Intel's rollout of Optane products, based on 3D XPoint memory, continues. Today is the release of the 750GB Optane SSD DC P4800X, a larger capacity version of the model launched earlier this year. Now Intel's flagship enterprise SSD family has a more useful capacity while offering the same chart-topping performance as the 375GB model that launched earlier this spring.

We tested the 375GB model earlier this year through remote access to an Intel server lab. Last month, we reviewed the consumer counterpart to the P4800X, the Intel Optane SSD 900p. Today, we have the results of hands-on testing of the 750GB P4800X add-in card model.

The 750GB add-in card model was originally planned for a Q2 introduction, followed by the 750GB U.2 model and the 1.5TB models in the second half of 2017. Both 750GB models are now launching, and Intel says the 1.5TB models are "coming soon". This is a fairly minor delay, but that is of little comfort to customers who have been eagerly awaiting drives like this since 3D XPoint memory was first announced in July 2015.

Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X Specifications
Capacity 375 GB 750 GB
Form Factor PCIe HHHL or 2.5" 15mm U.2
Interface PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe
Controller Intel SLL3D
Memory 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint
Typical Latency (R/W) <10µs
Random Read (4 kB) IOPS (QD16) 550,000
Random Read 99.999% Latency (QD1) 60µs
Random Read 99.999% Latency (QD16) 150µs
Random Write (4 kB) IOPS (QD16) 500,000
Random Write 99.999% Latency (QD1) 100µs
Random Write 99.999% Latency (QD16) 200µs
Mixed 70/30 (4kB) Random IOPS (QD16) 500,000
Sequential Read (64kB) 2400 MB/s
Sequential Write (64kB) 2000 MB/s
Active Power Read 8 W 10 W
Write 13 W 15 W
Idle Power 5 W 6 W
Endurance 30 DWPD
Warranty 5 years
MSRP $1520  

The performance specifications of the Optane SSDs stand out in several ways.

The latency for reads at low queue depths is far lower than NAND flash-based SSDs. This can provide a boost to almost any application that waits on storage. With no complicated wear leveling and garbage collection process going on under the hood, the Optane SSDs offer much better performance consistency than most flash-based SSDs, to the point that Intel specifies 99.999th percentile latency for the Optane SSD.

Perhaps most significant is that capacity doesn't affect performance. For flash-based SSDs there is usually a very strong correlation between capacity and performance. The simpler, more direct architecture of Optane SSDs cuts out most of the intermediate buffering that flash SSDs need to perform well.

The sequential transfer speeds of the P4800X are not record-setting, and the read speed rating is actually 100MBps lower than that of the consumer Optane SSD 900p. However, nobody is going to buy an Optane SSD primarily for its sequential performance when flash-based SSDs can compete in that aspect at a fraction of the price. It is interesting to note that the sequential performance specifications are given for 64kB transfers, when 128kB is more common within the industry and 128kB transfers are supported by the Optane SSD.

Power consumption is the only area where the specifications differ between the 375GB and the 750GB model. The SSD DC P4800X does not implement the standard NVMe power state management or Autonomous Power State Transition features, but it does have a power governor setting controllable through vendor specific commands. This allows the P4800X to be limited to 12W instead of the default limit of 18W. Since imposing a lower power limit will reduce performance, this feature is probably not going to get much use with a product like the P4800X. There may be a few situations where it could be of use with the U.2 model that has less surface area for cooling, provided that it leads to more consistent performance than simply letting the drives thermally throttle.

The P4800X's write endurance rating of 30 drive writes per day is far higher than most enterprise SSDs and beats any previous Intel SSD, but it isn't actually high enough to put the Optane SSD in an entirely different class from the best high-endurance flash based SSDs. When the P4800X exhausts the rated write endurance, it will switch to a "write protect" mode where writes are throttled to 30MB/s. This is a gentler end of life strategy than the hard read-only mode that some of Intel's previous drives have used. The mode switch happens when the "Percentage Used Estimate" SMART indicator reaches 105%.

Once the P4800X has reached its write endurance rating, it is specified for unpowered data retention of 3 months, which is standard for enterprise SSD. Intel doesn't say anything directly about data retention when the drive is new, but the do caution that the drive will perform background data refreshing. When the drive is powered on, it will devote more time than usual to background data refreshing for a period of about three hours, to clean up any data degradation that may have occurred while the drive was off for an unknowable period of time.

Model Dies per channel Channels Raw Capacity Spare Area
Intel Optane SSD 900p 280GB 3 7 336 GB 56 GB (16.6 %)
Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X 375GB 4 7 448 GB 73 GB (16.3 %)
Intel Optane SSD 900p 480GB 5 7 560 GB 80 GB (14.3 %)
Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X 750GB 8 7 896 GB 146 GB (16.3 %)

The Optane SSD DC P4800X and the Optane SSD 900p both use the same 7-channel controller, which leads to some unusual drive capacities. The 900p comes with either 3 or 5 memory dies per channel while the P4800X has 4 or 8. All models reserve about 1/6th of the raw capacity for internal use.

Aside from the number of 3D XPoint memory packages and the number of dies they contain, the PCBs of the P4800X and the 900p differ only in the presence of a few diagnostic LEDs on the P4800X. Neither model has any large power loss protection capacitors because the Optane SSDs don't use any volatile caches and write immediately to the 3D XPoint memory itself.

The heatsinks and PCIe brackets are slightly different between the consumer and enterprise versions, but both are predominately black aluminum. The P4800X omits the solid backplate and instead places the label with model and serial numbers on the side of the heatsink.

Test Setup
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  • AlaskanDruid - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    Ok. what am I missing? What is the use of these when you can have one in a m.2 form which takes up MUCH less room?

    I know I'm missing something, but what is it?
  • Drumsticks - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    The drives dissipate 12-18W, which is 2-3x more than flash based SSDs. I don't think the m.2 form factor would make heat dissipation easy, unless you scale the design back down to the 32-120GB range.
  • Billy Tallis - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    More than just capacity, you'd almost certainly have to scale down performance by a lot. It's possible to do better than the current PCIe x2 32GB module, but a 7 channel controller would be hard to fit physically, and it would have to run slower to not melt. I think a ~3 channel M.2 drive is plausible, but I'm not sure its write speeds would be high enough.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    it looks like you could physically do 7 (or even 8) channels on a dual sided 22110 m.2 module with the current package size. The thermals would be a real challenge though; and are why I really wish U.2 would've gained at least a little traction in the consumer market.
  • Billy Tallis - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    I was thinking more along the lines of a 22x80mm card. I agree that 7 3D XPoint packages is probably possible on 22x110, but I'm not sure how dense the controller's BGA pad can get.
  • DanNeely - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    If you went 2 sided you could fit 6 on a 2280 card. With a bare bottom they're just short on enough room for a 3rd package on top; move some of that misc stuff underneath and you'd free up the PCB area needed.
  • Rwbeckman - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    This is the datacenter model, good for releasing higher capacity sooner with its size. Plus rackmount cooling design will help. U.2. Will be for hot swap, the card will not. The M.2 enthusiast consumer model is the 900P
  • Samus - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    XPoint technology is just one of the reasons Intel released the "ruler" form factor for future SSD's. I suspect a mobile variant will replace m2 in the future.
  • CheapSushi - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    Or just use the new M.3 format (wider) that Samsung came out with.
  • Drumsticks - Thursday, November 9, 2017 - link

    Great review Billy, thank you!

    Optane as a gen 1 product is pretty fantastic. I can't wait to see how the rest of the market will compete, and what Intel and Micron (where are their drives?) can do for round two.

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