The first time I heard about Intel Optane Memory my first thought was “Was this really necessary?”, so I decided to read more about the technology to find out if I was missing something. Now, after reading about this for a while, my question is still: was this really necessary?

What is Intel Optane Memory?

Intel Optane Memory is a technology with a cool-sounding name which, in summary, allows you to increase the performance of a traditional mechanical drive by adding an Optane module to your system. The module plugs into an M.2 slot on your motherboard and will basically act as a caching device for your boot drive, increasing the overall performance of your system.

The memory module looks like this:

Who is Intel Optane Memory for?

It’s for those users who still use a mechanical hard drive as their only drive. If that’s you, your system would benefit from an Intel Optane Memory module upgrade.

However, if you already use an SSD, this upgrade won’t improve the performance of your system (or if it does, it will probably be negligible) because you are already using a fast boot drive.

What are the limitations of the technology?

Well, here we start hitting the pain points. There are several limitations I could find while researching this:

  • You need a Z270, H270 or B250 motherboard (the latest generation at the time of writing) and an Intel Kaby Lake CPU (also the latest generation). Not a big limitation per se, but worth pointing out as Intel Optane Memory will not work on every build;
  • The modules only come in 16 and 32 GB capacities, which feels a bit restrictive since these are supposed to ultimately be caching devices;
  • Performance is still worse than using a dedicated SATA or PCI SSD
  • It can only be used with one drive at the time;
  • Write speeds are not amazing, so these are not good enough to be used as SLOG drives. Read speeds are better though, so they make more sense as L2ARC drives.

Am I not better off just buying an SSD already?

Well, this is exactly the thing: I don’t understand why someone would want to choose Intel Optane Memory over an SSD. Price is not a factor either (I think), because you can now find small SSD’s for cheaper than a single Intel Optane Memory module.

Optane Memory makes the increase in performance transparent to the user (in the sense that you don’t even see it’s there in the OS, after the initial configuration, and you don’t have to configure two separate disks like in an SSD+Mechanical drive configuration) but I am not sure this alone is worth thinking about the technology.

Finally, if you are a really budget-conscious user (which seems to be the category Intel Optane Memory is catering to) I am really not sure they will easily consider this as an upgrade option.

Conclusions

I am really not convinced by this. I feel like it won’t gain any traction, unless it somehow starts to be included in every pre-built budget configuration out there (but since they are budget configurations, are manufacturers going to increase the prices of the builds to add this as an upgrade?)

While the performance results are much, much better than using just a mechanical hard drive, most of the time the performance is worse than using a dedicated SSD drive.

Don’t get me wrong, the overall increase in performance over a mechanical drive is pretty impressive, and speeds are not that far from SSDs, which in itself is a damn good result. I just think that I would personally never go for this solution over an SSD.