Test Setup

Our primary system for consumer SSD testing is a Skylake desktop. This is equipped with a Quarch XLC Power Module for detailed SSD power measurements and is used for our ATSB IO trace tests and synthetic benchmarks using FIO. This system predates all of the Optane Memory products, and Intel and their motherboard partners did not want to roll out firmware updates to provide Optane Memory caching support on Skylake generation systems. Using this testbed, we can only access the QLC NAND half of the Optane Memory H10.

As usual for new Optane Memory releases, Intel sent us an entire system with the new Optane Memory H10 pre-installed and configured. This year's review system is an HP Spectre x360 13t notebook with an Intel Core i7-8565U Whiskey Lake processor and 16GB of DDR4. In previous years Intel has provided desktop systems for testing Optane Memory products, but the H10's biggest selling point is that it is a single M.2 module that fits in small systems, so the choice of a 13" notebook this year makes sense. Intel has confirmed that the Spectre x360 will soon be available for purchase with the Optane Memory H10 as one of the storage options.

The HP Spectre x360 13t has only one M.2 type-M slot, so in order to test multi-drive caching configurations or anything involving SATA, we made use of the Coffee Lake and Kaby Lake systems Intel provided for previous Optane Memory releases. For application benchmarks like SYSmark and PCMark, the scores are heavily influenced by the differences in CPU power and RAM between these machines so we have to list three sets of scores for each storage configuration tested. However, our AnandTech Storage Bench IO trace tests and our synthetic benchmarks using FIO produce nearly identical results across all three of these systems, so we can make direct comparisons and each test only needs to list one set of scores for each storage configuration.

Intel-provided Optane Memory Review Systems
Platforn Kaby Lake Coffee Lake Whiskey Lake
CPU Intel Core i5-7400 Intel Core i7-8700K Intel Core i7-8565U
Motherboard ASUS PRIME Z270-A Gigabyte Aorus H370 Gaming 3 WiFi HP Spectre x360 13t
Chipset Intel Z270 Intel H370  
Memory 2x 4GB DDR4-2666 2x 8GB DDR4-2666 16GB DDR4-2400
Case In Win C583 In Win C583  
Power Supply Cooler Master G550M Cooler Master G550M HP 65W USB-C
1920x1200 (SYSmark)
1920x1080 (PCMark)
1920x1080 1920x1080
OS Windows 10 64-bit, version 1803

Intel's Optane Memory caching software is Windows-only, so our usual Linux-based synthetic testing with FIO had to be adapted to run on Windows. The configuration and test procedure is as close as practical to our usual methodology, but a few important differences mean the results in this review are not directly comparable to those from our usual SSD reviews or the results posted in Bench. In particular, it is impossible to perform a secure erase or NVMe format from within Windows except in the rare instance where a vendor provides a tool that only works with their drives. Our testing usually involves erasing the drive between major phases in order to restore performance without waiting for the SSD's background garbage collection to finish cleaning up and freeing up SLC cache. For this review's Windows-based synthetic benchmarks, the tests that write the least amount of data were run first, and those that require filling the entire drive were saved for last.

Optane Memory caching also requires using Intel's storage drivers. Our usual procedure for Windows-based tests is to use Microsoft's own NVMe driver rather than bother with vendor-specific drivers. The tests of Optane caching configurations in this review were conducted with Intel's drivers, but all single-drive tests (including tests of just one side of the Optane Memory H10) use the Windows default driver.

Our usual Skylake testbed is setup to test NVMe SSDs in the primary PCIe x16 slot connected to the CPU. Optane Memory caching requires that the drives be connected through the chipset, so there's a small possibility that congestion on the x4 DMI link could have an effect on the fastest drives, but the H10 is unlikely to come close to saturating this connection.

We try to include detailed power measurements alongside almost all of our performance tests, but this review is missing most of those. Our current power measurement equipment is unable to supply power to a M.2 slot in a notebook and requires a regular PCIe x4 slot for the power injection fixture. We have new equipment on the way from Quarch to remedy this limitation and will post an article about the upgrade after taking the time to re-test the drives in this review with power measurement on the HP notebook.

