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Intel's SSD 760p Series 512 GB solid-state drive reviewed

A value NVMe player gets a 64-layer upgrade

NAND from the Intel-Micron Flash Technologies foundries is a common sight in the TR labs. The fruits of Intel and Micron's (soon-to-be-defunct) joint partnership end up in a wide array of internal and removable media. It might surprise you to recall, then, that the last mainstream Intel-branded drive we reviewed was the trailblazing 750 Series nigh on three years ago. Well, there was Optane, but that one's a bit of an odd duck. In any event, Intel hasn't been sitting on its hands in all that time, but the drives constituting the company's current lineup haven't found their way into our hands of late. 

The name of the game for that lineup now is 3D NAND. Intel introduced IMFT's second-generation, 64-layer 3D TLC into its client portfolio with the SSD 545s last summer. That left the older NVMe SSD 600p in a bit of an awkward position. The PCIe drive was left to languish on the previous-gen, 32-layer stuff and could barely outpace the new SATA drive on paper.

Today, though, Intel is completing its transition to 64-layer TLC with a trio of drives, one of which could put the 600p out to pasture. Behold the Intel SSD 760p Series.

SSD 760p Series
Capacity Max sequential (MB/s) Max random (IOps) Price
Read Write Read Write
128 GB ? ? ? ? $74
256 GB ? ? ? ? $109
512 GB 3230 1625 340K 275K $199

The sparse table may have tipped you off, but Intel has only released official performance figures for the 512 GB version of the 760p thus far. That's fine, because as it happens, that's the one the company sent us to test. Nonetheless, the drive launches today in 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB capacities. 1 TB and 2 TB versions are set to follow later this quarter. Alongside the 760p, Intel is taking the wraps off of the SSD Pro 7600p Series and SSD E 6100p Series. These appear to be similar to the 760p, just targeted towards the business and embedded markets.

The performance numbers Intel is asserting for the 760p are pretty juicy: more than double the specs of the 512 GB 600p for only $10 more at launch. In fact, that's just what the company's press materials would like us to take away from this product. Claims like "2x performance" and "PCIe performance at near SATA pricing" abound. So whence come all these savings? Intel would have us believe it all comes down to foresight. Pursuing traditional floating-gate arrays in its 3D NAND product allowed IMFT to preserve smaller cell sizes where its charge-trap competitors were forced to go bigger, reducing density. Additionally, Micron's CMOS-Under-the-Array tech frees peripheral logic from having to be, well, peripheral, putting the bulk of the control circuitry under the memory itself. All these space savings give IMFT a scalability advantage in terms of sheer bits-per-wafer.

What Intel is less forthcoming about is what gains it may have made via string stacking. With 3D NAND, the scaling challenge comes from reliably etching features all the way through the deposited layers. As more layers are added to NAND, tooling and technique must get more sophisticated to keep up. With string stacking, you essentially call it a day when the vertical deposition gets too hard and start gluing NAND dies together. The tradeoff of doing so is increased complexity of control logic in exchange for an easier time fabricating the individual chips. Keener eyes than mine have discerned that while Samsung continues to deposit layer after layer with each new generation,  IMFT has seen fit to join two 32-layer dies together with string stacking to make their 64-layer 3D NAND.

None of these niceties are obvious to the naked eye even once the drive is denuded. The 512 GB drive's PCB is bare on its underside, while the drive's two NAND packages, DRAM, and controller contend for space topside. It's a Silicon Motion-branded controller, but Intel says that it worked closely with SMI to produce a chip tuned to its own architectural and firmware requirements. The 600p used a heavily-customized SM2260, for example, and it's likely that this chip is a similarly-tweaked SM2262. The two NAND packages atop the SSD 760p each contain eight 256-Gb TLC dies to reach the drive's 512-GB capacity.

As we touched on previously, Intel plans to sling this thing for $200 even. The price of admission includes a five-year warranty and an endurance rating of 72 terabytes written, but unfortunately encryption acceleration is reserved for the Pro 7600p Series only. That price only comes in at $20 more than the suggested price of Samsung's evergreen 850 EVO, but in the real world, the Samsung drive has been available for around $130 or $140 for some time. The 760p will need to provide a nice shot of extra performance to prove its mettle versus one of our value SSD favorites.

Overall, Intel is promising more bang-for-buck for an NVMe SSD than we've seen in a long time with the 760p. Let's see if the drive lives up to the hype.