What is Intel Optane Memory

Whenever you decide to purchase a new PC, the memory is arguably one of the most pondered over areas of this potential purchase.
With your budget in mind, you are most likely to ask questions like: How much RAM should I get? And should I go with an HDD, an SSD, or both? There is another option here to keep in mind, which you maybe don’t know about, and that is Intel Optane Memory.
Intel Optane Memory is a type of disk caching that when can be combined with HDD, providing the users with not only the high storage capacity of HDD but also, the quick data accessing speed of a good SSD. More importantly, this all comes at a relatively cheap cost.
In recent times, Optane-based SSDs have also been introduced that are extremely handy for cheap and slower SSDs.
In our guide below, we will get you to speed with all there is to know about Intel Optane Memory. So, let’s begin!
How Intel Optane Memory Works?
The working principle of Intel Optane in simple words is: the most commonly used data is copied into the Intel Optane Memory and is delivered to you at a fast rate while the other data is fetched from the HDD, at a much slower pace.
The Intel Optane Memory differentiates between these two different forms of data using a “least recently used” (LRU) approach.
So, firstly, all forms of data are stored in HDD, and then it is replicated into the Intel Optane Memory/cache. Each time this cache data in the Optane Memory is read or written, its last access time gets updated.
Over time, all the old data in your cache is gets replaced with the more recently accessed data. Depending on the storage capacity of the cache, it will either hold the larger chunk of your data or the smaller one.
The technology behind the Optane memory is 3D XPoint, which is a form of non-volatile memory. This technology is like the NAND used in most SSDs. However, the difference is that it relies on changing material properties rather than storing charges.
Currently, the Intel Optane Memory has the following capacities: 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB. The larger caches of 64 GB and 118 GB have been added later on because caches of 16 GB and 32 GB just simply don’t suffice for most of the users anymore.
For instance, if you use Windows 10 as your operating system, with a 16 GB cache, running a few heavy applications can cause the older cached data to go back to the hard drive.
Although having a larger cache sort out this problem, but determining exactly what type of data goes into the cache first can be a real hassle to deal with.
Now, consider watching a large HD movie of say, 6 GB, since movies are read sequentially at relatively low rates (maybe 5-15MB/s), having the whole movie in the cache will simply waste space.
For that, Intel Optane Memory comes packed with Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology (RST) application and drivers. RST intelligently determines which type of data should be preferred for storage in the cache.
DRAM and Optane Memory
DRAM is a volatile memory technology of what an HDD or an SSD is made of. It temporarily saves the tasks performed by the processor. Volatile memory relies on power to retain data, so once your computer is turned off, the content stored within the DRAM is lost.
On the contrary, the non-volatile Optane Memory remembers the data even if after the computer is turned off.
DRAM and Optane Memory complement each other perfectly. They allow your computer to be faster and more responsive than being alone with the DRAM.
Intel Optane Memory Specifications
In the table above, you can see that different capacities of Intel Optane Memory have different specifications and hence, different performance.
Now, if we compare these specifications with NAND-based SSDs, 3D XPoint offers largely comes out on top; it has faster read and write speeds, higher capacities, higher durability, and low latency access times.
Only the raw throughput of NAND comes at par with Optane Memory.
Intel Optane Memory Performance
Whether it is Windows boot times, applications load times, or game load times, you will notice a significant surge in the speed of your PC – identical to that of a decent SSD, with an Optane Memory, equipped with an HDD or a slower SSD.
In the case of an HDD equipped with Optane Memory, when you will first access the uncached data, it will load slowly. This is because Optane Memory needs a bit of a warm-up before it can begin to work properly.
From the second time onwards, when you access the same data, you will feel a noticeable increase in speed. It means after your first comparatively slower boot of the Windows, the subsequent boots will be carried out much quicker.
Similar is the case with the video games, their load times will be slow the first time around but substantially improve from the second time onwards.
However, to fully reap the benefits of Intel Optane Memory, you need to make sure that you have the right capacity.
For lighter usage, 32 GB is good enough. As for heavy workloads like high-end video gaming, you should consider going for at least 64 GB.
System requirements for Intel Optane Memory
As the name suggests, Intel Optane Memory is available only for Intel platforms. M.2-slotted motherboards with 200-series chipset, 300-series chipset, or X299 chipset boards are suited to support the Optane Memory.
As far as the process is concerned, you’ll need a Core i3/i5/i7/i9 7th Gen or later Intel processor. The Pentium and Celeron models cannot be equipped with Optane Memory. You will also need Windows 10 version 1803 or later as the operating system.
Should You Go for the Intel Optane Memory?
If your budget is a bit tight right now but you are looking to boost your computer’s speed with an HDD of decent capacity, then Intel Optane Memory is your option.
However, if you have flexibility in your budget and you need your PC for hefty tasks like video games or 3-D Work, then upgrading your RAM or getting a more sizeable SSD is your best bet.
This is because, in the case of Optane Memory, only the cached data experience a surge in speeds. Moreover, there isn’t much difference in the cost of larger capacities of Intel Optane Memory, SSD, and RAM.

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