Intel is introducing their second generation of Optane Memory products: these are low-capacity M.2 NVMe SSDs with 3D XPoint memory that are intended for use as cache devices to improve performance of systems using hard drives. The new Optane Memory M10 brings a 64GB capacity to the product line that launched a year ago with 16GB and 32GB options.

The complete Optane Memory caching solution consists of an M.2 SSD plus Intel's drivers for caching on Windows, and firmware support on recent motherboards for booting from a cached volume. Intel launched Optane Memory with its Kaby Lake generation of processors and chipsets, and this generation is intended to complement Coffee Lake systems. However, all of the new functionality works just as well on existing Kaby Lake systems as with Coffee Lake.

The major new user-visible feature for this generation of Optane Memory caching is the addition of the ability to cache a secondary data drive, whereas previously only boot drives were possible. Intel refers to this mode as "data drive acceleration", compared to the system acceleration (boot drive) that was the only mode supported by the first generation of Optane Memory. Data drive acceleration has been added solely through changes to the Optane Memory drivers for Windows, and this feature was actually quietly rolled out with version 16 of Intel's RST drivers back in February.

Also earlier this year, Intel launched the Optane SSD 800P family as the low-end alternative to the flagship Optane SSD 900P. The 800P and the new Optane Memory M10 are based on the same hardware and an updated revision of the original Optane Memory M.2 modules. The M10 and the 800P use the same controller and the same firmware. The 800P is usable as a cache device with the Optane Memory software, and the Optane Memory M10 and its predecessor are usable as plain NVMe SSDs without caching software. The 800P and the M10 differ only in branding and intended use; the drive branded as the 58GB 800P is functionally identical to the 64GB M10 and both have the exact same usable capacity of 58,977,157,120 bytes.

Everything said about the 58GB Optane SSD 800P in our review of the 800P family applies equally to the 64GB Optane Memory M10. Intel hasn't actually posted official specs for the M10, so we'll just repeat the 800P specs here:

Intel Optane SSD Specifications
Model Optane SSD 800P Optane Memory
Capacity 118 GB 58 GB
M10 (64 GB)
32 GB 16 GB
Form Factor M.2 2280 B+M key M.2 2280 B+M key
Interface PCIe 3.0 x2 PCIe 3.0 x2
Protocol NVMe 1.1 NVMe 1.1
Controller Intel Intel
Memory 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint
Sequential Read 1450 MB/s 1350 MB/s 900 MB/s
Sequential Write 640 MB/s 290 MB/s 145 MB/s
Random Read 250k IOPS 240k IOPS 190k IOPS
Random Write 140k IOPS 65k IOPS 35k IOPS
Read Latency 6.75 µs 7 µs 8 µs
Write Latency 18µs 18µs 30 µs
Active Power 3.75 W 3.5 W 3.5 W
Idle Power 8 mW 8 mW 1 W 1 W
Endurance 365 TB 365 TB 182.5 TB 182.5 TB
Warranty 5 years 5 years
Launch Date March 2018 April 2017
Launch MSRP $199 800P: $129
M10: $144
$77 $44

Rather than cover exactly the same territory as our review of the 800P, this review is specifically focused on use of the Optane Memory M10 as a cache drive in front of a mechanical hard drive. Thanks to the addition of the data drive acceleration functionality, we can use much more of our usual benchmark suite for this than we could with last year's Optane Memory review. The data drive acceleration mode also broadens the potential market for Optane Memory, to include users who want to use a NAND flash-based SSD as their primary storage device but also need a more affordable bulk storage drive. The combination of a 64GB Optane Memory M10 (at MSRP) and a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive is about the same price as a 1TB SATA SSD with 3D TLC NAND, and at higher capacities the combination of a hard drive plus Optane Memory is much cheaper than a SATA SSD.

Intel's Optane Memory system works as an inclusive cache: adding an Optane Memory cache to a system does not increase the usable storage capacity, it just improves performance. Data written to the cache will also be written to the backing device, but applications don't have to wait for the data to land on both devices.

