What is Intel Optane Memory?

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Does your system use an SSD or HDD? What if I told you HDD users that you could bring new life to your system with a simple upgrade for the price of less than a dinner for two? And no, the answer is not by downloading more RAM. (Jokes aside, this is not a real thing. Do not pay to download RAM.) Interested? While it sounds like snake oil at first, Intel® Optane™ memory packs memory advancements that can decrease boot times, quickly load files and applications, and increase system responsiveness.

What Is It?

It’s a PCIe 3.0 x2 M.2 2280 module available in 16GB or 32GB. While “memory” is in its name, it is in fact not memory like RAM. RAM such as DDR3 and DDR4 is volatile, meaning that when the system loses power or shuts off, the data stored on it is gone. On the other hand, Intel® Optane™ is non-volatile, acting more like storage, which doesn’t get wiped after power loss.

Intel 16GB Optane Series PCIe M.2 Memory Module
Intel 16GB Optane Series PCIe M.2 Memory Module

What Does it Do?

Intel® Optane™ Memory is a system accelerator designed to increase system responsiveness and reduce the time spent waiting for tasks to finish. It can improve things such as booting, locating files, saving and moving large files, launching applications, and loading games. Users will see more noticeable improvements when using Intel® Optane™ with a traditional hard drive than with a solid-state drive, mostly because solid-state drives are already quite fast. Additionally, users should note that Intel® Optane™ does not work with RAID volumes.

How Does it Work?

The design behind Intel® Optane™ was to create fast, dense, and non-volatile storage. It combines non-volatile memory, dubbed 3D XPoint memory, Intel’s memory and storage controllers, as well as interface hardware and software enhancements. 3D XPoint memory consists of memory and selector cells placed in columns with a perpendicular structure of vertical and horizontal wiring above and below, allowing individual memory cells to be addressed by selecting one wire on top and one on the bottom. These are then stacked for density, forming a complicated sandwich of sorts. There’s more behind the scenes here, but this simple illustration should suffice.

Once it’s installed and properly set up, users simply need to continue using their system normally. Intel® mentions noticeable improvements within three boot cycles for reducing boot times, whereas application and file acceleration will happen automatically as it learns your computing behaviors. It might take a little longer for higher capacity Intel® Optane™ drives to warm up, but that’s due to their larger modules. Continue with your daily tasks.

Which One is Right for Me?

The 16GB model is ideal for normal mainstream users and the 32GB model is geared more toward prosumers, content creators, and gamers. Aside from the number of applications and files it can accelerate, the larger 32GB module supports pinning, which allows users to select specific files, folder, and applications to accelerate. At this point, you probably might be asking yourself, “Why don’t I just buy an SSD instead?” Of course, you can. The difference, though, is that you’re limited to the capacity of said SSD. Users who work with high-volume drives might see a more cost-effective solution with a 32GB Intel® Optane™ memory module paired with an 8TB HDD rather than two 4TB SSDs.

What Do I Need?

Below is a list of requirements from Intel®. Most of these specs are quite reasonable nowadays, since Intel® is already on 9th-generation processors with 10th soon to follow. With the CPU out of the way, a compatible motherboard is easy to spot—just look for the “Intel® Optane™ Ready” feature before purchasing. Windows 10 is easy to obtain, as well. Whether you opt for a USB or CD, of even if you’re upgrading from an older version of Windows, it should be a clear-cut process. As for the application and driver, download it via the Microsoft Windows Store and Intel’s site, respectively. The only tricky part I can see when dealing with Intel® Optane™ would be setting up the GPT Partition Table on your SATA drive. Systems with Intel® Optane™ pre-installed should have no issues, but users looking to install their own will have to do some legwork.

  • 7th generation or later Intel® Core™ processor
    • (8th generation Pentium and Celerons are also compatible with the right BIOS)
  • Intel® 200 series chipset or later motherboard
  • Intel® Optane™ Memory ready UEFI BIOS
  • Windows 10 x64
  • Intel® Optane™ Memory and Storage Management Application
  • Intel® Rapid Storage Technology 15.5 or newer driver
  • Drive to be accelerated
  • SATA-based primary/system boot drive or secondary/data drive
    • (2.5", 3.5", or M.2 HDD or SSD as long as they’re connected within chipset lanes)
  • GPT Partition table (Does not support MBR partition tables)
  • 5MB available at the end of disk

What Else?

Aside from the M.2 2280 module, Intel® Optane™ technology is also readily available built-into the SSDs. Whether it’s a U.2 or a PCIe SSD, users will have a variety of options to acquire Optane™ performance.

Intel 280GB Optane 900P U.2 Internal SSD
Intel 280GB Optane 900P U.2 Internal SSD

Hopefully, we have provided enough details for a better understanding of Intel® Optane™ memory. If there’s something that we haven’t covered, or you’d like to know more about, please visit Intel’s FAQ page to learn more. We can also try answering your questions if you leave them below.

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