I picked up a 32GB Intel Optane memory module a couple of weeks back and the installation process has been an “experience”. Easy this isn’t yet, though I expect they will improve it over time otherwise they’ll likely see many customers return the product. However, once in, this thing is AMAZING and worth the trouble it took to get it installed. I can cut down on your aggravation a lot and I’ll share with you just why I think Optane Memory is a game changer.
Optane is the Intel branded name for the generic class of 3D XPoint Memory. This is solid state persistent storage with speeds that approach system memory. Flash, or SSDs—the most common form of solid state memory today—was substantially faster than magnetic disk and those of us that swapped to it early on saw a big boost in system and application load times as a result. But SSDs have a number of performance issues, not the least of which is they wear out.
SSDs are still the speed king for the desktop at capacity, though, and it’ll likely be awhile before any but the very well-off use anything else for much of their storage capacity on a laptop or desktop.
Jointly developed with Micron, Optane is the Intel brand name for 3D XPoint memory. Basically, it is a storage medium which looks to the system, at least in its desktop form, like an SSD but behaves more like system memory in terms of latency or perceived speed. Currently you can buy it in 16 and 32 GB sizes and the sizes have different performance characteristics. The smaller size has lower latency but slower data speeds the larger size faster data speeds but higher latency. I went with the 32 GB unit which at $77 is a small price for what looked like a big speed increase.
While you could use the Optane module as a small high-speed drive (be aware it needs to go on an Optane ready motherboard that has been flashed with the update that supports Optane and it uses an M.2 slot, more on that later). Once installed and after you have loaded your most used applications a couple of times so the system knows which files to cache the load times drop like a rock. I play Ashes of the Singularity and typical load times are long enough for me to go grab coffee. With Optane they are down to barely long enough to glance at email. Word files are nearly instantly opened once created and anything loaded more than once seems to get a huge performance boost. (That “once” part is providing a level of lust for a full Optane Drive I wasn’t expecting).
My primary drive is a new 500 GB Samsung Evo unit and the Optane addition significantly sped it up, right now it comes down to the best $77 I ever spent. However, getting this thing to work wasn’t easy.
This is a generation one product and the biggest problem is that the supplied instructions are nearly worthless. Had I known two things before I started, installation would have been far easier so let me share those two things. First, even though the Optane module is M.2, Optane only works with SATA drives for now. If you have an M.2 drive you’ll need to swap it out right now. Second you need a small 5MB partition at the end of your primary drive for the Optane utility to use. And it must be at the end of the drive, if you use the drive manger in Windows it will likely place the partition before rather than after the recovery partition and that won’t work. This was surprisingly difficult to do as I first had to create the partition in the Drive Manager then use a third-party tool (AOMEI Partition Manager) to move it to the end. Until this was done the Intel Optane utility wouldn’t install. Now, once installed, you must open the utility to enable the memory which will force a reboot. Go grab coffee and come back later as this takes a while and you may think you PC is broken during the process (I did but I just had to wait for the installation process to complete). Once in and running it is non-invasive, it just works in the background making things faster.
Wrapping Up: Best $77 Upgrade Ever!
Now that the product is in I must admit this is likely the best $77 I’ve ever spent on a gaming PC. I’m particularly impressed with the game load times and now I want a full Optane drive because I have a need for speed and apparently that need is pronounced enough for me to want to push the envelope farther. I should also note that this initial Optane effort is below what 3D XPoint is thought to be capable of so future products not only will likely get cheaper but faster as well. For some strange reason, I have no problem with that—no problem at all.