Intel is introducing their second generation of Optane Memory products: these are low-capacity M.2 NVMe SSDs with 3D XPoint memory that are intended for use as cache devices to improve performance of systems using hard drives. The new Optane Memory M10 brings a 64GB capacity to the product line that launched a year ago with 16GB and 32GB options.

The complete Optane Memory caching solution consists of an M.2 SSD plus Intel's drivers for caching on Windows, and firmware support on recent motherboards for booting from a cached volume. Intel launched Optane Memory with its Kaby Lake generation of processors and chipsets, and this generation is intended to complement Coffee Lake systems. However, all of the new functionality works just as well on existing Kaby Lake systems as with Coffee Lake.

The major new user-visible feature for this generation of Optane Memory caching is the addition of the ability to cache a secondary data drive, whereas previously only boot drives were possible. Intel refers to this mode as "data drive acceleration", compared to the system acceleration (boot drive) that was the only mode supported by the first generation of Optane Memory. Data drive acceleration has been added solely through changes to the Optane Memory drivers for Windows, and this feature was actually quietly rolled out with version 16 of Intel's RST drivers back in February.

Also earlier this year, Intel launched the Optane SSD 800P family as the low-end alternative to the flagship Optane SSD 900P. The 800P and the new Optane Memory M10 are based on the same hardware and an updated revision of the original Optane Memory M.2 modules. The M10 and the 800P use the same controller and the same firmware. The 800P is usable as a cache device with the Optane Memory software, and the Optane Memory M10 and its predecessor are usable as plain NVMe SSDs without caching software. The 800P and the M10 differ only in branding and intended use; the drive branded as the 58GB 800P is functionally identical to the 64GB M10 and both have the exact same usable capacity of 58,977,157,120 bytes.

Everything said about the 58GB Optane SSD 800P in our review of the 800P family applies equally to the 64GB Optane Memory M10. Intel hasn't actually posted official specs for the M10, so we'll just repeat the 800P specs here:

Intel Optane SSD Specifications
Model Optane SSD 800P Optane Memory
Capacity 118 GB 58 GB
M10 (64 GB)
32 GB 16 GB
Form Factor M.2 2280 B+M key M.2 2280 B+M key
Interface PCIe 3.0 x2 PCIe 3.0 x2
Protocol NVMe 1.1 NVMe 1.1
Controller Intel Intel
Memory 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint 128Gb 20nm Intel 3D XPoint
Sequential Read 1450 MB/s 1350 MB/s 900 MB/s
Sequential Write 640 MB/s 290 MB/s 145 MB/s
Random Read 250k IOPS 240k IOPS 190k IOPS
Random Write 140k IOPS 65k IOPS 35k IOPS
Read Latency 6.75 µs 7 µs 8 µs
Write Latency 18µs 18µs 30 µs
Active Power 3.75 W 3.5 W 3.5 W
Idle Power 8 mW 8 mW 1 W 1 W
Endurance 365 TB 365 TB 182.5 TB 182.5 TB
Warranty 5 years 5 years
Launch Date March 2018 April 2017
Launch MSRP $199 800P: $129
M10: $144
$77 $44

Rather than cover exactly the same territory as our review of the 800P, this review is specifically focused on use of the Optane Memory M10 as a cache drive in front of a mechanical hard drive. Thanks to the addition of the data drive acceleration functionality, we can use much more of our usual benchmark suite for this than we could with last year's Optane Memory review. The data drive acceleration mode also broadens the potential market for Optane Memory, to include users who want to use a NAND flash-based SSD as their primary storage device but also need a more affordable bulk storage drive. The combination of a 64GB Optane Memory M10 (at MSRP) and a 1TB 7200RPM hard drive is about the same price as a 1TB SATA SSD with 3D TLC NAND, and at higher capacities the combination of a hard drive plus Optane Memory is much cheaper than a SATA SSD.

Intel's Optane Memory system works as an inclusive cache: adding an Optane Memory cache to a system does not increase the usable storage capacity, it just improves performance. Data written to the cache will also be written to the backing device, but applications don't have to wait for the data to land on both devices.

Once enabled, there is no need or option for manual tuning of cache behavior. The operation of the cache system is almost entirely opaque to the user. After an unclean shutdown, there is a bit of diagnostic information visible as the cache state is reconstructed, but this process usually seems to only take a second or two before the OS continues to load.

Test Systems

Intel's Optane Memory caching drivers require a Kaby Lake or newer processor and chipset, but our primary consumer SSD testbed is still a Skylake-based machine. For last year's Optane Memory review, Intel delivered the 32GB module pre-installed in a Kaby Lake desktop. This time around, Intel provided a Coffee Lake system. Both of those systems have been used for tests in this review, and a few benchmarks of drives in a non-caching role have been performed on our usual SSD testbed.

