Testing Optane Memory

For this review, Intel provided a fully-assembled desktop system with Windows 10 pre-installed and Optane Memory caching configured and enabled. The system was assembled by Intel's Demo Depot Build Center as the equivalent of a typical low to mid-range retail desktop with an i5-7400 processor, a B250 motherboard and 16GB of RAM. Storage is a 1TB 7200RPM WD Black hard drive plus the Optane Memory 32GB module.

Intel Optane Memory Review System
CPU Intel Core i5-7400
Motherboard ASUS B250-PLUS
Chipset Intel B250
Memory 2x 8GB Kingston DDR4-2400 CL17
Case In Win C583
Power Supply Cooler Master G550M
OS Windows 10 64-bit, version 1607
Drivers Intel Optane Memory version 15.5.0.1051

In addition, we tested the Optane Memory's performance and power consumption as a standalone SSD using our own testbed. This allowed us to compare against the Optane SSD DC P4800X and to verify Intel's performance specifications for the Optane Memory.

Unfortunately, this review includes only an abbreviated set of benchmarks, for two reasons: the Optane Memory review system arrived less than a week ago, as I was trying to finish up the P4800X review, and the Optane Memory module did not survive testing. After about a day of benchmarking the Optane Memory review system locked up, and after rebooting the Optane Memory module was not detected and the OS installation was corrupted beyond repair. The drive is not completely dead: Linux can detect it as a NVMe device but cannot use it for storage or even retrieve the drive's error log. In communicating with Intel over the weekend, we were not able to figure out what went wrong, and the replacement module could not be delivered before the publication of this review.

The fact that the Optane Memory module died should not be taken as any serious evidence against the product's reliability. I kill review units once every few months during the course of ordinary testing, and I was due for another failure (ed: it's a bona fide AnandTech tradition). What we call ordinary testing is of course not something that anybody would mistake for just the intended use of the product, and no SSD brand has been entirely free from this kind of problem. However, the fact remains that we don't have as much data to present as we wish, and we don't have enough experience with the product to make final conclusions about it.

For comparison with the Optane Memory caching configuration, we selected the Crucial MX300 525GB and the Samsung 960 EVO 250GB. Both of these are available at retail for slightly less than the price of the Optane Memory 32GB module and the 1TB hard drive. They represent different capacity/performance tradeoffs within the same overall storage budget and are reasonable alternatives to consider when building a system like this Optane Memory review system.

For testing of the Optane Memory caching performance and power consumption, we have SYSmark 2014 SE results. Our synthetic tests of the Optane Memory as a standalone SSD are abbreviated forms of the tests we used for the Optane SSD DC P4800X, with only queue depths up to 16 considered here. Since those tests were originally for an enterprise review, the drives are preconditioned to steady state by filling them twice over with random writes. Our follow-up testing will consider the consumer drives in more ordinary workloads consisting of short bursts of I/O on drives that are not full.

Intel's Caching History SYSmark 2014 SE
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  • Ratman6161 - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    "The test that I would be interested in is if this technology could be an effective cache is speeding up mainstream SSDs."
    That's exactly what I was wondering i.e. if I paired it with my SATA 250 EVO. Or, they have a Crucial MX300 SATA SSD in the test which is an OK lower priced SSD. Given the optane drives are $44 and $77 respectively, if someone had something like the MX300 they might be tempted to pair it with an Optane cache.
    On the other hand you have to have the latest Intel CPU and chipset, and I just jumped ship and went with a Ryzen 5 - so its all academic to me.
    Reply
  • Lolimaster - Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - link

    LTT already did, it's worthless.

    For $77 you're close of a crucial MX300 275GB
    Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    That's the test that was running when it died. Reply
  • Twingo - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    Billy, are you expecting to get a replacement so you can conduct all these tests? Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    Yes, the replacement will be delivered tomorrow. But don't expect the follow-up article to be real soon. I also want to update the software on the testbeds and run a reasonably large number of drives through, and do some deeper experimentation with the caching to probe its behavior. Reply
  • beginner99 - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    Mainstream TLC ssds for sure there will be a speed-up measurable in benchmarks. If we as user would actually notice a difference is a completely other question. Due to KISS instead of spending money on this cache drive, instead just buy a tier higher SSD. If mainstrem choose 960 evo instead or of 960 evo choose 960 pro instead. Reply
  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, April 25, 2017 - link

    absolutely not(!)

    for the reason you said

    the 960 pro offers no meaningful real-world advantage to anyone / 99.9% of users
    Reply
  • Glock24 - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    "Only Core 13, 15 and i7 processors are supported; Celeron and Pentium parts are excluded."

    There's a typo or I've never seen those Core 13 and Core 15 CPUs before.

    From the data you showed, I see no real benefit is using Optane as a caching solution vs. using an SSD as boot drive. At least not at that price point.
    Reply
  • Kristian Vättö - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    For the full review, could you also monitor DRAM usage? 16GB is not really an entry-level setup, so with that much DRAM Intel's software might be caching to DRAM as well like Samsung's RAPID mode, which would inflate the scores.

    Might also be worthwhile to run at least a couple of the application tests with 4GB/8GB of DRAM to see how things work when caching is done fully by Optane.
    Reply
  • Sarah Terra - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    Also optane's incredibly low latency should be tested for real world benefits Reply

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