The Intel Optane SSD 900P is an amazing piece of technology, but one whose benefits are difficult to fully enjoy. Its 3D XPoint memory enables it to break almost all the performance records, but some where difference to Optane SSD performance is too small to justify paying more than twice the price per GB. However, there are some scenarios where the Optane SSD absolutely blows away the competition and justifies its premium.

The low queue depth random read performance of the Optane SSD is several times faster than any flash-based SSD has attained. Mixed workloads that include a substantial component of random read operations also perform quite well, and throwing some write operations into a stream of reads barely impacts the read performance.

The Optane SSD 900P has enough space to be used as general-purpose storage, and larger capacity models can be introduced as necessary. There's no need to tangle with Intel's caching software and its associated platform lock-in as with the Optane Memory modules.

The biggest problem the Optane SSD 900P faces today is that few desktop users have workloads that stress the storage system enough for the Optane SSD to shine. Mechanical hard drives have not disappeared from use as primary storage, and most software for desktop and workstation use is still designed with their performance limitations in mind. If budget SSDs had relegated hard drives to backup and archival use years ago, then the software landscape would probably be more ready to take advantage of the speed offered by the Optane SSD 900P. Instead, the Optane SSD as a consumer/prosumer product only makes sense in a few niches. Most users- even those with relatively intense storage performance needs - will be better served by high quality flash SSDs like the Samsung 960 PRO.

The price of the Intel Optane SSD 900P is accessible enough that many enthusiasts will pay the premium to have the bragging rights of the fastest SSD money can buy. Workstation users who have massive datasets that don't fit in RAM will jump at the chance to buy a faster scratch drive. And if that isn't enough to clear the shelves, then enterprise customers who need high performance but don't need the extreme write endurance of the Intel Optane SSD DC P4800X can get the 900P with its solid 10 DWPD endurance rating for a third the price per GB. The Optane SSD 900P isn't for everybody, but it will nonetheless be a successful product, and Intel won't have any trouble selling them.

The long-term prospects for Intel's Optane SSDs look pretty good, too. The pricing doesn't leave Samsung a lot of room to introduce a Z-NAND based consumer SSD. No other alternative nonvolatile memory technology is close to being ready to challenge 3D XPoint. Intel could improve the sequential transfer speeds, but they're good enough for now. They'll need to deliver a big jump in performance when they adopt PCIe Gen 4, but that shouldn't be a challenge: increasing the controller's channel count from 7 to the 12 channels used by their current NAND flash controller or the 18 used by their first NVMe controller will bring plenty of extra throughput. The only question will then be over the power consumption. The latency is already close to being as low as possible over a PCIe link, and NVDIMMs with 3D XPoint won't be making Optane SSDs obsolete in the consumer market anytime soon. 

In many ways, the performance profile of the Optane SSD is far simpler than that of NAND flash based SSDs. The Optane SSD 900P performs just as well when it is full as when it is almost empty. It performs quite consistently over time, with far fewer high-latency outliers thanks to the lack of garbage collection stalls. Unlike with flash-based SSDs, it is not necessary to buy the largest model to get the highest possible performance; the 280GB model we tested should be very similar to the 480GB model (which we're waiting for review). It doesn't matter whether TRIM commands are used, and it's never necessary to perform a secure erase operation to restore degraded performance.

Intel has almost taken all the fun out of testing a SSD.

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  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    I got myself a bucked of salt. The necessary requirement to swallow that Houdini "2.7x better" claim from the launch PR.

    I've been rendering stuff since the days of 3d max for frigging DOS. And I am yet to experience a scenario where CPU load is not in the 99% range.

    Having a rendering job that cannot feed the CPU to above 10% load with the insanely fast 960 pro has got to be an unprecedented case of cooked-up benchmark in human history.
  • extide - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Did you read the article? It pretty clearly explains how they got that result, and it makes sense. Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Oh yeah, I get it. Hypetane is a synthetic beast. Which allows to showcase said advantage as long as you focus on it in a carefully devised and completely detached from real-world usage workload.

    Don't get me wrong. It is good that hypetane is now available in capacities that actually allow to use it. And if endurance turns out to be tangibly better than nand, I might actually buy it. Low queue depth performance is good, especially random read, which may not be of that much practical use to most of the people out there, but I could make good use of that.

