Caching is back. Our first in-house hands-on with Optane comes in the form of Intel's Optane Memory modules. Optane Memory is a low cost - small capacity (16 or 32GB) PCIe Gen3x2 Single sided 3D XPoint-based M.2 x 2280 caching SSD designed to accelerate high-capacity SATA-based storage. The Intel Optane Memory module is a system accelerator that learns and adjusts to your computing tasks - greatly enhancing the user experience by accelerating frequent tasks such as booting your PC, launching programs and web browsers.
Optane memory modules are designed to operate in conjunction with Intel 200 Series motherboards, 7th Gen Intel Core i7 "Kaby Lake" processors and Intel's Rapid Storage Technology (IRST) driver version 15.5 or higher. Pairing Optane Memory with a mechanical HDD gives you the best of both worlds - extreme high capacity at a low cost per terabyte and blazing fast system performance. If you want even better overall system performance, you can pair Optane Memory with a high-capacity SATA SSD and eliminate the SATA interface read bottleneck.
What is Optane? Intel calls their 3D XPoint technology "Optane." Optane consists of 3D XPoint memory, Intel memory and storage controllers, Intel interconnect IP and Intel software. 3D XPoint memory is a joint venture between Intel and Micron (IMFT). The actual IP outside of the memory itself is separate proprietary technology. On a cellular level, 3D XPoint is 1000x faster than NAND flash memory. In the real-world, actual performance is limited by bus performance, so you won't be getting 1000x faster performance than NAND Flash based SSDs can deliver.
When evaluating SSDs for purchase, people tend to focus on sequential performance as the primary indicator of how fast an SSD will perform. Over the year's buyers have been trained to look at sequential performance because that is the way NAND Flash SSDs have been marketed. Sequential performance is important if you are using the SSD to transfer files quickly. However, most users will be installing operating systems on their SSDs to obtain the best OS performance and not using them for transferring huge files from one SSD to another. What really matters in an OS environment is what we've been harping on for years – low queue depth random read performance, and this is what Optane brings to the table in game-changing fashion.
Random read performance at low queue depths is where conventional flash-based SSDs are at their weakest and where performance matters most. Optane Memory delivers 5-8x the random performance of flash-based SSDs at queue depths of 1-4. In fact, as the above graph illustrates, Optane Memory is essentially delivering full performance at QD3. This is why we are calling Optane Memory a game changer.
In an OS environment, almost all read transactions are random and occur at QD1 or QD2. Random reads will typically be 70% of the overall transactions executed when you use your computer, and as such, it is by far the most important performance metric. 75% of random read transactions occur at QD1, and as illustrated above, the difference between SATA SSDs and flash based NVMe SSDs at QD1 is minimal at best. This is why for the most part, you cannot visibly differentiate the difference between a PC that is running an OS on a SATA-based SDD or one running on an NVMe flash-based SSD. They both boot just as fast, and deliver virtually the same user experience as one-another.
As we dive into this review, we want to point out a few things that will be different with this review than our normal review protocol. Optane Memory is a new type of memory media. It is a very small capacity SSD that is intended to be utilized as a system accelerator. Therefore, we don't have any apples-to-apples comparisons from the past. With this in mind, we will not be providing comparison charts for every benchmark. We will be primarily utilizing benchmark screenshots to illustrate the system performance Optane Memory can deliver. We will be benching with four different configurations utilizing two different systems for each benchmark unless it is not feasible to do so. We will demonstrate how the base system that Intel provided performs with the mechanical HDD running on its own. How the base system runs with the mechanical HDD with Optane Memory acceleration. How the Optane Memory module performs on the base system as a standalone device. And, finally how Optane Memory performs on TweakTown's powerful brand spanking new Z270 test system running as our OS Disk.
Our approach is intended to not only highlight how Optane Memory runs as a system accelerator but to also explore the potential of 3D XPoint as a stand-alone storage medium. It is very important to keep in mind that the Optane Memory module we are testing is ultra-small in capacity, has only 2-lanes of PCIe Gen3 x4 for the interface, a tiny two channel controller and only two 16GB media die. It is very low spec'd in comparison to current NVMe flash-based SSDs. However, even with all these apparent disadvantages, Optane Memory is by far the most responsive and highest performing SSD, in terms of random read performance, we've ever tested.
Intel's M.2 x 2280 single sided Optane Memory module is available in two capacities: 16GB and 32GB. The 32GB module we have on the bench today sports the following specifications:
- Sequential Read: up to 1,350 MB/s
- Sequential Write: up to 290 MB/s
- Max 4K Random Read Speed: up to 240,000 IOPS
- Max 4K Random Write Speed: up to 65,000 IOPS
- Latency - Read: 9us
- Latency - Write: 30us
- Power - Active: 3.5 Watts
- Power - Idle: 1 Watt
- Endurance: up to 182.5 TBW
- MTBF: 1.6 Million Hours
- UBER: < 1sector per 10^15 bits read
- Reliability feature: End-to-End Data Protection
- Warranty: 5-Year Limited Warranty
The 16GB model is set to retail for $44, the 32GB model $77.
PRICING: You can find the product discussed for sale below. The prices listed are valid at the time of writing, but can change at any time. Click the link below to see real-time pricing for the best deal:
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- Page 1 [Introduction, Drive Specifications, Pricing & Availability]
- Page 2 [Drive Details]
- Page 3 [Test System Setup, Optane Memory Setup & Boot Videos]
- Page 4 [Synthetic Benchmarks - ATTO & Anvil Storage Utilities]
- Page 5 [Synthetic Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark & AS SSD]
- Page 6 [Benchmarks - Vantage, PCMark 7, PCMark 8 & SYSmark 2014 SE]
- Page 7 [Benchmarks (Secondary) - Max IOPS & Disk Response]
- Page 8 [Maxed-Out Performance (MOP)]
- Page 9 [Final Thoughts]