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Intel Optane Memory: What is It and Why Do You Need It?

Intel Optane Memory: What is It and Why Do You Need It?

Kaelee Nelson
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If you’re in the market for a new computer at home or work, you’re undoubtedly confronted with a number of choices. It might be easy to choose between a mobile laptop versus a desktop tower, and you might have several stand-out features at the top of your priority list, but when it comes to computer memory, the answer isn’t always clear.
When browsing solid state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs), an Intel® Optane™ motherboard is one choice you might encounter. Not sure what Intel Optane means or what benefits it offers? Then this article is for you. Here we clarify this advanced memory system, including a definition of what it is, how it works, and why you might want it for your computing experience.

What is Intel Optane memory?

In order to understand how the Intel Optane technology works, you first need a brief understanding of a computer’s memory storage system.
In most cases, your computer data will be stored on either an SSD (solid state drive) or an HDD (hard disk drive). The former acts like a solid memory chip; the latter uses a physical arm and a spinning, mechanical disk to read and write information.
There are a number of pros and cons between an SSD and an HDD, but at the core, a solid state drive usually boasts faster processing times than a mechanical hard disk drive. On the other end of the spectrum, a hard disk drive typically offers larger storage space at a lower price per byte, so you can download more movies, install more games, and save more files on a friendlier budget.
The innovative Intel Optane memory hardware combines the best of both worlds. It enables you to boost the performance of a large HDD to achieve SSD-like speeds. You can find it either pre-installed in new laptops and desktop towers, or you may add it to compatible devices.
A few base requirements to run Intel Optane memory include:
  • Windows® 10 x64
  • 7th Generation (or newer) Intel Core processor
  • Intel 200 Series chipset (or newer)
Instead of adding more random access memory (RAM) to your computer (which accelerates your system by enabling the processor to execute more tasks at once), you can enhance performance with an Optane system accelerator on compatible devices. That means you can enjoy maximum storage, at a minimum price, with premium processing power.

What is system acceleration?

The term “system acceleration” refers to the effect that Intel Optane technology has on a computer. Compared to computers without Intel Optane, this smart memory system enables faster task completion and shorter wait times.
When Intel refers to “responsiveness,” they speak to how quickly a computer can complete end-user requests compared to the same computer without Intel Optane memory.
These requests can include:
  • Power on, start up, or boot up
  • Search and find files
  • Save and transfer large files
  • Launch applications
  • Game level loading
A high-capacity storage device coupled with Intel Optane memory offers high-speed acceleration with plenty of space to retain data.

How does Intel Optane memory work?

So far we’ve explained that Intel Optane is a smart memory system that accelerates your computer’s performance and makes it more responsive, but how exactly does it work? In short, the adaptable technology quickly learns the tasks you perform most frequently, including everything between startup, file search, and program launch, and remembers them even when power is off.
According to the company, Optane technology works using a “unique combination of Intel 3D XPoint™ memory media with an Intel-built advanced system memory controller, interface hardware, and software IP” [1]. 3D XPoint (pronounced cross-point) refers to their nonvolatile memory technology, which allows data to be stored and saved much faster than traditional computer architecture can offer.

What is non-volatile memory?

"Nonvolatile memory" (NVM) is a class of computer storage that holds saved data even when the power is shut off. It's typically used for secondary (backup) storage or long-term, persistent storage, as opposed to the volatile form of RAM which requires constant power to retain data.
Using 3D XPoint, Intel Optane technology is able to move high-speed, high-capacity data storage closer to the computer's processor. It's said to have up to 1,000 times lower latency and exponentially greater endurance than NAND flash memory (another form of NVM storage technology) [2].

Why does Optane memory make computing faster?

By memorizing your most used data, the smart, adaptable system accelerator can then access and store your frequently used documents, games, pictures, videos, and various applications closer to the computer’s processors.
The next time you go to launch one of these programs, you’ll experience less latency and faster startup. Shorter wait times means overall smoother computing and a more enjoyable user experience.

Intel Optane memory vs. a solid state drive (SSD) or hard disk drive (HDD)?

Whether you operate on a lightning-fast SSD or a high-capacity HDD, Intel Optane memory allows you to make the most out of your system by complementing your DRAM, or dynamic random access memory.

What is DRAM?

DRAM is a volatile memory technology used to temporarily save the inputs and results of calculations performed by the processor. Volatile memory relies on power to retain data, so once your computer is turned off, the content stored within DRAM is lost.

How is Optane different from DRAM?

Optane memory works differently. It’s a long-term, smart memory technology that remembers your most frequently accessed files, programs, and applications. But unlike DRAM, it remembers them even after your computer is powered off. This system is designed to complement DRAM rather than replace it entirely.
When used together, Optane technology and volatile memory allow your computer to access data faster and provide additional responsiveness than DRAM can deliver alone. In fact, when compared with an HDD with 16GB of DRAM, an HDD with 16GB of Intel Optane memory is up to twice as responsive on a desktop and more than twice as responsive on a laptop [3].

HDD Systems

Compared to a computer with an HDD alone, Intel Optane memory gives you a performance boost to accomplish tasks at maximum speeds.

HDD and SSD Dual-Drive Systems

Optane technology can help you achieve more with a dual-drive system on an accelerated HDD that automatically accesses frequently used data.

RAM

Instead of replacing RAM, Intel Optane memory enhances your standard system memory by delivering better overall responsiveness.

