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What is Intel Optane and how does it work?

Intel is known for creating the processors that have dominated much of the past decade. In addition, Intel also manufactures storage, both in classic forms like SATA SSDs and NVMe PCIe SSDs and in a relatively new innovation called Optane. With much to learn about Optane, this article answers questions about what Intel Optane is and how it works.

What is Intel Optane and how does it work?

This is due to a performance metric you don't often hear about called IOPS, or input/output operations per second. This measures the random access capabilities of a storage device, which is slightly more representative of system responsiveness when using a computer for normal office uses.

Let's look at a real world example.

The king of PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSDs at the moment is the Samsung 970 Evo family. One of these drives offers 3400MB sequential reads and around 2500MB sequential writes up to 1TB maximum, but it depends a bit on your capacity. In contrast, a comparable Optane drive only has 2600MB sequential reads and 2200MB sequential writes.

What is Intel Optane and how does it work?

However, when we look at IOPS, the 970 Evo records a maximum of 500,000 random write IOPS and 450,000 random read IOPS at one queue depth (queue depth is the number of operations queue depth for a given volume.The lower the queue depth, the lower the IOPS) of 32 and 15,000 and 50,000 respectively at a queue depth of 1. Optane measures 575,000 IOPS random write and 550,000 random write IOPS at queue depth 16, even on smaller capacity drives that historically perform worse in this regard. The fact that Optane can outperform a 970 Evo at such low depth is incredible.

The price of this performance is, in fact, the price. A 1TB 970 Evo from Samsung will set you back around $130, depending on where you look. A comparable Optane 960GB 905p starts at around $1262. There are smaller drives that may be a bit more reasonable, but a 380GB version of this 905p is around $505 for a 110MM M.2 form factor, which probably won't fit most motherboards no manufactured within the last three years.

Who needs Optane?

In general, if you can afford Optane, you should install your operating system on it. The random read and write performance is truly amazing and greatly improves system responsiveness. However, if you can't afford Optane, a very high quality NVMe SSD like the 970 Evo is a very good choice.

If you enjoyed this storage article, be sure to check out some of our other storage content, like things you should do when running an SSD in Windows 10, how to choose a file system for your SSD in Linux and SSDs vs SSHDs – are hybrid drives worth it in 2020?