updated 09:36 pm EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
Company shows off data center technology in a gaming application at PAX
Intel could be considering a move into a different class of data storage, one which is based on its existing solid state storage in data centers and other commercial areas. While there would still be a considerable time to get a product to the market, Intel is looking into the idea of moving its data center-class storage into the consumer retail space with PCIe solid state drives (SSD), similar to what Apple has done with the Mac Pro and MacBook Pro.
At the show, Intel's Kei Kobayashi talked to Electronista about some of the new channels that the company is looking into. At the Intel booth at Penny Arcade Expo one of the ideas was on display, as a demo unit had one of Intel's PCIe SSD DC P3700 models installed in an Asus Z97 motherboard. As a sort of proof-of-concept for the enthusiast market, the system was being used to play Titanfall.
While there isn't any specific announcement from the company about releasing its first PCIe SSD for consumers, the company is still playing with the idea, and hinting that something could be coming in the future. Intel would need to scale the product down to the appropriate consumer level, requiring some changes to be made for the drives to be better-suited for a desktop PC. For example, many users wouldn't be able to get rid of one of the SSDs should they throw a small error, like a data center would.
There is also the consideration for how much data the PCIe cards could move. In the current DC P3700 cards, which are available now for enterprise customers, transfer rates of up to 2.4GB per second through four PCIe lanes are possible. In typical situations in gaming, that much speed wouldn't be needed. As Kobayashi pointed out, games are lucky if they are utilizing 300MB per second during a typical play round.
Other applications with high demands, like video editing or 3D modeling, could make great use of the technology due to the high speeds offered. While these aren't demands that an average person calls for often in a computer, the PCIe SSDs could still have a place, as they greatly outpace what is possible now with SATA3.
Perhaps the biggest improvement that would be made for these PCIe cards is that they would be bootable. During the show, the computer was not only playing games, but it was also booting Windows 8.1 with the DC P3700 as the only storage in the system. Having these storage cards able to boot an operating system is highly sought-after in these types of SSD cards. It'a also a feature that hasn't been possible in the past for Windows users, or available on all of the cards on the market.
By testing the products out now and considering what everyday users could do with them, Intel could get a head start on the next iteration of SSD storage for the masses. With the technology in place for the commercial applications, Intel only needs to find the right balance and cost point to make them appealing. However, even if they do bring one of these PCIe cards out for consumer PCs, high adoption rates could take some time. As with the SSD market, it could take two or three years for the PCIe cards to be mainstream, after people warmed to the technology and the prices dropped.