What is Optane memory?
Intel Optane memory is a new type of computer memory that can dramatically improve boot times and accelerate system performance in desktop PCs and laptops. Initially, Intel launched Optane as a memory module designed to provide an additional data cache between its CPUs and storage devices such as traditional hard drives (HDDs). Since then, Optane-based solid state drives (SSDs) have been released.
Most consumers will first experience Optane memory in its module form, where Intel is positioning it as a way to get expensive, SSD-style speed and responsiveness in systems equipped with slower (but cheaper) spinning HDDs. As a memory module, Optane does not replace traditional DRAM but serves a similar purpose, holding frequently used data and programs so they can be fed instantly to the CPU.
How does Optane memory work?
Optane combines a new kind of memory media (3D XPoint, explained below) with advanced memory management software such as Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST), effectively merging a PC's memory and storage into what Intel considers a single, virtual drive. The combination is said to significantly improve overall system speed -- so you can boot-up faster, launch programs more quickly, and find or save files in a snap.
Optane memory modules work only with Intel's seventh-generation Core i processor platforms and later and require special, M.2-slotted motherboards capable of hosting the Optane chip. And while Optane has benefits for systems equipped with already-faster SSDs, its acceleration capabilities will be most noticeable to users of old-style spinning HDDs.
Advantages of Optane memory
Optane memory's biggest advantage may be that it is non-volatile, meaning its data doesn't disappear when the system powers down, as is the case with traditional DRAM. This makes Optane ideal for accelerating the boot-up process, since system launch data can be held in the Optane module and be ready as soon as the system is powered up.
Launch data for individual programs also can be stored, so they start faster, too. And because Optane adapts to how you use your system, it learns which programs you use most often and, essentially, positions their launch data at the front of the queue.
High-level benefits of Optane memory:
- Provides cheaper alternative to dual-drive systems that include both a small SSD (for boot-up) and a larger HDD for mass storage
- Accelerates both initial boot times and the launch times for individual programs... can even pre-fetch email or page content from favorite websites
- Speeds access to specific data within large volumes (gamers with 4 TB drives don't want to waste time waiting for their 5-10 GB game data to be located)
3D XPoint and Optane memory
Optane memory is based on 3D XPoint technology jointly developed by Intel and Micron. 3D XPoint (pronounced CrossPoint) seeks to fill the functional gap between fast but volatile (and relatively expensive) DRAM and less costly, non-volatile NAND Flash. While a revolution in its day, NAND Flash has comparatively high latency (the delay between an input/output (I/O) request and the resulting response from a drive), leading some advanced users, such as gamers, to complain of bottlenecks.
The 3D XPoint technology in Optane memory has lower latency than NAND Flash (though not quite as low as DRAM). But it has higher data density than DRAM, giving it greater storage capacity. This low-latency/high-capacity approach sets 3D XPoint (and Optane) apart from other acceleration solutions.
Optane memory for business
Everyday users will notice the faster boot times. But business users -- whether home office, SMB, or enterprise -- can get even greater benefits from Optane memory:
- Faster... everything: Optane helps launch everything faster: web browsers, email readers, remote meeting software, slide presentations, and all the other applications on a typical business desktop or laptop. For office work, this can mean greater productivity. For field work, it can mean faster-paced and more effective sales presentations and product demonstrations.
- Cost savings: With Optane capable of making less expensive HDD systems run nearly as fast as ones with SSDs, Optane puts SSD-like performance within the financial reach of most small business computer buyers. For enterprise computer buyers, the savings multiply. And as more Optane-equipped systems come into the market, buyers at all levels will have new options.
How does Optane memory help gamers?
Competitive computer game players want the fastest, most responsive systems possible, not only for game-action I/O but also for rendering complex graphics, managing in-game commentary and messaging, and so on. Plus, gamers need big hard drives to store their games, some of which can exceed 20 GB, with install sizes of 100 GB or more.
Traditionally, gamers -- especially those on a budget -- had to balance the speed and responsiveness of SSDs against their substantially higher cost (particularly in larger capacities). But with Intel Optane memory, PC manufacturers can build systems with high-capacity, less expensive HDDs but still offer many of the accelerated performance features associated with SSDs.
Plus, game engines are constantly ingesting vast amounts of data, so Optane's memory cache (it launched with 16 GB or 32 GB module sizes) can provide a larger data holding area to smooth game I/O. And since it's non-volatile, game-play data stored in the Optane module won't disappear when power is shut off.
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