 10 times more durable, and requiring 10 times less maintenance, and 10 times safer too, but they'd rather get the extra profit. And keep good engineering exclusive to military and commercial production.

    Well, yes, they care about their profits: nobody would buy such a super-durable car because it would cost 5-10x the price and people will go for the cheaper car, even though it has higher maintenance cost. This is true for nearly ANY product on the market: sure, you could built houses more durable, or bikes, or... you name it. But people prefer 'good enough' over 'perfect', always have. And they're not entirely stupid - many products' practical life time is fine, people quite like buying a new car every 3-5 years. Or new cups. Or new forks and knives.

    Yes, some folks pay the 10x price to get the perfect, durable stuff. But most buy pressed wood closets at Ikea and are happy with it.
  • Gastec - Saturday, March 10, 2018 - link

    I'm not sure if you are both ironic or are just too rich to think straight.
  • AlishaScott - Sunday, October 29, 2017 - link

    I just got paid $6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do... http://cutt.us/O5gex
  • Nails6365 - Monday, November 6, 2017 - link

    Thank you for your in-depth analysis.

    Given the opportunity to make a high-end rig. What would you choose ?
  • Jared13000 - Tuesday, May 22, 2018 - link

    You’re not giving Optane enough credit, you don't necessarily compare a NAND based drive to an Optane based drive. Compare NAND to Optane, as NAND has had years of development pored into hiding its short comings that Optane has not yet had.

    I just built a small all flash hyper converged cluster and after setup I was getting about 500,000 random read IOPS on a quad node cluster with triple mirrored storage. Write speeds were about 1,000 IOPS, basically hard drive speeds across the 16 SSDs in the cluster.

    Was it bad drivers, miss configuration, ethernet flow control issues?

    None of the above. It was the drive cache. Storage spaces disabled it due to the drives not having power loss protection. Enabled the cache on all the drives to avoid direct NAND writes and now the cluster can push nearly 280,000 write IOPS. This mean with cache the drives are over 200 times faster than just writing directly to NAND.

    What does this have to do with Optane? As far as I have been able to find, Optane drives don't have or need a cache. Their performance is direct to storage, without cache!

    Taken in the context of NAND vs Optane, 1,000x may be embellished, but probably not by much. At this point PCIe overhead and lack of software optimization may be the only reason it’s not 1,000x faster when comparing modern NAND memory.

    It's not that much faster comparing a whole NAND drive with well implemented cache to an Optane drive, but some situations can't rely on cache. Also, a simpler drive should be more reliable, in theory.

    As it is Optane is unrivaled until someone manages to bring a drive to market with SLC NAND and nonvolatile cache like MRAM for about twice the cost of a 970 PRO.

    Just a thought, a 970 PRO 512 GB has an MSRP of $329 and the Intel 900p 280 GB has it’s MSRP at $329 as well. That is 256 GB of SLC flash vs 280 GB of Optane. Comparing an MLC drive to an SLC drive at half the capacity is a bit like comparing apples and oranges, but it’s a start for an estimate. Trade the DRAM for MRAM and bump the capacity a bit and it’s hard to imagine that a SLC NAND based drive with MRAM wouldn’t cost more than Optane.

    If you expected 1,000 times SSDs that are getting multiple gigabytes per second reads and writes, then you were looking for a drive faster than CPU cache. Intel really needs to watch their wording, but that does not make this a bad product.
  • CheapSushi - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Well, then wait for Samsung's Z-NAND, which is MLC/TLC NAND treated like SLC.

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