This post will present some useful information about a modern and standalone memory device, that launched just a few years ago and that is also called “a revolutionary memory”. Its name is Intel Optane memory and it will help PC users with hard disk drives benefit from larger speeds, that are specific to SSD storage devices.
Intel created the Optane modules basing on the cache memory principle, so that you become able to enjoy large storage space at fast data speeds, which typically is not achievable when using HDDs.
What is Intel Optane and what is it good for?
It is not quite clear to me what the etymology of the word “Optane” is. This was Intel’s choice to give a name to one of its new products. But we are talking about something that’s pretty new on the technology market, this special kind of memory has been around only for about three years. In March 2017 there were pre-orders for some 16GB and 32GB Optane memory modules.
And they came in the M.2 22*80mm form factor. However, as technology makes further progresses, you will see there are also other sizes for these memories. And no, they don’t look like RAM modules at all.
Besides, since Optane is exclusively designed and manufactured by Intel, we may refer to this memory type simply as “Optane”, and it’s up to us to use the terms “Intel Optane” and “Optane” interchangeably. It is the same thing!
If you need to create large quantities of content of any type (like surveillance video data) and need more terabytes of data, you will need to rely on hard disk drives for that, rather than on faster SSDs (be it SATA or PCI-E). And HDDs are slower, we know that already.
But Intel Optane is a very particular form of memory for our computers, with the help of which we may access our frequently accessed data faster, even though we are dealing with slower drives. You can benefit from Optane in a laptop too – so it’s not limited to Desktop configurations. In fact, laptops that have their OS installed on internal HDDs benefit a lot from Optane modules!
How can Intel Optane work like a cache memory in your computers?
Well, there is something that is called 3D XPoint technology. Intel and Micron joined their efforts in order to work this technology out. And we also need to understand the word “latency”, meaning the elapsed time to execute a data retrieval task, where a retrieval task may be a read or a write operation.
The word XPoint is pronounced cross-point and it designs a very fast type of non-volatile memory – its latency is rated to be up to 1000 times slower than the one in the NAND non-volatile memory (which is used for many NVME PCI-E drives). The Optane memory works as an interface between the disk space and the main memory (the RAM) of the computer.
It is important to know (or remember) that non-volatile memories keep their stored data also after turning the PC off, unlike the RAM. The data about your most frequently used documents is permanently stored by the Optane modules, and you keep on benefitting from their powers even after restarting the PC, without having to cache your data over again!
Intel Optane memory modules are not a replacement for RAM – so you should not take off all the RAM from your computers when opting for Optane, otherwise the computer would not be able to start :). Every type of memory has its own utility and meaningfulness.
In future implementations, there’s a possibility that versatile Optane memory modules will be created, so that they might replace DRAM by being pluggable into the DIMM slots. But that is just imagination or wishful thinking right now. So, if you buy some good gigabytes of Optane, just DON’T start giving up the RAM modules!
The Optane memory remembers the tasks where you use the largest part of the computer power, and based on this caching it accelerates some programs, thus reducing the execution time. Optane is also so smart that it memorizes your most frequently used programs too. And you get better speeds for uploading and downloading files if you choose to work with Optane alongside your operating systems!
Optane is also concerned about security: its solid-state model ensures that the delivery of files from business to client is safe. Financial services and education are just two examples of industries where the Optane security is able to bring benefits – so it is serious, we may use this new type of memory for very important tasks that nowadays are accomplished by computers.
Optane is not only good at home, we may see it at work in enterprise environments too.
Are there any specific requirements?
There are some important hardware requirements for using Optane memories, at this time Optane cannot be used quite everywhere in the computer world!
Although these drives are manufactured by Intel, they may work when installed on AMD motherboards too, but there’s one hitch: AMD users cannot use Intel Optane at its full functionality (which means as a bridge between the disk space and the memory), but only as a regular NVME storage drive. Intel Optane is a very… Intel-specific technology, honoring its name!
In order to be perfectly sure you will benefit from the “cache memory” power of an Optane, you must own an Intel motherboard & CPU and install the Optane module there! Otherwise, you only get an extra NVME, which is also more expensive than common NVMEs. Optane caching is Intel proprietary!
Then, we must be aware of the fact that Intel Optane was originally projected to optimize the primary storage drive, the one we boot our operating system from. In the meanwhile, it has become possible to optimize secondary drives too, starting from a certain version of Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST).
Rapid Storage Technology is a Windows-based software application which offers support for PC configurations with multiple storage drives, like making RAID configurations (two identical HDD drives are interpreted as one single drive with the summed capacities).
And Intel Optane supports secondary drives starting from the 188.8.131.526 version of the Intel RST driver. I am not sure if this means “exactly two disk drives” to use with Optane in the same computer, but you may be interested in concentrating a lot of preferred data on these 1-2 drives (OS included), so that you can enjoy the real power of Intel Optane.
Be careful not to use multiple operating systems on the same disk drive (i.e. separate partitions with an OS on each one), and neither Dual OS Boot configurations (where several disk drives have separate operating systems) – Intel does not guarantee system acceleration results for these cases.
