MSI, Gigabyte Update BIOSes With Intel Optane Support

MSI and Gigabyte released new BIOSes for their 200-series motherboards to support Intel's Optane memory technology.

Optane is restricted to Intel 7th generation (Kaby Lake) processors and 200-series motherboards. Intel said the tech is supposed to give you a 28% overall system performance boost while also increasing hard drive access and "everyday task responsiveness" speeds by 14x and 2x, respectively. All you need is a compatible processor, motherboard, and Optane Memory product, like the 16GB and 32GB modules that were announced in late March.

The promise is that Optane will marry HDD capacities with SSD performance. The reality is a little bit less clear. Optane is much like Intel's Smart Response Technology introduced in 2011, and right now Optane Memory products act as I/O caches for their connected HDDs and SATA SSDs. That could help you if you're working primarily with relatively few applications or small amounts of data, but it could lead to problems for "prosumers" and professionals who use a variety of apps and larger datasets. As we explained when Intel announced the Optane Memory modules:

Cache technology brings a set of inherit risks. Stacking cache on top of cache amplifies the penalty of a cache miss. As an analogy: In baseball, you may go through several batters to get a hit. That takes time, and you could end up on the losing side of performance when an I/O request first strikes out the Optane cache, then the SLC layer cache, and finally has to reach out to the third layer. In this case, it's the TLC. The third batter gets a hit, but there are already two strikeouts on the scoreboard for the inning. Holding more data in the high-speed tier one cache helps to increase your chances of a hit. The more applications you use, the wider the strike zone becomes. Your core, daily use software is ready to swing for the fences, but the application you haven't run in six months has to be flown in from the Triple-A league. If your primary media is a hard disk drive, then you see a massive 20ms delay after swinging at fast balls for most of the day.

Still, these BIOS updates from MSI and Gigabyte will at least give you the option of using Optane if you want. The functionality was built into the companies' 200-series motherboards; it's merely a matter of unlocking it with these updates. MSI also includes an Optane Genie that "enables the use of Optane memory with just 1-click" instead of requiring "several challenging steps to successfully configure and enable Optane memory boosting."

You can find a list of MSI 200-series motherboards and their new BIOS versions in MSI's announcement. If you have a Gigabyte or "Aorus" 200-series motherboard, you can find the latest BIOS information on the board's product page. And if you want to learn more about Intel's 3D XPoint, which is at the heart of Optane, you can check out our guide to the technology's history, performance, competition, and more.