Intel SSD 600p 512GB review: PCIe speed for the price of a sluggish SATA mid-ranger

Intel SSD 600p 512GB review

The Intel SSD 600p is a genuinely affordable half-terabyte drive that's built using the twin performance pillars of the PCIe interface and the NVMe protocol. It's Intel at their smartest, swallowing their technological pride and taking aim at the mainstream SSD market.

Want to know what the very best SSD is right now? Check out our guide to the best SSD for gaming.

It is though a bit of an anomalous SSD, ploughing a very different furrow to Samsung’s excellent 960 EVO or even Intel’s own SSD 750 drives, but that’s all to its credit. It also represents the first time Intel have used their own 3D NAND memory inside an SSD, which is interesting considering that they’re doing so with such an impressively affordable drive.

What Intel’s SSD 600p is trying to do is push past the performance limits of the SATA interface while undecutting the high prices of pretty much all other PCIe-based SSDs. At just $180 (£156) it's almost the same price as Samsung's aging 500GB 850 EVO.

Intel have been very aggressive, and very un-Intel, about the way they’ve approached this latest drive. Where the Intel SSD 750 is all high-price and own-brand components, matching Samsung’s keeping-it-in-the-family ethos, the SSD 600p is all about sacrificing peak PCIe performance to ensure they don't max out the cost. And that's not as bad as it might sound.

Click on the quick links to jump to your favourite section. I particularly like the verdict, cos I’m judgemental like that.

Intel SSD 600p 512GB specs

There are two firsts inside the 600p, namely the 3D Intel TLC NAND and the Silicon Motion SM 2280 memory controller attached to it. Triple-level cell NAND (also known as 3-bit MLC if you’re Samsung) is the cheaper alternative to multi-level cell (MLC) or single-level cell (SLC) memory as it is able to store three bits of data per cell as opposed to two or one bit. That means you either get greater capacity or the same space but in a much smaller area and hence much cheaper storage.

The downside for TLC NAND though is that it's slower than either of its SLC or MLC brethren and has lower endurance and reliability ratings too. Those modest restrictions aside, it still makes TLC the current NAND design of choice for pretty much all mainstream SSDs.

This may be the first time Intel's 3D NAND has appeared on a PCIe SSD, but it’s not the first time it’s appeared on any drive. It was co-developed with Micron and we’ve already seen the stacked memory being used in the Crucial MX300 750GB SSD.

The 3D part was introduced because of the need for greater capacities in ever smaller package sizes. Shrinking down the scale of a NAND chip though leads to similar interference issues that manufacturers have found creating smaller CPUs. Stacking the memory vertically means greater density without having to create ever smaller chips. The issue is that it has been expensive to produce, though that is evidently changing.

The other side of the Intel 600p equation is the fact Intel aren’t using their own-brand NVMe memory controller they introduced with their SSD 750. Instead they’ve opted to bring in a customised version of Silicon Motion’s first NVMe controller, the SM2260. Silicon Motion’s controllers are often brought to bear on mainstream offerings thanks to it being both cheap to license and very low powered. As you can see there are none of the extreme heatsinks which covered the SSD 750 and its Intel-made controller.

Intel SSD 600p benchmarks

 

Intel SSD 600p performance

We’ve deliberately stacked the benchmarks in this order to show how the latest Intel drive performs up against similarly-priced SATA drives rather than just against much higher priced PCIe-based SSDs. In those terms it’s clear just how well positioned Intel have made their SSD 600p.

The SSD 600p isn’t orders of magnitude quicker than either the Crucial or Samsung SATA drives, there’s certainly not the performance delta you get when you put them up against any of the NVMe drives from Samsung. But it does offer performance beyond what the SATA interface can deliver and in the case of the read performance by around double.

The write speed of the SSD 600p is what would let it down as a luxury NVMe SSD. It’s that which hobbles the drive’s overall performance and means it’s not an absolute no-brainer in terms of being the ultimate budget SSD. You can see the the performance disparity in the real world performance tests where the compression speed is almost up there with the quickest PCIe drives, while the actual mixed media folder transfer takes twice as long as with the SSD 750. It looks like an issue with the slower 3D TLC NAND as much as the interface - the Crucial MX300 is even weaker in this test, taking another 51 seconds to transfer the 30GB folder.

The random read performance of the SSD 600p is also rather middling, as poor as most low-end SSDs running on a SATA connection. The random 4k file tests are a good indicator of how zippy a drive will feel in general usage, where the OS is constantly shunting tiny files about while your PC is awake. To be fair the 4k read performance is pretty low across the board, especially in comparison with the 4k write speeds, but the SSD 600p is still bottom of that list.

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Intel SSD 600p verdict

The SSD 600p isn’t the fastest PCIe drive you’ll find, but it is looking like absolutely the best value. The makeup of this SSD shows a very canny Intel targeting an under-served section of the storage market without being restricted by a false pride in their own technology. They weren’t too proud to drop in the cheaper Silicon Motion controller instead of their own expensive NVMe silicon and they’ve picked the cost-effective 3D TLC NAND to form the data storage parts of the drive.

