Intel Optane Memory

Incremental Revolution and Intel’s Optane Memory

The IT market loves the big splash when vendors are first to market with major new technologies or wholesale revisions of existing solutions and platforms. The results include numerous, gratifying headlines, kudos and “attaboys”. But ripple effects can also spell significant, even revolutionary progress, as well.

That’s certainly the case with the new Optane SSD DC P4800X Series offering that Intel announced last month, a solution targeting data center storage applications. Intel followed that announcement on March 27th with the official introduction of Optane-based memory modules for PCs. Then last week, the company announced the commercial availability of Optane memory modules for PCs and other systems leveraging the company’s 7th gen Core processors.

These use cases demonstrate both Optane’s flexibility and how Intel can leverage individual breakthrough developments to pursue multiple markets and deliver substantial benefits. That’s a pretty big deal worth close attention.

What Optane means

If you haven’t heard of Optane, it’s Intel’s commercial brand for solutions based on the 3D XPoint (pronounced: three dee cross point) non-volatile memory (NVM) technology that it developed with Micron Technologies with the aim of delivering a technology that could address the shortcomings of NAND and result in differentiated offerings for both storage and memory applications.

Intel’s P4800X Series focused on the former market in a 375GB form factor that delivered better read/write performance and enhanced endurance that Intel says make them longer-lived than conventional NAND drives. Model’s that incorporate Intel’s new Memory Drive Technology enables the P4800X Series to be integrated into a system’s memory subsystem, presenting the SSD as DRAM to the OS and applications.

As a result, customers can use Optane to create capacious, cost effective “pools” of shared memory for enhancing application and workload performance.

Optane for PCs and gaming

What’s up with Intel’s new Optane memory modules? The company says they are on sale now as add-in components in 16GB (MSRP $44) and 32GB (MSRP $77) capacities. OEM systems with Optane memory installed will be available later this year.

Navin Shenoy, the SVP and GM of Intel’s Client Computing Group, noted in a recent blog that the memory modules offer intriguing benefits. For instance, Optane-enabled PCs can power-up to twice as fast as regular products, and can enhance system performance by up to 28 percent and storage performance by up to 14X.

Common applications, like Microsoft Outlook launch up to nearly 6x faster and Google’s Chrome browser launches up to 5X faster. PC gamers will benefit, too, with games launching up to 67 percent faster, and levels loading up to 65 percent faster than they do on non-Optane systems.

Why is this important? That depends. Shenoy noted that Intel discovered that in workplaces, employees with PCs use an average of 11 apps per day, and launch each app as many as seven times per shift. If by using Optane can save each employee 3 to 5 minutes per day—which seems reasonable—businesses could see individual workers each capture ten or more otherwise wasted hours annually.

Optane-enabled consumer PCs would offer the same time savings as business PCs but systems designed for gaming will capture additional benefits in game launching and levels loading. That will be obviously attractive to those who invest in high-end systems but, since Optane can be used across 7th gen Core-based PCs, gamers of systems with i3 and i5 chips will also see substantial benefits.

That is a critical point for Intel in Asia markets, including Indonesia where budget gaming systems are hugely popular. However, when you compare Optane’s benefits with its cost, it’s easy to broadly conclude that the new memory modules will provide unique, day-to-day benefits in Intel-based systems for a modest cost. With ambitious competitors like NVIDIA and AMD revving up their gaming efforts, Optane’s arrival is particularly timely for Intel.

Final analysis

Public attention focuses like a laser on major or unusual technologies, especially those in consumer markets. So it’s important to note important new offerings that may not always make a huge initial media splash. That’s especially true in cases like 3D XPoint memory where Intel and Micron’s complex manufacturing innovations have resulted in solutions that offer both incremental and significant performance gains in remarkably separate use cases.

That Intel has introduced Optane-based solutions for entirely individual, radically different applications and workloads testifies to the technology’s flexibility. But it also underscores Intel and Micron’s decision to invest sizable amounts of time and money into bringing 3D XPoint to life.

The companies’ dedication to 3D Xpoint has delivered new innovations that will improve the experience of millions of people, owners of high- and low-end 7th gen Core-based gaming systems, and businesses and consumers. Intel’s Optane offers proof that rather than happening overnight, effective revolutions require substantial planning and effort that results in incremental, evolutionary benefits that people see day after day.

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