UPDATE: ASUS has pointed us towards a poll they are running to gauge what platforms people are most anxious for NVMe Boot support on. So if you have an ASUS board and are interested in buying an Intel SSD 750 Series, head to their poll to voice your opinion!
Last week, the Intel 750 Series SSD was unveiled the the public as the first consumer SSD to feature the NVMe or Non-Volatile Memory Express interface. NVMe was designed from the ground up for flash storage, and provides significant advantages in latency and potential top transfer rates over the aging AHCI standard. Check out our review of the Intel SSD 750 Series to find out why this is such an important step forward for storage technology.
Even if you aren't necessarily concerned about the merits of a new storage interface, the throughput numbers from the 750 series are hard to ignore. With peak speeds over 2.5GB/s read and 1.5GB/s write, it's hard not to be interested in this new drive.
However, all this new speed doesn't come without a few complications. NVMe is an all-new standard which means it might not be supported on all platforms. Intel themselves only point to official support for Z97 and X99 chipsets. In order to get a better idea of the landscape of NVMe compatibility, I took it amongst myself to start testing the add-in card version of the 750 Series in just about every modern motherboard I could get my hands on at the office.
Since UEFI is an absolute requirement for NVMe to work, I started testing each generation of Intel and AMD chipset since UEFI was introduced around the Z68 and X79 chipsets.
From there, I tested at least one of every chipset that was released up until the modern Z97, X99, and A88 chipset boards.
Each board was updated to the latest UEFI found on the manufacturer's website (including beta versions) and tested for compatibility as a secondary drive, as well as bootability.
Testing the 750 Series as a secondary drive on Windows 8.1 and 10 (Window 7 and 8.0 need an additional driver install but should work fine) provided some motivational results. With the latest UEFI versions, all motherboards tested were able to access the SSD 750 as a secondary drive without a problem.
Intel's Z68 Chipset along with the X79 chipset provided support for PCIe 3.0, but the matching support wasn't found in the Sandy Bridge (and Sandy Bridge-E) processors that those platforms launched with such as the i7-2600k and i7-3960x. The AMD 990FX also experiences this limitation with the exception of one motherboard, the ASUS Sabertooth 990FX/GEN3 R2.0. With PCIe 2.0 the SSD 750 is capped at 1.5GB/s in both direction, fitting inside the expected write performance, but with reads potentially around 1GB/s slower.
Performance of the Intel SSD 750 Series on a PCIe 2.0 connection
However with the arrival of Ivy Bridge as well as it's Extreme variant, full support for PCIe 3.0 was added. With an Ivy Bridge or newer processor, the SSD 750 performs as expected.
Performance is much higher when a PCIe 3.0 connection is present
With some lower CPU performance platforms, such as the A10-7850K, it took a little longer to ramp up to that speed. This means that you might not be getting the full potential speed with smaller transfer sizes like 4K, but it will still be an incredibly fast drive.
While using the Intel SSD 750 Series as a secondary drive to a currently existing Windows install was a relatively painless experience, booting from an NVMe SSD is currently a more difficult proposition.
Intel says that they have only qualified the Intel SSD 750 for booting on the Z97, and X99 chipsets, and those are indeed the only Intel-based boards we could get to boot from this drive. ASUS, MSI, and Gigabyte have all announced their compatible boards and corresponding UEFI updates.
However not all motherboard makers seem to be prepared for this compatibility at launch. The EVGA X99-Micro that we tested did not yet have a UEFI update that enabled booting. Seeing as you can't yet buy an SSD 750 though, I imagine this will be remedied before they start shipping to consumers at the beginning of May.
As an interesting aside, we were also able to get an ASUS A88X-Pro system with an AMD A10-7850K to boot from the Intel 750. While it doesn't make much sense to put a $400 or $1050 SSD (for the 400GB and 1.2TB capacities respectively) in a system that is most likely sub-$500 , it's a good sign to see that AMD chipsets haven't fallen behind. If we ever see a new AM3+ chipset it should provide the same feature-set.
Overall if you don't have a motherboard that you see specifically listed as having NVMe boot support from the manufacturer, then don't count on it being able to boot. While more updates may come for things like X79 or Z87 boards, we haven't seen any yet, so it's a crap shoot.
The Intel SSD 750 Series still functions great as a secondary drive in almost any modern system if you want to go that route with the smaller SSD holding you probably already own holding only the Operating System.