Intel Optane Memory With 3D XPoint Review: Easy, Robust PC Acceleration

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Intel Optane Memory Specifications And Setup

Intel Optane Memory is designed to accelerate the storage subsystem on compatible machines, to improve transfer speeds and reduce latency. It is among the first products to leverage 3D XPoint memory technology that was co-developed by Intel and Micron. 3D XPoint offers many of the same properties as NAND flash memory, but with much higher endurance and certain performance characteristics that are similar to DRAM.

We revealed many details regarding Intel Optane Memory a couple of weeks ago. To quickly reiterate, Intel Optane Memory products and their associated software are designed to cache the most frequently accessed bits of data on a compatible system, 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. Intel Optane Memory, however, is better suited to the task due to the drives' higher performance and consistency at lower queue depths.
intel optane memory stick m2 front
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 SSD can be paired to the boot drive in a system, regardless of the capacity or drive type, though Optane Memory will most commonly be linked to slower hard drives.

With SRT, The Optane Memory is used as a high-speed repository for the most commonly accessed data blocks (not necessarily complete files). Usage patterns on the hard drive are monitored and the most frequently accessed bits of data are copied from the boot drive to the Optane SSD. Because the SSD is used as a cache, it is not presented to the end-user as a separate volume. It works transparently in the background, which can help less-savvy users not accustomed to managing multiple drives.

If you’d like a more detailed dive into the technology, we strongly suggest checking out our initial coverage. We’ve got the Intel Optane Memory solid state drive’s main features and specifications outlined below. Take a look and then we’ll explain how Intel Optane Memory is set up and demonstrate just how much it can accelerate the performance of a system...
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Intel Optane Memory
Specifications & Features
Model Name Intel Optane Memory Series Memory
Capacity (GB) 16GB, 32GB
Components Intel Optane memory module with 3D XPoint memory media
Intel Controller and Firmware
Intel Rapid Storage Technology 15.5 or later
Interface PCIe 3.0x2 with NVMe interface
Form Factor M.2 2280-S3-B-M
Latency (avg sequential) Read: 6 µs (TYP)
Write: 16 µs (TYP)
Height/Weight Up to 1.5mm / Up to 40 grams
Reliability 1.2 million hours Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)
1 sector per 1017 bits read Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate (UBER)
Temperature Operating: 0 to 70c
Non-Operating: -40 to 85c
Performance @Queue Depth 4 Sequential R/W: Up to 1200/280 MB/s
4KB Random R/W: Up to 300k/70k IOPS
Power 3.3V Supply Rail
Active: 3.5W
Drive Idle: 900mW to 1.2W
Endurance Rating 100GB Writes Per Day
Operating System Support Windows 10 64-bit
Supported Platforms 7th Gen or newer Intel Core Processor-based Platforms
Compliance NVM Express 1.1
PCI Express Base Specification Rev 3.0
PCI M.2 Hardware Specifications
Ecological: European Union (ED) RoHS Compliance Directives
Software Tools Intel Optane Memory Software
Intel Rapid Storage Technology Software
Intel SSD & Memory Toolbox

Pricing (MSRP) $44 (16GB), $77 (32GB)

The first products in Intel’s Optane Memory line-up will be M.2 “gumstick” type NVMe SSDs, with capacities of 16GB and 32GB. The sticks themselves look rather simple, with only one (16GB) or two (32GB) 3D Xpoint memory media packages populating one side of the device, along with the Intel-made controller and a few other surface mounted components. Save for a decal and some pads, the back side of the PCBs are clean.

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Intel Optane Memory 32GB M.2 "Gumstick" Solid State Drive

There are a few things to note in regards to Intel Optane Memory compatibility. Intel Optane Memory will work only on Windows 10 64-bit systems with Intel 7th Gen Kaby Lake-based processors and 200-series chipsets, or newer. They will not work on previous-gen Skylake-based systems, or anything older, even if it's got an M.2 slot. Specifically, Intel Optane Memory will work on 7th Gen Core i5/i7-based systems with the Z270, Q270, H270, Q250, and B250 chipsets. The same chipsets are supported with Core i3 processors as well, in addition to the C236. The motherboard’s BIOS must also have the necessary hooks built in for Intel Optane Memory to function properly.
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Assuming it’s being installed in a compatible system, setting up Optane Memory is very easy. The physical setup, which require nothing more than inserting the M.2 Intel Optane Memory stick into a compatible motherboard slot, can be done before or after the OS installation on the boot drive. Then, once the OS installation is complete, all you have to do is install the Optane Memory drivers. The Optane Memory driver package also includes an Intel Optane Memory application in which the technology can be enabled (or disabled)...

optane setup app 1

optane setup app 2

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Intel Optane Memory Application

Intel's Optane Memory application is accessible via the Start menu or from a system tray shortcut that gets installed along with the drivers. Inside the application interface, there are three menu items on the left side -- Setup, Statistics, and Help. The Statistics and Help sections strictly present data; there is nothing to change or alter in those sections. And the Setup tab contains only a single button to enable or disable Optane Memory acceleration.

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, Optane Memory is completely transparent to the end user and "just works".

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