Intel Launches their Optane H10 Hybrid QLC/XPoint M.2 SSD
Is Optane + QLC the way forward?
Published: 10th April 2019 | Source: Intel |
Intel Launches their Optane H10 Hybrid QLC/XPoint M.2 SSD
Sadly, while 3D XPoint memory is less latent and often faster than NAND, the cost of this new memory type is higher, leaving consumers in a position where XPoint/Optane are not viable options for mainstream storage solutions. That said, Intel wants its customers to benefit from Optane, and to do that the company has taken a hybrid approach to storage. With their new Optane H10, Intel plans to bring ultra-fast Optane memory and affordable QLC NAND together to create an SSD that offers the best of both worlds in terms of performance.
Ever since we first saw Optane memory hit the market, there has been speculation that the new memory standard would become the cache of choice for future SSDs, offering ultra-fast, low-latency performance while lacking the volatility of DRAM. Now we are finally seeing this dream coming to fruition at Intel.
In basic terms, Intel's Optane H10 is a hybrid device which merges Intel's 660p QLC SSD and an Optane system accelerator into a single device, packing up to 1TB of QLC SSD storage and 32GB of Optane memory in a single 2280 M.2 NVMe device.
While the Optane H10 uses a PCIe 3.0 4x interface, both the Optane and QLC portions of this device operate using two lanes each, with the SSD relying on Intel's RST software to allocate data to the SSD's Optane cache. In short, this device has its limitations, which is why Intel is launching it as an OEM only product.
Intel plans to launch products which use their Optane H10 SSD in Q2 2019, though at this time Intel has no plans to release the product to PC building consumers. Intel has confirmed that Best Buy will start selling OEM systems with Optane H10 SSDs in Q2, with manufacturers which include ASUS, Dell and HP.
The reality of this Optane H10 is that the device is a two-in-one in a literal sense, as the storage device will not function correctly without Intel's RST driver. This means that the Optane H10 will only operate on systems which support RST and Optane Acceleration/Cache drives, which makes the Optane H10 a no-go on AMD systems and older Intel platforms. This is one of the primary reasons why the Optane H10 will be an OEM only product at launch.
Even with this limitation, it is hard to deny that the Optane H10 isn't a compelling device, as the promise of high-performance levels at low queue depths is a big deal for a modern SSD, especially for a drive with capacity optimised QLC NAND. In effect, Intel's Optane memory counteracts the weaknesses of QLC NAND, while also enabling the drive to offer performance levels that exceed all-NAND SSDs at low queue depths.
Even though both sections of this SSD use PCIe 3.0 2x lanes, Intel's Optane H10 can offer more performance than standard PCIe 3.0 x2 NVMe storage devices, as both sections of the SSD can provide your PC with data at the same time. This allows Intel's Optane H10 to offer sequential read/write speeds of 2400/1800MB/s.
One of the best aspects of Intel's Optane H10 is its performance at low queue depths, as Intel's XPoint memory allows the drive to deliver heightened performance in commonly used applications. This is what allows Optane-based SSDs to appear faster than both SATA-based and NVMe-based SSDs, despite the smaller performance gap at high queue depths.
Think of it this way; imagine a cashier at a supermarket and a queue of customers. There are two ways of working through that queue fasters; 1, you can get a faster cashier and two, you can create a second queue and hire a second cashier. In most common PC workloads there are not many data queues running concurrently, a factor which allows Optane's high speeds at low queue depths make systems feel noticeably faster.
Below are a few benchmarks which were provided by Intel which showcases the read/write queue depths that are common when starting up applications. Notice that most of them use low queue depths when reading/writing data. Typically, SSDs are marketed with performance specifications that are using queue depths of 32, which are rarely seen in common workloads.
Thanks to their high-performance levels at low queue depths, Intel claims that their Optane memory can speed up 90% of applications and deliver better performance than most commonly used solid state drives.
With the Optane H10 using data caching, it must be remembered that not all of the H10's data will be stored on Optane memory. Even so, Intel's caching algorithm will keep commonly used data on Optane storage, which will allow the drive to accelerate a system's most important applications.
When Intel launches their Optane H10 series of SSDs, they will arrive first on 8th Generation U-series mobile products, which will come with their Optane H10 SSDs pre-configured. Intel's Optane H10 SSDs will ship with a 5-year warranty and are not set to recieve a mainstream consumer release at this time.
So is the Optane H10 the future of SSD storage? Well, we can't honestly say without dedicated testing. Regardless, Intel's hybrid storage solution appears to be the smart way forward given the pricing of Optane memory, enabling consumers to take advantage of the memory type without incurring an insane price premium.
On the topic of thermals, Intel has stated that their Optane H10 sits within the power envelopes of the M.2 specification that that their Optane H10 SSD should not throttle under consumer workloads. That said, throttling may occur during extended workloads, workloads which are almost exclusive to extended SSD benchmarking sessions and should never be expereinced by consumers.
In short, Intel's Optane H10 is an intelligent solution to many storage problems, but its lack of mainstream availability and the fact that it is tied to Intel's RST drivers will limit the SSD's overall potential. Even so, this SSD should prove to be a great solution for the OEMs who take advantage of it.
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