Intel's Optane Memory Is Here To Speed Up Slow Hard Drives

Image: Intel

If you're someone who still relies on a lot of traditional hard drives for their massive storage and ease on your wallet, then you might want to pay attention to something Intel's just launched.

It's called Optane Memory and it takes the form of a chip that fits into the M.2 slot on your computer's motherboard. The basic principle, at least in layman's terms, is that it combines the reliability of the DRAM memory everyone plugs into the motherboard with the speed of the NAND memory at the heart of SSD drives.

Around this time next month, you'll be able to get Optane Memory in two forms: a 16GB stick for $US44 and 32GB for $US77. There's no Australian pricing as of yet, but the general idea is that you'll be able to get a traditional 1TB or greater hard drive and an Optane chip for less than what a speedy M.2 SSD would set you back.

But what is the benefit, exactly? Optane's purpose is to function as a cache drive, remembering regularly accessed data even when you exit a program or your PC is turned off. By doing so, the process of loading data is greatly improved: Intel says games can launch up to 67 per cent quicker and browsers launch five times faster than a computer without as an example.

Optane memory will work with any hard drive though, not just oldschool ones, although there's no real-world benchmarks available for anything right now. The real kicker is that Optane memory will only work with Intel's Kaby Lake line of CPUs and compatible motherboards, if you're fortunate enough.

There's still a lot of unanswered questions around Optane, however. For one, there's no real-world benchmarks so nobody can test the claim on whether games really do load 67 per cent faster. And it's not known what other cases Optane might be worthwhile. Could streamers and YouTubers get enough performance pairing Optane memory with a traditional hard drive, rather than having to shell out for a RAID setup or an expensive 1TB SSD? And what would Optane do for laptops?

On top of that, there's legitimate questions over whether Optane will be of any use for gamers. If you're already investing in a Kaby Lake system, you're paying the sort of money that warrants buying a M.2 SSD (or at least a normal SSD) to go with it. Optane won't support anything bar Windows 10 either, so if you haven't upgraded you'll be completely left out of the loop. And as it stands, you can only pair a single drive to Optane memory, it doesn't support RAID configurations, and 32GB isn't a whole lot of space especially considering the size of some games.

Optane chips will officially become available from April 25. Large, consumer-grade capacity Optane SSDs won't be available until the end of the year, if not 2018. Reviews will start dropping around launch as well, so we'll be able to see just how much of an impact Optane really has.


Comments

    Soo intel rapid cache but on a m.2 drive instead of regular ssd. I had this setup and the performance increase was very noticeable once it had started caching the right things. Then inevitably the ssd died and it was horrible :(

    oh goody. google chrome will open in 0.24 seconds now instead of 0.38. put me down for 30 sticks of this. i know it says five times faster but we all also know thats bullshit.
    it will be good in 5-10 years when this doesn't cost 70x as much as a HDD or 20x the cost of an SSD per GB.

    I think you might have a part backwards in the first paragraph. Shouldn't it be saying 'combining speed of DRAM with reliability of NAND' because isn't the whole point of this that its non volatile unlike RAM but getting close to the speed of it?

    So getting past all the marketing this is just a new form of non volatile RAM that is faster than the NAND flash found in most SSDs. It's being sold in a much smaller capacity than other SSDs probably due to either cost or production or current manufacturing capacity.

    So instead they're marketing it as an SSD cache for a traditional hard drive. You will need Intel's drivers to achieve this, but they're only providing drivers for Windows 10. Further more, the drivers will refuse to function if they don't detect the the latest generation of Intel CPU because Intel doesn't want you to buy an AMD Ryzen.

    Does that cover everything?

    This has already been done in the form of hybrid drives...

    Seems pointless in the current marketplace.

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