Original Article: https://owo.cab/123, also published on xLog
Recently, I found that the price of Intel Optane 16GB has dropped below ¥15, so I decided to get my first Intel Optane as a young person. This article mainly consists of my personal tests and usage records, and is not a professional user review. The content is for reference only.
What is Intel Optane?#
According to Intel's official website, Intel Optane Memory is a unique independent storage device that can bridge the gap between traditional memory and storage. It combines storage capacity and intelligent system acceleration to simplify your computing experience. You can get speed and capacity at an affordable price. From system boot to application launch, Intel Optane Memory is an intelligent technology that can personalize and accelerate your computing experience on Intel Core-based computers. It can learn your most frequently used documents, images, videos, and applications, allowing you to access them quickly and save content even when the computer is powered off (non-volatile memory). Intel Optane Memory can recognize your most frequently used programs and keep them on standby, providing personalized quick response experience with minimal latency. It can even adapt to your changing habits over time, ensuring that you don't miss any opportunities (cache).
In reality, Intel Optane uses 3D XPoint particles, which employ phase change storage principles. This gives it extremely low latency, strong 4K performance, and high durability. Intel and Micron demonstrated in their presentation slides that Optane is 7 times faster than ordinary SSDs.
There are two types of small-capacity Optane. The first-generation Optane has the words "INTEL OPTANE MEMORY SERIES" on the sticker and has a component at the end of the disk (top), which is clearly different from the M10 (bottom) in appearance.
The currently available brand new Optane M10 comes in retail version (color box/white box) (left) and OEM version (bulk packaging) (right). The one used for testing this time is the Lenovo OEM version (model number ending with L).
The 16GB version shows 14.4GB, and after formatting, it becomes 13.3GB.
The screenshot below shows the first power-on test of the Optane in the hard drive enclosure. The power-on count shows 5 times, and I tried several pieces and got the same result. This should be caused by the pre-delivery power-on test.
I used the Optane as a large USB flash drive in the hard drive enclosure for a while, and it worked quite well for storing small files. After removing it and installing it in the computer case, CrystalDiskInfo software shows that the transmission mode is PCIe 3.0 x2, and the transmission standard is NVME 1.0/1.1. This standard is relatively low for current solid-state drives, but it is sufficient for Optane's purpose as a cache drive to accelerate HDD.
The Intel Memory and Storage Tool can read information such as the model, capacity, and temperature of the hard drive.
Open AIDA64 and go to "Storage Devices-ATA". In "SSD Physical Information", you can see that the flash memory type is "Intel 20nm 3D XPoint".
As for the lifespan of the particles, the Intel Optane SSD DC P5800X series that uses the same "Intel 20nm 3D XPoint" technology has a durability level (lifetime writes) of 100 DWPD, and the Intel Optane SSD DC P4801X with a capacity of 100GB has a durability level (lifetime writes) of 10.9 PBW. Some experts on online forums have conducted endurance tests, and it was found that after the Optane M10 exceeded its nominal lifespan, it continued to write data to the hard drive through a hard drive enclosure adapter until it reached 115% of its consumed lifespan, and then it returned to normal. The health in S.M.A.R.T. recovered to 100% and entered the "second round". Overall, there is no need to worry about the lifespan of Optane.
Using Optane as an SSD#
Below are some test screenshots (CPU: i7-9700K / RAM: 16GB / PCIe 3.0 x4)
Test results when Optane is formatted as a hard drive:
Even for products from a few years ago, Optane still outperforms other SSDs in terms of 4K performance and response time.
Compared to the KingBank KP260, which uses the second-generation Xtacking 128-layer TLC particles from Changjiang Storage, the hard drive transmission standard is PCIe 4.0. Since the motherboard does not support it, the speed cannot reach PCIe 4.0 under compatibility mode, but the 4K read and write performance does not decrease much and still has reference value.
Comparison of 4K iops: (left Intel Optane, right KingBank KP260)
After running a round of tests at room temperature (20℃) without installing a heat sink, the temperature measured through CrystalDiskInfo is 47℃. Optane generates a lot of heat, so it is better to add a heat sink during use.