Benefits of Intel Optane memory

Intel Optane memory introduces possibilities for both enterprise servers across a wide range of markets as well as individual PC users by increasing storage capacity and decreasing loading times.

Optimize end-user computing for enterprises

End-user computing (EUC) is a term that refers to computer systems and platforms that are meant to allow non-programmers to create working computer applications [4].
EUC is a broad term, but it has the overarching context of allowing end-users to better control their computing environment without the real aid of programmers, such as an accountant using Microsoft Excel™ to automate his or her tasks, thus streamlining the workload. EUC with Intel Optane is transforming the marketplace as organizations explore virtualized service delivery.
The explosion of interconnected devices and digital interfaces is generating massive amounts of new data. In order for that data to be useful, it must first be efficiently stored and analyzed.
Intel Optane memory turns immense amounts of data into valuable insights in real-time by enhancing big data applications and transactional workloads.
For example, Intel Optane-based technology solutions might be used by:
  • Retailers to quickly identify fraud detection patterns
  • Financial institutions for speed trading
  • Researchers to accelerate the analyzation of large data sets
  • Healthcare organizations for complex tasks such as disease tracking
In one real application, the University of Pisa leveraged Intel Optane SSDs as memory to reduce MRI exam times from forty minutes to two [5]. As the technology continues to grow and evolve, it’s clear that the Optane benefits are as limitless as the innovative minds who use it.

What can Optane memory do for me?

Streamline personal workloads

Intel Optane allows you to work smarter on a computer that learns and adapts with experience. It takes your unique computing habits and turns it into a competitive edge, delivering proven productivity advantages in working environments.
Your applications can open quicker and load faster with an Optane cache drive stored nearer the processor, boosting efficiency and enabling you to accomplish more in less time.
Students and professional PC users can use pre-enabled touch screens on all-in-one desktops or 2-in-1 laptops with Intel Optane memory to quickly switch from typing to jotting down handwritten notes, including the ability to upload them for later retrieval.
According to Intel, Optane accelerates performance by:
  • Loading large media files up to 1.6 times faster with ample storage capacity
  • Making everyday tasks up to 2.1 times more responsive [6]

Wait less, make more

Creative entrepreneurs who use their computer to write, code, design, edit photos, or render videos will enjoy the benefits of Intel Optane technology. It remembers your most used software and applications even when the power is turned off so you can quickly launch programs any minute inspiration strikes.
Explore new possibilities and increase production with a processor that spends less time loading, more time computing. The memory boasts larger capacities so users can better handle large workloads that put heavy demand on your desktop or workstation storage system.

Unleash your gaming greatness

An HP OMEN gaming computer with Intel Optane reduces performance bottlenecks and cuts down lag time. With the ability to launch and level-load your most played games at unprecedented speeds, you can rest assured you’ll be the first one out on the battlefield every time.
The faster you load, the smoother you’ll play. Optane accelerates your system with smart memory and delivers a smooth, rich gaming experience without the typical speed bumps that slow down processors. Now you can spend more time playing and less time staring at your screen, waiting on your games to load.

What are the available capacities of Intel Optane memory?

If you have a compatible device, you can boost your system with either 16GB or 32GB of Intel Optane memory.

Intel Optane 16GB Module

This memory module is great for running multiple applications and frequently switching tasks. It can help everyday functions such as:
  • Improved boot times
  • Mainstream usage
  • Emails or presentations
  • Office or work productivity
  • Web access
  • Virus scanning

Intel Optane 32GB Module

Intel Optane memory also comes in a 32GB capacity. This size is ideal for accelerating game launch, running data-intensive applications, and creating or transferring large media files.
Other performance benefits include:
  • Animation work
  • Audio, video, and graphics editing
  • 3D CAD Design and 3D Modeling
  • Virtual Reality applications
  • Gaming and pro-users

Which computers come with Intel Optane pre-installed?

Instead of purchasing a separate memory module and adding it to your system (if compatible), it’s possible to purchase a desktop or laptop that has this game-changing technology pre-installed.
Several top-rated HP computers with Intel Optane include:

1. HP ProBook 440 G5 business laptop

This formidable workhorse of a laptop turns seconds into nanoseconds with optional 8th Generation Core i5/i7 Quad Core processors. Packed with 16GB of Intel Optane memory, your work productivity can soar to new levels on the HP ProBook 440 G5 business laptop.

2. HP OMEN 880 gaming desktop

If you’re looking for a gaming computer that can take you to the top of the leaderboards, look no further than the HP OMEN 880 gaming desktop. The Intel Optane technology is paired with all-around vents and a 120 mm front fan so you can stay cool under pressure.

3. HP Pavilion 27-inch AiO desktop

Experience storage acceleration on the striking HP Pavilion 27-inch all-in-one desktop, whose ultra-slim profile takes up minimal space while delivering maximum power.

Summary of Intel Optane memory

Ultimately, Intel Optane technology is a revolutionary memory system that bridges a gap between DRAM and storage. It accelerates your system and makes it more responsive by accessing your most-used programs, files, and applications and storing the data closer to the processor so they require less time to launch and load.
It comes in separate modules with two different sizes available for post-purchase installation, or you can purchase a device that has the technology pre-installed.
Either way, Intel Optane lets you enjoy high storage capacity at an affordable price with shorter boot times, fast application startups, next-level gaming, and responsive web browsing.
[4] Techopedia; End-User Computing
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About the Author: Kaelee Nelson is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Kaelee is an experienced writer based in Southern California and specializes in creating informative content related to technology and digital culture.

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