Last week, Intel officially launched their first Optane product, the SSD DC P4800X enterprise drive. This week, 3D XPoint memory comes to the client and consumer market in the form of the Intel Optane Memory product, a low-capacity M.2 NVMe SSD intended for use as a cache drive for systems using a mechanical hard drive for primary storage.

The Intel Optane Memory SSD uses one or two single-die packages of 3D XPoint non-volatile memory to provide capacities of 16GB or 32GB. The controller gets away with a much smaller package than most SSDs (especially PCIe SSD) since it only supports two PCIe 3.0 lanes and does not have an external DRAM interface. Because only two PCIe lanes are used by the drive, it is keyed to support M.2 type B and M slots. This keying is usually used for M.2 SATA SSDs while M.2 PCIe SSDs typically use only the M key position to support four PCIe lanes. The Optane Memory SSD will not function in a M.2 slot that provides only SATA connectivity. Contrary to some early leaks, the Optane Memory SSD uses the M.2 2280 card size instead of one of the shorter lengths. This makes for one of the least-crowded M.2 PCBs on the market even with all of the components on the top side.

The very low capacity of the Optane Memory drives limits their usability as traditional SSDs. Intel intends for the drive to be used with the caching capabilities of their Rapid Storage Technology drivers. Intel first introduced SSD caching with their Smart Response Technology in 2011. The basics of Optane Memory caching are mostly the same, but under the hood Intel has tweaked the caching algorithms to better suit 3D XPoint memory's performance and flexibility advantages over flash memory. Optane Memory caching is currently only supported on Windows 10 64-bit and only for the boot volume. Booting from a cached volume requires that the chipset's storage controller be in RAID mode rather than AHCI mode so that the cache drive will not be accessible as a standard NVMe drive and is instead remapped to only be accessible to Intel's drivers through the storage controller. This NVMe remapping feature was first added to the Skylake-generation 100-series chipsets, but boot firmware support will only be found on Kaby Lake-generation 200-series motherboards and Intel's drivers are expected to only permit Optane Memory caching with Kaby Lake processors.

Intel Optane Memory Specifications
Capacity 16 GB 32 GB
Form Factor M.2 2280 single-sided
Interface PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe
Controller Intel unnamed
Memory 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint
Typical Read Latency 6 µs
Typical Write Latency 16 µs
Random Read (4 KB, QD4) 300k
Random Write (4 KB, QD4) 70k
Sequential Read (QD4) 1200 MB/s
Sequential Write (QD4) 280 MB/s
Endurance 100 GB/day
Power Consumption 3.5 W (active), 0.9-1.2 W (idle)
MSRP $44 $77
Release Date April 24

Intel has published some specifications for the Optane Memory drive's performance on its own. The performance specifications are the same for both capacities, suggesting that the controller has only a single channel interface to the 3D XPoint memory. The read performance is extremely good given the limitation of only one or two memory devices for the controller to work with, but the write throughput is quite limited. Read and write latency are very good thanks to the inherent performance advantage of 3D XPoint memory over flash. Endurance is rated at just 100GB of writes per day, for both 16GB and 32GB models. While this does correspond to 3-6 DWPD and is far higher than consumer-grade flash based SSDs, 3D XPoint memory was supposed to have vastly higher write endurance than flash and neither of the Optane products announced so far is specified for game-changing endurance. Power consumption is rated at 3.5W during active use, so heat shouldn't be a problem, but the idle power of 0.9-1.2W is a bit high for laptop use, especially given that there will also be a hard drive drawing power.

Intel's vision is for Optane Memory-equipped systems to offer a compelling performance advantage over hard drive-only systems for a price well below an all-flash configuration of equal capacity. The 16GB Optane Memory drive will retail for $44 while the 32GB version will be $77. As flash memory has declined in price over the years, it has gotten much easier to purchase SSDs that are large enough for ordinary use: 256GB-class SSDs start at around the same price as the 32GB Optane Memory drive, and 512GB-class drives are about the same as the combination of a 2TB hard drive and the 32GB Optane Memory. The Optane Memory products are squeezing into a relatively small niche for limited budgets that require a lot of storage and want the benefit of solid state performance without paying the full price of a boot SSD. Intel notes that Optane Memory caching can be used in front of hybrid drives and SATA SSDs, but the performance benefit will be smaller and these configurations are not expected to be common or cost effective.

The Optane Memory SSDs are now available for pre-order and are scheduled to ship on April 24. Pre-built systems equipped with Optane Memory should be available around the same time. Enthusiasts with large budgets will want to wait until later this year for Optane SSDs with sufficient capacity to use as primary storage. True DIMM-based 3D XPoint memory products are on the roadmap for next year.

