Intel’s latest evolution in storage technology is Optane, which is based on their 3D Xpoint memory that is now branded as Optane Memory. Optane Memory is a new type of non-volatile memory that is 10 times faster as well as 1,000 times more durable than NAND, and is 10 times more dense than DRAM and nearly as fast.
Optane Memory is a radically different design from standard NAND. NAND technology uses transistors or gates where the cells that contain the bit as being a 0 or 1 are arranged in blocks, so if any cell needs to be changed the entire block must be re-written. Optane Memory is a transistor-less design where data is written at a bit level, so each cells state can be changed from a 0 or 1 independently of the other cells. The cells can be changed to a high or low resistance state by applying different voltages that change the bit to a 0 or 1. Since the physical state of the cell material has changed they can hold their values indefinitely even without power. This more efficient design increases performance, improves durability, enhances capacity, and helps lower power consumption.
Intel utilizes Optane Memory in several different products under the Optane brand that includes Optane SSD, which is a series of solid state drives that utilize Optane Memory in place of traditional NAND, Optane DC Persistent Memory for servers which brings higher memory capacity closer to the CPU through DRAM sockets, and Optane Memory H10 which is a SSD for client systems that combines QLC NAND storage with Optane Memory as Cache on the same M.2 form factor.
Intel Optane SSD
For the high end enterprise market, Intel Optane SSDs are available in three families designed for specific market applications. The Intel Optane 905P available in 2.5” U.2, M.2 22110, and AIC (Add in Card) form factors is designed for workstations and high performance desktops. The Intel Optane P4800X as well as the Intel Optane P4801X are specifically designed for enterprise use such as servers targeting high-performance storage environments, in transactional data applications, data analytics, cloud computing and scientific models. At the high-end, the 905P differs from the P4800X/P4801X in that the endurance ratings are 1/3 that of the enterprise drives, and they are missing critical features such as SMBus. The P4800X is available in 2.5” U.2 and AIC (Add in Card) designs while the P4801X is mainly available in M.2 22110 form factors with one option at 100GB in the 2.5” U.2. The drives are smaller capacity than the P4800X, and as such are primarily designed to be utilized as cache drives for the servers main storage tier.
Intel Optane SSD drives dramatically improve system performance, bringing new value to integrators, end clients and consumers. As an example of the performance benefits achieved through the implementation of Intel Optane SSD drives, a study was done by the University of Pisa where they were able to reduce the time a patient spent getting an MRI from 40 minutes to 2 minutes.
Intel Optane DC Persistent memory
Intel Optane DC Persistent memory is the combination of Intel Optane Memory and the DDR4 memory bus bringing about a new type of memory for servers based on Intel’s 2nd Generation Xeon Scalable processor and beyond. As previously mentioned, 3D Xpoint has greater density, and lower cost per gigabyte compared to DRAM and is non-volatile, making it possible to increase system memory using Intel Optane DC Persistent memory DIMMS. This has significant benefits for overcoming bottlenecks in high end server applications particularly around big data where more memory can enable the analysis of larger pools of data.
Intel Optane DC Persistent memory will not 100% replace DRAM as the configuration requires a 4:1 ration of PIMM to DRAM, but utilizing Optane DC Persistent memory does allow for up to 4.5TB of memory per CPU socket or up to 36TB of system level memory in an eight socket server. In addition to adding capacity, Intel Optane DC Persistent memory brings large pools of data into memory that is closer to the processor, providing for much faster access to that data.