Here is a temperature curve measured in a summer (30℃) environment without a heat sink installed during normal use, as measured by Hard Disk Sentinel:
Using Optane as a Cache Drive to Accelerate HDD#
Next, let's return Optane to its normal position as an accelerator for a mechanical hard drive (HDD).
Install the Intel Optane Memory management software from Intel's website. After the first installation, it cannot be initialized directly and requires a system restart.
After restarting, select the Optane Memory drive and the compatible drive to be accelerated in the software. Here, I used it to accelerate a 2TB mechanical hard drive. After selecting, click "Enable".
A prompt to erase data will appear. Check the box and click "Continue" (Please make sure that the data on Optane has been backed up, as it cannot be recovered after erasure!!), and then wait for the progress bar to complete.
After completion, a restart is required.
This time, the restart took half an hour and was still stuck on the update page. After forcibly shutting down and restarting, the system finally booted up. (I don't know what the problem was, but it's fine as long as it can be powered off)
Open the Intel Optane Memory management software again, and it is successfully enabled~
You can also enable Optane Memory using Intel RST. In the Intel RST control panel, select "Intel Optane Memory" and follow the prompts to enable it. The difference from the previous method is not significant.
After restarting, detailed information can be seen in the control panel.
Some tests were conducted after enabling Optane to accelerate the mechanical hard drive.
Compared to using Optane as a solid-state drive, the 4K speed is slightly lower, but overall performance is still good. Of course, the test data size here is set to "1GB". If the data exceeds the capacity of Optane, the speed will revert to the actual speed of the mechanical hard drive (although it is rare to reach such a large amount of data in general).
After testing with software, it is natural to test the real-world file read and write speeds, as software testing conditions are different from actual usage.
First, a game called "Honkai Impact 3rd: Star Rail" with a size of 14.0GB was selected for the write test. To avoid interference from other factors, the original file was stored on an SSD to assist in the file transfer test.
The time taken with Optane+HDD was 1:58, which is an improvement of 1:10 compared to HDD's 3:08.
During the test, the early transfer rate was basically stable at 150MB/s. When the amount of data written exceeded 13GB, which is the capacity of Optane, there was a period of time when the speed dropped to 0. At this time, the Optane cache was full and the data needed to be written to the mechanical hard drive before the acceleration of the mechanical hard drive could continue.
Next is the read test, using the same game "Honkai Impact 3rd: Star Rail" with a size of 14.0GB.
During the test, the transfer rate was basically stable at above 400MB/s, with a maximum speed of up to 700MB/s.
The time taken with Optane+HDD was 0:51, which is an improvement of 1:33 compared to HDD's 2:24.
Next, the program launch time was tested to evaluate the performance in actual usage.
Minecraft (using the PCL2 launcher, timing starts from clicking "Launch")
The time taken with Optane+HDD was 1:02.
"Honkai Impact 3rd: Star Rail" (timing starts from running the main program)
The time taken with Optane+HDD was 0:34.
Since the file size exceeded the capacity of Optane and the acceleration effect was almost zero, it is meaningless to test with larger files and games. So, this is the end.
Some Pitfalls Encountered#
After enabling Optane, some information of the original solid-state drive cannot be read normally (not sure if this is normal).
After replacing Optane, the Intel Optane Memory management software may not be recognized correctly and needs to be reinstalled.
When Optane acceleration is no longer needed and Optane is removed, be sure to enter the Intel Optane Memory management software and disable the Optane acceleration combination. Otherwise, the mechanical hard drive may not be recognized and used after removing Optane.
It is said that the first-generation Optane may be irreversibly damaged after using a PCIe adapter and then reinserting it into the M.2 slot.
Overall, Optane still has a significant impact on mechanical hard drives. However, in the current environment where SSD prices are gradually decreasing, Optane does not have an advantage. The high price of Optane when it was first released also means that not many people use it. It is a product that is "tasteless to eat but a pity to throw away". The storage revolution led by Intel ultimately ended in discontinuation. However, the prices of small-capacity Optane have now fallen, making it within the range of playability. If your motherboard has unused M.2 or PCIe slots and you are interested in Optane, you can buy an M10 to experience Intel's "black technology". Its capacity, price, and durability make it suitable for use as virtual memory or as a system disk in a software router.