Installation, Timed Tests and Observations
Intel shipped us a pre-built machine that was meant to match the typical OEM-style build one would expect to receive with Optane Memory installed. The hardware was all 7th generation gear, but not necessarily high end. The CPU was an i5-7500 (3.4GHz quad core – no hyperthreading) and the system relied on Intel’s integrated HD 630 Graphics.
While Optane Memory came pre-configured, the installer was present and we could replicate the typical install process by first disabling Optane Memory and removing the driver.
For anyone familiar with Intel’s older Smart Response Technology, the process is very similar, though Optane Memory is not yet integrated with Intel’s RST driver as SRT was. It serves as a standalone installer and application. With the driver and Optane Memory module installed, enabling is as simple as clicking a button and rebooting the machine.
During the first reboot after enabling, we caught the UEFI BIOS completing an additional step just after POST. This prompt only seems to appear during the enabling process. Once you've booted, that’s it. It’s just that simple. From this point forward you get Optane memory acceleration. Your HDD (or SSD) is renamed to indicate the new hybrid status and the Optane SSD itself no longer appears under disk management.
The best way to get an idea of how fast Optane Memory ‘feels’ is to go low tech with stopwatch testing. We configured multiple systems identically and ran these tests in the exact same sequence across all configurations. Times are an average of multiple runs wherever possible.
We tried to go a bit heavy on some of the operations we attempted to really push the Optane Memory system as a whole. The general consensus is as follows:
- SATA HDD speeds are brought to match SATA SSD speeds.
- SATA SSD speeds are in some (few) cases accelerated even further.
- Some specific game workloads (level loading in Doom) do not hit the storage in a latency critical manner. While Doom took far longer to launch on an HDD, level loads once in the game were similar regardless of HDD/SSD speeds or caching.
Yes, you read that right, SATA SSDs can be accelerated by Optane Memory and in some cases the end result beats even an NVMe SSD (in this case, the 960 EVO!).
Let’s get a closer look at those boot times:
Optane Memory absolutely excels at small random access at VERY low latencies, and that is a primary contributor to system boot speed. The gains are sufficient to accelerate a HDD system to speeds approaching that of a Samsung 960 EVO system, and in the case of Optane Memory accelerating a SATA SSD, even faster!
A primary concern I had going into this review was that 32GB might not be sufficient to cache the heaviest uses. I was pleasantly surprised, and you should be too considering that I did the following within one session (no reboots):
- Download and install VMware
- Download Windows 10 ISO image from Microsoft
- Install Windows 10 Pro within a VMware VM
- Play Doom
- Play Ashes Escalation
After all the above, not only was the Ashes Escalation launch time identical to previous runs, the reboot I performed after this sequence was only a bit slower than the typical time, coming in at 12.89 seconds (still way faster than the 40+ second typical HDD-only time). Since I had passed far more than 32GB through the storage, it is clear that the Optane Memory driver is very smart about what it caches and what it doesn’t.