Conclusion

The idea behind the Optane Memory H10 is quite intriguing. QLC NAND needs a performance boost to be competitive against mainstream TLC-based SSDs, and Intel's 3D XPoint memory is still by far the fastest non-volatile storage on the market. Unfortunately, there are too many factors weighing down the H10's potential. It's two separate SSDs on one card, so the NAND side of the drive still needs some DRAM that adds to the cost. The caching is entirely software managed, so the NAND SSD controller and the Optane controller cannot coordinate with each other and Intel's caching software sometimes struggles to make good use of both portions of the drive simultaneously.

Some of these challenges are exacerbated by benchmarking conditions; our test suite was designed with SLC write caching in mind but not two layers of cache that are sometimes functioning more like a RAID-0. None of our synthetic benchmarks managed to trigger that bandwidth aggregation between the Optane and NAND portions of the H10. Intel cautions that they have only optimized their caching algorithms for real-world storage patterns, and it is easy to see how some of our tests have differences that may be very significant. (In particular, many of our tests only give the system the opportunity to use block-level caching, but Intel's software can also perform file-level caching.) But this only emphasizes that the Optane Memory H10 is not a one size fits all storage solution.

For the heaviest, most write-intensive workloads, putting a small Optane cache in front of the QLC NAND only postpones the inevitable performance drops. In some cases, trying to keep the right data in the cache causes more performance issues than it solves. However, the kind of real-world workloads that generate that much IO are unlikely to run well on a 15W notebook CPU anyways. The Optane cache doesn't magically transform a low-end SSD into a top of the line drive, and the Optane Memory H10 is probably never going to be a good choice for desktops that can easily accommodate a wider range of storage options than a thin ultrabook.

On lighter workloads that are more typical of what an ultrabook is good for, the Optane Memory H10 is generally competitive with other low-end NVMe offerings and in good conditions it can be more responsive than any NAND flash-only drive. For everyday use, the H10 is certainly preferable over a QLC-only drive, but against TLC-based drives it's a tough sell. We haven't had the chance to perform detailed power measurements of the Optane Memory H10, but there's little chance it can provide better battery life than the best TLC-based SSDs.

If Intel is serious about making QLC+Optane caching work well enough to compete against TLC-only drives, they'll have to do better than the Optane Memory H10. TLC-only SSDs will almost always have a more consistent performance profile than a tiered setup. The Optane cache on the H10 doesn't soften the rough edges enough to make it suitable for heavy workloads, and it doesn't enhance the performance on light workloads enough to give the H10 a significant advantage over the best TLC drives. When the best-case performance of even a QLC SSD is solidly in "fast enough" territory thanks to SLC caching, the focus should be on improving the worst case, not on optimizing use cases that already feel almost instantaneous.

Optane has found great success in some segments of the datacenter storage market, but in the consumer market it's still looking for the right niche. QLC NAND is also still relatively unproven, though recently it has finally started to deliver on the promise of meaningfully lower prices. The combination of QLC and Optane might still be able to produce an impressive consumer product, but it will take more work from Intel than this relatively low-effort product.

Mixed Read/Write Performance
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  • Flunk - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    This sounded interesting until I read software solution and split bandwidth. Intel seems to be really intent upon forcing Optane into products regardless if they make sense or not.

    Maybe it would have made sense with SSDs at the price points they were this time last year, but now it just seems like pointless exercise.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    Who knew Optane would end up acting as a bandage fix for QLC's garbage endurance? I suppose its better than nothing, but 0.16 DWPD is terrible. The 512GB model would barely make it to 24 months in a laptop without making significant configuration changes (caching the browser to RAM, disabling the swap file entirely, etc.) Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    The H10 is a mediocre product, but endurance claims are overblown.

    Even if the rated lifespan is a total of 35TB, you'd be perfectly fine. The 512GB H10 is rated for 150TB.

