Optane vs SSD: Each Technology Has Advantages Worth Exploring

Optane vs SSD

Optane vs SSD. The ever-increasing amount of data and the need to access more of it quickly is what prompted Intel to develop Optane Memory. It’s a technology intended to close the gap between traditional RAM and storage. In fact, did you know that most new laptops with Intel CPUs come with an option for Intel Optane Memory as a storage option? These laptops usually come with a combination of Optane Memory and a MHD (mechanical hard drive) as storage options. In what follows we compare Optane to SSD to find out what Optane is. How it differs from an SSD. And how each technology affects the performance of your laptop.

The Difference Between Optane and SSD

Intel Optane Memory

In mid-2015, Intel unveiled the Optanebrand. Based on the company’s new 3D XPoint (Cross-point) technology, Optane increases the overall performance of your laptop by working as cache memory along with your storage drive.

It’s a type of non-volatile device that can act as both a low latency system memory (like RAM) and high data density device (like storage). Although, it’s more commonly paired with a mechanical hard drive. The caching feature is what helps Optane act as a connection between RAM and storage, resulting in quick access times and faster data transfer rates between the storage, RAM and the CPU.

Its quick access times also reduces the amount of time it takes to boot your laptop and reduces the load times of frequently used programs and demanding software (like games). Like RAM, Optane Memory comes in sticks of 16 GB and 32 GB capacity modules.

SSD (Solid-State Drive)

Just like Optane, SSDs are also a type of non-volatile storage that can save data without any power to your laptop. They’re the fastest type of storage devices currently on the market, even faster than Optane memory.

SSDs use electrical circuits and a special NAND Flash technology to store data, resulting in its fast read and write speeds. But they fall short of the read/write speeds of RAM, leading to high latency when dealing with heavy workloads compared to Optane.

But the fast read and write times of an SSD mean a faster booting laptop, as well as faster loading programs and applications that launch quickly and files that copy and paste quickly just like Optane. There are many types of SSDs in the market, but none of them are exactly the same. They include:

PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express)

This is the type of technology used to connect a storage drive to the motherboard. These are among the highest performing type of SSDs with a very high data transfer rate. The data transfer rate of a PCIe SSD is around 985 MB/s per lane. Overall speed depends on the number of lanes in the SSD.

NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express)

As fast as PCIe SSDs are the performance pales in comparison to NVMe SSDs. NVMe is a controller interface and storage protocol that makes these types of SSD the fastest storage devices available, with transfer speeds of around 2 GB/s!

M.2 Comes with NVMe

This type of connection has a bare open circuit board structure and comes in the shape of a flat stick. Sizes vary according to manufacturer. You can also find them in both SATA and PCIe variants.

2.5-inch SATA

This one uses Serial ATA connection technology to be the most affordable and substantially the most common type of SSDs on the market. It’s also slower than the first two types of connections and only faster than an mSATA connection with data transfer rate of around 600 MB/s, which is why you’ll find them in most laptops and notebooks.

Mini-SATA (mSATA)

This connection makes for the smallest SSDs. Even though they use a bare open circuit structure similar to NVMe M.2 SSDs. mSATA SSD read/write speeds are the slowest with data transfer rates of only around 150 to 170 MB/s.

Intel Optane vs SSD: Comparison

3D XPoint Structure
 OptaneSSD
SpeedFaster than SSDSlower than Optane
LatencyLowHigh
ReliabilityExcellentLow
EnduranceHighLow
CostExpensiveAffordable

Advantages and Disadvantages of Optane

Advantages

Low latency is one of Optane’s best features. Even with extremely heavy loading scenarios, Optane ensures that the requirements for latency-critical applications are met. And even with multiple write operations running in parallel, read speeds are consistently high.

Endurance is very high too due to Optane’s unique technology. Optane has up to 60 DWPD (Drive Writes Per Day). This is a measure of how many times the drive’s entire storage can be overwritten each day of its life (which is 6x the DWPD of SSDs).

Overall system performance is improved. This is achieved by the technology working as a cache memory connecting point between storage, memory and the CPU. And this proximity to other system hardware also helps reduce the launching and loading of programs and games, increasing system performance.