Once enabled, there is no need or option for manual tuning of cache behavior. The operation of the cache system is almost entirely opaque to the user. After an unclean shutdown, there is a bit of diagnostic information visible as the cache state is reconstructed, but this process usually seems to only take a second or two before the OS continues to load.

Test Systems

Intel's Optane Memory caching drivers require a Kaby Lake or newer processor and chipset, but our primary consumer SSD testbed is still a Skylake-based machine. For last year's Optane Memory review, Intel delivered the 32GB module pre-installed in a Kaby Lake desktop. This time around, Intel provided a Coffee Lake system. Both of those systems have been used for tests in this review, and a few benchmarks of drives in a non-caching role have been performed on our usual SSD testbed.

AnandTech 2017/2018 Consumer SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1709
Linux kernel version 4.14, fio version 3.1
Test Procedures
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  • evernessince - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    No reason to buy with an AMD motherboard though, as AMD is handing out StoreMI for free with X470 boards. StoreMI is superior as well. Reply
  • Klimax - Friday, May 18, 2018 - link

    Interesting lack of evidence... Reply
  • Dr. Swag - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Still don't see why a user should choose a 64gb optane drive over, say, a 500gb mx500, which you could use 64gb for caching using RST. The performance difference between optane and an mx500 won't be noticeable when doing normal stuff like booting up and launch apps. Reply
  • WithoutWeakness - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    There are a lot of folks who use their computers for more than just running Chrome and a few games. Many people with professional workflows have storage drives in the 4-8+ TB range but only need to work with ~50-100GB of data at a time. In these scenarios the active data will be automatically cached on the Optane drive and their workflows can be greatly accelerated without the need to copy it to a separate SSD scratch drive before working on it. If you have so little data that you can just run off of a 500GB SATA SSD then obviously just buy the MX500. Reply
  • iwod - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Surely the same can be done for SSD Boot Drive, this is more of a software advantage then a hardware advantage. Reply
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    You can use Optane drives like any SSD though. Even if these are being marketed as a caching only thing, you can still use it however you like. Want to pay less to try out software caching? Get the cheaper one then and try it out. Reply
  • TrackSmart - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    People seem to be talking around each other in these threads, without actually reading the substance of each person's reply.

    Dr. Swag didn't mention ONLY using a 500GB SSD. Just the opposite. He/she was suggesting that you could use a 500GB SSD for both a boot drive AND a 64GB cache drive. So you end up with ~440GB of normal SSD space (enough for most programs) AND a ~60GB cache drive to speed up your HDD accesses. All for the same price as adding a 64GB optane drive.

    Addressing Dr. Swag's actual comment: I partially agree. One downside to the arrangement you suggested is that most affordable SSDs have lower write endurance than cache drives. They are also likely to be slower than an optane drive (but still fast compared to HDDs). And if your SSD boot/cache all-in-one drive dies, you might lose data on both the SSD and the HDD.

    Regarding WithoutWeakness: Your comment makes sense if you are accessing the same subset of data over-and-over again. But if you are accessing a block of data ONCE to run an analysis and then moving onto a new block of data, then you will experience HDD speeds. Same goes for the first access to the data in cases where you will be using it multiple times. Slow the first time, faster in future times. So the downsides of a small cache will remain in a number of scenarios.

    I personally think that Intel missed the boat with Optane. These solutions would have been a lot more convincing when SSD storage was a lot more expensive (i.e. 5+ years ago) and before other caching options existed for making use of 'normal' SSDs.
    Reply
  • ಬುಲ್ವಿಂಕಲ್ ಜೆ ಮೂಸ್ - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Power loss protection ?

    From what I know so far, the MX500 (500GB) cache contains unique data that has not yet been written to normal nand and Crucial does not recommend using an SLC cache unless you have battery backup protection

    An Optane cache drive is a "copy" of data already on the hard drive (or SSD) and I don't see a problem with power loss resulting in data loss once you clear the cache
    Reply
  • SkipPpe - Friday, May 18, 2018 - link

    Something like an Intel 3510 would be a better drive to use for this. Reply
  • ಬುಲ್ವಿಂಕಲ್ ಜೆ ಮೂಸ್ - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    DOH......
    Nevermind!
    Reply

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