Optane, the New Era of Cache Memory from Intel

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Is your computer starting to be struggle? Is it lagging? Do you want to make it faster? Maybe, the main problem of your “lagging computer” is from your Hard drive. In most of cases, you can replace or upgrade it to a new drive like Solid State Drive or SSD. But, many people concern of the price of SSD that too high for only a little space in it. For atleast $30-$50 you only can get 128GB or 256GB but it’s not a recommended brand.

For that, in 2017, Intel comes up with a new technology that called Intel Optane. Optane is a memory module designed to ramp up PC speeds for less money. It promises a better computing experience for every user, from gamers to power users. It’s more like a dream, right? But it’s true, here’s the description of the new technology, Intel Optane.

This is the summary of Intel Optane :

Intel Optane is a new technology from intel, that comes with superfast memory module.

The main benefit of Optane is improved storage performance.

Intel Optane comes with 16GB and 32GB, cost $34 and $54 in the official store.

So, what is Intel Optane?

From the official website of intel, Intel Optane is a technology system designed to greatly improve storage speeds by caching your computer’s most frequently used processes for the hard drive. The technology uses 3D XPoint, a new type memory that its creators, Micron and Intel, claim is 1,000 times faster than the traditional NAND flash.

With the new memory type, Intel Optane enables the “system acceleration”, it can do faster task completion, and reduced the wait times when compared to a Hard drive without using an Optane. For everyday users, it will mean that your common application will run or load faster than what they did before.

For a note, Intel Optane is not a replacement for DRAM in your computer, beside that, it works in conjunction with it. Intel Optane uses an intelligent algorithms to accesses and remembers long-term memory. Or what it remains on your computer after it’s powered off. This proccess resulting a decreased wait times when you load an application like games, documents, pictures, and any other apps. Despite how some OEMs misleadingly list Intel Optane, it does not act as primary system memory, like DRAM, which accesses short-term memory until your laptop is turned off.

Understanding Intel® Optane™ Memory | Intel Business

Intel Optane is came and used in two different ways. Optane is available as 16GB and 32GB PCIe M.2 memory modules used to accelerate a conventional hard drive in the same manner as an SSD cache. For your information, Intel already claims that a desktop or laptop equipped with a hard drive as primary storage and a secondary Optane cache could load Windows 10 and another apps faster than a laptop equipped with only a single SSD.

Platform Compatibility

Placing two PCIe devices on one M.2 card is new. Intel has placed two SSD controllers on one PCB before with top-class enterprise drives such as P3608 and P4608, but the drive uses a PCIe switch chip to divide the x8 host connection to x4 for each of the two NVMe controllers on the board. That approach leads to a 40W TDP for all cards, which is completely useless when trying to work within the limits of an M.2 card.

There are also several PCIe add-in cards that allow four PCIe M.2 SSDs to be connected via one PCIe x16 slot. Some of these cards also include PCIe switches, but most rely on a host system that supports PCIe port bifurcation to divide one x16 port into four independent x4 ports. Mainstream consumer CPUs usually do not support this, and are generally limited to x8 + x4 + x4 bifurcation or only x8 + x8, and only when the path is diverted to different slots to support multi-GPU use cases. The latest CPU servers and workstations are more likely to support bifurcation to port x4, but motherboard support to enable this function is not universal.

Even on CPUs where x16 slots can be broken into four x4 ports, further bifurcation to x2 ports is rare or never possible. The chip that supports the operation of many PCIe lines as a narrow x2 or x1 port is the southbridge / PCH chip on most motherboards. This tends to not support ports that are wider than x4, because that is the normal width of the upstream connection to the CPU.

Based on the above, we tested the theory and tried Optane Memory H10 with almost every PCIe 3.0 port we had, using whatever adapter was needed. Our results are summarized below:

The Whiskey Lake notebook provided by Intel for this review is of course fully compatible with Optane Memory H10, and will soon be available for purchase in this configuration. Compatibility with older platforms and non-Intel platforms is largely as expected, with only the NAND side of the H10 accessible – the motherboard does not expect to find two PCIe devices that share an M.2 x4 physical slot, and is not configured to detect and initialize both device. There are some important exceptions:

First, the H370 motherboards in our Coffee Lake system should fully support H10, but GIGABYTE tampered with a firmware update that claims to have added H10 support: NAND and Optane parts of H10 are accessible when using M.2 slots connected to PCH, but it is not possible to activate caching. There are many 300 series motherboards that have successfully added H10 support, and I’m sure GIGABYTE will soon release a firmware update for this particular board. Placing the H10 into a PCIe x16 slot connected directly to the CPU does not provide access to the Optane side, reflecting the lack of CPU support for bifurcation of PCIe ports up to x2 + x2.

The only modern AMD system we have is the Threadripper / X399 motherboard. All the PCIe and M.2 slots we tried were directed to the Optane side of the H10 that was seen instead of the NAND side.

We also connect H10 through two different brands of PCIe 3.0 switches. Avago’s PEX8747 PLX switch only provides access to the NAND side, which is expected because it only supports bifurcation of PCIe ports up to x4 ports. The Microsemi PFX PM8533 switch claims to support bifurcation up to x2 and we hope this will allow access to both sides of the H10, but instead we only get access to half Optane. The Microsemi switch and the Threadripper motherboard might only be firmware updates from working with both H10, and previous generations of Intel PCH might also have that potential, but Intel will not provide such updates. Even if this platform can access both parts of H10, they will not be supported by Intel’s Optane Memory caching driver, but third-party caching software exists.

4.5/5 (2 Reviews)

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