It has a faster read/write speed than most SSDs, even faster than most SSDs. Transfer rates are up to 1.4 GB/s, which faster than most SSDs (except NVMe M.2).

Since Optane memory is non-volatile, stored data is retained even if the power supply is cut off. 

When combined with an MHD read and write speeds increase dramatically. In most laptops, Optane memory is used in conjunction with the MHD to improve overall performance, similar to an SSD. But on balance, SSDs are still much faster and perform way better.

Disadvantages

Installation is challenging and requires expertise. Most laptops don’t have an upgradable memory option (especially older models). Even the ones that do are still a headache to work on due to the limited space.

Optane is only supported on Windows or some versions of Linux and Ubuntu laptops. Optane memory absolutely won’t work with AMD APUs, MacBooks or the MacOS at this time.

Similarly, they’re only compatible with M.2 Intel motherboards that support at least the 7th generation Intel Core i3 CPU or higher.

Optane is more expensive than SSD laptops. For instance, a laptop with a 32 GB Intel Optane Memory and an M.2 module will cost around $72 more. Whereas a similar laptop with a 512 GB M.2 SSD can be had for $10 less.

Optane eats power, even if your system is idle. Around 1 Watt of power is consumed, which can adversely affect your battery life – a huge concern if you often use your laptop away from a power source.

Doesn’t Increase Performance by a lot when used with SSD. And it can’t physically replace an SSD. Additionally, as fast as Optane is, it’s slower than NVMe M.2 SSDs.

It also can’t physically replace RAM. While Optane can act as memory and storage options for your laptop. The form factor means it can’t physically replace RAM modules or your storage drive. But there are Intel SSD storage devices that are faster than conventional SSDs (more about this later).

Advantages and Disadvantages of SSD

Advantages

Fast read and write speeds, especially when talking about the NVMe M.2 SSD models. These SSDs have a faster read and write speeds than Optane. Most SSDs have a very high read and write speeds due to their ability to store data on electrical circuits and their use of Flash memory.

Data transfer rates are very high, leading to faster and better system performance. Optane when paired with MHDs improves system performance. But it’s still not quite as fast as a laptop with an SSD.

Slower and lower capacity SSDs are inexpensive compared to a system with Optane Memory. In fact, you can get a system with a 512 GB SSD for the price of one with a 32 GB Optane memory.

Disadvantages

Laptops with faster and higher capacity SSDs are quite expensive. The ones with an NVMe SSD (in particular) are the most expensive systems. Why? Because of the lower failure rate, faster read/write times and improved overall performance.

Can Optane Replace SSDs

IOPS (inputs/outputs per second) is a measurement for drive performance calculated in whole numbers. Optane exhibits excellent performance, with up to 550,000 IOPS and 500,000 IOPS in 4K random read and write tests.  

Optane seems like a likely candidate to replace SSDs. Its speed is comparable to RAM with the added benefit of being non-volatile. Tests show that Optane is better for applications with read-intensive access patterns.

But the performance against other high-performance SSDs is less obvious when it comes to write-intensive workloads. Optane proves highly reliable, with fewer dips in performance and lower latency compared to SSDs. Attributing to the performance is the fact that Optane uses an NVMe interface, which is way better than SATA.

While Optane can be used with an SSD, it can’t physically replace SSD storage. You’ll feel the biggest speed increases when Optane is paired with an MHD. But not so much when paired with an SSD.

Intel Optane Memory comes with a very low storage capacity of 16 GB to 32 GB. This is not enough capacity if it’s the only storage device in your laptop. At the very least, we recommend 256 GB for the average user.

That said, Intel developed a new storage device that combines Optane with SSD. It supposed to be faster than most SSD storage devices. But the cost of acquisition will likely put it just out of reach of most users.

Who Needs Optane?

Optane Memory is good in scenarios that require fast operating speeds and reduced costs. Based on these specific use cases, home users, business users, designers and gamers can all benefit from Optane Memory.

The cost savings is huge compared to laptops that feature a high-capacity SSD. A laptop with Optane Memory on board and a high storage capacity MHD will be almost as fast as one supporting an SSD. And it won’t cost as much.