Published On: Mon, Jun 19th, 2017

Intel Optane Memory Caching finally works

Intel Optane Memory is built on a brand new memory type that is pretty different to the flash-based memory we see in other Solid State Drives – SSDs.

Intel and Micron in 2015, announced that they planned to deliver extremely high performance at a lower price than standard RAM, but higher than flash memory.

Intel has proven that it’s about three times faster than the best flash memory on the market, and intends it to be used in two ways. First, it can be used as a fairly costly SSDs, and secondly as a cache to speed up your existing hard drives.

Recently we seen the Hybrid-mechanical drives that failed to take off over the last few years, which used 64GB or so of Flash memory as a cache to speed up the mechanical drive. The Intel Optane Memory is meant to work in a similar way but will be much better.

Intel’s Optane Cache drive is attached to your motherboard via the M.2 slot, and not to the hard drive itself. The memory is seen as a next-generation memory technology, that is designed to replace today’s NAND memory where they may struggle to  scale in density and cost-per-bit.

 

3D XPOINT NON-VOLATILE MEMORY

3D XPoint (pronounced three dee cross point) is a non-volatile memory (NVM) technology by Intel and Micron Technology that was announced in July 2015 but became available on the market in mid-2017.

Bit storage is based on a change of bulk resistance, in conjunction with a stackable cross-gridded data access array. Early prices are less than dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) but more than flash memory, as was predicted prior to its release.

Technically the major advantages of 3D XPoints is that it can read at the bit or word level, as compared to today’s NAND drives that have to read at the 4K page level.

At workloads that don’t require a lot of parallelism this works best. Greater performance improvements are also experienced when used in partnership with a mechanical hard drive, though it can even improve the performance of today’s SSDs.

Unfortunately, you may not be able to build a system with the Intel Optane Memory in place of an SSD, since prices may remain high for at least a year or two due to the technology being fairly new.

The Intel Optane Memory M.2 NVMe SSD, currently retails for just $79 for the 16GB version, and $129 for the 32GB version. The more expensive Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X sells for $2400 for a 375GB capacity.

3d Xpoint - The Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X

3d Xpoint – The Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X

 

INTEL OPTANE REQUIREMENTS

One of the major limitations with Intel Optane as an M.2 cache is the list of requirements that must be met for it to work.

To begin with, your motherboard must be an Intel 200 series board that is compatible with Optane.

Also, the M.2 slot that it fits into must be an M.2 type 2280 connector with either x2 or x4 PCIe lanes, that supports the NVMe 1.1 spec. The motherboard’s BIOS must also support Intel Rapid Storage Technology version 15.5 or later.

Furthermore, the Intel Optane cache can only be used on your primary hard drive that your OS is installed into. Bearing in mind many gamers mostly use a 128/256GB for their OS install, and then a 1TB or 2TB for their gaming library, in this case it may be a bit of a disappointment.

During the installation of the Intel Optane M.2 cache, the specific serial number is tied to the boot drive. So if your boot drive gets wrecked, you’ll need to re associate and re-configure the Optane software.

Currently Intel Optane Memory cache device only supports Windows 10 64-bit.

Finally, for the system to work with Optane, SATA mode on the BIOS has to be changed to Intel Optane acceleration mode. Then most important ensure your drive has been formatted in GPT partition mode. This might mean you have to do a full Windows 10 64Bit re-installation.

This may be the biggest issue with the Intel Optane M.2 Cache SSD – it’s not prominently mentioned anywhere about this being an issue on certain motherboards.

 

Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X 375GB

The new Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X 375GB, is one remarkable piece of hardware. It’s equipped with a brand new controller designed specifically to take advantage of the 3D XPoint memory.

It’s equipped via a PCIe 3.0 x4 NVMe slot, and is currently only available in 375GB

size, with 750GB and 1.5TB capacities due later in the year. The 375GB sells for $2400 so you can imagine how much the 1.5TB would cost.

Quoted performance numbers are simply off the chart. Random 4kB read IOPs is 550,000, writes of the same is 500,000. Current SSDs on the market that hit these numbers, require very high queue depths.

The P4800X does not, which should equate to much faster real world performance.

One benefit of the new memory type is that it’s slightly more durable than today’s NAND memory. This is why Intel has delivered a 3-year warranty, with up to 30 full drive writes per day, though it claims it should be handle this load for a full five years.

Online tests show that this drive is between four and ten times faster than Intel’s Intel SSD DC P3700. It’s also much better for latency sensitive applications, but for the time being it’s really limited to a very certain demographic.

 

CACHING THAT FINALLY WORKS

The Intel Optane Memory M.2 NVMe SSD. 32GB model, retails for $129 and is already widely available. Primarily it’s designed to cache your OS drive, but it can be used as a dedicated SSD if you so desire, though 32GB may not sufficient enough to install you OS and programs on.

The form-factor of the card is a standard 22x88mm used by most M.2 drives, though it only requires twin PCIe 3.0 lanes. Despite the length of the card, the components on top are small, likely as there’s so little memory, so we can imagine even smaller versions in the future.

Both memory modules are covered by copper foil acting as a heat sink. Intel claims the drive can handle 1350MB/sec sequential read, 290MB/sec sequential write, 240k random read IOPs and 65K random write IOPs. These aren’t especially impressive, which is why Intel is really pushing the latency figures for this drive. Read latency is 9 µs while write latency is just 30 µs, which is an order of magnitude over other SSDs. Other NVMe drives can rival these numbers, but this is because they aren’t performing them immediately – they’ve already queued up the data. The drive is rated to handle 100GB of data writing per day for a period of five years.

As we mentioned, setting up this drive can be tricky, you need to change the SATA mode selection to “Intel RST Premium with Intel Optane System Acceleration (RAID Mode)” then reformat your boot drive to GPT mode, performing a full Windows 10 64bit reinstallation, then finally installing the necessary Optane software.

Some motherboards may be able to install the Intel Optane Memory without having to do a full OS reinstall, you need to check with your motherboard.

From tests, as expected, the benchmarks for the Mechanical drive were much more impressive. Never quite matching the performance of the SSD, but Intel Optane Memory M.2 NVMe SSD did dramatically lower boot times. Especially, when pairing it with an SSD, the performance improvement was much, much lower.

Is it worth the various upgrades, since to start with you need to have a Series 200 motherboard, 7th Gen Core CPU and a full OS reinstall as compared to buying a standard 256GB or 512GB hard drive?

Intel Optane Memory Benchmarks

Intel Optane Memory Benchmarks

About the Author

LIKE US

GET A FREE MAGAZINE

* Your Email:
   First Name:
   Last Name:
 

UPCOMING IT EVENTS