Intel Optane Memory H10 Review: Hybrid SSD Storage Acceleration

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Intel Optane Memory H10 - 3D Xpoint Meets QLC 3D NAND

Intel announced its Optane Memory H10 back during the Consumer Electronics Show, early this year. Just in case you missed the initial announcement, the company's Optane Memory H10 is a new class of products from Intel that combines 3D Xpoint memory technology and QLC (quad-level cell) 3D NAND flash on a single M.2 device. The goal for the product is to offer the benefits of 3D Xpoint and Optane Memory in conjunction with the affordability and speed of a QLC-based NVMe SSD in a single device. Initially, these hybrid drives will find their way into utlrabooks or small form factor systems that may not have the accommodations for multiple drives.

3D Xpoint and NAND flash memory can both be used for storage, but the two technologies behave differently in their current iterations. 3D Xpoint Optane Memory can be significantly faster than NAND with small transfers, at low queue depths, but NAND can currently scale to much higher capacities at much lower costs. Pairing a 3D Xpoint-based Optane Memory device with a QLC 3D NAND-based SSD on a single M.2 gumstick can offer the best of both worlds, in systems with only a single M.2 slot.
intel optane h10 angle
If you recall, unlike standalone Optane-branded SSDs, Intel Optane Memory is designed to accelerate a slower storage volume on compatible system, to improve transfer speeds and reduce latency. Intel Optane Memory products, and their associated software, are designed to cache the most frequently accessed bits of data on a compatible system on the 3D Xpoint memory, which can significantly increase performance and improve responsiveness, if said system is equipped with slower storage media. The implementation is similar to Intel’s original Smart Response Technology, which debuted all the way back when the SSD 311 series of SATA-based solid state drives was released, but it's now integrated into Intel's Rapid Storage Technology (RST) software and driver suite.

Intel Optane Memory, however, is better suited to the task due to its much higher performance and consistency at low queue depths. Intel Smart Response Technology is a caching mechanism that uses a solid state drive like Intel Optane Memory, to enhance overall system performance and simplify the drive configuration presented to the end-user. The cache can be linked to the boot drive in a system, regardless of the capacity or the drive type. In the case of the Optane Memory H10, the 3D Xpoint cache is paired to a QLC-based SSD – it just happens to all be on a single gumstick.

intel optane h10 style

With the Optane Memory H10, the 3D Xpoint is used as a high-speed repository for the most commonly accessed data blocks (not necessarily complete files) while the QLC NAND is configured as the boot volume. Usage patterns on the QLC SSD are monitored and the most frequently accessed bits are copied from it to the Optane Memory. Because the Optane Memory is used as a cache, it is not presented to the end-user as a separate volume when enabled in Intel’s driver control panel. It works transparently in the background, which can help less-savvy users not accustomed to managing multiple drives. When the Optane Memory caching utility is disabled in Intel’s driver control panel, however, the H10 will look like two separate volumes to the OS.

We’ve got the Intel Optane Memory H10’s main features and specifications outlined below. Take a look and then we’ll explain how it is all set up and demonstrate just how much it can accelerate the performance of a system...

Intel Optane Memory H10
Specifications & Features
Model Intel Optane memory H10 with solid state storage
Capacities 16GB Intel Optane memory + 256GB Intel QLC 3D NAND
32GB Intel Optane memory + 512GB Intel QLC 3D NAND
32GB Intel Optane memory + 1TB Intel QLC 3D NAND
Form Factor M.2 2280-S3-M
Weight Less than 10 grams
Interface PCIe 3.0x4 with NVMe interface
Performance Sequential R/W: Up to 2400/1800 MB/s
QD1 4KB Random R/W: Up to 32K/30K IOPs
QD2 4KB Random R/W: Up to 55K/55K IOPs
Latency (Avg Sequential) Read: 6.5 μs (TYP), Write: 18 μs (TYP)
Endurance Rating 16GB Intel Optane memory + 256GB Intel QLC 3D NAND: Up to 75TBW
32GB Intel Optane memory + 512GB Intel QLC 3D NAND: Up to 150TBW
32GB Intel Optane memory + 1TB Intel QLC 3D NAND: Up to 300TBW
Reliability 1.6 million hours Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)
1 sector per 1015 bits read Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate (UBER)
Power 3.3V Supply Rail, Deep Sleep/L1.2 (PCIe* Low Power Link State): <15mW (Combined)
Temperature Operating: 0 to 70° c; Non-Operating: -40 to 85° c; Temperature monitoring
OS Support Windows 10 64 bit
Supported Platforms 8th Gen and 9th Gen or newer Intel Core processor-based platforms
Compliance NVM Express 1.1, PCI Express Rev 3.0, PCI M.2 HW Specifications
Ecological: European Union (ED) RoHS Compliance Directives
Software Driver Intel Rapid Storage Technology (Intel RST) Driver 17.2 or later
Warranty 5-year limited warranty

intel optane memory h10 diag
Intel’s Optane Memory H10 line-up features three different configurations with differing capacities. The entry-level drive has 16GB of Optane Memory paired to 256GB of QLC NAND. The mid-range offering has 32GB of Optane Memory and 512GB of NAND. And the top-end model also has 32GB of Optane Memory, but with 1TB of QLC NAND. All of the drives leverage the same M.2 2280 form factor.
optane memory h10 top
Intel's Optane Memory H10 connects to a system over a PCIe x4 electrical interface, but the lane are bifurcated between the Optane Memory media and QLC NAND. In essence, there are two separate drives on PCB, each with their own dedicated controller and media; two PCIe lanes are used for the Intel Optane Memory and two for the QLC-based SSD. That means, under worst-case conditions with uncached data, the H10 could perform like standalone QLC-based SSD with a two-lane PCI Express interface. Conversely, when the Optane Memory and NAND are accessed simultaneously, transfers speed will look much better.
optane memory h10 bottom
There are a few things to note in regards to Intel Optane Memory compatibility. Optane Memory will work only in Windows 10 64-bit systems with Intel 8th and 9th Gen processors and their associated chipsets. The motherboard’s BIOS must also have the necessary hooks built-in for Intel Optane Memory to function properly, and it has to be able to handle the PCIe lane bifurcation as well. Because the H10 is destined to be an OEM part, Intel’s system partners will obviously leverage the drives only in systems with the necessary BIOS hooks available.

h10 intel drivers

Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology (RST) software makes it easy to configure and maintain the H10. The control panels are accessible via the Start menu or from a system tray shortcut that gets installed along with the drivers. Inside the application interface there are multiple buttons at the top – Status, Manage, Intel Optane Memory, Performance, Preferences, and Help. The Optane Memory menu (and the Status menu) have simple Enable / Disable toggles to engage the Optane Memory cache.

h10 dual volumes

When the technology is enabled (or disabled) the application runs through a few routines to prepare the drive and then prompts the end user to restart the system. And that's really it. Once enabled, the H10’s Optane Memory is completely transparent to the end user and "just works". When the caching mechanism is disabled though, the H10 will actually show up as two separate drives in the Disk Management menu.

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