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Intel Optane Memory – what you need to know

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Intel® has introduced the newest type of data storage in over thirty years.  Intel® Optane™ Memory is a system acceleration solution for new 7th Gen Intel® Core™ processor platforms.  Intel and Micron teamed up in 2012 and began developing a new type of memory storage that removes flaws that NAND flash has.  They call it 3D Xpoint (pronounced as “crosspoint”).

Intel Optane Memory Features – 3D Xpoint

This product really is 3D.  Wires form a criss-cross lattice above and below a bulk material, with top wires of the first layer acting as the bottom wires of the second layer.  Increasing the capacity would involve adding more layers on top.

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Image source: https://www.pcauthority.com.au/Review/466460,review-intel-optane-memory-32gb.aspx

Xpoint has endurance ratings that score three times that of NAND at the same capacity.  Intel has dubbed its Xpoint technology as Optane.  There are currently only three products: the 375GB, Optane DC P4800 PCIE card and two Optane Memory products of 16GB and 32 GB capacities.  Optane Memory is in the market as drive caching devices in order to speed up hard drive usage.  However, Optane Memory caching currently only works with the 200 series Intel motherboards along with the 7th gen Core processor.

Increased Performance Speed

It is a fact that cheap laptops use cheap hard drives, which are much slower than SSDs found in better computers.  However, Intel’s Optane Memory is a $70 chip that makes a cheap hard drive run as fast as a SSD.

How is this possible?  Intel Optane Memory uses a new type of memory.  Memory consists of anything in a computer that reads and writes data.  Memory in a computer is essentially positioned in a pyramid shape.  The tip of the pyramid is the memory in the CPU, then the DRAM, and then NAND-type flash storage like SSDs.

What differentiates Intel Optane Memory from others is that it uses an entirely new entry on the memory pyramid: 3D Xpoint.  This slots in between DRAM and NAND.  The concept is to give users a more affordable memory device that brings top quality.  Will it work?  Testing shows a speedier opening for programs like Adobe Premiere and Photoshop.  Once activating the 32GB Optane Memory chip, it took 11 seconds to open a project in Photoshop, which is down significantly from the regular 37 seconds.

Should There be Cause for Concern?

While Optane Memory caching works well in making a HDD-based PC more responsive, it is not possible to uninstall the Optane driver.  It is possible to disable Optane afterwards, but switching the storage control back to AHCI causes Windows to not boot.  Around every third boot, the Optane drive went through an “enablement” cycle before getting to Windows.  This added an additional two minutes to the boot time.

The amount of power that Optane consumes is concerning and is said to lack any meaningful power saving mode.  Optane is rated for 1W at idle status, which is the lowest it gets.  This may not be a big enough concern for computer users, but Optane is also available for mobile use.  Adding a minimum of 1W on top of the power that a mechanical hard drive uses, will not help battery life, despite how fast it might make the storage system.

Image source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/davealtavilla/2017/04/26/intel-optane-memory-tested-makes-hard-drives-perform-like-ssds/#168733786090

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