Between you and us…the world of PCI Express 3.0 internal solid-state drives (SSDs) has gotten a bit stale, lately, hasn’t it? While innovations are continuing in materials science and engineering that are packing ever more data into smaller and smaller chips for less money every year, the sequential speed throughput of the standard has been capped by the limitations of the interface. So what’s next?
The Intel SSD 670p, that’s what. Specially tuned to perform ahead of the curve in tasks like booting operating systems and launching key programs, the 670p (starts at $89.99 for 512GB, $329.99 as tested at 2TB) works the way we work with our SSDs. It boosts performance in daily use cases while keeping pace with the sequential-speed ceiling of PCIe 3.0. As a result, the drive is often faster than some pricier PCIe 4.0 options we’ve tested, and it trades wins with drives like the Samsung SSD 980 Pro ($229 for 1TB) in 4K shallow random read operations. Its lower durability rating and higher price-per-gigabyte for QLC could dissuade budget-focused buyers, but for anyone who values 4K speed overall, the Intel SSD 670p is the king of its modest castle, and earns our Editors’ Choice award for mainstream PCIe 3.0 SSDs.
The Intel SSD 670p is a four-lane PCI Express 3.0 drive, though you’d be forgiven for forgetting that after our benchmarks. It’s an M.2 Type-2280 (80mm long) design, employing the NVMe protocol over the PCI Express (PCIe) 3.0 bus, and it uses a new Silicon Motion SM2265 controller. It’s based on 144-layer triple-level-cell (TLC) NAND flash, and it’s available in three storage-volume sizes: 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB. (Check out our SSD dejargonizer to make sense of that acronym salad, if need be.)
Though on the surface the specs of the Intel SSD 670p may look like the company is stagnant in its SSD production (what, no PCIe 4.0 support?), in truth it’s what’s underneath the headlines that makes all the difference…
Right out of the gate, Intel has priced its SSD 670p at the midrange of most PCIe 3.0 drives. But it’s on the higher end of what we’d expect out of QLC-based SSDs. The 1TB variant of the SSD 670p costs nearly the same as drives like the TLC-based Crucial P5 ($149.99 for 1TB), but its durability is significantly lower: 370 terabytes written (TBW) versus 600TBW, respectively, with five-year warranties for each. (The TBW rating estimates the amount of data, in terabytes, that can be written before drive cells start getting taken out of commission for “wear,” and the spec scales according to capacity.)
That said, at this point, SSDs are one of the few remaining bastions of the PC-component world that, at least as far as customers can see, hasn’t been slammed by the impact of 2020-2021’s silicon shortage. Prices for SSDs are steadily creeping up from their launch MSRP/list prices on sites like Newegg and Amazon. But at the time of this writing, this looks to be highly dependent on the specific drive model, and likely influenced by the amount of stock available at the retailer, rather than the same chip-shortage problems distorting the prices of many CPUs and GPUs these days.
The utilitarian presentation of the SSD 670p has “Intel” written all over it, and I’m not against that. While a flashy heatsink or sky-high sequential-throughput numbers might look great in the marketing materials, ultimately it’s the performance that shines through at the end. Speaking of which…
Intel rates the 2TB drive we tested to hit a sequential read speed of up to 3,5000MBps, with sequential-write speeds topping out at 2,700MBps. These are standard-fare specs for PCIe 3.0 these days, but where Intel says the SSD 670p is truly designed to shine is in its 4K shallow-depth read performance, a critical part of how a drive stores and accesses applications, operating systems, and games. (You know, the stuff that we actually do with our SSDs, rather than how quickly it can copy files to and from itself.)
Intel pairs the SSD 670p with its Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST) software suite, which, while not the flashiest option out there, continues the trend of “function over form” seen throughout the launch of this SSD.
