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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  • yankeeDDL - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    Is it me or, generally speaking, it is noticeably slower than the 970 Evo? Reply
  • DanNeely - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    The 970 can make use of 4 lanes, with only 2 effective lanes in most scenarios any good x4 drive is going to be able to smoke the H10. Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    I still remember that Optane should be 1000x faster and 1000x cheaper. It seems that it is faster, albeit by a much lower factor ... then why hamper it with a slower bus? I mean, I came to read the review thinking that it could be a nice upgrade, and then I see it beaten handily by the 970 Evo. What's the point of such device? It is clearly more complex, so I doubt it'll be cheaper than the 970 Evo... Reply
  • Alexvrb - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    Wait, did they say it would be cheaper? I don't remember that. I know they thought it would be a lot faster than it is... to be fair they seemed to be making projections like NAND based solutions wouldn't speed up at all in years LOL.

    It can be a lot faster in certain configs (the high end PCIe add-on cards, for example) but it's insanely expensive. Even then it's mainly faster for low QDs...
    Reply
  • kgardas - Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - link

    Yes, but just in comparison with DRAM prices. E.g. NVDIMM of big size cheaper than DIMM of big size. Reply
  • Irata - Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - link

    It was supposed to be 1000x faster and have 1000x the endurance of NAND as per Intel's official 2016 slides.

    It may be slightly off on those promises - would have loved for the article to include the slide with Intel's original claims.

    Price wasn't mentioned.
    Reply
  • yankeeDDL - Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - link

    You're right. They said 1000x faster, 1000x endurance and 10x denser, but they did not say cheaper, although, the 10x denser somewhat implies it (https://www.micron.com/~/media/documents/products/... Still, this drive is not faster, nor it has significantly higher endurance. Let's see if it is any cheaper. Reply
  • Valantar - Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - link

    Denser than DRAM, not NAND. Speed claims are against NAND, price/density claims against DRAM - where they might not be 1/10th the price, but definitely cheaper. The entire argument for 3D Xpoint is "faster than NAND, cheaper than DRAM (while persistent and closer to the former than the latter in capacity)", after all. Reply
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, April 24, 2019 - link

    I think this is why there's still negative impressions around 3D Xpoint. Too many people still don't understand it or confuse the information given. Reply
  • cb88 - Friday, May 17, 2019 - link

    Optane itself is *vastly* faster than this... on an NVDIMM it rivals DDR4 with latencies in hundreds of ns instead of micro or milliseconds. And bandwidth basically on par with DDR4.

    I think it's some marketing BS that they don't use 4x PCIe on thier M.2 cards .... perhaps trying to avoid server guys buying them up cheap and putting them on quad m.2 to PCIe adapters.
    Reply

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