    The amount of users that would even reach 20TB in 5 years are in the minority. When I was actively using the system, my X25-M registered less than 5TB in 2 years.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    Your usage is extremely light. Endurance is a real-world problem. I've already dealt with it a couple of times with MLC SSDs. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    SSDs are over 50% of the storage sold in notebooks. It's firmly reaching mainstream there.

    I would say instead I think most of *your* customers are too demanding. Vast majority of the folks would use less than me.

    The market agrees too, which is why we went from MLC to TLC, and now we have QLCs coming.

    Perhaps you are confusing write-endurance with physical stress endurance, or even natural MTBF related endurance.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    I haven't touched on any usage but my own so far. The drives' own software identified the problems so if there is confusion about failures, that's in the domain of the OEM. (Note, those drives don't fail gracefully either so that data can be recovered. It's a pretty ugly end to reach.) As for the move from MLC to TLC and now QLC -- thats driven by cost sensitivity for given capacities and ignores endurance to a great extent. Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    I get the paranoia. The world does that to you. You unconsciously become paranoid in everything.

    However, for most folks endurance is not a problem. The circuit in the SSD will likely fail of natural causes before write endurance is reached. Everything dies. But people are just excessively worried about NAND SSD write endurance because its a fixed metric.

    It's like knowing the date of your death.
    Reply
  • PeachNCream - Friday, May 3, 2019 - link

    That's not really a paranoia thing. You're attempt to bait someone into an argument where you can then toss out insults is silly. Reply
  • SaberKOG91 - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    That's a naive argument. Most SSDs of 250GB or larger are rated for at least 100TBW on a 3 year warranty. 75TBW on a 5 year warranty is an insult.

    I think you underestimate how much demand the average user makes of their system. Especially when you have things like anti-virus and web browsers making lots of little writes in the background, all the time.

    The market is going from TLC to QLC because of density, not reliability. We had all the same reliability issues going from MLC to TLC and from SLC to MLC. It took years for each transition for manufacturers to reach the same durability level as the previous technology, all while seeing the previous generation continuing to improve even further. Moving to denser tech means smaller dies for the same capacity or higher capacity for unit area which is good for everyone. But these drives don't even look to have 0.20DWPD or 5 year warranty of other QLC Flash products.

    I am a light user who doesn't have a lot of photos or video and this laptop has already seen 1.3TBW in only 3 months. My work desktop has over 20TBW from the last 5 years. My home desktop where I compile software has over 12TBW in the first year. My gaming PC has 27TBW on a 5 year old drive. So while I might agree that 75TBW seems like a lot, If I were to simplify my life down to one machine, I'd easily hit 20TBW a year or 8TBW a year even without the compile machine.

    That all said, you're still ignoring that many Micron and Samsung drives have been shown to go way beyond their rated lifespan whereas Optane has such horrible lifespan at these densities that reviewers destroyed the drives just benchmarking them. Since the Optane is acting as a persistent cache, what happens to these drives when the Optane dies? At the very least performance will tank. At the worst the drive is hosed.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    Something is very wrong with your drive or you are not really a "light user".

    1300GB in 3 months equals to 14GB write per day. That means if you use your computer 7 hours a day you'd be using 2GB/s hour. The computer I had the SSD on I used it for 8-12 hours every day for the two years and it was a gaming PC and a primary one at that.

    Perhaps the X25-M drive I had is particularly good at this aspect, but the differences seem too much.

    Anyways, moving to denser cells just mean consumer level workloads do not need the write endurance MLC needs and lower prices are preferred.

    "Optane has such horrible lifespan at these densities that reviewers destroyed the drives just benchmarking them."

    Maybe you are referring to the few faulty units in the beginning? Any devices can fail in the first 30 days. That's completely unrelated to *write endurance*. The first gen modules are rated for 190TBW. If they played around for a year(which is unrealistic since its for a benchmark), they would have been using 500GB/s day. Maybe you want to verify your claims yourself.
    Reply

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