AnandTech 2017/2018 Consumer SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
Graphics AMD Radeon HD 5450, 1920x1200@60Hz
Software Windows 10 x64, version 1709
Linux kernel version 4.14, fio version 3.1
Test Procedures
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  • Keljian - Tuesday, May 29, 2018 - link

    optane's forte is latency and small block access with low queue depth.. eg anything that uses anything resembling a database. Provided you have some precaching, for general apps this is a big deal.
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    The scenario you just described would see zero measurable benefit from Optane. The way I see it there's two obvious scenarios. In the first, you're regularly working on the same photos, in which case keeping them on SSD until the project is "done" and then archiving them to HDD is not especially difficult. In the second, you regularly dip back into your older images, in which case an Optane cache will never learn the pattern and won't speed anything up.

    You're much better off having any catalogues stored on SSD alongside the most recent images, then bumping those images across to HDD storage when the project is finished. This is how I manage my own workflow and it's not at all difficult to handle.
  • niva - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    I also fail to see the benefit from Optane as cache. The tech is cool, but I want drives big enough to just install my OS on rather than do this caching thing.

    For the scenario when massive ammounts of data must be stored and SSDs are not practical why aren't users reverting to HDD RAID arrays? With things like photos and movies HDD sequential access speeds are perfectly adequate.
  • SkipPpe - Friday, May 18, 2018 - link

    Actually, caching is really quite nice. I used to use an SSD cache (32gb) bck when SSD's were expensive. Many people do not want or like to run RAID or ZFS arrays. They have one large drive (say a 4tb HDD) and they want it to boot fast. Optane does this well. Even guys with a 25 gb boot drive would benefit from caching their large HDD. For example, I have a Samsung 850 256gb boot with a Hitachi 2tb HDD. A 64gb Optane would be perfect for my large drive (basically storage and my steam library). I already have other SSD's for often-played games, but optane makes a lot of sense for someone who wants one large drive (say the new helium-filled massive HDD's), and some responsiveness to frequently used files.
  • RagnarAntonisen - Sunday, May 20, 2018 - link

    It's interesting technology but it doesn't make any sense.

    E.g. it would be good for an old PC with a large mechanical hard drive. There an SSD the same size would cost more than adding an Optane cache. Problem is Optane only works on a modern motherboard and that modern motherboard needs a new CPU. So you're not going to put one into one of those old PCs with a mechanical drive.

    And actually for an old PC with a mechanical SATA drive you'd be better off replacing the drive with a hybrid one. Intel could have built an adapter so you could put your old SATA drive in and that had an Optane cache but they didn't.

    Making Optane an M.2 module that requires a motherboard with a recent Bios that knows how to do caching means they lose most of their audience.

    And as I said above it's all a bit of shame. Optane as a storage technology shows a lot of promise. The problem is that Intel can't make drives with a high enough capacity and is instead marketing it as a cache for older machines. Ones which can't support Optane.
  • Keljian - Tuesday, May 29, 2018 - link

    "Making Optane an M.2 module that requires a motherboard with a recent Bios that knows how to do caching means they lose most of their audience." -- nope, just needs to have a bios that knows nvme and software(eg the optane cache software from intel, the storemi software from AMD, or PrimoCache et al) to drive it.
  • escksu - Wednesday, May 23, 2018 - link

    Simple. Get 4 x 2TB SSD and run them in RAID 5. Problem solved.
  • dullard - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Flunk, the reason to get these drives is that an Optane cache + standard hard drive is FASTER and LARGER CAPACITY than the 512 GB SSD. If you don't like larger or faster, then go ahead with just a SSD.
  • bananaforscale - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    You totally miss the point. An SSD is cheaper and irrelevantly slower and you can use it for caching.
  • wumpus - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    You can? You used to be able to use a 64GB cache on Intel boards, and you can use a 512GB cache on just released AMD (470) boards [unfortunately, that bit of the review still has [words] under the storeMI section].

    If you can pull it off, a 512GB caching SATA drive makes all kinds of sense for anything you might want to do with this. As near as I can tell, Optane's only advantage is that they provide the caching software without having to hit windows and motherboard requirements. Which makes the whole "optane is so fast" advantage a bit of a joke.

    Wake me up when optane has the endurance to be used with a DDR4 interface (presumably with caching HBM2/Intel system DRAM). This doesn't give any advantage (besides providing the software license).

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