When using Intel Optane, it’s best to have a unique operating system installed on one storage drive in the computer. Another important limitation is that NVME SSDs cannot be accelerated by Intel Optane, unless they belong to the Intel® SSD 660p Series.
So, if you install your 64-bit Windows 10 OS on a NVME drive (Linux may be an adventure, Mac is a totally impossible mission by now), please make sure it’s an Intel 660p, otherwise you will get no Optane acceleration – though, NVME SSDs are already fast drives by themselves.
Please take further care: these NVME drives can only be accelerated if the Intel RST driver that is used comes in the 184.108.40.2064 version or later, you must use very modern device drivers if you want to benefit from the modern technology on the largest possible scale.
If you buy several Intel Optane memory modules, only one of them will be able to perform acceleration in your computer. If you have, say, two computers in the house and two Optane modules, it’s best to give each computer its Optane memory, so that you optimize both of them… assuming the other hardware & software conditions are met.
Also, there are two different software applications to use (in Windows 10) with Intel Optane. The first is the RST driver above, but there is also a dedicated Intel Optane Memory interface. You cannot use both programs at once, so you will have to choose which one of them you want to use with your Optane memory.
As for the rest of the drives, we may accelerate our OS on SATA, be it on a HDD or on a SSD/SSHD. SSHDs are hybrid HDD+SSD drives, a type of “two in one”.
Again, be careful about the SATA controllers your disks are connected to: some enhanced motherboards provide extra SATA ports via AsMedia controllers. You must use the regular Intel Chipset (SATA AHCI) controller for accelerating your drive(s) via Optane.
Another important specification about laptops with Optane memory: according to Intel they have to come with the memory module already installed, so that you won’t just receive an “Optane ready” laptop, having then to install the module manually. The “Optane ready” feature is applicable to Desktop computers – you have to plug in that module separately.
Till now, we have seen that Optane looks pretty much like an Intel family question. Does AMD provide something similar for their motherboards?
There is also an AMD-based acceleration technology, similar to Intel Optane, that is named StoreMI. Very modern AMD motherboards offer support for it, but it’s definitely NOT the same thing as Intel Optane. This may be a subject for a future post of mine.
Back to Intel motherboards, their chipsets must belong at least to the Z200 version (I mean B250, Z270, X299, X299X motherboard chipsets), so the Optane modules cannot be used on Intel X99 or X79 motherboards, not to mention older chipsets.
Also, Intel Core CPUs that get involved need to belong to the 7th generation or above – older processors like the 10-core i7-6950X cannot work with Optane. The i9 suite starts already from the 7th generation of Intel Core, so they should support Optane by definition.
We can easily assume that AMD motherboards accepting Optane memories as simple drives cannot be too old either. Modern technology requires modern equipment!
Intel Optane was primarily designed to work under Windows, however people who prefer Linux operating systems [like me :)] may use Optane too, to a limited extent though. By personal experience, I have not tried Optane on my Linux computers at home by now, this article is a good occasion for me to learn facts about this technology too, while telling you about it!
Important notice for Macintosh users: you cannot benefit from Intel Optane on your systems. Maybe this situation will be subjected to a change in the coming years, but for now it’s not possible to speed up your primary storage drive by using Optane if you are on MacBook, Mac Mini, Mac Pro (that very expensive…), or any other Mac.
An Optane drive will be shown under Linux just like a classic NVME – users know that there are names like /dev/sda, /dev/sdb and so on for SATA and USB devices, while PCI-E storage drives show up as /dev/nvme010 or somewhat like that.
For average users, 16 GB of Optane memory may suffice, but 32 GB or larger capacities are recommended for more complex tasks like Gaming and content creation. In addition, modules with at least 32 GB in capacity provide also the option of selecting which applications to accelerate (that’s called pinning). Isn’t it amazing?
When compared to other memory and storage devices, Intel Optane can be considered as:
- Slower than RAM, but cheaper, if we consider dollars per gigabyte;
- Faster than many SSD drives, but a lot more expensive;
- Much faster than hard disk and USB storage drives.
Which Optane form factors are there?
It is interesting to find out how this custom and fascinating type of memory looks like. The first Optane modules that came out in 2017 were M.2 22*80mm pieces, storing 16 or 32 GB of memory. So they were like a particular shape of NVME SSDs.
We get also PCI-E* cards that work as Optane modules, and some U.2 Optane drives that may be easily mistaken for other U.2 storage drives or even SATA SSDs if we don’t look at them closely and are unaware of the actual Optane looks.
*PCI-E pluggable cards are also known as AIC (Add-In Cards). So, Optane modules have three form factors: AIC, M.2, and U.2.
Moreover, we must know that the maximum Optane capacities have increased in the meanwhile – we can see Intel Optane PCI-E cards with 375 or 750 GB, and U.2 devices with up to 1.5 terabytes of storage.
