Intel is known for creating the processors that have dominated much of the past decade. In addition, Intel also does storage, both in classic forms like SATA SSDs and NVMe PCIe SSDs and in a relatively recent innovation called Optane. With a lot to learn about Optane, this article answers questions about what Intel Optane is and how it works.
What is Intel Optane?
Optane is based on a technology called 3D Xpoint rather than the NAND or DRAM flash chips that power your SSD or typical system memory, respectively. Its original purpose was to serve as a high-speed cache for slower mechanical storage, but with the higher capacities it is now suitable for use as storage, given the higher capacities. Optane was originally released in small capacity 16, 32, and 64 GB M.2 80mm form factors, but has since been updated to include drives up to 1.5TB.
Previously, Optane was limited to newer platforms from Intel, but it’s now available on many different platforms, including AMD processors. It’s a great choice for your next Threadripper workstation, for example.
How does Intel Optane work?
Considering the 3D Xpoint chips, Optane is able to strike an interesting performance balance between a typical NVMe SSD and system RAM. Most people know that system memory is much faster and more responsive than a regular SSD and above all faster than a regular hard drive. However, system memory is volatile, which means that when it loses power, all information stored in it disappears. Responsiveness of system memory comes at the expense of volatility, where storage comes into play.
Optane’s 3D Xpoint chips sit somewhere between RAM and NVMe SSDs in that they are much more responsive than your average SSD but not as responsive as RAM, while still being non-volatile, so they store information like an SSD does. NVMe SSDs are much better for sequential operations such as reading and writing a large amount of data to a drive at a time, but for random access tasks Optane is king.
This is due to a performance metric you don’t hear often called IOPS, or I / O operations per second. This measures the random access capabilities of a storage device, which is slightly more representative of how responsive the system is when using a computer for normal office uses.
Let’s look at a real example.
The king of PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSDs at the moment is the Samsung 970 Evo family. One of these drives offers sequential reads of 3400MB and sequential writes of around 2500MB at a maximum of 1TB, but it depends a little on your capacity. In contrast, a comparable Optane drive only has sequential reads of 2,600MB and sequential writes of 2,200MB.
However, when we look at IOPS, the 970 Evo logs at a maximum of 500,000 random write IOPS and 450,000 random read IOPS at a queue depth (the queue depth is the number of pending operations for a given volume The lower the queue depth, the lower the IOPS) from 32 and 15,000 and 50,000 respectively at a queue depth of 1. Optane measures 575,000 Random write IOPS and 550,000 random write IOPS at a queue depth of 16, even on smaller capacity disks that historically perform less well in this regard. The fact that Optane can outperform a 970 Evo at such a shallow depth is incredible.
The price of this performance is, in fact, the price. A 1TB 970 Evo from Samsung will set you back around $ 130, depending on where you look. A comparable Optane 960GB 905p starts at around $ 1,262. There are smaller drives that may be a bit more reasonable, but a 380GB version of this 905p costs around $ 505 for a 110MM M.2 form factor, which probably won’t fit most non-manufactured motherboards. over the past three years.
Who needs Optane?
In general, if you can afford Optane, you should install your operating system there. The random read and write performance is truly amazing and greatly improves the responsiveness of the system. However, if you can’t afford Optane, a really high-quality NVMe SSD like the 970 Evo is a great choice.
If you enjoyed this article on storage, be sure to check out some of our other storage content like what to do when running SSD in Windows 10, how to choose a file system for your SSD in Linux, and SSD vs. SSHD – are hybrid drives worth it in 2020?
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