Intel has been busy at CES this week, discussing a plethora of new initiatives, projects, and products that included a significant number of announcements related to its 10nm technology. Optane hasn’t been quite as prominent at the show, but the company has announced a new memory product that could prove quite popular. Intel’s Optane Memory H10 combines an onboard Optane cache with NAND flash on the same M.2 drive.
This is, presumably, an alternative method of improving QLC (quad-level cell) NAND performance compared with what SSD manufacturers typically deploy. Normally, SSDs that rely on slower, higher-density NAND like QLC or TLC (triple-level cell) also include a small cache of very fast NAND. Some systems deploy this cache in a static configuration while others expand or contract the cache pool depending on how much free drive space is actually available.
In either case, however, the end goal is the same: Use some of the drive’s free capacity in a low-density configuration to improve the overall responsiveness and performance of the product in general. This approach actually works fairly well, but it does leave the drives in question subject to performance declines as they fill (again, the exact details are drive-and-OEM-dependent).
Integrating an Optane cache has several benefits for Intel. First, QLC NAND has definite trade-offs as far as density versus performance and longevity. Optane’s performance relative to NAND depends on the product SKU you’re comparing, but it’s generally equivalent even in the worst-case, with the potential to exceed NAND SSD performance in low queue depth scenarios. It’s caching performance relative to NAND is generally equivalent or better. Right now, the product is only intended for OEM systems, but it could make an appearance as boxed retail hardware as well, Intel representatives told PCWorld.
Optane Memory H10 will be available in three configurations:
- 16GB Optane / 256GB NAND
- 32GB Optane / 512GB NAND
- 32GB Optane / 1TB NAND
Up until now, we’ve mostly seen SSDs cache for spinning disks, but using a high-speed Optane cache to buffer QLC NAND should work quite well. Putting the solution on the same M.2 silicon allows Intel to slip these drives into even the thinnest thin-and-light systems, while the density improvements of QLC NAND should help keep overall costs low.
This seems like the kind of consumer application where Optane could have a meaningful impact on system configurations, improving the amount of SSD storage available in laptops while simultaneously buffering the performance impact of adopting slower NAND as primary storage capacity.
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