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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  • beginner99 - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    This pointless stuff coming out of Intel really makes we wonder what is happening internally. Has a feel of stupid management forcing engineers to create bullshit products because management doesn't have a clue. Reply
  • garygech - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    My guess is simple. This is the initial launch of a technology with significant upside in netbooks and less expensive notebooks when Atom at 10 nm is released along with an I5 Y series at 10 nm, with motherboard that have very high bandwidth. If Optane can be lower power in Idle, at 64 GB this would be fine for a netbook or a low cost laptop, allowing fairly high computing power at a low power draw. The holy grail of mobile is 10 hours. If Optane can get Intel based laptops to 10 hours, at a lower power draw, with faster performance, than that will be marketable. $77 for 32 GB is a high price, but if that price would come down with yields, to 64 GB for $50, Optane could be in new netbooks by ASUS and HP, marketed specifically for a 10 hour experience to compete with older segments. A 128 GB Optane paired with a 10 nm I5 Y will simply be much faster than any Mac Book from 2017. Coupled with Windows 10 upgraded build, this mobile platform will be very snappy. This could replace SSD's in a Surface Pro 5 as an option, as users will pay for lower latency. Reply
  • vladx - Wednesday, March 29, 2017 - link

    Atom line was cancelled, only Core M remains in the <10w space. Reply
  • twotwotwo - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    The NVMe interface may mean you can't really play with byte addressability yet. Looks like it requires block size of at least 512 bytes. (This is from a quick search so I might be reading old documents or might be just wrong.) And this particular device may only offer 4KB blocks, given that a lot of other stuff assumes 4KB or a multiple of it now. Given a controller that could handle them, could be interesting to be able to do an even larger number of smaller I/Os per unit time than SSDs today. Reply
  • milkod2001 - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    3D Xpoint Optane was supposed to next next best thing since sliced bread.So far it seems to be failing to impress. Did Intel fail to market this product right or it is just way too late on market since there are better, cheaper options already out there? Reply
  • Xajel - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    Well, too bad.. high hype for this

    1- No standalone Optane SSD's yet (to make it as the main boot drive). and if there's too expensive.

    2- Hybrid Optane+SATA SSD is not viable except for a small percentage of users specially that it requires a complete new platform which also support NVMe M.2 and I don't think the regular user will see a different, but I think NVMe M.2 will be a better option here.

    3- Optane still big, I mean we can't expect 256GB and larger on standard M.2... they're promoting U.2 for such usage. so it's either built in the motherboard or using an M.2 to U.2 adapter.

    4- For Ultraportable, space is very limited to have two drives which will be Optane M.2 + SATA M.2 SSD.. so only single drive is possible... the best option is NVMe M.2 then. unless Intel shrinks the Optane to have a single M.2 drive with both Optane M.2 and an M.2 SATA single chip solution... the Optane controller must be changed also to allow to connect external PCIe-SATA bridge or directly connect NAND chips.

    5- Does the cost of Optane drive over NVMe drive worth the difference ? maybe but for a fraction of users, the NVMe drives are faster in sustained usage, but Optane is faster in random.. the smaller the random the better.
    Reply
  • Gothmoth - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    OPTANE reminds me on RYZEN.

    hyped like crazy.. and then a a dissapointment on many fronts.

    i build two RYZEN systems for friends. no way i would build one for myself in the current state of things. BIOS issues and BSOD make building a RYZEN system no fun.

    and i have wished so much for a cheaper rock stable 8 core system i can render with.

    i can´t even remember when i had the last BSOD with intel.

    these products have to mature a lot.
    maybe in 1-2 years we see the full potential of RYZEN and OPTANE.
    Reply
  • Bullwinkle J Moose - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    RYZEN BSOD ?

    Driver issue or Software issue?

    AMD CPU's "emulate" an Intel CPU and can never (contrary to opinions at this site) beat or destroy Intel in the market using technology directly Licensed from Intel

    ALL Wintel X86 software should be written directly for Intel CPUs for compatability

    I have never used an AMD CPU in the past 10 years because several programs running fine on Intel chips crashed repeatedly on AMD

    If you are having driver issues, you're screwed until AMD releases a fix

    Software issues are easier to fix
    Simply DO NOT use software that is incompatible with AMD chips

    I have not had a BSOD on a Intel CPU running Windows XP in over 10 years now since I eliminated DLL conflicts and registry errors by using only Portable Applications that keep their reg settings separate from the Windows Registry

    The only BSODs I ever get now are on Windows 7 / 8.1 and 10 machines
    Reply
  • upanddown - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    It looks more like a big joke from Intel... Reply
  • nobodyblog - Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - link

    There is a way for customers to boost sequential read and write performance and it is by RAIDing some of them. For enterprises, they can build the systems with upto 1200 GB/s read performance. It is evolution of the Optane which will happen...

    Thanks!
    Reply

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