Intel Optane Memory With 3D XPoint Technology Caches Slower Drives For A Performance Boost

Intel Optane Memory Performance

We spent some time with Intel learning about Optane Memory recently and actually had a chance to build up a system and briefly test the technology.

Configuring Intel Optane Memory for use in a Smart Response setup couldn't be any easier. With previous generations, the storage controller had to be configured for RAID mode in the BIOS and the proper Intel RST drivers had to be installed. Provided everything was configured and installed properly, plugging in the SSD, booting into Windows, opening the Intel RST GUI, and clicking on the Accelerate menu option was all that was required to start caching data. With Intel Optane Memory, however, one step has been eliminated to further simplify the process. The Optane Memory software now has hooks into the BIOS to make changes on the fly, so once the Optane Memory SSD was installed into the M.2 slot, all we had to do was boot into Windows, and enable caching via a single button in the driver menu. That could change a bit by the time the drives and sofrware ship next month, but we're not likely to be too far off the mark this far into the development cycle.

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We are not quite at the point where we can publish independent benchmark results for Optane Memory, but Intel did provide some performance data for us to share. With Sysmark 2014 SE, game level load times were accelerated up to 65% and launching games was much faster too, but every other area showed massive improvement as well – boot times, general storage performance, file searches, and other things, were all sped up. In our experience building up and testing a system, there were significant and measurable performance gains almost immediately. After a single re-boot and running some apps, for example, launch times were significantly improved.

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At our briefing Intel also made some interesting comparisons between systems with 1TB hard drives and either 4 or 8GB of system memory. The intent was to show that a system with 4GB of RAM and Optane Memory acceleration offered better responsiveness than a system with 8GB of RAM and a hard drive alone. Performance comparisons between identically-configured systems are ideal, so we’re not going to dwell on these numbers, but considering how much solid state storage improves the responsiveness of a system, we understand the point Intel is trying to make. In many instances where 4GB is "enough" memory, accelerating a slower drive with Optane Memory will improve performance and likely enhance the experience.  With that said – if you’ve got a Kaby Lake system with 4GB of RAM and Windows 10 64-bit installed, upgrade it right now. It’s 2017 for Pete’s sake...

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These next two charts are where the rubber really meets the road. Fast data transfers and low-latency are what make SSD-equipped systems feel faster and more responsive than systems with slower storage devices, even when they have similar amounts of processing power. Since Intel Optane Memory excels at low queue depths where the vast majority of desktop client workloads reside, it can offer lower-latency access to the data cache than other storage solutions, including an NVMe SSD.

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Intel Optane Memory will be available for pre-orders today, though they won’t ship until later next month. The 16GB and 32GB Intel Optane Memory modules will be available initially through retailers with MSRPs of $44 for the 16GB part and $77 for the 32GB model. At those prices, there is clearly a premium for Intel Optane Memory versus NAND-based solid state drives in terms of cost per gigabyte, which will probably make many of you question their value when much larger SSDs are available for only a few dollars more. Well, the answer is, Intel Optane Memory devices won’t be ideal for every user, especially those with the budgets to afford larger-capacity, high-performance NVMe based storage products and are familiar with managing multiple drives in Windows. Those users will probably be interested in larger-capacity Intel Optane SSDs though, due to their high-performance at low queue depths, when they ship at some point in the future. But for users on a budget, that require large amounts of storage and aren’t savvy enough to manage multiple drives, accelerators and the caching solution offered by Intel Optane Memory make sense.

intel optane memory partners

Many of Intel’s partners are at the ready with Optane Memory compatible products. There are already over 130 motherboards on the market and systems featuring the technology will be made available soon from all of the major players, including Dell, Lenovo, HP and others.

We should have Intel Optane Memory hardware in-hand soon and will put it through its paces when it arrives.

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