First Thoughts

Since our Optane Memory sample died after only about a day of testing, we cannot conduct a complete analysis of the product or make any final recommendations. With that said, the early indications from the benchmarks we were able to complete are mostly very positive reflections of the performance of the Intel Optane Memory.

As a cache device, the Optane Memory brought a hard drive-based system's SYSmark scores up to the level of mainstream SSDs. These averages do not capture differences in the latency distributions of the Optane cache+hard drive configuration vs a flash SSD. In the Optane+hard drive configuration, a cache hit will be almost 1000 times faster than a cache miss, resulting in a very bimodal distribution. The flash SSDs mostly occupy the territory between the performance of Optane and of the hard drive. It's possible that a mainstream flash SSD could deliver a user experience with fewer noticeable delays than the Optane caching experience with the occasional inevitable cache miss. Overall, however, the Optane cache delivers a remarkable improvement over just a hard drive, and the 32GB cache capacity we tested is clearly large enough to be of substantial use.

As a standalone drive, the Optane Memory breaks a few records that were set by the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X enterprise drive just last week. The Optane Memory is more tuned for small transfer sizes and offers even better QD1 random read performance. These differences seem like exactly the right optimizations to make for a drive focused on client workloads. The throughput at higher queue depths is nowhere near what the P4800X delivers and falls behind what more expensive consumer SSDs can offer, but those situations make up a very small portion of client workloads. The first and only batch of synthetic tests we were able to run on the Optane Memory were derived from the enterprise SSD tests used on the Optane SSD DC P4800X, and they cast the consumer flash SSDs in an unrealistically bad light. A typical desktop user has little reason to care how well their SSD handles multiple threads performing sustained sequential transfers on a full drive, so the Optane Memory's stellar performance there should not lead users to prefer an Optane cached hard drive setup over an all solid state configuration.

The one area where we are ready to draw some conclusions is power consumption. We still need to conduct further analysis of the Optane Memory's power use under load, but its idle power situation is simple: the Optane Memory lacks any meaningful power saving mode. It is rated for 1W at idle and that's the lowest we saw it get throughout our short time testing it. 1W is something desktop users can shrug off; a typical gaming desktop dedicates more power than that to decorative LEDs. But Optane Memory is also intended for mobile use, and the first systems announced to offer Optane Memory were Lenovo ThinkPads. Adding a minimum of 1W on top of the power drawn by a mechanical hard drive will not help battery life, no matter how much faster it makes the storage system.

With Optane Memory, Intel seems to finally have the cache device they've been needing for a decade to make SSD caching viable. It's fast in spite of its low capacity, something flash based cache devices could never pull off. Optane Memory is also more affordable at $44 and $77 than Intel's previous cache devices.

With that said, however, I wonder whether it may all be too little, too late. SSD caching has some unavoidable limitations: cold caches, cache evictions when the cache proves too small, and the added complexity of a tiered setup. With those disadvantages, Optane Memory enters a market where the price of flash SSDs means there's already very little reason for consumer machines to use a mechanical hard drive as primary storage. Instead, the best case scenario here appears to be enabling the capacity benefits of tiered storage - offering nimble systems with 1TB+ of cheap storage and is presented to the user as a single drive - but without as many of the drawbacks of earlier NAND-based caches.

In some sense, Optane Memory may just be a stop-gap product for the consumer market until Intel is able to deliver usefully large Optane SSDs for consumers. But those SSDs are likely to arrive with prohibitively high prices if they ship later this year as planned. 3D XPoint memory has arrived and is poised to revolutionize parts of the enterprise storage market, but it may not be ready to have a meaningful impact on the consumer market.

Mixed Read/Write And Idle Power Consumption
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  • ddriver - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    Yeah, daring intel, the pioneer, taking mankind to better places.

    Oh wait, that's right, it is actually a greedy monopoly that has mercilessly milked people while making nothing aside from barely incremental stuff for years and through its anti-competitive practices has actually held progress back tremendously.

    As I already mentioned above, the last time "intel dared to innovate" that resulted in netburst. Which was so bad that in order to save the day intel had to... do what? Innovate once again? Nope, god forbid, what they did was go back and improve on the good design they had and scrapped in their futile attempts to innovate.

    And as I already mentioned above, all the secrecy behind xpoint might be exactly because it is NOTHING innovative, but something old and forgotten, just slightly improved.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    Axe is looking pretty worn down from all that grinding.... Reply
  • ddriver - Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - link

    Also, unlike you, I don't let personal preferences cloud my objectivity. If a product is good, even if made by the most wretched corporation out there, it is not a bad product just because of who makes it, it is still a good product, still made by a wretched corporation.

    Even if intel wasn't a lousy bloated lazy greedy monopolist, hypetane would still suck, because it isn't anywhere near the "1000x" improvements they promised. It would suck even if intel was a charity that fed the starving in the 3rd world.