Be very careful though: Optane memories are more expensive than NVME SSDs, the largest (1.5 TB) Optane drives may cost you $5000 US, whereas you can make a 2TB NVME SSD yours for around ten times less money. The smallest 16GB and 32GB M.2 modules for Optane cost only some tens of dollars, and they should be enough for giving SSD speeds to a single HDD that contains the PC operating system.
Since the Optane modules keep the cached data closer to the processor, that means the speeds are pretty good and Optane is a better alternative than buying a hybrid disk drive that has both the HDD and the SSD parts.
We can see more info on the largest Optane drives here:
Given the fact that Intel Optane memory modules have been around for almost three years, there is an entire range of Optane modules. The smallest ones started from 16 GB, and the largest have almost 100 times more storage space (1.5 TB). We already have several generations of Optane memory, like “Intel Optane SSD 8” and “Intel Optane SSD 9” series.
Intel Optane SSD 905P series starts with a module that has a generous 380GB capacity. Its form factor is M.2, but this time the SSD is longer than the common NVMEs we know – it’s 22 mm * 110 mm, meaning that it is three centimeters longer than the 22*80 mm factor. Its sequential read speed is up to 2600 MB/s, and the write speed is 2200 MB/s.
It features a PCI-E 3.0 NVME x4 interface, and its lithography type is 3D XPoint (remember that this is specific to Optane modules, making them different from regular NAND SSDs).
As for random read/write speeds, that are measured in input/output operations per second or IOPS, we have 550,000 IOPS for writing and 575,000 IOPS for reading.
The read and write latencies are equal to 10 microseconds.
The endurance rate – remember that it means the supported writings until becoming read-only – is fairly large: 6.93 petabytes, that gives you a lot of time. It is not easy to write petabytes of data, especially if you are not eager content creators!
With 380 gigabytes (which is 380 billion bytes), you should get enough optimized Optane memory for your HDD-based system to work faster, be it on a Desktop PC or on a laptop device. Bottlenecking your memory with applications is a dead issue when you get a powerful Optane!
You should prepare over $500 US to spend for one single 380GB module.
A detailed list of “Tech Specs” for this memory:
This Optane SSD isn’t the only member of the series. The
is another Optane 9 SSD, more exactly a U.2 15 mm form-factored SSD that comes with more memory – close to 1 TB – while being also physically larger than the previous model, since U.2 storage devices are actually 2.5 inch, like normal SSDs. Its speeds and latencies are identical to those of the 380GB M.2 Optane module above, but due to the fact that the storage space is higher, the endurance rate that’s proportional to the space is also higher: 17.52 petabytes.
The Optane endurance rates are bigger than those of the corresponding NVME SSDs having under 1 TB of space, which means these memories are pretty durable. But this Optane memory is also very expensive – over $1300 US according to Intel, so if you invest money in a high-spaced Optane, then you should have also large savings for purchasing that one.
See its specifications here:
This modern Optane series provides also a 1.5 TB drive that has merely the same specifications, but of course, besides the impressive space, the endurance rate is higher – 27.37 petabytes to write – and its price is over $2000. You should really be rich to buy anything like that, but once you get this masterpiece there shouldn’t be any more problems with sluggish applications :). This is a true giant of a memory module!
Its form factor is AIC (Add-in card), it is compatible with a PCI-E 3.0 x4 slot, meaning that it takes 4 PCI-E lanes, the current maximum of lanes for any NVME SSD.
Are you scared by the immensity of these Optane modules? Do they seem too inaccessible because of the high prices? Well, there are also smaller and cheaper models, like those from the Intel Optane 800P series, that are far cheaper and come in two flavors: 58 GB and 118 GB.
These two types of Optane memory share the M.2 22*80 mm form factor, which makes them pretty similar to common NVME M.2 SSDs. Their PCI-E 3.0 bandwidth is x2, half the one from the top Optane modules cited above.
Their sequential write/read speeds are lower than the ones from the 905P series. We only get up to 640 MB/s for writing and 1450 MB/s for reading data. Yes, that is not as good as in Optane SSD 9 products, but not everyone can spend a lot of money on “exotic” PC memory.
When it comes to random read/write operations that we measure in IOPS, there’s 145,000 IOPS for writing and 250000 IOPS for reading.
The read latency is 7 microseconds (µs), and the write latency is higher – 18 µs. Their prices start from under $200 US, which makes them much more affordable, yet having generous amounts of memory!
Intel Optane is a high-tech type of memory that was released for making systems with hard disk drives able to move faster than SSDs. This new technology has already been there for a few years and started to mature, so that there are several versions of Optane memories to choose from.
In order to fully benefit from Intel Optane, you have to use an “Intel” PC (motherboard, CPU). Modern AMD motherboards accept Optane modules at most as extra storage drives, no memory caching.
While Optane was intended primarily for Intel computers with 64-bit Windows 10 installed, it looks like this kind of storage device can work on Linux too.
This post will be updated with further information on Optane. Please feel free to read it, leave your opinions, and also share the post if you find it useful! I also reply to comments.