Reviewing SSDs is one of those things that, with time, becomes increasingly abstract. It’s not that the tests we run on them gradually differ or change in some fundamental way – it’s that the aspects of SSDs which we (the end users) are able to appreciate is, for the most part, already taken care of. The comparisons between mechanical drives and SSDs are no longer meaningful. As a result, we’re left comparing SSD to SSD, in which case the performance difference between the worst and the best of the bunch will still be less significant than comparing the best mechanical drive against the worst SSD.
That isn’t to say that all SSDs are the same, as that is most certainly not the case. However, one has to admit that we’ve grown fairly accustomed to high-speed, low-latency storage, which means the performance figures, as they increase, are becoming ever more academic.
Consider the Samsung XP941 from late 2013 or early 2014, for example. This was the drive that ushered in high-performance PCI Express-based M.2 performance to the enthusiast masses. It may not have been readily available from your favourite PC parts retailer, but at the very least it was available for import. This drive delivered just over 1.1GB/s sequential read performance and over 900MB/s in writes. Naturally, at the time this was a milestone, and a consumer drive breaking the 1GB/s barrier was a pretty big deal.
Fast forward to earlier this year when Intel brought the 760P to the market, and such performance figures now represent the low-end of the M.2 PCI Express space – so much so that the mainstream 760P is vastly superior to the XP941 in every performance metric there is. It’s cheaper than the XP941 as well. It’s half the price while being twice as fast. It also runs significantly cooler, has a longer warranty, better write endurance (288 TBW), and uses an updated NVMe 1.3 protocol (which forms part of the performance gains). That which we considered peerless in 2014 is now relegated to budget/low-end M.2 (PCIe) drive performance.
This brings me back to the point I made earlier about the challenge of appreciating these storage advances in meaningful ways. When using the 760P with the stipulated RS5 preview of Windows 10, the POST-to-desktop process is incredibly fast. In fact, the slowest part of the PC boot-up process is the POST itself. Whether these performance gains are a result of the SSD, the chipset, the OS, or a combination of all three, the fact is that drive performance is at a stage where, much like CPU performance at the high end, it’s all mostly academic.
That aside, the 760P brings with it a host of changes and improvements, including a newer, much faster NVMe Silicon Motion controller. It’s true that Intel is more than capable of making their own NAND controller (consider all their high-performance enterprise drives), but given the price point at which the 760P must sell, it’s no surprise that they’ve again turned to a familiar third-party controller. Intel isn’t just buying the controller and using it as is: they’re applying their own tuning and tweaking of the SM2262 via firmware so as to maximise performance in conjunction with their own in-house 64-layer 3D NAND. The result is that at under R3,500 we have a drive which is capable of delivering over 3.2GB/s in reads and 1.6GB/s in writes. Both of those values are far higher than the XP941 could ever deliver.
As fantastic as these numbers are, they don’t have much relevance to how we usually use our computers. Our primary concern is IOPS and random mixed workloads (i.e. a combination of read and write). In this regard the 760P delivers some punchy numbers at well over 260MB/s in some tests (specifically 4K tests). For context, this makes this 512GB 760P model not only faster than the mighty Intel 750 400GB drive, but more importantly it places the drive above the popular 950 PRO. This is nothing to be scoffed at, and for comparison you should know that the outgoing 600P delivered only 160MB/s.
For the sake of reference in this review, you can see the rest of the performance comparisons against a high-end SATA SSD (the Corsair Neutron XTI) and the previous-generation Intel 600P. There’s simply no situation where any SATA-based SSD would offer better performance than the 600P let alone the 760P, regardless of the make or model. This is important, if only because it further relegates traditional 2.5-inch SSDs to volume storage, where the drives could stand to be cheaper while offering larger capacities than they do now (we’re talking about making 2TB to 4TB SSDs viable). Offerings such as the 760P provide enough of a performance boost over SATA drives and at such an aggressive price point that they put downward pressure on the stack, hence hastening the affordability of the super large 2.5-inch SSDs.
It’s no secret that the 760P was never meant to set performance records, nor could it, in all honesty – if only because it’s still faced with the seemingly unstoppable Samsung EVO series. In fact, the WD Black series (and potentially HP) have joined the fray as well, making life for the 760P a little more challenging. That said, you can buy the 760P right now at this price, whereas that isn’t necessarily the case with the others.
For those building high-end gaming rigs where high-speed DRAM (we’re talking 3,600MT/s or higher here) and multicore CPUs are a given, the 760P delivers more than enough performance to keep up with the rest of the system. For the well-heeled, you may consider buying two of these to use in a RAID 0 array, the reason being that the performance scaling is rather profound, but over and above that, two of these drives will still cost you less than any 1TB M.2 SSD that could be considered competitive in terms of performance.
The 760P doesn’t have to be the fastest drive on the market, but it’s among the cheapest. This performance at this price is a significant achievement for Intel, and one can imagine that the follow-up to the 760 will bring their offerings that much closer to parity with the primary competition’s drives. The fact that Samsung recently moved to lower prices on the latest 970 series is testament to the growing pressure from competitors, and perhaps in particular from Intel with the 760P.
For now, I’m more than happy with recommending the 760P, especially the 256GB or 512GB models. These drives are near impossible to be disappointed with, offering high performance at low prices.