Intel's New M.2 Optane Memory H10 SSDs: Optane Paired With QLC Flash (Updated)

Update 1/19/2019 7:00pm PT: We learned more at Intel's official unveiling of the new Optane Memory H10 SSDs. We've updated the article below.

Intel's speedy Optane storage products just received a face-lift. The new Optane Memory H10 model boosts overall storage capacity by pairing the speedy 3D XPoint memory with a dollop of QLC flash. That means there will soon be Optane-powered SSDs that reach up to 1TB of capacity.

As you can see in the image above, the M.2 SSD features both a QLC flash and an Optane memory package on a single PCB. The new drives use the fast Optane storage to accelerate frequently-accessed data held on the more spacious QLC flash, meaning these M.2 drives will come in one slim package with higher capacities than the previous-gen M.2 Intel SSD 800p.

The 800p SSDs only come in capacities of 58GB and 118GB and are significantly more expensive than typical flash-based SSDs. Intel's new H10 drives will still command a premium due to the pricey Optane memory, but the less-expensive QLC flash means you get much more storage capacity for your dollar.

Optane SSD 800p
Optane Memory H10 (QLC - Optane)
58 / 118 GB
1TB - 32GB / 512GB - 32GB / 256GB - 16GB

The new Optane Memory H10 drives include two models with either 1TB or 512GB of QLC flash paired with 32GB of Optane memory. Intel also has a low-capacity model that combines 256GB of QLC storage with 16GB of Optane memory.

The H10 is essentially an 32GB Optane memory caching drive and an Intel 660p QLC SSD crammed onto a single board. As such, the drive has a custom Intel controller for the Optane memory and a separate SMI controller for the QLC flash.

Each controller has its own PCIe 3.0 x2 pathway into the M.2 socket, and Intel's RST (Rapid Storage Technology) combines the two drives together. As a result, the drive is limited to the speed of a single PCIe 3.0 x2 connection. That will limit performance for large transfers, but you retain the speed and latency of Optane during random workloads.

The Optane memory is transparent to the operating system, so the drives only expose the QLC flash portion of the SSD to the user. As such, a drive with 1TB of QLC flash and 32GB of Optane memory appears as a 1TB drive. 

Most enthusiasts use the smaller Optane SSD 800p drives to hold their operating system while storing bulk data, like games, pictures, and videos, on a secondary drive. That tactic isn't as effective in the notebook space, largely because most lightweight devices don't come with connections for a secondary drive.

The new drives will certainly open up new opportunities for notebook users, and for Intel. The new drives will debut in Q2 in OEM systems from Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer, Asus, and others. Intel is leading with drives for several OEM laptops, which will come to market in Q2 2019, but hasn't committed to bringing retail models to shelves. The H10 requires a motherboard that supports PCIe bifurcation, which means motherboard vendors would have to commit to releasing new BIOS revisions that support the feature.

Intel hasn't released performance specifications. QLC SSDs tend to be pretty snappy, but regular Optane drives are faster. Overall performance of the combined drives will not be as impressive as a "pure" Optane SSD, but intelligent caching should make the drive faster than flash-based SSDs.

Intel hasn't released specifics, but the Optane Memory H10 SSDs have a higher endurance rating than a standard QLC SSD and are backed by a five-year warranty.

    Your comment
  • AnimeMania
    They should slap that inside a 4 to 8 TB hard drive and sell the whole thing.
  • Giroro
    QLC? Gross.

    I feel bad for the engineers who spent over a decade developing a revolutionary fast and durable new storage technology, only to see it utterly wasted on caching the cheapest, slowest, least reliable flash memory ever mass produced.

    I hate the SSD industry's race to the bottom. Especially since exciting developments in speed and longevity like Optane are doomed to die on the vine as companies increase production on drives with shorter warranties than physical-wear and tear spinning disks.
  • William_X89
    Agreeing with Giroro on this one, wasting good tech on sub-par flash memory. I won't go lower than TLC.