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Intel Optane Technology

Intel Optane Technology

Intel’s latest evolution in storage technology is Optane, which is based on their 3D Xpoint memory that was co-developed with Micron. 3D Xpoint is a new type of non-volatile memory that is 10 times faster as well as 1,000 times more durable than NAND, and is 10 times more dense than DRAM.

3D Xpoint and 3D NAND are not the same thing. Although they both use a stack design, 3D NAND is simply a way of utilizing space more efficiently by adding layers of cells on top of each other through a better utilization of space. As you add more layers you increase the storage capacity of the silicon and ultimately lower the cost per gigabyte.
See how The University of Pisa reduced MRI times from 40 minutes to 2 minutes by using Intel Optane technology.


3D Xpoint is a radically different design from standard NAND. NAND technology uses transistors or gates where the cells that contain the bit as being a 0 or 1 are arranged in blocks so if any cell needs to be changed the entire block must be re-written. 3D Xpoint is a transistor-less design where data is written at a bit level so each cell's state can be changed from a 0 or 1 independently of the other cells. The cells can be changed to a high or low resistance state by applying different voltages that change the bit to a 0 or 1. Since the physical state of the cell material has changed, they can hold their values indefinitely even without power. This more efficient design increases performance, improves durability, enhances capacity, and helps lower power consumption.

Intel utilizes 3D Xpoint memory in two different products under the Optane brand which includes Optane Memory, which is a cache for boosting storage performance, and Optane SSD. In the future, because 3D Xpoint has greater density and lower cost per gigabyte compared to DRAM, it will be possible to increase system memory using 3D Xpoint DIMMS sold under the Optane brand. This has significant benefits for overcoming bottlenecks in high end server applications particularly around big data where more memory can enable the analysis of larger pools of data.

Intel Optane SSD
Intel Optane SSDs are available in both client (900P) and enterprise models (P4800X) both of which come in a 2.5” U.2 as well as a AIC (Add in Card) form factor. The 900P differs from the P4800X in that the capacities are smaller, the endurance ratings are 1/3 that of the enterprise drives, and they are missing critical features such as SMBus, but both versions are based on Intel’s 3D Xpoint memory.

While the P900 is targeted at high-end desktop users and is best suited for performance PCs such as high end workstations, the P4800X is strictly server. 3D Xpoint Optane SSD for the enterprise is positioned to be used in high–performance storage environments, in transactional data applications, data analytics, cloud computing and scientific models. In addition, the P4800X can be used to increase server memory by as much as eight times. This can be done through the operating system paging mechanism, through optimized applications, or with Intel’s memory Drive Technology that is supported on Xeon processors.

As an example of the performance benefits achieved through the implementation of Intel Optane SSD drives, a study was done by the University of Pisa where they were able to reduce the time a patient spent getting an MRI from 40 minutes to 2 minutes (watch the video above for more information).

Intel Optane Memory
Intel Optane memory is a revolutionary class of memory that bridges the gap between DRAM and storage to boost the overall performance of client PCs, which includes desktops, small form factor systems, AIOs, notebooks, and other mobile solutions.  Intel Optane memory is designed to act as a cache for the hard drive. Cache is not a new concept, but Optane memory offers several advantages over traditional cache technologies. Mainly, previous cache technologies proved to have too small of capacity, the memory was volatile and too slow, and it was very costly. Intel Optane memory is a four lane M.2 PCIe 3.0 connection that utilizes 3D Xpoint Technology, which is 10X faster than traditional NAND and is 10X denser than DRAM, so when paired with a standard HDD system performance is improved by over 28%. The obvious benefit is that resellers can offer their clients PCs that have near SSD performance at a lower cost and have the storage capacity of large capacity disk drives.

Intel Optane memory is offered in a 16GB and 32GB M.2 module. It does require an Intel 7th Generation or higher processor and the installation of Intel Rapid Storage Technology software, so although this performance boosting option is not available to everyone, it is an excellent value add for any new PC, particularly those being built by gamers and other enthusiasts.