Intel is combining its Optane memory technology with traditional high-density solid-state storage on a single small module that will begin showing up this quarter in two-in-ones, all-in-ones, mini-PCs and similar systems that are powered by the chip maker’s latest-generation, power-efficient Core processors.
Company officials first introduced the idea of combining the Optane technology with Intel’s Quad Level Cell (QLC) 3D NAND offering at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and this week gave more details on the plans to launch the offering in thin-and-light notebooks and other space-constrained systems.
Intel’s Optane memory H10 with solid-state storage—in a space-saving M.2 form factor and in systems powered by the 8th Generation Core-U series platform—will deliver improved performance and faster read and write capabilities.
According to Intel officials, systems with the new hybrid storage will enable users to launch documents up to two times faster while multitasking than competitive notebooks, launch games 60 percent faster while multitasking and open media files up to 90 percent faster, again while multitasking.
“This is a great combination with the 8th Generation Core platform, where we’ll see it first launch,” Chris Tobias, director of strategic planning, marketing and business development at Intel, said during a press and analyst briefing before the announcement. “This will not only end up in notebooks, but also end up in gaming notebooks, professional notebooks [and] workstations.”
Intel officials boasted that the introduction of the Optane memory H10 with solid-state storage was the result of the company’s efforts to leverage its platform-building capabilities that include not only the processors and chipset but also software, memory and storage. The vendor holds a dominant position in the global PC chip-making space but is seeing stronger competition from Advanced Micro Devices with its Ryzen processors and Arm-based manufacturers like Qualcomm and their push for “always-connected” PCs.
But Intel has invested money and other resources over the past several years in becoming more of a platform company, and the hybrid storage offering is an example of that. Combining its Optane memory and solid-state storage on a single drive will give PC users faster access to applications and files they use frequently. They also will see better responsiveness with background activity when compared with a stand-alone TLC 3D NAND SSD system, according to Intel officials.
Learning Users’ Computing Habits
The Optane technology includes software that can learn a user’s computing habits and adapts accordingly, enabling it to accelerate frequent tasks. The QLC 3D NAND technology will bring up to 1TB of storage capacity into the small footprint of the thin-and-light notebooks and other form factors and will transfer data at PCIe speeds.
The hybrid storage module will come with three capacities: 16GB of Optane memory and 256GB of storage, 32GB of memory and 512GB of storage, and 32GB of memory and 1TB of storage.
The new Optane memory H10 with solid-state storage comes at a time when the global PC market is once again trying to right itself, particularly as the end-of-life for Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system nears, which will force business users and consumers to upgrade their systems.
According to numbers released this week by IDC and Gartner analysts, the worldwide market in the first quarter saw declines in PC shipments when compared with the first three months in 2018. IDC said the market for PCs and workstations fell 3 percent, while Gartner put the decline at 4.6 percent. Analysts from both firms cited the ongoing shortage of Intel processors—particularly at the lower end—as a driver of the declines.
“The supply constraints affected the vendor competitive landscape as leading vendors had better allocation of chips and also began sourcing alternative CPUs from AMD,” Gartner Senior Principal Analyst Mikako Kitagawa said in a media advisory. “The top three vendors worldwide were still able to increase shipments despite the supply constraint by focusing on their high-end products and taking share from small vendors that struggled to secure CPUs. Moreover, the constraints resulted in the top [PC] vendors shifting their product mix to the high-end segment in order to deal with the constraint—which, along with favorable component price trends, should boost profit margins.”
In addition, both analyst firms noted that the commercial PC space saw strength while the consumer segment remained weak.
Canalys analysts said last month that the shortages will continue to dog the PC market this year. Intel officials have admitted to shortages in 14-nanometer processors, but have said a push to accelerate production of Xeon server and high-end PC chips will alleviate some of the issues later this year. In addition, the company is preparing for the release of its first 10nm processors next year.
Systems with the new hybrid storage module will come from such top PC vendors as Dell, HP Inc., Asus and Acer.