We test all of our Serial ATA (SATA) and PCI Express 3.0 SSDs on PC Labs’ main storage testbed, which is built on an Asus Prime X299 Deluxe motherboard with an Intel Core i9-10980XE Extreme Edition CPU. We use 16GB of DDR4 Corsair Dominator RAM clocked to 3,600MHz, and the system employs Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition as its discrete graphics card. (See more about how we test SSDs.) PCIe 4.0 SSDs are tested on a different, AMD Ryzen-based testbed with 4.0 support.
First up is the overall PCMark 10 storage test, from UL, running the full storage suite. This score represents how well a drive does throughout the entire PCMark 10 run. It’s the sanctioned score presented by UL’s software at the end of each run. After that are some more granular measures derived from PCMark 10’s background “traces.” These following PCMark 10-derived tests represent a simulation of how quickly a drive is capable of launching a particular program (or, in the first case, booting Windows 10). The Windows 10 trace simulates the full Windows 10 operating system startup procedure and records how quickly the drive can feed the kind of data requested.
After that is a game-launching test set, which simulates how quickly a drive can read shallow-depth small random 4K packages; 4K is one of the more commonly used file-block sizes for game installations, though that composition does depend on the title you’re playing.
The drives are also put through a very important test for creative types. As anyone who regularly works in programs like Adobe Premiere or Photoshop can tell you, a constant pinch point is the time it takes for these programs to launch.
Finally, the PCMark 10 copy tests are also derived from PCMark 10 traces. At first, these numbers might look low compared with the straight sequential-throughput numbers achieved in benchmarks like Crystal DiskMark 6.0 and AS-SSD, charted further down. But that’s due to the way this score is calculated and the nature of (and differences between) the source data sets.
Intel hits the ground running with a great start on PCMark 10, taking the third-place finish in overall scores (just behind the Samsung SSD 980 Pro and TeamGroup Cardea Zero Z440), with similarly chart-topping or near-chart-topping results on down the line.
The PCIe 3.0-based Intel SSD 670p finds itself regularly keeping pace with the fastest PCIe 4.0 drives out there, and proves to be the outright fastest option in its class for critical tasks like booting Windows 10, launching games, or booting into Adobe creative programs like Photoshop and Premiere.
Its closest-and-best competition in the PCIe 3.0 bracket, the Editors’ Choice-winning Crucial P5, is dwarfed by the program loading speeds of the SSD 670p, and although their Windows boot speeds are comparable, the P5 pulls ahead in the one area Intel isn’t aiming to win at: sequential throughput.
Moving on from PCMark 10-derived numbers, the Crystal DiskMark 6.0 sequential tests simulate best-case, straight-line transfers of large files. After that is a series of file and folder transfers done in the SSD benchmarking utility AS-SSD. This trio of tests involves copying large files or folders from one location on the test drive to another.
Here the Intel SSD 670p posts perfectly reasonable results for a PCI 3.0 drive based on QLC NAND. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen any kind of surprises on sequential throughput for the standard, and the SSD 670p finishes just behind the Crucial P5 in sequential throughput on our CrystalDiskMark 6.0 run.
Intel hasn’t had a great go of it in the desktop CPU field over the past couple of years, so it’s nice to see the company innovating and winning awards in other areas. Solid-state storage isn’t today’s sexiest tech category, and “SSDs that are tuned for shallow-depth random read speeds,” even less so. That said, Intel has spiced up the leaderboard, unseating some of the highest performers on our bench, without much fuss or flash.
Intel has priced the SSD 670p a bit high for a QLC drive with a relatively low durability rating, but you can consider it at a discount when compared on its performance. Just like most users don’t how fast an SSD transfers files across its own NAND, most people will also take much longer than five years to ever get close to this SSD’s TBW limit.
Rather than chasing higher and higher stats for the sake of marketing brag points, Intel has instead refocused the ultimate purpose of SSDs: performance in daily tasks like booting up Windows or launching a round of Overwatch. And in the process, it has nearly dethroned some of the fastest PCIe 4.0 drives we’ve ever tested. Kudos to Intel: Way to stay in the game!Source