Conclusion

The Optane SSD 800p is the closest that Intel has come to offering a 3D XPoint-based product for the mainstream consumer market. Unlike the Optane Memory M.2, the 800p is available in capacities that allow it to be used as ordinary storage. Unlike the premium Optane SSD 900p, the 800p uses a form factor that is broadly supported by both desktops and notebooks, and the power consumption doesn't rule out use on battery power.

We had trouble getting the idle power management on the 800p to work with our testbed, but there's no question that the 800p is one of the most efficient SSDs under load. Its high performance at low queue depths allows the 800p to complete real-world tests as quickly as the fastest flash-based SSDs, but the power consumption of the 800p doesn't climb as high.

The Optane SSD 800p uses a PCIe 3 x2 interface, which is becoming increasingly common this year as more low-end NVMe SSDs show up. The Optane SSD 800p definitely doesn't belong in that category, but the two-lane link does cap throughput relative to the high-end NVMe SSDs that use a four-lane link. Fortunately, this bottleneck doesn't matter much to the 800p. The key strength of Optane products is their low latency, allowing high performance at low queue depths where total throughput usually doesn't come close to saturating a fast PCIe link. The PCIe x2 link used by the 800p does nothing to diminish its latency advantage.

NVMe SSD Price Comparison
  58GB 118-128GB 240-280GB 480-512GB
Intel Optane SSD 800p $129.00 (222¢/GB) $199.00 (169¢/GB)    
Intel Optane SSD 900p     $379.00 (135¢/GB) $599.00 (125¢/GB)
Intel SSD 760p   $69.99 (55¢/GB) $99.99 (39¢/GB) $272.43 (53¢/GB)
Samsung 960 PRO       $299.99 (59¢/GB)
Samsung 960 EVO     $119.99 (48¢/GB) $229.99 (46¢/GB)
Plextor M9Pe     $127.38 (50¢/GB) $215.59 (42¢/GB)
WD Black     $99.99 (39¢/GB) $192.95 (38¢/GB)
MyDigitalSSD SBX   $59.99 (47¢/GB) $94.99 (37¢/GB) $159.99 (31¢/GB)

The pricing on the Optane SSD 800p is a disappointment, but not entirely surprising. Small SSDs tend to have a higher price per GB than larger models. The 800p is more expensive on a per GB basis than the premium Optane SSD 900p, even though the latter uses a much larger and more expensive controller. So while the technical merits of the 800p may make it look like something approaching a mass-market product, it is actually the most expensive consumer SSD on the market.

If Intel could get the price down to the range of high-end MLC flash based drives like the Samsung 960 PRO, the 800p might be compelling for some users who are sure they don't need high capacities or who already have other SSDs to use as secondary storage with an Optane boot drive. Enthusiasts who don't want to jump all the way to the 900p or who only have M.2 slots to spare can get most of the performance benefits from the lesser Optane drive, and high-performance flash-based NVMe drives aren't available in low capacities.

For most users, the 800p still doesn't make sense to use as the only drive in a system. The 58GB model pretty much requires you to have another drive in your system, either another SSD or a hard drive being cached by the 800p (in which case, why not get the cheaper Optane Memory?). The 118GB model can more easily serve as the sole drive in a system; my personal laptop only has 128GB, and it serves most of my needs except for photo organizing and editing (for that, I have a NAS). But when a decent entry-level NVMe SSD can provide four times the capacity for about the same price, it is hard to choose the smaller drive.

With today's prices, I would almost always choose a ~500GB 3D TLC SSD over the 118GB Optane SSD 800p. At 500GB and up, even the latest SSDs with 512Gb 3D TLC NAND don't really suffer the performance penalties of being too small, so the Optane SSD 800p's performance isn't a huge boost. It's always less of a hassle when your primary drive is big enough to hold most or all of your data, and drives like the Samsung 960 EVO or Intel SSD 760p (limited availability at the moment) are fast enough.

