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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  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    You probably missed the slide where intel positions this product at "eSports" - believe it or not, it will make a world of a difference. You may not see even 1% of improvement, but it will definitely make you much better at eSports.

    But then again, you can get exactly the same benefit from just putting a sticker on your box, without actually paying for the product. It is enough for others to think you have it.

    Sarcasm aside, at this price it is a good purchase for database usage. But only if very low latency is required, meaning a local server on a very fast network, and the server is being lightly loaded. For an internet server the advantages will be diminished by the internet connection bottleneck, and for higher loads, as evident from the test results, SSDs do catch up as the QD increases, and still offer significantly lower cost per GB.
  • lmcd - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    While the endurance shut-off seems pretty ridiculous, I'd imagine as this technology ramps up its density and cost-efficiency it will supplant traditional NAND in the data center before traditional NAND even garners much of a foothold.
  • iwod - Saturday, October 28, 2017 - link

    I think the reality is 90% of consumers are never going to hit that endurance number, ever. Statiscally speaking, they are much more likely to get a Memory Error, Capacitor malfunction, Power Supply issues or likely their CPU heat cooling system ( Increasingly a problem ) messed up before that number ever arrived.

    And I think another problem, is Intel cant figure out the best endurance time and method on this new tech. And they are playing it safe then sorry. Running a 10 PB test takes time.
  • "Bullwinkle J Moose" - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Thank you ddriver

    I was going to let the My Banhammer stand until I remembered why I love this site so much...

    It's not the articles, it's the comments

    You have learned well my friend!
  • eddman - Sunday, October 29, 2017 - link

    Horses attached to the same carriage. Keep pulling.
  • peevee - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Looks like this thing is fast enough to be used as swap drive for memory-intensive tasks.
  • Reflex - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    This is a good product for those who can benefit from it, and a great start for the first major advance in solid state storage we have seen in many years. Hopefully the price continues to come down, power consumption declines and capacity rises. I will be very interested in seeing whether or not they can achieve the projections that were made when the technology was first announced.
  • Huayra - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Is it possible to install macOS on it using thunderbolt enclosure connected to a Macbook?
  • Ippokratis - Saturday, October 28, 2017 - link

    Hi, nice article.
    1 - Can Optane be used as a scratch disk for Ryzen / Threadripper, OSX /Linux ?
    2 - Could you please a compiler (gcc, javascript) benchmark ? Random IOPS are very important in compiling and making compile times shorter is a good reason to buy tech - consider it as a real life test.
  • peevee - Monday, October 30, 2017 - link

    Agree with compile test. On 16+ core machine though, not 4 measly cores. And source code which does not all fit in RAM.

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