Intel Optane Memory Will Speed Up Your Hard Drive

If you building a PC on a budget this year you'll likely find yourself deciding between a high capacity Hard Disk Drive (HDD) or a smaller, albeit faster SATA III Solid-State Drive (SSD). You can currently buy a WD Blue 1TB 5400RPM desktop hard drive for about $50 or a WD Black 1TB 7200RPM desktop hard drive for $70. Those prices are hard to beat for those needing affordable storage space to house all the game titles and movies that you own. Alternatively, you could purchase an entry-level 240GB SATA SSD for $73, or move up to a 480GB model for $117. SSD prices have come down greatly over the years and they are faster than HDDs, but they are still too expensive for many that have large storage needs. Intel Optane Memory Packaging This is where Intel Optane Memory Modules are expected to fit into the market as it combines Intel 3D XPoint Technology with the latest in SSD caching advancements. The idea for SSD caching is that the important recently accessed data (Windows OS files, application files, game data & more)  is placed onto really fast caching drive (Intel Optane Memory) and can be quickly accessed when needed by the system instead of having to pull the data from the slower hard drive. Intel Optane Memory is different from older SSD caching technologies like Intel Smart Response Technology as it utilizes faster and more durable 3D Xpoint memory instead of NAND Flash and the faster M.2 PCIe x4 inteface instead of the SATA III interface The only problem with SSD caching is that the first time you use a new application is that it needs to load from the hard drive and then depending on your usage patterns some data that was on the caching drive will be pushed off to free up space for newly cached data. This is one of the reasons that Intel Optane Memory is initially launching in 16GB and 32GB capacities for $45.00 and $77.00.  respectively. Intel Optane Memory Module installed in m.2 slot Intel Optane Memory requires an Intel 200-series chipset motherboard with an open M.2 slot that supports this new feature. Secondly, you must have an Intel 7th Gen Core i3 or better 'Kaby Lake' processor. That means the only people that can use Optane Memory right now are those that have basically a brand new system as those with older systems are out of luck. You then need to install Intel Rapid Storage Technology drivers (version 15.5.0.1051 or newer) for Intel Optane Memory and that is only supported on Windows 10. If you happen to have all the right hardware and OS you can enjoy an Intel Optane Memory Module. [gallery ids="193895,193894,193896,193897,193898,193899,193900"] Once the Intel Optane Memory Module is installed into an M.2 slot and the proper Intel RST driver is installed you just need to enable the drive, which i s a simple procedure that takes about five minutes and requires a system restart. The one oddity that we noticed is that when you setup the Intel Optane Memory Module is that all the data is erased on the drive, but when you disable the drive the data is not erased. We've pointed this out to Intel already and hopefully they will add a secure erase cycle to the removal proedure. Let's take a look at our test system and then our results!

Intel Optane Memory Test System

To test out the Intel Optane Memory Module we tested on a typical $800 gaming PC that consisted of an Intel Core i7-7500 processor, ASUS Prime B250 Plus motherboard, 16GB HyperX Fury 2400MHz DDR4 memory, WD Black 1TB HDD, Cooler Master G550M 550W PSU, Windows 10 64-bit RS1 and an Intel Optane 32GB Module. After this image was taken we added an EVGA GeForce GTX 1060 6GB FTW+ video card to better play game titles. Intel Optane Test System Here are the exact hardware components that we are using on our test system:
The Intel Optane Memory Test Platform

Component

Brand/Model

Live Pricing

Processor Intel Core i5-7500
Motherboard
ASUS PRIME B250-PLUS
Memory
16GB HyperX Fury
2400MHz DDR4
Video Card EVGA GTX 1060 FTW+
Hard Drive WD Black 1TB
Cooling Intel Stock HSF
Power Supply Cooler Master G550M
Case InWin Z583
Operating System Windows 10 64-bit
Monitor ASUS PB287Q 28" 4K
Intel Optane Test System HWiNFO Now that we know what we tested on let's look at the results!

