There is no doubt that the SSD units have been a complete computer revolution, perhaps the largest since the arrival of 3D graphics cards. Even the oldest computer seems to fly when it receives one, but they are not without problems. From the start, they are quite expensive if we look at the € / GB ratio. Much more than the very slow conventional hard drives, very cheap and high capacity, but with very low performance.
An intermediate option is the hybrid hard drives , which have not enjoyed great popularity. And between one and the other comes a new technology: Optane. This is the name given to XPoint 3D memory units developed by Intel, which basically put the turbo so that a computer with a classic hard drive sometimes runs as if it had an SSD. It sounds impossible, but it is not.
How does Optane work?
The Optane units make use of a special type of memory developed by Intel and chip manufacturer Micron. It receives the name 3D Xpoint and combines broadly the very small latency of RAM with the persistence (ability to store information after turning off the PC) of an SSD. Put another way, try to imagine something like a tiny hard drive that can access the files inside it as quickly as if they were already housed in RAM.
Optane units, in fact, can be used as if they were huge banks of RAM with persistence in professional systems. For the consumer, which is more interesting to us, they speed up the operation of hard disks by creating a high-speed buffer. They have much less capacity than an SSD , but that’s because the bulk of the files are stored on the hard drive.
The idea is that the documents and files of most frequent use are stored in the Optane unit , much faster than a normal hard disk, so that the computer goes to it and only “calls” the hard disk when it needs to access data outside of this unit.
Intel resembles the operation of a PC with a conventional hard drive to that of a kitchen with the pantry in another room. Every time the computer needs an ingredient to prepare a recipe, it has to leave the kitchen to pick it up. Optane memory acts like a conveyor belt that brings the ingredients to the computer at full speed so you do not waste time going in and out.
The benefits of an SSD without having an SSD
While there were already similar solutions using pendrives and cache spaces on the hard drive itself, none of them offers the speed of Xpoint 3D memory. In addition, its latency is incredibly low, so it allows to maintain a constant flow of files very, very fast even if the transfer speed of an Optane unit is not greater than that of an SSD in nominal terms.
The interesting thing about Optane units is that they are much cheaper than a high performance SSD but they offer some of its advantages. The fact is that most of the files consulted by the user and by Windows are usually almost the same, so by simply moving them to an Optane unit we are already getting part of the benefits of having an SSD.
One point in favor of Optane units is, as we said, their latency. The time it takes an SSD drive to access a file is measured in microseconds, while in an Optane it is nanosecond. This allows you to send relatively small files at enormous speed and very consistently.
In addition to all this, the Optane units are economical. Because they are basically very small. Currently they are offered in modules of 16 and 32 GB, which may seem very small, but they are enough for the PC to host the files and frequently used applications. With only a fraction of the capacity of an SSD disk, it already speeds up access to data that would otherwise have to be read from a large but very slow hard drive.
Why can Optane be a convenient option?
The characteristics of Optane are quite unique. They are units too small to store large applications exclusively inside and essentially serve as a complement to the hard drive. So they are not comparable to an SSD. However, they can be interesting for users who need to store large amounts of data but only regularly access a few.
Intel, in fact, has launched the first Optans thinking a lot about the players . Many of them have huge amounts of games, so an SSD is very short and they use hard drives of 3 TB and more. The result is very slow loading times. By adding an Optane unit you can accelerate access to the load data without installing an expensive SSD.
The low latency of Optane units can also be very useful for people who work with large databases at a professional level. And above all, for all that domestic user with a computer equipped with a conventional hard drive and who does not want to add another unit , since Optane memories are “invisible” facing the desktop. They just accelerate the system and do not come into view.
As a general recommendation, a 16 GB module should be sufficient for the average user who wants to accelerate their hard drive without changing it for an SSD. Those of 32 GB are reserved for high performance teams and very demanding players.
How can I install an Optane unit on my computer?
Not all computers can benefit from the possibilities of Optane units. Only those computers equipped with an Intel Core i3 or higher seventh generation or more modern processor can use them, assuming they have an M.2 slot. It is also necessary to use Windows 10.
To install an Optane memory you just have to insert it into the corresponding slot and start the PC. Depending on the age of the equipment it may be necessary to update the motherboard. Once Windows is booted, the system will detect its presence and you can proceed to activate the hardware. The new drive will not be visible on your PC, so it’s not like you’re installing a new hard drive or an SSD.
Some equipment with Intel Optane as standard
Given their characteristics, many computer manufacturers use Optane units as a complement to a high-capacity hard disk in both general-purpose and gaming equipment . This ensures optimal performance and ample space for games while maintaining a more adjusted and attractive price. And we do not only talk about desktop towers, but also laptops.