Most new laptops with an Intel CPU come with the option for Intel’s Optane Memory. You’ll often find it paired with a large capacity MHD. The ever-increasing amount of data and the need to access more of it quickly prompted Intel to develop this new type of memory. And since its introduction, performance has been compared to an SSD. Specifically, it’s been debated if the Optane MHD combination can replace an NVMe SSD as a much faster storage option. So, how does each technology impact laptop performance in this Optane vs NVMe SSD argument? Here’s a breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages.
What’s Optane Memory?
In mid-2015, Intel unveiled the Optane brand based on 3D X-Point (cross-point) technology. Optane is a memory module designed to increase the overall performance of your system by working as cache memory along with your laptop’s primary storage. It’s a unique form of memory in that it can act as both RAM and a source of storage like an SSD or MHD (mechanical hard drive).
The caching feature allows for quicker data accessing and retrieval from storage and reduces the load times of the programs you use most often. How you ask? By acting as a connecting link between RAM and your storage device. The result is faster data transfer rates between storage, memory and the CPU.
And since it’s a non-volatile type of memory, it can retain stored data even after you shut your laptop down. Optane memory is faster than most storage devices, even NAND based SSDs. But it’s slower than NVMe M.2 SSDs. And of course, memory devices like RAM.
You’re going to see the most speed improvement when you pair Optane to an MHD. That’s because the mechanical nature of this type of drive makes for slow data reading and writing speeds. Unlike MHDs and SSDs, the Optane form factor is like a stick of RAM. And like sticks of RAM, it comes in 16 and 32GB capacities.
Optane memory is only compatible with select Intel motherboards that support at least the 7th generation Intel Core i3 CPU or higher. It can be supported by Windows and some versions of Linux like Ubuntu. The MacOS, however, does not support Optane. Although Optane can act as a source of memory and looks similar to a stick of RAM. It can’t physically replace a RAM module.
Advantages of Optane Memory
1. Fast Acceleration Capabilities
Optane memory enhances the speed of your laptop. But the increase is more dramatic in a system with an MHD than one with an SSD (solid-state drive).
2. Optane is Highly Adaptable
It learns your system in order to make it faster by learning about the programs and you use most often and placing their launch data in front of the line, thereby significantly reducing wait time.
3. Cheaper Alternative to Dual-Drive Storage
A laptop with both a small capacity SSD used for booting the system mated to an MHD with a much bigger capacity for mass storage will be more expensive than a laptop with just Optane memory.
For gaming, the 16 or 32GB Optane memory module provides a lot more room for holding data from the game engine. Thereby smoothing game input/output and since Optane is non-volatile, game play data is stored even after the laptop is powered off so that it loads faster the next time you’re ready to play.
Yes, Optane will accelerate the boot time of your laptop along with the programs and apps you use most often. But it’s also smart enough to pre-fetch emails and even a content of page from your favorite and most frequently visited websites.
It’s a huge boon if you’re a gamer. Imagine, no longer wasting time searching and waiting for 4TB drives to locate game data ranging between 5 and 10GB. Such speedy access to the specific data you use from large volumes is highly beneficial.
5. A Winning Combination
The combination of 3D technology on which Optane memory is based and 3D XPoint (or 3D Cross Point) by Intel and Micron is perfect for fulfilling the functional gaps between the non-volatile and less costly NAND Flash and relatively expensive DRAM.
Disadvantages of Optane Memory
1. Intel Optane is Expensive
By itself, Optane memory costs more than the average non-NVMe SSD. For example, a 32GB Intel Optane memory stick will run you about $42. Whereas a typical 256GB SSD is just about $38. A 480GB stick of Intel Optane SSD is a whopping $549!
2. Installation is Difficult
Installing Optane memory on a laptop that doesn’t already have it requires expert skills. For one, the RAM on most laptops isn’t upgradable, which means installation of Optane on these laptops is out of the question entirely. And even if your laptop gives you the proper access to make upgrades to components like RAM, due to the intricacies involved, you’re still better off handing the task to a professional.
3. Compatibility Issue
To add to the trouble of installation, Intel Optane memory is only compatible with Windows and maybe some versions of Linux. As long as the laptop in question is supported by an M.2 motherboard and at least a 7th generation Intel Core i3 CPU or above. It goes without question that a motherboard supported by AMD chips, a MacOS or a MacBook for that matter just won’t work for Optane.
4. Power Consumption
Optane memory consumes up to 1 watt of power, even when it’s idle. This is more of a concern if you use your laptop away from a power source often. And if you do, it’s a serious power drain that can be especially detrimental on battery life.