    I would have had ZERO objections to hypetane, and also wouldn't call it hypetane to begin with, if intel, the spoiled greedy monopolist was still decent enough to not SHAMELESSLY LIE ABOUT IT.

    Had they just said "10x better latency, 4x better low depth queue performance" and stuff like that, I'd be like "well, it's ok, it is faster than nand, you delivered what you promised.

    But they didn't. They lied, and lied, and now that it is clear that they lied, they keep on lying and smearing with biased reviews in unrealistic workloads.

    What kind of an idiot would ever approve of that?
    Reply
  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    OMG when our product wasn't as good as we said it was we didn't own-up about it

    and maybe you test against HDD (like Intel) but the rest of us are already packing SSDs
    Reply
  • philehidiot - Saturday, April 29, 2017 - link

    This is what companies do. Your technology is useless unless you can market it. And you don't market anything by saying it's mediocre. Look at BP's high octane fuel which supposedly cleans your engine and gets better fuel efficiency. The ONLY thing that higher octane fuel does is resist auto-ignition under compression better and thus certain high performance engines require it. As for cleaning your engine - you're telling me you've got a solvent which is better at cutting through crap than petrol AND can survive the massive temperatures and pressures inside the combustion chamber? It's the petrol which scrubs off the crap so yes, it's technically true. They might throw and additive or two in there but that will only help pre-combustion chamber and if you actually have a problem. And Yes, in certain, newer cars with certain sensors you will get SLIGHTLY higher MPG and therefore they advertise the maximum you'll get under ideal conditions because no one will but into it if you're realistic about the gains. The gains will never offset the extra cost of the fuel, however.

    PC marketing is exactly the same and why the J Micron controller was such a disaster so many years ago. They went for advertised high sequential throughput numbers being as high as possible and destroyed the random performance, Anand spotted it and OCZ threw a wobbler. But that experience led to drives being advertised on random performance as well as sequential.

    So what's the lesson here? We should always take manufacturer's claims with a mouthful of salt and buy based on objective criteria and independent measurements. Manufacturers will always state what is achievable in basically a lab set up with conditions controlled to perfection. Why? Because for one you can't quote numbers based on real life performance because everyone's experience will differ and you can't account for the different variables they'll experience. And for two, if everyone else is quoting the maximum theoretical potential, you're immediately putting yourself at a disadvantage by not doing so yourself. It's not about your product, it's about how well you can sell it to a customer - see: Stupidly expensive Dyson Hairdryer. Provides no real performance benefit over a cheap hairdryer but cost a lot in R&D and is mostly advertising wank for rich people with small brains.

    As for Intel being a greedy monopoly... welcome to capitalism. If you don't want that side effect of the system then bugger off to Cuba. Capitalism has brought society to the highest standard of living ever seen on this planet. No other form of economic operation has allowed so many to have so much. But the result is big companies like Intel, Google, Apple, etc, etc.

    Advertising wank is just that. Figures to masturbate over. If they didn't do it then sites like Anandtech wouldn't need to exist as products would always be accurately described by the manufacturer and placed honestly within the market and so reviews wouldn't be required.

    I doubt they lied completely - they will be going on the theoretical limits of their technology when all engineering limitations are removed. This will never happen in practice and will certainly never happen in a gen 1 product. Also, whilst I see this product as being pointless, it's obviously just a toe dipping exercise like the enterprise model. Small scale, very controlled use cases and therefore good real world use data to be returned for gen 2/3.

    Personally, whilst I'm wowed by the figures, I don't see how they're going to improve things for me. So what's the point in a different technology when SLC can probably perform just as well? It's a different development path which will encounter different limitations and as a result will provide different advantages further down the road. Why do they continue to build coal fired power stations when we have CCGTs, wind, solar, nukes, etc? Because each technology has its strengths and weaknesses and encounters different engineering limitations in development. Plus a plurality of different, competing technologies is always better as it creates progress. You can't whinge about monopolies and then when someone starts doing something different and competing with the established norm start whinging about that.
    Reply
  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    hi @sarah i find that a dead hard drive also plays into responsiveness and boot times(!)

    this technology is clearly not anywhere near as good as Intel implied it was
    Reply
  • CaedenV - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    I have never once had an SSD fail because it has over-used its flash memory... but controllers die all the time. It seems that this will remain true for this as well. Reply
  • Ryan Smith - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    And that's exactly what we're suspecting here. We've likely managed to hit a bug in the controller's firmware. Which to be sure, isn't fantastic, but it can be fixed.

    Prior to the P3700's launch, Intel sent us 4 samples specifically for stress testing. We managed to disable every last one of them. However Intel learned from our abuse, and now those same P3700s are rock-solid thanks to better firmware and drivers.
    Reply
  • jimjamjamie - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    Interesting that an ad-supported website can stress-test better than a multi-billion dollar company.. Reply
  • testbug00 - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    based on what? Have they sent you another model?

    A sample dying on day one, and only allowing testing via remote server doesn't confidence build.
    Reply

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