Introduction Application Benchmarks: SYSmark 2018 & PCMark 10
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  • The_Assimilator - Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - link

    > I don't understand the purpose of this product.

    It's Intel still trying, and still failing, to make Optane relevant in the consumer space.
  • tacitust - Tuesday, April 23, 2019 - link

    It works in the sense that the OEMs who use this drive will be able to use the fact that customers will be getting cutting edge Optane storage. As the review says, this is a low effort solution, so it likely didn't cost much to develop, so they won't need too many design wins to recoup their costs. It also gets Optane into many more consumer devices, which helps in the long run in terms of perception, if nothing else.

    Note: most users won't know or even care that the drive itself doesn't provide faster performance than other solutions, so it doesn't really matter to Intel either. If they get the design win, Optane does gain relevance in the consumer space, just not with the small segment of power users who read AnandTech for the reviews.
  • ironargonaut - Monday, April 29, 2019 - link

    Seems it does provide faster performance in some usage cases.
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, April 24, 2019 - link

    I can't stand these dumb posts where people shut down the usage for consumers. I use it all the time for OS and other programs/files. I use it as cache. I use it for different reasons. Even the cheap early x2 laned variants. I'm not in IT or anything enterprise.
  • name99 - Thursday, April 25, 2019 - link

    It's worse than that.
    The OPTANE team clearly want to sell as many Optanes as they can.
    But INTC management has decided that they can extract maximal money from enterprise by limiting
  • name99 - Thursday, April 25, 2019 - link

    It's worse than that.
    The OPTANE team clearly want to sell as many Optanes as they can.
    But INTC management has decided that they can extract maximal money from enterprise by limiting the actually sensible Optane uses (in the memory system, either as persistent memory ---for enterprise, or as a good place to swap to, for consumers).

    And so we have this ridiculous situation where the Optane team keeps trying to sell Optane in ways that make ZERO sense because the way that makes by far the most sense (sell a 16 or 32 GB or 64GB DIMM that acts as the swap space) is prevented by Intel high management (who presumably are scared that if cheap CPUs can talk to Optane DIMMs, then someone somewhere will figure out how to use them in bulk rather than super expensive special Xeons).
    Corporate dysfunction at its finest...
  • Billy Tallis - Friday, April 26, 2019 - link

    I think it's too soon to say that Intel's artificially holding back Optane DIMMs from market segments where they might have a chance. They had initially planned to have Optane DIMM support in Skylake-SP but couldn't get it working until Cascade Lake, which has only been shipping in volume for a few months. Now that they have got one working Optane-compatible memory controller out the door, they can consider bringing those memory controller features down to other product segments. But we've seen that they have given up on updating the memory controllers on their 14nm consumer parts even to provide LPDDR4 support, which certainly is a more compelling and widely-demanded feature than Optane support. I wouldn't expect Intel to be able to introduce Optane support to their consumer CPUs until their second generation of 10nm (not counting CNL) processors at the earliest. Trying to squeeze it into their first mass-market 10nm would be unreasonable since they should be trying at all costs to avoid feature creep on those parts and just ship something that works and isn't still Skylake.
  • ironargonaut - Monday, April 29, 2019 - link

    Read here for an actual real world usage test. Two system with only memory difference and same input sometimes significantly different results.
    3X speed up for some tasks. I don't know about ya'll but I multitask a lot at work so I will let background stuff go while I do something else that is in front of me.
  • weevilone - Monday, April 22, 2019 - link

    That's too bad. I tried to tinker with the Optane caching when it launched and it was a software disaster. I wrote it off to early days stuff and put it in my kids' PC when they began to allow non-boot drives to be cached. It was another disaster and Intel's techs couldn't figure it out.

    I wound up re-installing Windows the first time and I had to redo the kids' game drive the second time. No thanks.
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, April 24, 2019 - link

    The problem is you were using the proprietary HDD caching they marketed. There are so many ways to do drive caching on Windows that doesn't involve that Intel software. It's way better and smoother. even if still software. Software RAID and cache is superior to hardware cache unless you're using $1K+ add-on cards.

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