In a computer, the three main subsystems on which its performance and response speed depend are those made up of the processors, both the CPU and the GPU, the RAM, and storage. In each of these sections, technology has evolved, but it has not always been at similar rates. In this article, we discuss everything that you need to know about Intel Optane technology, how does it work, and how these drives can help you get better performance.
While general-purpose processors and graphics processors have progressed at a very fast rate, RAM memory does it at a much slower pace and storage does it even more. It is true that SSD technology has been a giant step compared to the traditional magnetic technology of HDDs, but the only thing that has been done, if we take into account the evolution of hard drives, is to put together all the potential progress that would have to be done. have occurred over time in a single “great leap” that occurred at once.
Intel has been about the only company that has taken the development of an innovative storage technology seriously: 3D XPoint ™. Present in Intel® Optane ™ drives, it must be put in context to fully understand what it entails.
The performance of a storage system: latency and read and write operations
When we think of disk performance, the first thing we think of is transfer speed. And it is correct, but it is not everything. In addition to the transfer speed, we must also take into account the latency of the medium. That is, the time it takes for a read or writes a command to the storage unit to be executed.
In the reading and writing processes of magnetic disks, mechanical rotation processes are involved, in those of SSD drives, complex electronic processes are involved that also require time to complete. With an Intel Optane unit, this time is much shorter, close to that of RAM.
How Intel Optane Works
The advantage of using Intel Optane technology is having the possibility of installing a not particularly fast SSD storage unit in the computer, with a moderate price even for high capacities, letting said memory do the immediate work and fast to provide data and code to the processor.
The processor will “see” a super-fast drive as long as the data and instructions it needs are on the Intel Optane drive and not on the conventional drive. This is normal unless we are transferring files larger than this unit, which will not be frequent.
When the processor has performed the read and write operations, the Intel Optane quietly “squares off” with the SSD, retrieving data and code according to the prediction algorithms from the cache, or writing the data deposited by the processor. In this way, the system sees in practice an SSD of the capacity that is, as fast as Intel Optane, although this one has a reduced capacity.
This technology can also be used in desktop computers where we have traditional hard drives. If we have a 5 TB HDD “cached” with a 32 GB Intel Optane unit, we can have a 5 TB SSD unit facing the system, since most of the time the read and write operations will be carried out on Intel Optane memory.
All the advantages of the capacity and reliability of classic hard drives with the speed of a blazing SSD.
How it benefits the user
In the above table of latencies, we can get an idea about the benefits associated with Intel Optane memory. If we have an HDD unit, there is really no color: caching it with this 16 GB or 32 GB memory will be the difference between starting the computer in a time of several minutes even, or in 15 – 30 seconds.
If we already have SSDs, the use of Intel Optane is less apparent in metrics like sequential read and write speeds (large files, so to speak). But, for day-to-day system transfers, involving thousands of read and write operations involving small, non-sequential data and in multitasking scenarios, the Intel Optane drive significantly improves the user experience in terms of improved responsiveness and team fluency.
In addition, Intel Optane memories have much greater durability than NANDs, so many read and write operations will be performed on this drive instead of the NAND, while the writing processes on the NAND drive can be optimized to minimize the “wear” of memory cells by use.
Thus, in “real life” benchmarks, the use of Intel Optane technology yields better results than the use of NAND SSDs.
How does Intel Optane improve the performance of Windows 10?
The ability of Intel Optane to function as a kind of permanent RAM memory and to house recurring access data is seen above all in the general performance of the operating system. Windows 10, plain and simple, flies. This is because Intel Optane keeps some of the most frequently used files for immediate access, avoiding having to use the SSD or hard drive at all times.
Beyond the boot of the operating system itself, Intel notes that access times are improved by 14% compared to a classic hard drive, while the overall performance of the system can experience an increase of no less than 28%. If with a Windows 10 SSD it was already working with great ease, if an Intel Optane unit is added, the jump with respect to other technologies seems generational.
Open the typical Excel document that we use to make invoices, launch the browser or an image editing tool such as Photoshop, access large multimedia projects… These daily operations go from being fast to virtually running on the spot. And if we are also fans of video games, caching data such as textures and levels not only reduces loading times but also prevents jerks and jumps when the game engine tries to access data that must be loaded in real-time.
In sum, Intel ensures that the response speed of the system can be doubled compared to a computer with traditional storage technologies. One more reason to bet on a computer with an Intel processor and prepared to accept an Intel Optane unit, either optionally or (as in the case of many laptops and some pre-assembled towers), directly installed as standard.
Where to find Optane technology?
This technology can be found in computers equipped with the latest generation Intel® Core™ chips. This is an exclusive advance for this type of processor since to configure the unit as a cache it is necessary to use specific Intel drivers for their chipsets.
Additionally, it is also possible to find Intel Optane units in the form of a card for desktops. They are an especially good option in gaming systems since they accelerate the caching of frequently used data with very high efficiency.
In units where Intel Optane is integrated into the disk itself, you will not have to worry about anything, since the operation will be governed by the electronics of the unit itself.
Simplicity, speed, and reliability for a new generation of equipment designed to adapt to our needs, and not the other way around.