Intel Optane Memory: Do you need it?

With the ever-increasing demand for high-speed memory storage systems, there have been a number of breakthroughs in recent years. Intel Optane Memory is one of them and it has now been around for four years.

Intel Optane memory is a big leap in the Non-Volatile Memory storage device technology.

When it comes to picking components for your PC build or laptop, you have clear priorities and a budget. You can buy components suiting your budget and requirement but when it comes to picking storage for your system, there is a lot of ambiguity.

There are a lot of options available in the market and sometimes picking the right device gets overwhelming. 

Not a whole lot of people know about the Optane drives; so here is a detailed guide that clearly explains its working, features, pricing, and a lot more.

    What is Intel Optane Memory?

Intel Optane memory is a high-speed non-volatile memory that aims to bridge the gap between DRAM (Dynamic Read Only Memory) and the traditional HDD (Hard Disk Drives). It is a storage solution developed jointly by Intel and Micron Technology. 

Micron Technology is a company based in the United States of America that produces memory storage devices like DRAM, Flash Memories, USB drives, etc. The devices produced by Micron are marketed under the brand Crucial. 

    How does Intel Optane work?

Every time you are working with files on your computer, the processor has to fetch the data from the primary storage (ie. the HDD/SSD) to the RAM. This storage drive works under a hardware component called the controller.

A driver is responsible for carrying out the process smoothly. The driver is nothing but a software that contains a set of protocols governing the entire process. 

Intel Optane Explained

Even though the entire process is handled by the northbridge, the time taken to access the data is large. The issues arise when the rate of data transfer is low and the file/dataset that you want the processor to fetch is huge. 

Since the amount of RAM available on a computer is very limited, once the RAM fills up, the processor starts removing the previously fetched old data. If that data is requested again by the user, the computer has to fetch the data again from the storage drive.

While it is always a good idea to buy more RAM than needed, the cost involved is huge. Apart from the high cost of RAM, there is another reason why it’s not possible to buy tons of RAM. The maximum amount of RAM supported by a processor and motherboard is limited. 

Enters Intel Optane memory that changes the entire game. It is a kind of memory that is slower than RAM but faster than the HDD/SSD. It acts as a cache that stores the most frequently accessed data.

Intel Optane Acceleration

Since RAM is volatile in nature, everything that is stored in RAM is lost when power is switched off, but in the case of non-volatile memory like Optane, it is possible to store it even after the power supply is removed.

If you are working on a file, you will access it multiple times. The computer will fetch that particular file from the primary storage drive and store it on the Optane drive.  These Optane memory sticks have more storage space compared to RAM, so there is enough space for the computer to store a lot of frequently accessed data. 

Here is a video by Intel explaining its working concisely:

    How is it different?

3D XPoint (Pronounced 3D cross point) is a non-volatile memory storage technology that is the basis for Intel Optane memory. It is developed jointly by Micron Technology and Intel.

It gets its name from its construction which is a 3D network of multiplexed memory cells. Its 3D structure enables each memory element to be easily addressed by selecting the appropriate lines of the multiplexing circuit.

Is it unlike any ordinary solid-state memory that was available in the market before. On paper, it is up to 1000 times faster than NAND flash memory and up to 10 times denser than the conventional memory storage.

 

Intel Optane Memory vs Cache, RAM, SSD, HDD

If we compare Cache, RAM, SSD, and HDD on the basis of speed, storage capacity, and affordability, we can draw some interesting conclusions. Here is a table showing the comparison of Intel Optane Memory with Cache memory, RAM, SSD, and HDD.

Cache RAM Intel Optane Memory SSD HDD
Memory size Very low (Few KBs or MBs) Low (Few GBs) Higher than RAM (several GBs) More than Intel Optane ( hundreds of GBs) Maximum (in order of TBs)
Memory Access speed Fastest Extreme Very high High Least
Cost Can not be added separately Very high High Affordable Low

    Will it help your Computer?

Let us understand what benefits we get with it and how different groups of users might put it to use. 

Performance Benefits of Optane Drive

Intel Optane Memory for Content Creators

If you are a content creator, you already understand the importance of fast data transfer and storage capacity. It can boost the overall speed of your HDD significantly. It keeps getting better as it learns your usage pattern. 

Having Intel Optane memory in your system can help you save some time. It is a must-have for someone who doesn’t have an SSD.

Intel Optane Memory for Work

Workstations are computers faster than personal computers. They are used wherever computationally intensive programs and gigantic data sets are involved. Optane memory can significantly reduce the time required to execute various workloads. 

Performing complex simulations, running big software, working with huge data sets; everything can speed up with its help. It’s possible to make a gigantic HDD with Terabytes of storage capacity faster with the help of Optane Memory.

Optane Memory for Gamers

As a gamer, you are most likely going to use an HDD to store all your games. For that purpose, it would cost a lot of money to buy even an SSD. Pairing an HDD with Optane makes the performance a lot better.

Gaming performance is something that doesn’t depend a lot on the speed of data transfer.  VRAM present in GPU is enough to load textures and graphics for even the most demanding games. Hence, neither Optane nor an SSD can improve your FPS. It will only affect loading times. 

    Intel Optane Products

Intel Optane memory is available in a wide array of different products for consumers, manufacturers, and data centers. Most commonly available Intel Optane memory sticks come with a capacity of 16 GB, 32 GB, 64GB, 128GB.

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Here are some of the Intel Optane Drives that we recommend:

    Requirements to run Optane

Before you rush out to buy Intel Optane Memory sticks, there are some things that you need to take care of. 

  1. It is compatible with only Intel processors. It doesn’t support the AMD Ryzen platform.
  2. The next requirement is that your PC should be running on Intel 7th gen or newer CPU.
  3. A motherboard running on a compatible chipset and a free M.2 NVMe slot.
  4. The PC should be running on Windows 10 1809 Redstone 5 or a newer Windows operating system.

    Is it worth it?

It is perfect for devices that need high storage capacity and decent loading speeds on a budget. It is something that is ideally designed to be paired up with HDDs. If you already have an SSD installed, then buying Optane doesn’t give you an edge over anything.

Check out this video by The Tech Chap YouTube channel which shows the speed test between laptops with and without Optane memory: 

For most users, it is not worth investing as of now. The costs of RAM and SSDs are falling and unless you can’t afford a good quality SSD, there isn’t any need for it.

However, for Laptops and PCs that have a Hard Disk as a primary drive, it can turn out to be a decent upgrade for an extremely low price.

For everyone else, buying an SSD will turn out to be a better choice.

    Conclusion

Selecting storage devices for a computer is not as simple as it sounds. It always involves a tradeoff between storage capacity, speed, and costs. The combination of storage devices that you are going to buy ultimately depends on your priorities. 

Someone who needs a lot of storage shouldn’t invest in the Optane memory; it is better to get a high capacity HDD and a fast SSD for OS and the programs. On the contrary, if an SSD doesn’t fit your budget, you can consider getting a 16GB Optane drive. N

You should also note that Optane is not a storage device so you will still have to invest in a Solid State Drive and HDD. 

This kind of memory does not sound exceptionally impressive today but the technology is revolutionary. The concept seems promising.

Being able to have an additional storage device sitting between your HDD/SSD and RAM/Cache is surely a great thing to have. As of now, it is a good idea to wait for a bit more till the technology matures and we start seeing more devices using this technology.




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