That means the Intel SSD 600p is a great price for a 512GB SSD and not just a great price for a half-terabyte PCIe-based drive. It costs almost exactly the same as the aging Samsung 850 EVO and yet has it beat almost across the board in terms of overall performance and, almost more importantly, in terms of endurance too. They’ve both got a five year warranty as standard, but the SSD 600p is rated at 288 total bytes written (TBW) while the 850 EVO is just 150TBW - that's almost half.

The SSD 600p has certainly got it pegged in terms of form factor too. If you’ve got an empty M.2 slot on your motherboard or in your laptop, and have been longing to find a way to fill it, then the SSD 600p is the perfect entry point right now. The next step up is the more expensive 500GB Samsung 960 EVO, which is around $70 (£100) more at the checkout, though is considerably quicker.

Still, right now the SSD 600p is the perfect bridge SSD between the SATA past and the PCIe future of solid state storage. 

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Saiph avatarDave James avatarAnakhoresis avatarG'David avatar
Anakhoresis Avatar
503
2 Months ago

I feel like it's a little bit odd that in your conclusion you compared the Intel 600p to the Samsung 850 Evo, but didn't include benchmarks for the Evo. I know the Pro is there, and that the Pro is faster than the Evo, but if you were going to use it as a comparison in the text would have been nice to have the numbers as well. Also would be nice to see the prices of all the SSDs tested included!

But that's just me whinging about minor details. Great review! I'm in the same boat as Saiph though, nothing of mine has M.2 slots.

I also chuckle because Saiph says his mobo is slightly old, but mine is a Z68 with an I5-2500k in my desktop... Just ancient I guess! Haha

2
Saiph Avatar
37
2 Months ago

There is another thread close by here, "Best SSD for gaming" which I studied. That has a lot of interesting and relevant stats, and it put me on to the 850 EVO. I checked some other sources too (and have been for some weeks), but with some recent price changes an SSD upgrade now seems like a no-brainer.

2
Dave James Avatar
266
2 Months ago

Glad it helped you out - hope you'll be happy with the EVO :)

1
Dave James Avatar
266
2 Months ago

Gah, no you're absolutely right! I had meant to drop in the 850 EVO scores and copied over the Pro results instead. I've amended that now, cheers for spotting it and letting us know :)

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Saiph Avatar
37
2 Months ago

This drive looks really good. I have a slightly old Asus H87-Plus mobo with no M.2 slot. Is there an adaptor available which would suit this drive? I've searched around a bit, and most of the adaptors I've seen either seem to be recommended for specific ranges of SSDs, or require a later chipset than I have. I don't want to make a mistake ordering an adaptor I can't use.

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Dave James Avatar
266
2 Months ago

I've got a horrible feeling that booting from PCIe devices only came in with Intel's 9-series boards, a generation after your board :(

Unfortunately I don't have an old H87 board here to check it out on for you. That said, this Asus adapter...

https://www.amazon.co.uk/HYPER-M-2-MINI-Interface-Motherboard/dp/B0199T2XD4

...claims to offer support for the B85 chipset.

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Saiph Avatar
37
2 Months ago

Thanks for the info & quick reply. I upgraded my PC with the H87 board as it was "previous generation" at the time, and very good value. It's served me well, but obviously there's the risk of missing out on newer features. Maybe SATA 850 Evo is a better way to go. I have 2x1TB HD ATM, so that should still give me a good speed boost.

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Dave James Avatar
266
2 Months ago

To be fair you might actually be better off with a decent size 850 EVO. Was a great drive and you might find that because it's booting natively from your motherboard, rather than an SSD going through a third-party M.2 adapter, it might actually get you into Windows quicker.

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Saiph Avatar
37
Saiph replied to Dave James
2 Months ago

Just ordered 500GB 850 Evo £144, and 2TB HD to go with it. Checked the SMART data on my HDs, one shows 1,393 days power-on time! Time to retire the pair, I think. Thanks for the help!

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G'David Avatar
1
2 Months ago

Really wondering how your review contrasts so vastly with Anandtech's review of a few months back? http://www.anandtech.com/show/10850/the-intel-ssd-600p-512gb-review/10

Could it be the firmware?

Thanks and regards,

G'David

1
Dave James Avatar
266
2 Months ago

I don't actually think our conclusions are that different. Anandtech's deeper analysis of the SM controller, under more intensive, workstation-type conditions, are separate to the more lightweight usage scenarios the drive would be under in a gaming rig.

As a high-end drive then it's not great - especially compared with other PCIe-based SSDs - but given that it's the same price as a similarly capacious SATA drive the PCIe/NVMe performance improvements, coupled with the extra endurance of the SSD 600p, in my opinion make it definitely worth a look at the lower end.

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