Optane Memory makes sense for accelerating hard disk drives. We said the same about the Intel 311 and 313 SSDs when Intel released them in 2011 and 2012. Smart Response Technology has improved over time, but that shouldn't surprise anyone. Intel improves its product designs nearly every year. This implementation just happens to coincide with the release of 3D XPoint, the first new mass-produced memory technology in 25 years.
Enthusiasts and power users will not benefit a great deal from Optane Memory. If your system already has an NVMe SSD, like a Samsung 960 Pro or even a low-cost Phison E7-based drive, Optane Memory will have a smaller performance impact. It may even reduce performance because you lose the ability to use custom NVMe drivers. If you use a hard drive as a secondary volume to install games or other software with a large footprint, Optane will increase your random read performance.
Gamers with files loaded on a hard disk drive represent a large part of the mainstream demographic. SSD prices are rising, and the number of high-performance products has declined over the last two years. The Intel 600p 1TB is your best option at this time, but you’re still spending $350 for a fairly small drive compared to a capacious hard disk drive. For the same money, you could purchase a 6TB hard drive and a 32GB Optane Memory drive. For just $9 more, you could even move to an 8TB HDD. If you look at pricing in the other direction, you could save $180 by choosing a 4TB HDD and a 16GB Optane Memory drive. That could go a long way towards a discrete video card or processor upgrade.
As you can imagine, there is more to the story. Official support begins with the 200-Series chipset, but many don’t feel the platform offers much over the previous generation products. We built an accelerated disk on a Z170 motherboard but did not have time to test the system's performance. With RST, the technology should also work on NVMe-enabled 9-Series motherboards with minimal effort. We’ll need more time to explore those options.
Personally, I’m not satisfied with our Optane Memory coverage today. We conducted seven series of tests. Each series requires roughly 18 to 24 hours on the new platform. I haven’t validated the Z270 series yet for use in storage reviews, and we only have a single system in place. I have two sets of validated test platforms and use four identical Z97 and four identical Z87 systems for testing NVMe and SATA products. Typically, we could generate millions of data points with a one-week lead-time, but Optane Memory caught us off guard.
With limited testing capacity, we felt it was better to produce an article that focused on mainstream users first. We will follow up later with an article focused on enthusiast users with aggressive settings, optimizations, and unofficial support testing.
As tested today with mainstream settings, Optane Memory performed as advertised. We observed increased performance with both a hard disk drive and an entry-level NVMe SSD. The value proposition for a hard drive paired with Optane Memory is undeniable. The combination is very powerful, and for many users, a better solution than a larger SSD.
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