Intel Optane: Huge performance boost, low price

Intel recently introduced a brand new technology to the market: Optane memory. Optane isn’t like your traditional RAM, and it isn’t like an SSD. It’s somewhere in between. Optane (available in 16GB (~$45) and 32GB (~$80) modules) is an M.2 module that sports a completely new type of non-volatile memory. Unlike RAM, it doesn’t get erased when you turn off your computer – it’s “permanent” storage. But unlike SSDs, it’s incredibly fast – approaching RAM speeds.

How does it work? Much like the “hybrid” hard drives that were popular a few years ago. The Optane architecture dynamically detects the sectors of your hard drive or SSD that you access the most often, and copies them to the Optane Memory stick. From then on, when that data is needed, it’s loaded from the Optane device. That should mean stupid-fast boot times, and accelerated loading of your most-used programs.

It could also mean not having to choose between speed and capacity. Big hard drives (up to 8TB!) are cheap now, and using one of those in tandem with Optane could be a solution rather than having a 128-256GB SSD; plus it should perform faster in your most frequently-performed tasks.

So how can you get it? Well, unless you’re building a new computer today, you probably can’t. Optane requires a 7th-generation (Kaby Lake) Intel CPU, and an Optane-ready motherboard, which haven’t been available for very long. Optane will be available in some new laptops coming up, but probably won’t go mainstream for a while.

At the price point they come at, though, they should be in nearly every new computer in short order, and that’s really exciting to us. We think Optane stands to be a disruptive technology – it’s inexpensive and “safe”, and should give a massive speed boost to nearly every computer it’s in.

One last thing – if you’re building a new computer and plan to use Optane, should you not get an SSD? That depends on your storage needs. If you expect that your primary storage (OS, applications, games, frequently-accessed data) will not exceed 500GB, we’d still suggest using an SSD as your primary drive thanks to the increased speed and durability. With the limited capacity of Optane devices, they probably won’t speed up your games’ load times, for example. If you intend to generate a lot of “secondary” data (work files, etc.), a secondary traditional mechanical hard drive of greater capacity is a good choice. However, if you generate massive amounts of data and especially if unification of that data is important to your workflow, forgoing an SSD in favor of a single large drive (in tandem with Optane) is recommended.

To learn more about Optane technology, click here to check out Intel’s informative page and videos.

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