Computer storage has evolved dramatically through the years. We’ve seen capacities spike from megabytes to gigabytes and now terabytes. The media used for storage has also gotten faster, more compact, and more power efficient. Optane memory makes it possible to speed up large capacity hard drives to rival the performance of SSDs.
Evolving PC storage
While the standard has been spinning disk drives for a long time now, these have slowly but surely been replaced by SSDs or Solid-State Drives.
Hard drives still have the advantage of capacity with many spinning disk drives capable of up to 10 terabytes of storage available today.
SSDs aren’t known for large capacities but solve a lot of issues with spinning disk drives which have various components that can break, and which also generate a lot of heat—not ideal for today’s low profile and ultra-thin computers.
SSDs have also managed to come in various shapes and styles. We now have fingernail-sized microSD cards, tiny wafers and the traditional HD form factor even if the actual components or storage itself is but a mere slice of the overall size.
Today’s computing demands even faster storage and quicker delivery of information. This is evident in professional functions live video editing or 3D graphics creation as well as most gaming, which require speed and pinpoint precision of file access.
Next generation solution speeds up hard drives
Intel thinks it has a new development in storage which amps up responsiveness. Optane memory is an innovation that works as a caching drive to help speed up mechanical hard drives, or at the very least make them feel as sprightly as leaner, meaner SSDs. A cache buffers memory-intensive tasks such as loading applications or copying files.
Optane Memory as it exists today is made up of an innocuous 32 GB or 16 GB M.2 module, much like a RAM card on desktop PCs. It is compatible with 7th generation Intel Kaby Lake Core i3 processors or higher with a motherboard BIOS support for Optane chips.
Once installed in a compatible PC, the Intel Optane memory drive becomes invisible, but it does act as a cache to kick up the read and write speeds of your traditional hard drive. How dramatic is the uptick in performance?
An Optane optimized plate-based hard drive will rival higher performance SSDs, meaning booting of programs, multitasking and opening large files will be noticeably faster. That is, until you max out the 16 GB or 32 GB cache. The best thing about this is that you can maintain the large storage capacity of your hard drive.
Boosting performance and file access
Intel claims that a properly optimized Optane system will launch games up to 67 per cent faster, it can open heavy media files up to 4 times faster and it can increase responsiveness by up to 2 times, which is a welcome upgrade for anyone who doesn’t want to have to upgrade to costlier SSDs or add more RAM.
Looking at the price of Intel Optane memory, I can see this as an affordable upgrade or PC build component that has major upsides for anyone wanting to speed up their system where it counts. The M.2 Optane chips won’t dislodge RAM or any other components yet their plug and play nature makes them a no brainer for gamers looking to improve their PCs, or for servers or media PCs used for production work.
Intel Optane and similar solutions add another facet to PC building and upgrading. Aside from upgrading the motherboard, processor, RAM, video card and hard drive, we can now get a more responsive PC by simply plugging in an Optane chip which costs a fraction of all those other upgrades.
Optane SSDs exist, but they’re still rare and expensive
What if Intel enabled Optane-based SSDs? How fast would those be? There are Optane SSDs for servers which cost over $1200 while Intel has also released some Optane SSDs in 280 GB and 480 GB form factors which are considered cutting edge storage and will be more expensive and limited than standard SSDs.
This disk technology definitely has a future, and once it becomes more widely accepted and capacities go up, we can expect pricing to go down as well.
For now, I’m thankful that I can factor in a 16 GB or 32 GB Intel Optane cache drive in my next desktop build to max out the potential of my PC’s performance, without losing the storage capacity. Looking to boost your PC’s performance? Best Buy has you covered with RAM, SSDs and all the computer components you might need.