Intel Optane Memory Benchmarks

Let's start out by looking at CrystalDiskMark 5.2.1 and seeing how the WD Black 1TB Performance 3.5" Desktop Hard Disk Drive performs (7,200 RPM, 64MB cache, part number WD1003FZEX). This is a very popular and affordable ($70.37 shipped) hard drive that has a 4.5 out of 5 star rating on Amazon with over 1,200 user reviews. Intel Optane Memory CrystalDiskMark The hard drive is a solid performing spinner with sequential Read/Write performance around 170 MB/s and we were able to get that up to 1422 MB/s Read and 294.2 MB/s Write after enabling Intel Optane Memory! Intel Optane Memory ATTO Disk Benchmark When it comes to ATTO Disk Benchmark results the WD Black 1TB hard drive topped out at 196 MB/s Read and 180 MB/s Write by itself and when paired with the Intel Optane Memory 32GB Module we were able to improve those numbers and were getting 1415 MB/s Read and 297 MB/s Write. This is an impressive 7.2x increase on the Sequential Read speeds and nearly doubling the Sequential Write speed! Adding in an Intel Optane Memory Module will give you instant improvements in most benchmark tests, but let's take a look at some other tests that can be run. Intel Optane Memory Windows 10 Boot Times System boot time is a pretty common thing gamers and enthusiasts use to judge system performance, but very few custom built PCs are the same and big corporations hate to make performance claims regarding boot times. In fact, Intel has removed one of their previous claims specific to boot times due to the high level of variability with boot times based on the configurations and settings of PCs In general, Intel says that you can expect faster boot times with Intel Optane memory being used in a system, but is not quantifying this benefit. Since Intel isn't going to do it, we broke out our stop watch and timed our system from the point where we pressed the power button until the Steam App inventory popup message came up in the lower right hand corner of the screen. We averaged 10 system boots and found that we averaged 43.55 seconds with just the 1TB hard drive and then 33.23 seconds with the 1TB hard drive paired with the Intel Optane Memory 32GB module. This is a 10+ second increase in our boot times! Popping in the Intel Optane Memory Module and enabling it in the driver gave us a 23.7% improvement in our system boot time! Intel Optane Memory Google Chrome Launch Times How about opening a web browser? We installed Google Chrome 58 and found that it took 2,251ms on average to open the first time on a freshly booted system and we were able to reduce that down to 209ms with Intel Optane Memory enabled. Going from over 2.2 seconds to just a hair over 0.2 seconds to open Google Chrome is something noticeable as it feels like the browser is launching lightning fast. We did notice that if you close the Chrome browser and open it again without rebooting the system or doing anything else was pretty much the same with our without Intel Optane Memory enabled. Intel Optane Memory Fallout 4 Game Load Times What about Intel Optane Memory any gaming? We took a quick look at Fallout 4 and used a stopwatch to time the launching of the game and the loading of a saved game level. After averaging 10 tests we found that with Intel Optane Memory enabled we were able to shave off nearly 5 seconds from launching the game and around 12 seconds from loading our game save. That is a 17% improvement when it comes to launching the game and an impressive 50% reduction in loading the saved game!

Final Thoughts & Conclusions

This is not Intel's first attempt at Intel Optane Memory, but it is certainly their best solution yet. We discovered a very noticeable performance improvement with Intel Optane Memory enabled and we loved the faster boot times, improved application load times, quick game loads and better overall system responsiveness that it gave us. Running a hard drive can be painful at times, but after quickly installing an Intel Optane Module and enabling the technology many of the woes of owning a hard drive were reduced. Intel Optane Memory Module installed in m.2 slot   Intel Optane Memory Modules are available to pre-order now on Amazon and should be in stock and ready to ship on April 28th, 2017. The Intel Optane Memory Module 16GB (part number MEMPEK1W016GAXT) is $45.00 with free shipping and the 32GB version (part number MEMPEK1W032GAXT) is priced at $77.00 with free shipping. We see Intel Optane Memory selling with with OEM system builders on brand new systems as for $45 (and hopefully less in the near future) you get a much better user experience. The nice thing about Intel Optane Memory is that is requires no user intervention once it is enabled, so it is truly a simple way to improve your systems storage performance! LR Recommended Award Legit Bottom Line: Intel Optane Memory takes SSD Caching to the next level and we can't wait to see what Intel is going to do with 3D XPoint memory on Intel Optane SSDs later this year!