Test Procedures

Our usual SSD test procedure was not designed to handle multi-device tiered storage, so some changes had to be made for this review and as a result much of the data presented here is not directly comparable to our previous reviews. The major changes are:

  • All test configurations were running the latest OS patches and CPU microcode updates for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities. Regular SSD reviews with post-patch test results will begin later this month.
  • Our synthetic benchmarks are usually run under Linux, but Intel's caching software is Windows-only so the usual fio scripts were adapted to run on Windows. The settings for data transfer sizes and test duration are unchanged, but the difference in storage APIs between operating systems means that the results shown here are lower across the board, especially for the low queue depth random I/O that is the greatest strength of Optane SSDs.
  • We only have equipment to measure the power consumption of one drive at a time. Rather than move that equipment out of the primary SSD testbed and use it to measure either the cache drive or the hard drive, we kept it busy testing drives for future reviews. The SYSmark 2014 SE test results include the usual whole-system energy usage measurements.
  • Optane SSDs and hard drives are not any slower when full than when empty, because they do not have the complicated wear leveling and block erase mechanisms that flash-based SSDs require, nor any equivalent to SLC write caches. The AnandTech Storage Bench (ATSB) trace-based tests in this review omit the usual full-drive test runs. Instead, caching configurations were tested by running each test three times in a row to check for effects of warming up the cache.
  • Our AnandTech Storage Bench "The Destroyer" test takes about 12 hours to run on a good SATA SSD and about 7 hours on the best PCIe SSDs. On a mechanical hard drive, it takes more like 24 hours. Results for The Destroyer will probably not be ready this week. In the meantime, the ATSB Heavy test is sufficiently large to illustrate how SSD caching performs for workloads that do not fit into the cache.

Benchmark Summary

This review analyzes the performance of Optane Memory caching both for boot drives and secondary drives. The Optane Memory modules are also tested as standalone SSDs. The benchmarks in this review fall into three categories:

Application benchmarks: SYSmark 2014 SE

SYSmark directly measures how long applications take to respond to simulated user input. The scores are normalized against a reference system, but otherwise are directly proportional to the accumulated time between user input and the result showing up on screen. SYSmark measures whole-system performance and energy usage with a broad variety of non-gaming applications. The tests are not particularly storage-intensive, and differences in CPU and RAM can have a much greater impact on scores than storage upgrades.

AnandTech Storage Bench: The Destroyer, Heavy, Light

These three tests are recorded traces of real-world I/O that are replayed onto the storage device under test. This allows for the same storage workload to be reproduced consistently and almost completely independent of changes in CPU, RAM or GPU, because none of the computational workload of the original applications is reproduced. The ATSB Light test is similar in scope to SYSmark while the ATSB Heavy and The Destroyer tests represent much more computer usage with a broader range of applications. As a concession to practicality, these traces are replayed with long disk idle times cut short, so that the Destroyer doesn't take a full week to run.

Synthetic Benchmarks: Flexible IO Tester (FIO)

FIO is used to produce and measure artificial storage workloads according to our custom scripts. Poor choice of data sizes, access patterns and test duration can produce results that are either unrealistically flattering to SSDs or are unfairly difficult. Our FIO-based tests are designed specifically for modern consumer SSDs, with an emphasis on queue depths and transfer sizes that are most relevant to client computing workloads. Test durations and preconditioning workloads have been chosen to avoid unrealistically triggering thermal throttling on M.2 SSDs or overflowing SLC write caches.

Introduction SYSmark 2014 SE
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  • shadowx360 - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    Windows Storage Spaces or ZFS can do it. Right now I have 2x256GB SSDs mirrored to accelerate a 5x4TB hard drive array. I set 100GB as a write-back cache that automatically flushes to the HDDs, so random write is SSD-level quick. I also pin about 20GB of files to the SSDs permanently and the rest is rotated between free space and system-managed hot files. Reply
  • Lolimaster - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    400-500MB/s vs 1.5GB/s, not really much of a difference, either way you will have to wait for that HDD to write to the cache drive 1st at 100MB/s or less (since they're small files, HDD works faster on transfer with larger files).

    If you got a set of constantly used files, move those to the SSD, problem solved.
    Reply
  • evernessince - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    Or you buy an X470 motherboard or pay $10 to get StoreMI, which also makes a cache but is much cheaper and can use any SSD as a cache, which saves you money, allot of it. Reply
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    You can use any Optane drive like ANY SSD too. Reply
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    It's faster in zero real-world situations. It's larger than an SSD bought for the same total money, but not larger than an SSD at the same cost as the optane drive (256GB) + the same HDD you'd use for optane caching. Your point is... flawed. Reply
  • Keljian - Tuesday, May 29, 2018 - link

    This is actually not true. It's faster for Mysql/sqlite in 4k situations when the cache is tuned for it. What uses sqlite? - games, most office software, web browsers.. Reply
  • Samus - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    For $160-$170 (<$150 on sale, basically the price of 64GB of Optane) you can get a the WD Black 512GB M2 NVME PCIe SSD that does 2000MB+/sec rear for all 512GB.

    Why the hell is Optane so expensive. 5-7x the price of traditional NAND?
    Reply
  • Arnulf - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    Because it is crap which nobody would buy if it was priced close to SSDs of similar performance and capacity:

    "It costs 5-7 times more than SSDs, must be something magical about it, let's buy one honey!"

    Much like $1000 mobile phones, bait for the stupid.
    Reply
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    Because it uses phase change instead of NAND and it's new tech. They're trying to recoup R&D cost. Reply
  • FunBunny2 - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    "hey're trying to recoup R&D cost. "

    PCM is decades old tech. look it up. throwing good money after bad, just like pharma.
    Reply

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