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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  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    A desktop Linux distro would fit nicely on it with room for local file storage. I've lived pretty happily with a netbook that had a 32GB compact flash card on a 2.5 inch SATA adapter that had Linux Mint 17.3 on it. The OS and default applications used less than 8GB of space. I didn't give it a swap partition since 2GB was more than enough RAM under Linux (system was idle at less than 200MB and I never saw it demand more than 1.2GB when I was multi-tasking). As such, there was lots of space to store my music, books, and pics of my cat. Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    And imagine how well DOS will run. And you have ample space for application and data storage. 32 gigs - that's what dreams were made of in the early 90s. Your music, books and cat pics are just icing on the cake. Let me guess, 64 kbit mp3s right? Reply
  • BrokenCrayons - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    I'm impressed at the level of your insecurity. Reply
  • mkozakewich - Thursday, April 27, 2017 - link

    I've made the decision to never read any comment with his name above, but sometimes I accidentally miss it. Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    Looking at the size of it, I'm wondering why they didn't make a 48GB model that would fill up the 80mm stick fully. Or, and unless the 3xpoint dies fully fill the area in the packages make them slightly smaller to support the 2260 form factor (after accounting for the odds and ends at the end of the stick the current design it looks like it's just too big to fit on the smaller size). Reply
  • CaedenV - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    Once again, I have to ask.... who on earth is this product for?
    So you have a cheap $300 laptop, which is going to have a terrible display, minimal RAM, and a small HDD or eMMC drive... are they expecting these users to spring for one of these drives to choke their CPU?

    Maybe a more mainstream $5-900 laptop where price is still ultra competitive. What sales metric does this add to which will promote sales over a cheaper device with seemingly the same specs? Either it will have a SSD onboard already and the performance difference will be un-noticed, or it will have a large HDD and the end-user is going to scratch their heads wondering why 2 seemingly identical computers have 4GB of RAM and 1TB HDD, but one costs $100 more.

    Ok, so maybe it is in the premium $1-2000 market. Intel says it isn't aiming at these devices, but they are Intel. Maybe they think a $1-2000 laptop is an 'affordable' mass-market device? Here you are talking about ultrabooks; super slim devices with SSDs... oh, and they only have 1 PCIe slot on board. Just add a 2nd one? Where are you going to put it? Going to add more weight? More thickness? A smaller battery? And even after you manage to cram the part in one of these laptops... what exactly is going to be the performance benefit? An extra half a second when coming out of sleep mode? Word opens in .5 sec instead of .8 sec? Yes, these drives are faster than SSDs... but we are way past the point of where software load times matter at all.

    So then what about workstation laptops. That is where these look like they will shine. A video editing laptop, or desktop replacement. And for those few brave souls using such a machine with a single HDD or SSD this seems like it would work well... except I don't know anyone like that. These are production machines, which means RAID1 in case of HDD failure. And this tech does not work with RAID (even though I don't see why not... seems like they could easily integrate this into the RAID controller). But maybe they could use the drive as a 3rd small stand-alone render drive... but that only works in linux, not windows. So, nope, this isn't going to work in this market either.

    And that brings us to the desktop market. For the same price/raid concerns this product really doesn't work for desktops either, but the Optate SSDs coming out later this year sound interesting... but here we still have a pretty major issue;
    SATA3 vs PCIe m.2 drives have an odd problem. On paper the m.2 drives benchmark amazingly well. And in production environments for rendering they also work really well. But for work applications and games people are reporting that there is little to no difference in performance. Intel is trying to make the claim that the issue is due to access time on the controllers, and that the extremely fast access time on Optane will finally get us past all that. But I don't think that is true. For work applications most of the wait time is either on the CPU or the network connection to the source material. The end-user storage is no longer the limiting factor in these scenarios. For games, much of the load time is in the GPU taking textures and game data and unpackaging them in the GPU's vRAM for use. The CPU and HDD/SSD are largely idle during this process. Even modern HDDs keep up pretty well with their SSD brethren on game load times. This leads me to believe that there is something else that is slowing down the whole process.

    And that single bottleneck in the whole thing is Intel. It is their CPUs that have stopped getting faster. It is their RAM management that rather sucks and works the same speed no matter what your RAM is clocked at. It is the whole x86 platform that is stagnant and inefficient which is the real issue here. It is time for Intel to stop focusing on its next die-shrink, and start working on a new modern efficient instruction set and architecture that can take advantage of all this new tech! Backwards compatibility is killing the computer market. Time to make a clean break on the hardware side for a new way of doing things. We can always add software compatibility in an emulation layer so we can still use our old OSs and tools. Its going to be a mess, but we are at a point where it needs to be done.
    Reply
  • Cliff34 - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    It seems to me that this product doesn't really make sense for your average consumer. Let's assume you don't need to upgrade your hardware to use Optane memory as cache, why not just spend the money to get a faster and a bigger SSD drive?

    If that's the case, wouldn't it limited to only a few specific case where someone really need the Optane speed?
    Reply
  • mkozakewich - Thursday, April 27, 2017 - link

    An extra 4 GB of DDR4 seems to be $30-$40, so getting 16 GB of swap drive for the same price might be a good way to go.
    I agree that using it for caching seems a little pointless.
    Reply
  • zodiacfml - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    Wow, strong at random perf where SSDs are weak. I guess this will be the drive for me. Next gen please. Reply
  • p2131471 - Monday, April 24, 2017 - link

    I wish you'd make interactive graphs for random reads. Or at least provide numbers in a table. Right now I can only approximate the exact values. Reply

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