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Intel 750 series SSD review: Storage so fast, only the highest-end PCs can keep up

Jon L. Jacobi | April 6, 2015
They're here: Intel's 750 series SSDs--scintillatingly fast NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express) storage for the masses. At least, the enthusiast subset of the masses--the infrastructure to support this advanced storage technology is found only in high-end PCs. But the 750's are fast, and that's with a capital ‘F' in certain benchmarks.

They're here: Intel's 750 series SSDs — scintillatingly fast NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory express) storage for the masses. At least, the enthusiast subset of the masses — the infrastructure to support this advanced storage technology is found only in high-end PCs. But the 750's are fast, and that's with a capital F' in certain benchmarks.

Welcome to the cutting edge of storage

The 750 series SSDs are so cutting-edge, the first people to enjoy this speed will have very special PCs, indeed. Do you have some paper and a pencil? Are you sitting down? Here's what it's gonna take.

The 750 series ships in two form factors: a half-height, half-length PCIe expansion card that uses a x4 PCIe slot, and a standard 2.5-inch model. While the latter may look like your typical 2.5-inch SSD, it actually uses the new SFF (Small Form Factor) 8639 connector designed especially for that technology, as well as SATA Express.

Your PC undoubtedly lacks a SFF-8639 connector, but you can still use the 2.5-inch drive if you have a somewhat more common M.2 slot, albeit with a slight performance penalty. You'll need the SFF-8639 to SFF-8643 (mini SAS) cable Intel provides, plus a SFF-8643 to M.2/SATA power connector adapter provided by your motherboard manufacturer. The SATA power connector must be used, because M.2 doesn't provide the 12-volt rail required by the 750 series. NVMe SSDs operating at higher frequencies require a lot more juice than 600MBps SATA SSDs.

You'll also need an M.2 connection with x4 PCIe 3.0 connections from the CPU to exploit the full potential of the Intel 750 series, or any NVMe drive. Most M.2 connections are Gen 2 PCIe from the chipset, including those wired to Intel's latest X99. Even if they were Gen 3, the DMI bus feeding the chipset is limited to 2GBps. That's a significant bottleneck, given that we saw 2.5GBps in certain benchmarks with the expansion card model and have seen reports of 3.5GBps.

To boot or not to boot

There's more: Though anyone with the proper connector can use the 750 series as secondary storage, in order to boot from it, you'll need a BIOS that supports NVMe. Motherboard vendors could add NVMe capability to an older BIOS, but it might be a financially unsound choice for their mainstream boards, whose users will probably never pine for NVMe. I'm not expecting it to happen with any but the most recent enthusiast systems.

Also, while there's no technical barrier to running NVMe drives in RAID, Intel's Rapid Storage Technology, which is the RAID on most Intel motherboards, doesn't support it yet. You could use Windows RAID, but then you couldn't boot from your setup. And trust us, shorter boot times and Windows performance are a large part of the reason you'd want a 750 series SSD.

 

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