5. Limited Performance Gains
You’re going to experience a much more accelerated performance when Optane is paired to an MHD than when it’s paired to an SSD. Furthermore, this means if your laptop is equipped with both an MHD and SSD, the MHD needs to be the primary drive when using Optane.
NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is a host controller interface designed to address the needs of systems utilizing PCI express based SSDs. The technology ushers in an entirely new way of accessing data, allowing superior command queuing for solid-state drives with the addition of four PCIe express lanes. Data transfer speeds are up to 2GB/s, making it 5x faster than SATA-based SSDs.
SSDs are the fastest types of storage, faster than MHDs, Flash drives, memory cards and even Optane memory. SSDs use electrical circuits to store data, giving them fast data reading/writing speeds. Like Intel’s Optane memory, SSDs increase the overall performance of a laptop. The result is fast boot times, faster loading programs, and files can be copied and pasted much faster too.
When the SSD became affordable to the consumer market in 2010, it inherited the SATA/AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) designed for mechanical hard drives. It allowed for an easy transition from MHDs to SSDs. But the 550 MB/s bandwidth created a bottleneck. To overcome the limitations of the SATA interface, NVMe was created to replace the AHCI interface on PCIe SSDs. The result is greater speed by reducing latency and increasing bandwidth.
PCIe is another important component to all this. To handle greater speeds, an SSD uses a PCIe bus. This means that NVMe drives are actually PCIe SSDs. NVMe SSDs are attached via M.2 connectors due to the limited amount of PCIe slots on a motherboard. The M.2 form factor and connector also makes all this possible. The classic SATA SSD uses the 2.5-inch form factor because it was the standard size for laptop hard drives. But it’s oversized for SSDs. NVMe SSDs eliminate the 2.5” format for an M.2 form factor that’s no bigger than a stick of gum.
Advantages of NVMe
1. Fast Read and Write Speeds
NVMe M.2 SSDs have the fastest read/write speeds of any SSD model. And it’s much faster than Intel’s Optane Memory. This is due to the fact that data is stored in electrical circuits, and because it uses Flash memory.
NVMe offers superior storage as PCIe sockets transfer about 25x more data than SATA equivalents and commands more than two times faster than AHCI SATA drives.
2. Fast Performance
While Optane memory paired with an MHD results in increased system performance, the higher read and write speeds is nothing compared to NVMe SSDs. While you won’t see much of a performance uptick when Optane memory is combined with cheaper forms of SSDs. When combined with an NVMe SSDs, it’s a force to be reckoned with.
3. Less Time from Storage to CPU
NVMe takes less time to get data from your laptop’s storage medium to the CPU, which makes it a much better choice for data-intensive applications and workloads. That’s why you often find NVMe M.2 SSDs in business-class laptops.
4. Greater Capacity
This is the result of the fact that NVMe laptops use the M.2 format which allows for greater capacity in a tiny form factor; again, it uses four PCIe express lanes for data transfer resulting in speeds of up to 4000 MB/s. This is perfect if you require fast performance and a lot of storage capacity where physical space and weight or decidedly limiting factors.
5. Compatibility with All Operating Systems
Whether Windows, the MacOS, Linux distros like Debian and Ubuntu or the Chrome OS from Google. NVMe supports different operating systems. It can use the SATA standard or the much faster PCIe interface. But M.2 connections will take up less space.
Disadvantages of NVMe
NVMe is only compatible with solid-state drives which are more expensive than a spinning mechanical hard drive on a capacity level. This means that an SSD with the same storage capacity as an MHD will be more expensive.
2. Difficult to Upgrade
Since PC laptops use the M.2 format for an NVMe connection, it’s more difficult to upgrade this type of on-board storage.
3. Technical Constraints
Furthermore, if you’re upgrading the storage on your laptop. It’s a wise idea to check the capability of your system to decide if you can make the move to an NVMe setup. Some older laptops don’t have the components needed for an NVMe connection.
4. Drive Capacity Limitations
While SATA drives usually range from 128 to 16TB storage capacities. NVMe M.2 drives top out at 2TB on average. Top tier models may be available at 4TB and 8TB, but at a significantly higher price.
5. Drive Speed
Continuing on the subject of upgrading, since SSDs with an NVMe connection are faster than SATA drives. You may need to upgrade your CPU to keep up, or you’ll likely experience worse performance. To that end, check the read and write speeds of the drive as some earlier generation NVMe drives can have different speeds.