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How Intel Optane memory kicks your PC into a higher gear

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

Intel’s new Optane memory is the first all-new approach to memory in 25 years.

By creating a bridge between a PC’s existing DRAM and its storage device, it promises more responsive computing — boot times that are twice as speedy, a 28 percent boost to system performance and 65 percent faster game level loads.

It’s taken a while to get here. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich announced the technology at the 2015 Intel Developer Forum (IDF), alongside Project Tango and a RealSense-equipped spiderbot. Its secret lies in a virtual drive powered by 3D XPoint memory media and Intel Rapid Storage Technology.

3D XPoint memory inside

Developed by Intel and Micron, 3D XPoint (pronounced ‘cross-point’) has been described as 1,000 times faster than NAND memory. Where the time it takes a hard drive to read/write data can be measured in milliseconds (a thousandth of a second), NAND takes microseconds (a millionth of a second) and 3D XPoint takes only nanoseconds (one-billionth of a second).

Intel Rapid Storage Technology, meanwhile, is a software driver designed to maximize storage performance and improve response times.

The first Intel Optane 16GB and 32GB memory modules are designed for desktops. By placing this new memory technology between the processor and slower SATA-based HDD or SSD storage devices, it can store commonly-used data and programs closer to the CPU, allowing the system to access them quicker. For PCs with hard drives, it could work wonders.

Most of us use hard disks

According to Navin Shenoy, senior vice president and general manager for the Client Computing Group at Intel, “79 percent of desktop PCs still use hard disk drives as the primary storage. But while a hard drive may address the storage issue, it also slows down a system and makes it feel less responsive.”

Intel optane memory
Intel Optane memory and 7th Gen Intel Core processors can deliver 2x faster boot times and 28 percent faster system performance.

“That’s where Intel Optane memory comes in,” Shenoy explains. “It increases the speed of application, game or large file loading so people don’t have to wait nearly as long. It does this by ensuring the data contained in a PC’s storage is more readily accessible, which means an overall faster, more responsive experience.”

Responsiveness is key. PCs with a 7th generation Intel Core processor and Intel Optane will start up quicker, search and find files faster, save large files faster, launch applications faster and multitask at speed. It will be at its most effective when paired with a large capacity HDD.

Intel Optane memory requirements

At the same time, it’s important to realise what Intel Optane isn’t.

  • It’s not a replacement for existing PC memory
  • It won’t work with anything but a 7th generation Intel Core processor
  • You can only plug it into Intel Optane-ready motherboards, equipped with an Intel 200 series chipset and an M.2 type 2280-S1-B-M connector

There are over 130 Intel Optane memory ready motherboards available from manufacturers such as Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and ASRock. Intel Optane memory modules themselves are available in 16GB and 32GB versions from April 24 — 16GB is ideal for all-round usage, while a 32GB is ideal for games and other data-intensive applications.

You can find more information about Intel Optane memory here.

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