    But it will remain "hypetane" even after I go and buy it. Because intel said "1000 times better", and it is not even 10 times better. A zero on its own might be nothing, but two zeroes after a positive number make quite a lot of difference.
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    "no other alternative nonvolatile memory technology is close to being ready to challenge 3D XPoint"

    Except for SLC, which was so good it was immediately abandoned once inferior and more profit friendly NAND implementations were available.

    A SLC based product coupled with MRAM cache will easily humiliate hypetane in its few strong aspects.

    Too bad NAND drives are now moving to TLC and QLC, even MLC is heading in the "luxury item" category. Too bad because 3D SLC has tremendous potential. Let's see if it gets realized.
  • extide - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    How would that work. SLC is slower than Optane, can't be written at a block level, needs trash collection, etc. Then you cache it with a technology similar to Optane? Why not just build a drive with all MRAM, oh yeah, too expensive. Looks like Optane wins. Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Nope, SLC is actually faster. Look it up.

    And what it cannot do is write at the bit level. Which is not really a big deal. Even CPUs cannot address RAM at bellow a byte, if you want single bit operations, you have to use bitwise operators. Writing at a higher level is actually very efficient, because it reduces overhead. If single bit addressing was important, that's who computers would work.

    Furthermore, single bit writes produce a significant challenge when tracking wear levels. Hypetane still wears out, you know... It will be tremendously harder to accurately track wear at bit level, and I am abot 99.999999% sure it is not how intel does it, meaning that a lot of that supposed extra endurance will be forfeited by managing wear at a coarsely grained level. They won't be managing that at bit level, the overhead will be tremendous and will completely diminish potential advantages.

    The MRAM cache will reduce a lot of write amplification and garbage collection.

    It also looks like 3d SLC has about 3 times the density of the chips intel is currently using for hypetane.

    "Why not just build a drive with all MRAM" - density is too low. Which is also why we use RAM for working memory, I mean volatility can easily be solved by say adding a RTG battery to a DRAM drive, giving it effectively about a century of continuous, uninterrupted power. It is doable, but then again, redundant, and while it is true that the industry does a lot of pointless things nowadays, the only ones that qualify are those with a desirable usability to profitability ratio, and a RTG DRAM drive is simply too good to offer...

    "Looks like Optane wins" - anyone can win when running unopposed. The moment someone makes a SLC/MRAM hybrid and it loses to hypetane, I will retract my statement and admit I was wrong. I have zero problem with that ;)
  • vanilla_gorilla - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    So you're saying Optane sucks because it would be slower than a drive that doesn't exist? Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    No, I am saying it "sucks" because for all intents and purposes, it is not any faster than a 2 year old drive that it was supposed to beat by a 1000 times.

    And the reason I put it "sucks" is because I never said it does suck. I give it a very realistic valuation. What sucks is how far that realistic valuation is from what intel promised. Which is entirely on them.
  • name99 - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    He's saying two distinct things.
    (a) This costs too much for what it delivers. IF Samsung wanted to compete with it, they could do so with a suite of existing technologies. But they probably won't do so because there is little demand for a product like this; honestly it only exists so that Intel can say "see, 3D-XPoint is too, real".

    (b) The place where 3D-XPoint ACTUALLY makes sense is, more or less, what AnandTech says --- as a slower (but much larger) RAM replacement. That's what plays to the technology's strengths (simple controller, byte-level access). But Intel STILL are not shipping that --- which makes one wonder WTF not?

    It IS reasonable to point out that Intel has been lying about this product since the day it was announced, and that the only reason they're shipping these SSD drives is to throw up more smoke to hide the fact that the actually sensible use case remains (for some reason) impossible.

    Being a fanboy isn't about always praising your company, it's about refusing to criticize your company even when they're clearly in the wrong. Intel is clearly in the wrong here, in the sense that nothing that they promised about Optane is actually reality even today, two years after the announcement.
    If you think that's reasonable behavior, ask yourself how you would react if your favorite villainous company did the same.
    Would you be impressed if AMD announced that they're going to ship a GPU 1000x faster than the competition, and two years later all they have is something 2.7x as fast (under very specialized circumstances)?
    Would you let Apple off the hook if they said that the Apple car was going to have 1000x the range of a Tesla, then they shipped two years later, a car with 2.7x the range of a Tesla?
  • Drumsticks - Saturday, October 28, 2017 - link

    Re: AMD example: if AMD claimed a product would be 100x or 1000x faster than Nvidia, but only delivered something 6-10x faster in the majority of cases, and on par in the rest, for only 2-3x more money, I'd still be pretty satisfied. Reply

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