Source: Intel

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  • nICKd1976 - Wednesday, October 25, 2017 - link

    Optane is the biggest waste of $$$$. Save for the real SSD... True garbage....
  • MrSpadge - Monday, March 27, 2017 - link

    No, it's pretty similar to Intel Smart Response technology introduced with Z68 and giving HDD users a decent gain, although obviously not full SSD performance.
  • StevoLincolnite - Monday, March 27, 2017 - link

    If you use a system boosted by an SSD cache SSD and remove that cache drive at a later date... The difference is pretty massive.

    Got a 32GB Sandisk Readycache drive in another system, does a brilliant job for the cost. And it was cheap.
  • Gothmoth - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    ok hybrid HDD´s are not that fast... but they help.

    personally i would not waste a precious M.2 port on a cache device like this.
    maybe when our mainboards have 4 or 6 M.2 ports. :)

    i have one fast 1 TB M.2 SSD for the OS and 5 data disk (HDD) in my system.
    i don´t care much how fast the data disks are. they are for storage only.

    i don´t see this optane SSD creating much interest for most users.
  • Gothmoth - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    why not buying hybrid HDD´s?
    they are not that much more expensive.

    i sure don´t waste a precious M.2 port on such a device.
  • ddriver - Monday, March 27, 2017 - link

    They should really consider renaming it to Hypetane.

    The perf figures listed here are for QD4. At that queue depth, a 960 pro beats it easily in sequential reads and writes and random write iops, hypetane is only faster in random reads, and even then, not anywhere near the "1000x better than ssd" figures. And it remains to be seen if that advantage extends to the drive's entire lba or if it is just for a limited data set fitting in some cache.

    At any rate, at those capacities, it is kinda laughable. Just get some extra ram, it might cost a little more, but then again it will be much faster, much more durable, and with a decent ssd it will take just a few seconds to flush the working data set to persistent storage on shutdowns.

    "Where Optane will be useful is high numbers of small file accesses (DLLs, library files, etc.)."

    I'd say databases. Of course, provided your database is small enough to fit on such a drive. DLLs are not an issue, those are shared between all processes which link against them and are loaded in memory as long as they are used, and they are usually hundreds of k to a few mb, so they absolutely do not qualify as something that would benefit from frequent random reads.
  • Alexvrb - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    This drive does not look impressive on paper. However the underlying concept of pairing a faster solid state tech with a larger, slower SSD is solid. Relatively slow (by today's standards) SATA/mSATA SSD caches did wonders for a system with a large mechanical drive. So the concept is sound. A 1TB 960 Pro is fairly expensive, compared to a 1TB SATA SSD.

    Most of my workload is reads - I think that's fairly common for consumer use cases. A fast M.2 cache drive, primarily for reads should boost performance quite a bit - if price, speed, and capacity are there. Now that goes back to this drive being insufficient. Capacities need to be in the 64-128GB area, with an upgraded x4 controller offering better speeds all-around. Meanwhile pricing needs to stay around $100 for the 128GB product. Then they might have something on their hands. We'll see how the second gen product looks.

    I'd still like to see some testing, in case the read latency and low QD performance benefits a system more than anticipated. There's a lot of competition and I don't think this standards out in a crowded M.2 arena.
  • ddriver - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    It was only impressive on hype, it is neither impressive on paper, nor is it impressive in practice.

    I wouldn't normally care, there is enough room for mediocre technology under the sun, what annoyed me was the laughable claims of "1000 times better than flash" BULLCRAP, and how the simpletons bought it. And still try to justify the hype, now that the product has turned out to be mediocre, now there are some mythical hidden merits only the chosen few would understand and appreciate.

    You know what this sounds like? Like "the emperor's new clothes". You know, they are so great, that only smart people see them. To us, the silly ones, the emperor is fully nude.

    1000 times faster than nand? BS. 75% of the time it is SLOWER than last year's SSDs. Barely faster in random reads, and that's about it.

    1000 times the endurance of flash? BS, at best twice as good as MLC, still way behind SLC. The xpoint media itself doesn't appear to be faster than SLC either.

    10 times denser than flash? BS. Waaaay behind MLC.

    Just give me 3d SLC SSD with improved controller. I don't care about hype and by extension, about the naked hypetane.
  • bcronce - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    Samsung 960 Pro M.2 can only do about 130MiB/s Q4 random. This can do 1.2GiB/s. I think you underestimate those read latencies. Lets wait for some benchmarks.
  • ddriver - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    And that's where its advantage runs out. Everywhere else it is vastly inferior.

    BTW, dunno about the smaller models, but the 1TB 960 pro does about 60k IOPS at random 4k reads, which makes for about 230 rather than 130 MB/s. And about 160k at random 4k writes, which is about 625 MB/s, more than twice as fast, and that still mediocre MLC.

    But yeah, lets really wait for the benchmarks, because what I expect to see is that hypetane's random reads advantage will result in NADA benefit in 9 out of 10 practical usage scenarios. And that t will be "superior" in one very, very narrow niche barely anyone cares about.

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