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Intel's Optane SSD 800P 58 GB and 118 GB solid-state drives reviewed

3D Xpoint gets more attainable

Intel's 3D Xpoint memory technology has been on the market for almost a year now, but mainstream builders have yet to see an Optane product they can really sink their teeth into. Intel's 16-GB and 32-GB Optane Memory accelerators carved out a new niche by offering SSD-like (or even greater) speeds to systems otherwise hobbled by mechanical storage. Jeff's analysis concluded that the little drives aptly handled that use case, but Intel's decision to restrict their use to Kaby Lake and newer Core CPUs hamstrung their market appeal.

Intel's next 3D Xpoint client drive followed several months later in the form of the data-center-derived Optane SSD 900P.  By all accounts, the 900P is one beast of a drive, but it carries a price tag of $380 for 280 GB or $600 for 480 GB of storage. That's simply too high for most builders to stomach. Who would spend $600 on storage when that much scratch could buy a couple of sticks of DDR4? (We kid, of course.)

Clearly, there's some space left to occupy between the teeny-tiny Optane Memory drives and the exorbitant 900P. Today, Intel is launching a product intended to slide smoothly into that gap: the Optane SSD 800P.

Optane SSD 800P
Capacity Max sequential (MB/s) Max random (IOps) Price
Read Write Read Write
58 GB 1450 640 250K 140K $129
118 GB 1450 640 250K 140K $199

The 800P is only available in 58 GB and 118 GB capacities to start with. While it's still much smaller than the meaty 250-GB and 500-GB class SSDs the mainstream market has grown accustomed to, these drives can easily handle a Windows installation and a few applications. This sets them apart from the Optane Memory line, which Intel hopes will still entice Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake builders on a budget. Gamers looking to keep more than one or two recent AAA titles on ultra-fast storage will still need to consider an Optane SSD 900P, though.

The 800P drives are NVMe M.2 gumsticks, but unlike most expensive drives that fit that description, they only take advantage of two lanes of PCIe 3.0 bandwidth. Intel says that decision comes down to these drives' focus on low-latency and low-queue-depth performance versus raw bandwidth at the high queue depths that would be necessary to saturate traditional NAND SSDs. More on that in a second.

With the sticker peeled away, we can see the drives' two 3D Xpoint packages and controller chip. Intel wasn't ready to share details about packaging or controller implementation. All we know is that it's an Intel controller with Intel firmware whipping Intel 3D Xpoint to extreme speeds. The company is keeping its mouth closed for the moment when it comes to technical specifics of its Optane products.

Intel isn't at all shy about trumpeting Optane's unique advantages versus NAND, though. The blue team promises 38% better response times than competing PCIe 3.0 x4 drives. It's particularly bullish on the 800P's low-queue-depth performance, where the company correctly claims that the vast majority of client workloads live.

Additionally, Intel assures us that the 800P's sustained performance remains truly good-as-new regardless of how full the drive is. This is in stark opposition to NAND's behavior. The performance of NAND SSDs can decline precipitously as drives are pushed closer to their total capacity. Finally, Intel touts these drives' endurance, rating each version of the 800P for 365 terabytes written over the drives' five-year warranties. That's absurdly high for the size of these drives, and even higher than Intel's more conservative initial spec of 200 TBW when the 800P was unveiled at CES.

These improvements over NAND are undoubtedly due to the storage media's "cross point structure," as Intel calls it. 3D Xpoint is addressable at the cell level, entirely circumventing the flash-translation-layer rigamarole that NAND drives must deal with as they juggle writing pages and erasing blocks without wearing out too quickly.

3D Xpoint's superiority over NAND better assert itself spectacularly in these drives, because they don't come cheap. While neither Optane SSD 800P will set you back as much as a chunk of change as the 900P will, the 58 GB and 118 GB drives still carry suggested prices of $129 and $199, respectively, working out to a whopping $2.19 and $1.68 per gigabyte. 

Before we dive into testing, there's one bit of bad news. Our storage test rigs are beginning to show their age. While the Optane 800P drives are perfectly usable as secondary storage in older systems, our venerable Asus Z97 Pro refused to acknowledge the existence of the 800P as a boot device in its BIOS, rendering it impossible to conduct boot and load tests against the other drives in our test suite. We nonetheless managed to collect our usual complement of results from IOMeter and RoboBench, and can happily throw the Optane duo alongside our usual SSD lineup. Let's get to it.