Hybrid vigour: Intel adds Optane to flash mini-SSD

Intel has announced a combined Optane and flash H10 drive designed for memory expansion into thin and light notebooks, All-in-One and Mini PCs.

Dell, Lenovo, HP, Acer, ASUS, and other OEMs will ship products using H10 drives in the second 2019 quarter.

The Optane Memory H10 is an M.2 format solid state drive with an Optane (3D XPoint) memory component alongside a slug of QLC (4bits/cell) 3D NAND.

There are three capacity levels:

  • 16GB Optane + 256GB flash
  • 32GB Optane + 512GB flash
  • 32GB Optane + 1TB flash
Intel Optane H10 M.2 format

The H10 uses 16GB or 32GB Optane 80MM M.2 memory modules.

Clearly the Optane component is meant to speed up the device but Intel has not published any performance information, Neither does it say if Optane is a cache for the QLC flash or if the two combine to form a faster tier of storage. 

Some reports suggest that Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology Driver will control the flash and will work with the Optane memory driver to present the capacity of the two media as a single storage device to the host OS.

Intel’s H10 web page says H10 users will be able to:

Accelerate your PC with breakthrough responsiveness so you can search and find files faster and launch applications quicker. Conquer storage-demanding applications with smart software that automatically learns your computing behaviours to accelerate frequent tasks. Combine responsiveness and up to 1TB of storage capacity in a single device.

This implies the Optane is a fast tier.

Life in the fast lane

Blocks & Files can identify four potential performance comparison points: Intel’s 16 and 32GB 80MM memory modules, its Optane 800P M.2 SSD, and Toshiba’s M.2 2230  BG4 device; a QLC M.2 SSD. The 800P and BG4 have NVMe PCIe gen 3 interfaces, Intel with 2 lanes and Toshiba with 4.

The BG4 can have up to 1TB capacity while the 800P has 58GB or 118GB only.

The Optane 800P delivers up to 250,000 random read IOPS and 140,000 random write IOPS. Its sequential read and write bandwidth is 1.45GB/sec and 640MB/sec. (These numbers are based on a queue depth of 4.) The 800P’s average sequential read/write latency is < 6.75/< 18 μs.

The  Optane 16GB and 32GB 80MM products have the following characteristics:

  • 16GB: 190,000/35,000 random read/write IOPS (8GB span) and 900/145MB/sec sequential read/write bandwidth.
  • 32GB: 240,000/65,000 random read/write IOPS (8GB span) and 1350/290MB/sec sequential read/write bandwidth.

The Toshiba QLC M.2 delivers up to 380,000 random read IOPS and 190,000 random write IOPS. Sequential read and write bandwidth numbers are 2.25GB/sec and 1.7GB/sec – faster than the Optane 800P drive and 80MM memory modules. That is unexpected and, on the face of it, a combined 800P+BG4 drive would not be faster than the BG4 on its own.

Latency is much lower for Optane than QLC flash and this will deliver advantage for small IOs.

Intel is doing something to speed up the raw QLC flash on the H10 device – the H10 has to be faster than Toshiba’s BG4,  surely? But what is Intel doing and how much faster?

Four PCIe lanes seems to be an obvious choice that will be made but in our judgement this is insufficient on its own as it would mostly increase bandwidth. We don’t know any more than this: it’s perplexing.

Intel says it will reveal more information when the product launches in the second quarter.