Intel Optane SSD 800P Review: A Speedy M.2 Solid State Drive With 3D XPoint For The Masses

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What Makes Intel Optane So Special?

As we explained earlier, Intel’s Optane products leverage 3D XPoint memory technology. To clarify, Optane is Intel’s branding for the entire collection of technologies that make 3D XPoint memory available to a system. Optane and 3D XPoint are not interchangeable, however. All of the initial Optane-branded products we've covered leverage 3D Xpoint technology, but the two terms are not synonymous. We just want to be clear on that point, because there’s been some confusion out there. Optane is Intel's branding for an array of storage solutions; 3D XPoint is the type of media currently used on them.

3D XPoint is being positioned as a revolutionary, non-volatile memory tier that can offer significantly better performance than NAND flash memory, with DRAM-like access times. 3D XPoint also offers higher endurance than traditional NAND flash memory, but with similar capability to scale in density. Our original coverage of the 3D XPoint announcement is available here if you’d like a quick refresher.
intel optane dc p4800x cpoint

The Optane SSD 800P resembles some of Intel’s previous PCIe-based NVMe storage products, but it is a different sort of beast. Although it may look like any other M.2 NVMe drive, from its controller to its storage media, the Optane SSD 800P is not like other NAND-based SSDs.

The specifications listed on the previous page hint at some of those differences. The drive’s throughput doesn’t seem terribly impressive versus other enthusiast-class, NVMe storage products, but note that its 4K IOPS ratings, with fully random and mixed 70/30 workloads, are recorded at low queue depths. Most NAND SSDs quote random IOPs scores at high queue depths, which don't occur very often during day-to-day use cases. Like the high-end Intel Optane SSD 900P, the 800P shines at low queue depths, where NAND flash-based storage products tend to falter. The drive’s endurance is also rather high -- as we mentioned on the previous page, even with their relatively low capacities, these drives are rated for 365 TBW.

Differences Between 3D XPoint And NAND

Intel Optane drives based on 3D XPoint media don't require over-provisioning like NAND-based SSDs either. The random write performance of a NAND-based SSD can be improved by increasing the amount of spare storage capacity, because it makes defragmentation more efficient. Since 3D XPoint memory is write-in-place media, there is no defragmentation needed, and therefore no performance to be gained by over-provisioning. Some spare space is used to store ECC and metadata to maintain low error rates throughout the life of the drive, but Optane drives are not over-provisioned in the same manner as NAND.

We should also note that there are significant differences in the actual 3D XPoint media versus NAND. For example, NAND features lots of extra capacity inside every die for sparing out blocks, as well as managing ECC code words. 3D XPoint memory media does not have or even require the extra capacity, so that type of over-provisioning doesn't really apply. With that said, spare capacity beyond the user defined area is leveraged for ECC, firmware, and other maintenance operations.
intel optane 800p 4

The Intel Optane SSD 800P also handles requests differently than NAND SSDs. For example, when a read request comes into the drive, the normal read write paths are always in hardware, which exploits the low latency performance characteristics of the media. In addition, one read of 4KB is now spread across multiple channels and dies. With NAND-based SSDs today, 4KB reads usually leverage only a single channel. With Optane, the aggregate performance of multiple channels and dies being utilized for small data requests results in higher realized performance. There is also no need to perform defrag operations with 3D XPoint, so the combination of write-in-place media and firmware tuned for these characteristics results in consistently low overall latency, in the neighborhood of 10 microseconds, in addition to higher quality of service (QoS).
p4800x performancce 3
This comparison of Intel's enterprise-class SSD DC P3700 versus the flagship, Optane SSD DC4800X detailing read latency QoS with mixed workloads, shows just how well Optane behaves overall. The Optane drive offers consistent, high-performance (i.e. low latency), whereas the NAND-based SSD's read latency is all over the map.
steady state
Optane drives like the Intel Optane SSD 800P also offer consistent performance when in a steady-state, loaded up with data. Whereas NAND-based solid state drives tend to offer best performance fresh out of the box (FOB), once they've been filled with data and written / re-written, etc. performance drops off. This doesn't happen with Optane -- the drives offer consistent performance regardless.

latency under load
Optane Solid State Drives also offer much better latency characteristics when under load. What we did here was place the Optane SSD 800P, the Optane SSD 900P, and a NAND-based Toshiba OCZ RD400 under a sustained write workload, while testing 4K mixed read / write latency at QD1. When there's no other workload taxing the drives, the Optane drives already offer significantly lower latency than the RD400. Put the drives under load, however, and the RD400's latency skyrockets, while the Optane drives' latency is only slightly higher.

What this means in the "real world" is that a system packing an Optane SSD will remain more responsive, more often, versus a NAND-based SSD, when there's heavier, concurrent workloads that may be taxing the storage sub-system running. Anyone that's felt their system slow down when downloading a few torrents and moving files on some NAND-based SSDs, will appreciate the consistency and QoS offered by Optane.

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