Intel's "Optane" next-gen phase-change memory is set to forever change the storage industry. 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 even though 3D XPoint is literally an order of magnitude faster than NAND flash, we are limited to about 10x the performance of NAND Flash under the best of circumstances.
Optane delivers performance in a different way than NAND flash does. Optane delivers performance where it matters most (random read QD1-4) and exactly where NAND flash is at its weakest (random read QD1-4) as illustrated by the following chart:
When evaluating SSDs for purchase, people tend to focus on sequential performance as the primary indicator of how fast an SSD will perform. This is because, over the years, buyers have been trained to look at sequential performance; because that is the way NAND-flash SSDs have been marketed. We want consumers to quit looking at sequential performance and to start looking at low queue-depth random performance, simply because that is what actually matters most in an OS environment. Take a look at the following examples:
The sequential numbers circled in red are what consumers always focus on. However, in an OS environment, sequential performance is the least important consideration. What matters is circled in blue; random performance at QD1. Low queue depth random read performance is by far the most important performance metric, with random write at QD1 being the second most important. As you can see with this flash-based array, random read performance is where flash is at its weakest - only 84.77 MB/s or 21,700 IOPS. Now, let's look at an Optane Memory array:
Compared to the above flash array, the sequential performance of our Optane Memory array is just a fraction of what the flash array is delivering. Now, look at the numbers circled in blue. These are the numbers that really matter in an OS environment, and this is where Optane is at its best. Look at the difference where it matters most; 4K QD1 random read. Our Optane Memory-based array is cranking out well over 3x the performance of our super-powerful flash-based array; 301.5 MB/s or 77,200 IOPS. This is what makes 3D XPoint memory a game-changing technology, and why it matters to the end-user.
Optane Memory, when used for caching high-capacity conventional storage as intended by Intel, is good stuff, but to us, Optane Memory presents us with a never-before-seen opportunity to create the best performing OS disk the world has ever seen. 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. However, Optane Memory is actually just a small SSD, and it can be used as such. Optane memory doesn't have to be used for caching and is not limited to 200 series or higher Intel motherboards when used as a stand-alone storage device.
Now, of course, Optane Memory does have one glaring drawback. Capacity. Optane Memory comes in two capacities: 16GB and 32GB. It is feasible to use one 32GB Optane Memory module for your OS Disk because as the following screenshot shows:
A full clean install of Windows 10 Creators Update X64 is actually only a little over 9GB with all drivers installed on our Z270 system. How did we get it so compact? Simple, we eliminated the hidden hibernation file (open admin CMD prompt and type: "powercfg -h off" then hit enter and restart the system) and turned off the system paging file (virtual memory). Most users do not have a need for either. Even though it is feasible to use a single 32GB Optane memory module, it is a bit too small for most. But, when you RAID two or three together you not only get better performance, you gain enough capacity for most user's OS needs.
To create an OS array with PCIe SSDs, you will need at least two PCIe slots that run through the Intel chipset (PCH). The slots can be either M.2 PCIe or a regular PCIe slot as long as they run through the PCH. Most enthusiast oriented Z170 or Z270 motherboards will accommodate two or three PCIe SSDs running through the chipset. Now that we've explained the feasibility of creating the world's fastest OS disk, let's take a quick look at the Optane Memory module itself and then we will show you how to create the world's best performing OS disk for $240.
Intel's M.2 x 2280 single sided Optane Memory module is available in two capacities: 16GB and 32GB. The 32GB modules we are benching today sport 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 retails for $50, the 32GB model $80.
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:
United Kingdom: The Intel Optane Memory 32GB M.2 HDD Accelerator retails for £79.99 at Amazon UK.
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