Think fast: Understanding Intel Optane

Intel has released its new hardware, Optane memory, which can be considered a much faster SSD that will plug into the motherboard’s M.2 or 2.5 slot. It is said to deliver high speed and responsiveness without compromising system storage capacity.

Intel has made the claim that Optane is 4.42 times faster than a NAND memory-based NVMe SSD when considering IOPS (input/output operations per second) and has 6.44 times less latency.

Additionally, no tests on storage have been done yet by actual users, but Intel says that Optane could be up to 10 times faster than conventional SSDs. This was first announced at CES 2017, but so far Intel has only released 16GB and 32GB capacity units, although they claim that higher-capacity units will be available in the coming years.

Intel believes that the new product will replace the SSDs and DRAM of today, combining Intel Optane and a 7th Gen Intel Core processor for shorter boot times, faster application launches, improved gameplay, and more responsive browsing.

The Optane nonvolatile memory should ship in the second quarter of this year (although, only the 16GB and 32GB versions), so we should be expecting it soon. Keep in mind that only certain computers will have the capacity to utilize Optane. You can find an “Intel Optane Memory Ready” sticker on computers available for purchase, and all specifications are available on their website.

What exactly is it?

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Intel cooperated with Micron on the development of the team’s 3D XPoint technology, which is referred to in this way because of the 3D structure of the memory, allowing large amounts of storage in a relatively small space.

Micron is very limited with what other technology it can be used with. For now, it only functions with Kaby Lake chips in PCs, although like increasing 16GB and 32GB storage, this could also change in the future.

Optane will be released both in conjunction with a large-capacity SSD that Intel hopes will replace conventional SSDs, as well as Optane as a DRAM replacement. However, this nonvolatile memory storage that could be plugged into the DIMM slots would retain data after the PC is turned off, unlike DRAM.

Optane is similar to a combination SSD and RAM because of its extreme speed coupled with the fact that removing power does not cause a loss of data. The 7th Gen Intel Core processor with the Intel Optane memory is expected to boost responsiveness throughout the machine to assist in virtual reality, gaming, content creating, and more.

How much is it?

intel optane memory
While no actual prices have been released yet, the hope is that the low capacity of Intel Optane’s modules will make the technology very affordable.

However, while 3D XPoint is certainly faster than NAND flash memory, it is not yet as fast as DRAM. While DRAM has low production rates because of the large volume produced, 3D XPoint is currently more expensive.

Yet, 3D XPoint needs to reach a competitive price to be successful. Only limited quantities are being produced right now, so of course the costs will be reduced with mass production. However, before a large number can be produced, Intel (obviously) needs to sell a larger amount.

So, while the production is expected to increase over time, reducing costs with mass production, Optane seems to be in need of enough initial backing to allow it to have a competitive price.

On this note, Intel has explained how it has worked hard to make the technology economical: by “slicing submicroscopic layers of materials into columns, each containing a memory cell and selector, and then connecting them with an innovative cross point structure of perpendicular wires.”

Additionally, you’ll have to have a computer that fits all of the criteria mentioned above to have the possibility of using Optane. As reported by PC World, “PC makers indicated it could be awhile before large-capacity Optane SSDs are available…[and they] will likely be installed in servers before coming to PCs.”

In fact, Facebook and IBM have already begun to test large-capacity SSDs in their servers. Also, according to PC World, certain PCs that will have the option of installing Intel Optane storage were previously announced at CES, giving potential users an idea of the associated costs.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad T570 will start at $909 and have the optional upgrade to Optane’s 16GB memory, although this surcharge price hasn’t been released yet.

intel optane memory

Coming this spring with Optane is HP’s Envy Cured All-in-One 34 with Kaby Lake, although once again, a specific timeline has not been released. Additionally, Dell will include Optane in some of its Precision laptops and OptiPlex desktops.

Intel, of course, will also include Intel Optane with its “tall” NUC systems, and Supermicro will have support for Optane in its SuperO motherboards for gaming and business PCs.

To save costs, many users are considering leaving behind their SSD hard drive to swap it out for a traditional hard drive instead. While, of course, using a fully SSD system with Optane, your computer will run more efficiently and quickly. Yet, this also jacks up the price.

Instead, if users would prefer to place a traditional hard drive to use as their primary storage, the technology in Optane could help to load the OS and applications faster than either a traditional hard drive or an all-SSD system without Optane. This is because Optane could hold images of the OS and key applications to quicken the process.

Intel explains that “a hard disk drive coupled with the Intel Optane memory affordably gives you SSD-like speed while maintaining large storage capacity.” Additionally, pairing Optane memory with an HDD will help users affordably achieve SSD performance while maintaining HDD capacity.

It’s also important to note that anything before Windows 10 likely will not work with Optane. Also, Linux and MacOS have still not released any information regarding their compatibility with Optane, although Intel has stated that software must be adjusted to effectively work with the technology.

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