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First Intel Optane hardware could be coming to consumer desktops

Ever since Intel announced its 3D XPoint storage (brand name: Optane), there’s been interest from the enthusiast market. While Intel claims the new non-volatile storage medium will offer significant improvements in endurance, performance, and power consumption (10x lower latency, 3x write endurance, 4x more writes per second, and as little as 30% the power consumption as competing NAND flash), there’s also been chatter that the technology will be significantly more expensive than NAND on a cost-per-gigabyte level. Micron expects its version of 3D XPoint, dubbed QuantX, to sell for about half the price of DRAM, but 4-5x more than NAND flash.

Now, is reporting that Intel might bring its Optane tech to market for consumers in the not-too-distant future, as part of the Kaby Lake refresh. This version of Optane would arrive in two flavors — a 16GB and a 32GB, with somewhat different performance.


Benchlife has had accurate information before, but there are some trends to be aware of before planning to drop a significant amount of cash on Optane in the next 12 months. When NAND flash began taking over the SSD market eight years ago, it wasn’t just a little faster than traditional spinning media — in some metrics, it was multiple orders of magnitude faster. The access latency for NAND flash drives is typically given as 0.1ms, while a typical disk has an access latency of 10-12ms. Even though solid state drives from 2008 weren’t always faster than high-end consumer disks in every type of workload (random 4K writes were particularly ugly on first-generation SSDs), these early drives still delivered performance improvements. Today, SSDs are considered to be faster than HDDs in every general-purpose workload.


Neither Intel nor Micron seem to be positioning 3D XPoint memory as a general-purpose workhorse, however, at least not yet. Both firms have focused their demos and discussions on database performance and on the ability of 3DXPoint to slot in-between main system memory (DRAM) and mass storage (SSD or HDD). The gains from this, however, may not be nearly as visible as the performance improvements we saw from magnetic drives to solid-state hardware.

Imagine, for example, that you have a storage-limited task that takes 20 minutes to perform. Moving from an HDD to an SSD slashes that time in half, to 10 minutes. But an upgrade that slashes it half again, to 5 minutes, still only cuts five minutes off your task time — not the 10 minutes you saved from the initial upgrade. In fact, to deliver something approaching the original improvement, you’d have to quadruple performance, not simply double it.

Optane drives of 16-32GB aren’t really large enough to serve as primary storage and most enthusiasts don’t run databases off consumer PCs. If Intel can create a genuine use-case for the new technology and pair it with Kaby Lake, it could help give enthusiasts a genuine reason to upgrade that’s been largely missing since Sandy Bridge debuted in 2011. But as of right now, the use cases detailed for Optane aren’t a very good fit for consumer workloads.

Now read: How do SSDs work?

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