Intel is introducing their second generation of Optane Memory products: these are low-capacity M.2 NVMe SSDs with 3D XPoint memory that are intended for use as cache devices to improve performance of systems using hard drives. The new Optane Memory M10 brings a 64GB capacity to the product line that launched a year ago with 16GB and 32GB options.

The complete Optane Memory caching solution consists of an M.2 SSD plus Intel's drivers for caching on Windows, and firmware support on recent motherboards for booting from a cached volume. Intel launched Optane Memory with its Kaby Lake generation of processors and chipsets, and this generation is intended to complement Coffee Lake systems. However, all of the new functionality works just as well on existing Kaby Lake systems as with Coffee Lake.

The major new user-visible feature for this generation of Optane Memory caching is the addition of the ability to cache a secondary data drive, whereas previously only boot drives were possible. Intel refers to this mode as "data drive acceleration", compared to the system acceleration (boot drive) that was the only mode supported by the first generation of Optane Memory. Data drive acceleration has been added solely through changes to the Optane Memory drivers for Windows, and this feature was actually quietly rolled out with version 16 of Intel's RST drivers back in February.

Also earlier this year, Intel launched the Optane SSD 800P family as the low-end alternative to the flagship Optane SSD 900P. The 800P and the new Optane Memory M10 are based on the same hardware and an updated revision of the original Optane Memory M.2 modules. The M10 and the 800P use the same controller and the same firmware. The 800P is usable as a cache device with the Optane Memory software, and the Optane Memory M10 and its predecessor are usable as plain NVMe SSDs without caching software. The 800P and the M10 differ only in branding and intended use; the drive branded as the 58GB 800P is functionally identical to the 64GB M10 and both have the exact same usable capacity of 58,977,157,120 bytes.

Everything said about the 58GB Optane SSD 800P in our review of the 800P family applies equally to the 64GB Optane Memory M10. Intel hasn't actually posted official specs for the M10, so we'll just repeat the 800P specs here:

Intel Optane SSD Specifications
Model Optane SSD 800P Optane Memory
Capacity 118 GB 58 GB
M10 (64 GB)
32 GB 16 GB
Form Factor M.2 2280 B+M key M.2 2280 B+M key
Interface PCIe 3.0 x2 PCIe 3.0 x2
Protocol NVMe 1.1 NVMe 1.1
Controller Intel Intel
Memory 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint
Sequential Read 1450 MB/s 1350 MB/s 900 MB/s
Sequential Write 640 MB/s 290 MB/s 145 MB/s
Random Read 250k IOPS 240k IOPS 190k IOPS
Random Write 140k IOPS 65k IOPS 35k IOPS
Read Latency 6.75 µs 7 µs 8 µs
Write Latency 18µs 18µs 30 µs
Active Power 3.75 W 3.5 W 3.5 W
Idle Power 8 mW 8 mW 1 W 1 W
Endurance 365 TB 365 TB 182.5 TB 182.5 TB
Warranty 5 years 5 years
Launch Date March 2018 April 2017
Launch MSRP $199 800P: $129
M10: $144
$77 $44

Rather than cover exactly the same territory as our review of the 800P, this review is specifically focused on use of the Optane Memory M10 as a cache drive in front of a mechanical hard drive. Thanks to the addition of the data drive acceleration functionality, we can use much more of our usual benchmark suite for this than we could with last year's Optane Memory review. The data drive acceleration mode also broadens the potential market for Optane Memory, to include users who want to use a NAND flash-based SSD as their primary storage device but also need a more affordable bulk storage drive. The combination of a 64GB Optane Memory M10 (at MSRP) and a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive is about the same price as a 1TB SATA SSD with 3D TLC NAND, and at higher capacities the combination of a hard drive plus Optane Memory is much cheaper than a SATA SSD.

Intel's Optane Memory system works as an inclusive cache: adding an Optane Memory cache to a system does not increase the usable storage capacity, it just improves performance. Data written to the cache will also be written to the backing device, but applications don't have to wait for the data to land on both devices.

Once enabled, there is no need or option for manual tuning of cache behavior. The operation of the cache system is almost entirely opaque to the user. After an unclean shutdown, there is a bit of diagnostic information visible as the cache state is reconstructed, but this process usually seems to only take a second or two before the OS continues to load.

Test Systems

Intel's Optane Memory caching drivers require a Kaby Lake or newer processor and chipset, but our primary consumer SSD testbed is still a Skylake-based machine. For last year's Optane Memory review, Intel delivered the 32GB module pre-installed in a Kaby Lake desktop. This time around, Intel provided a Coffee Lake system. Both of those systems have been used for tests in this review, and a few benchmarks of drives in a non-caching role have been performed on our usual SSD testbed.

AnandTech 2017/2018 Consumer SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1709
Linux kernel version 4.14, fio version 3.1
Test Procedures
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  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    FIO version 3.6, Windows binaries from https://bluestop.org/fio/ (and Linux binaries compiled locally, for the other reviews). The only fio settings that had to change when moving the scripts from Linux to Windows was the ioengine option for selecting which APIs to use for IO. On Linux, QD1 tests are done with synchronous IO and higher queue depths with libaio, and on Windows all the queue depths used asynchronous IO.

    In this review I also didn't bother secure erasing the drives between running the burst and sustained tests, but that shouldn't matter much for these drives.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    So looking at the original Optane Memory review, the loss must be due to Meltdown as it also gets 400MB/s. Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    The Meltdown+Spectre workarounds don't have anywhere near this kind of impact on Linux, so I don't think that's a sufficient explanation for what's going on with this review's Windows results.

    Last year's Optane Memory review only did synthetic benchmarks of the drive as a standalone device, not in a caching configuration because the drivers only supported boot drive acceleration at that time.
    Reply
  • IntelUser2000 - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    The strange performance may also explain why its sometimes faster in caching than when its standalone.

    Certainly the drive is capable of faster than that looking at raw media performance.

    My point with the last review was that, whether its standalone or not, the drive on the Optane Memory review is getting ~400MB/s, while in this review its getting 160MB/s.
    Reply
  • tuxRoller - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    As Billy said you're comparing the results from two different OSs' Reply
  • Intel999 - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Will there be a comparison between the uber expensive Intel approach to sped up boot times with AMD's free approach using StorageMI? Reply
  • Billy Tallis - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Yes, but since my AMD system is a Threadripper, it won't actually represent any cost savings compared to the systems tested in this review. Reply
  • evernessince - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    AdoredTV already did a video showing the performance improvements from StoreMi.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3-SqJHYzC0

    AMD's solution works in the same way, in that as you run programs it stores data to the cache drive. The big difference is AMD's solution let's you use any SSD as a cache drive. This means it can be any size and it doesn't require an addition purpose. This is especially important, give the huge price tag of the larger optane drives.

    Speed wise though, assuming the Intel SSD is actually big enough to cache all your data, they are about equal. Of course, the AMD solution would be slower if you used a really low end SSD as your cache drive. It could also be much faster if you used a really good SSD though. The Intel optane drive has performance numbers similar to a 960 evo. The problem for Intel though are the small sizes and large prices. $200 for only 118GB of space is not a good solution. You could get double that space with a brand new 250GB 960 evo and it costs half as much. That's assuming you want to keep that drive for caching only, you could simply use your current SSD with the AMD solution and save $200+ altogether.

    I simply don't see a universe where Optane makes sense.
    Reply
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    You realize you can use Optane like any other SSD right? You can even use it with StorageMI. Reply
  • MDD1963 - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    There will be no tiny Optane things inserted into/wasting an M.2 NVME slot making it SEEM like I have a 960/970; there will be a 960/970. :) Reply

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