We performed some tests of the Optane SSD 800p in RAID using Intel's Virtual RAID on CPU feature, available on their latest enthusiast and server platforms but not the mainstream desktop platform. VROC clearly adds some software overhead that subtracts from the latency advantage that is the strongest selling point for Optane SSDs. At high queue depths such as those generated by synthetic benchmarks or enterprise workloads, that overhead may be overcome by the performance advantages of a four-drive RAID-0. But for more typical interactive desktop workloads, VROC does not provide a net improvement in storage performance when used with the Optane SSD 800p. There are some peripheral benefits to performance consistency compared to a single 800p SSD, but they are unimportant. For users seeking Optane-class performance with higher capacity than the 800p, the Optane SSD 900p will be more cost effective and offer better performance.

 

Power Management
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  • Hurr Durr - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - link

    Hypetane! Reply
  • iter - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - link

    optane = hypetane
    x-point = xtra-pointless

    It keeps getting worse and worse instead of getting better. The next x-point iteration may slip below nand even in the few strong points of the technology.

    Also, it doesn't seem that enterprise is very interested in intel's offering, seeing how they struggle to cram the product in market niches where it is xtra-pointless, I'd go on a limb and assume that's not because of love for consumers or skipping on them fat enterprise product margins.

    Also, it seems that intel gave very misleading information not only in terms of performance, but also regarding the origin of the technology. The official story is its development began in 2012 as a joint venture between intel and micron.

    That however is not true, x-point can be traced back to a now erased from history company named Unity Semiconductors, which was flogging the tech back in 2009 under the CMOx moniker.

    Courtesy of archive.org, there is still some trace of that, along with several PDFs explaining the operational principle of what intel has been highly secretive about:

    https://web.archive.org/web/20120205085357/http://...

    All in all, the secrecy might have to do with intel's inability to deliver on the highly ambitious expectations of the actual designers of the tech. It is nowhere near the 200% better than nand density, in fact it seems at the current manufacturing node it won't be possible to make more than 256 gb in m2 form factor, which is 8 times less than mlc nand or 24 times less than what was projected in 2009. Performance is not all that stellar too, a tad lower than what slc was capable at back in 2012, thank the gods nobody makes slc anymore, so there's a ray of sun to make xtra-pointless hypetane look good on paper.
    Reply
  • chrnochime - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - link

    Rambus renamed it to ReRAM according to this article in 2015, so it would seem the tech lived on through Rambus after the aquisition of Unity Semi.

    https://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=132552...

    But I'm not sure if it's the exact same tech as Intel's.
    Reply
  • iter - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - link

    Check the PDFs, what little intel posted about it is all there. They may have licensed the tech from rambus. It is not like rambus does anything other than patent milking anyway. Reply
  • iter - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - link

    "Coincidentally", rambus bought unity in 2012, exactly when intel allegedly started developing... Reply
  • MDD1963 - Friday, March 23, 2018 - link

    Not everyone remembers a few sticks of RAMBUS RDIMMS for some Pentium 3 boards costing $500-$600 a stick back in '99-'00....; and being outperformed by DDR. Nice job, RAMBUS! Reply
  • tommo1982 - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - link

    Am I reading it right? Was Cross-point memory supposed to be cheaper than NAND? Reply
  • WinterCharm - Thursday, March 8, 2018 - link

    Yes. But I guess we won't see that for a while.

    Latency and power consumption are great... but speed and capacity leave a lot to be desired. When MacBook Pros have NVME drives capable of 3.2 GB/s (yes gigabytes) at a 2TB capacity... Optane is far behind.

    There are some advantages, but I expect that Intel will need to do a lot more work before these are cheaper, faster, and have higher capacity.
    Reply
  • Reflex - Friday, March 9, 2018 - link

    That said, latency is what users notice. Max speed is a rarely encountered scenario in most user workloads. Reply
  • iter - Saturday, March 10, 2018 - link

    No human notices microseconds. Delay becomes noticeable at about 10-20 msec, depending on the individual's reflexes, becomes annoying at about 50 msecs, and becomes detrimental at 200+.

    10 mseconds is 10000 microseconds. Hypetane improves things in the double digit microseconds range. Humans cannot notice that, not today, not in a million years.
    Reply

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