Intel Unveils Optane Memory to Speed Up HDD-Powered PCs

The first consumer Optane-based devices will become available April 24 in two M.2 form factors: A 16GB model for $44 and a 32GB Optane Memory device for $77.

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We all might not always agree on politics, but one thing that everybody can shake hands on is that their PCs can always run a little faster.

Intel is staying out of politics but making sure to help civilized society in the other department, thanks to the release March 27 of its own Optane Memory.

Optane Memory is a commercial version of Intel and Micron's revolutionary 3D Xpoint non-volatile memory processor. It is designed as a fast-cache addition to a conventional spinning-disk PC hard drive in order for the existing power processor to work at optimal speed.

Intel and Micron, which were 10 years in development on this, claimed at the original announcement that 3D Xpoint was going to be able to move data 1,000 times faster than NAND flash solid-state disks. How this will translate to the new Optane Memory chip and how it will perform in the real world is anybody's guess. But one can surmise that it will be faster.

Starts Going into PCS Next Month

We'll know sometime next month, when Optane Memory starts going into new PCs.

The first consumer Optane-based devices will become available April 24 in two M.2 form factors: A 16GB model for $44 and a 32GB Optane Memory device for $77. Both are rated for very fast read speeds of 1.2GBps and writes of 280MBps.
Users cannot install Windows 10 on Optane Memory; that's not the way it was designed. The first two Optane Memory devices are meant to be used primarily as cache drives for a conventional PC hard drive.

Do a lot of people still use HDDs to power their laptop and deskop PCs? The answer is yes, big time. Intel cites IDC Research data that indicates 79 percent of desktop PCs in the world still use hard drives. This isn't going to change for a while, because the cost per megabyte is so affordable compared to solid state-powered PCs.

So there potentially is a vast market for adding a fast chip to hard-drive-powered PCs, and Intel wants to own that market with Optane Memory. Intel believes that because most PC owners don't necessarily want to give up their large-capacity HDD storage for the faster SSD drives, and that they can spend the extra $80 or so to make it faster, that they will consider doing so.

Good or Better Performance Than an SSD, Intel Says

Intel claims that Optane Memory performance is as good or better than an SSD's, offering better latency by magnitudes or measurement.

"Intel Optane Memory enables PCs to deliver significantly more performance and faster load times across a broad range of personal computing experiences," Navin Shenoy, Intel Senior Vice President and General Manager for the Client Computing Group, wrote in a blog post. "It will enable new levels of PC responsiveness for everything from compute intensive engineering applications to high-end gaming, digital content creation, web browsing, and even everyday office productivity applications.

"To put this in perspective, on a given day, most people launch 11 apps, and then launch each app seven times. With the increased speed and responsiveness of Intel Optane memory in a seventh Gen Intel Core-based system, you can power on your computer up to twice as fast, improve overall system performance up to 28 percent faster with storage performance up to 14x faster."

How to Get Intel Optane Memory

Intel Optane Memory is a member of the new line of Intel Optane chips built with 3D Xpoint, Intel's advanced system memory controller, interface hardware and software IP.

Earlier this year, Intel announced the Intel Optane Memory-ready program alongside the launch of its seventh-gen Intel Core processors. Now there are more than 130 Intel Optane Memory-ready motherboards available from manufacturers, including Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, Asrock and others.
   
Starting in the second quarter of this year, PC manufacturers that include HP, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Acer and others will begin shipping both consumer and commercial products equipped with Intel Optane memory.

More information can be found here.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...