System News: Intel’s new 600P NVME SSD hits the sweet spot – Storage

Mark Williams finds that Intel has a hit on its hands in the form of the 600P series. Will others follow?

When I went to build a new PC recently I knew I wanted an NVME SSD as the primary storage device; and with the way the market is currently I knew a drive with a capacity of around 256GB would be in the sweet spot for capacity versus price. Searching around, Intel’s 600P 256GB model quickly came to my attention as the cheapest M.2 NVME SSD on offer. However, there was a problem – it was out of stock almost everywhere I looked!
I ended up settling for a slightly more expensive and capable Samsung 960 EVO, but this got me wondering: where are all the 256GB 600P drives?

It seems that I’m not the only one who finds the 256GB 600P an attractive offering. As Jaimie and John both confirm in Shop Talk below, Intel’s 600P series is selling “like hotcakes” and with 256GB, and the cheapest product on offer it, would appear demand was outstripping supply.

Intel’s design choice with this product was clearly a good strategy. Unlike the superior performing Samsung 960 EVO and other NVME products around at the moment, which utilise MLC NAND flash for the entire drive, giving moderate chip level storage density and speeds, Intel’s 600P range uses TLC NAND with some of it partitioned off and used in SLC mode. The idea is that because TLC has the highest data storage density, fewer chips are needed, or are simply smaller to produce at the same capacity, thus cheaper. The problem, of course, is that TLC is also slower to write to. So, by setting aside some TLC as faster but less dense SLC (4GB for 128GB, 8.5GB for 256GB, 17.5GB for 512GB and 32GB for 1TB drives) to act as the drive’s write cache, Intel can mask the real speed of the underlying TLC, so long as the cache doesn’t get full, whereupon you’ll be writing directly to TLC, which is slower than most SATA MLC SSDs. Not something you want to advertise on an NVME M.2 SSD.

Intel’s 600P series is selling “like hotcakes”

But here is the genius of it: consumers will very rarely fill the cache during typical desktop usage. Often there’s enough time between large writes for the SLC cache to get flushed out to the TLC, so for the most part you’re always working with the fast SLC.

This makes the 600P cheaper, but also well suited to consumers and their typically bursty workloads.

Could this style of NVME drive become more popular in the future? Intel has paved the way and proved the case, now it’s a question of whether Samsung, SanDisk and the like will follow suit with cheaper TLC NVME products too.

Shop talk

What are your thoughts on the Intel 600P series SSDs? Are they a popular product and is that why some stocks have been low recently?

Jaimie, Leader Computers:

At Leader we have seen fantastic take up on the Intel NVME based 600P series, their price point put NVME within reach of the average punter for the first time, especially in the 128 and 256GB sizes. At the time they were released, all of the other brands were significantly more expensive and they have had to adjust their pricing substantially to compete. Along with Intel’s new Optane technology, the 600P is one of the best performance upgrades you can make for the money.

There have been shortages on the 256GB, this is mainly due to their excellent value proposition, I don’t think Intel forecasted as well as they could have and there have been some NAND shortages in general which may also have contributed. The 250GB size was hard to source in several brands, both NVME and standard SATA SSD, so the Intel at only a small price premium sold extremely well.

We sell as many 600P drives as we can get our hands on, definitely our top performer!

John, TI Computers:

Yes, the Intel 600P 256GB model is indeed very popular and have sold like hotcakes. It is hard not to use it in a system considering the significant performance gain at such tiny additional investment over SATA SSDs. We are however unsure whether this is the real reason behind the shortage. It can also just be a short supply before the end of financial year.

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