Some quick synthetic performance tests
Since Optane Memory uses NVMe as its underlying protocol, an Optane Memory module will first appear as a small SSD in Windows' Disk Management utility. Although this is absolutely not the way most people will or should use Optane Memory, I was able to format the drive as a 27GB NTFS volume so that we could run some basic synthetic storage benchmarks on the stuff. CrystalDiskMark is admittedly not the most in-depth storage benchmark around, but it at least gives us a basic idea of a storage device's performance.
Starting with one thread at QD1, Optane has pretty spectacular low-QD performance for both sequential and random reads. The media configuration or firmware of the device seems much less speedy with writes, however.
Get away from typical desktop workloads by upping the queue depths to four and eight, and the Optane Memory module still enjoys some read performance scaling. Write performance seems to run into a wall far quicker, though.
Finally, at four threads and a queue depth of 32 for maximum parallelism, we can see that the device's sequential read performance tops out at about QD8, in accordance with Intel's claims for Optane in general. Random read performance still had plenty of room to scale, however.
Playing by the rules
With my basic curiosity about the Optane Memory module's performance satisfied, I ran the setup process baked into Intel's Optane Memory driver. After a couple of reboots, the app indicated that Optane Memory was up and running, so I got to testing. The natural first test of Optane Memory's performance was boot times.
Windows 10 adds a small wrinkle to shutdown and startup behavior with a feature called Fast Startup that's on by default. As Microsoft explains it, fast startup "simply loads the hibernation file (Hiberfil.sys) into memory to restore the previously saved image of the Windows kernel and loaded drivers" after a shutdown. The net result is a much faster boot than starting from scratch, and we can see that Fast Startup delivers on its promise even with no help from Optane. Strangely, Optane Memory seems to perform better with Fast Startup disabled than it does with the feature enabled. Worth noting, we suppose.
Oddly enough, the Optane Memory setup also outperforms our SSD for getting to the Windows desktop quickly. Maybe there's more to 3D Xpoint's low-QD performance than we figured.
The first pure productivity app in our suite is Adobe's evergreen Photoshop CC 2017. The hard drive alone is unsurprisingly the worst performer of the bunch. The real surprise is how the Optane cache outperforms even the OCZ Trion 150 by a couple seconds here. The SSD may launch the app four times faster than a hard drive alone, but Optane Memory can apparently halve the launch time again for a roughly eight-times-faster improvement. Not too shabby.
I also tested Optane Memory with Adobe's Premiere Pro CC 2017 non-linear video editing software. We tested this app two ways. The first involved a cold load time, as we performed with Photoshop. Once again, Optane Memory won out, albeit not quite as widely as it did with Photoshop. The cache layer lets Premiere launch more than 3.5 times as fast as it can on a hard drive alone. Launching Premiere from the Trion 150 offers nearly a 3x speedup.
Our second test involved loading an Intel-provided Premiere project file comprising a couple hundred megs of files. In this test, both solid-state storage devices are still impressively fast, but the hard drive is able to close the gap for some reason. Still, both Optane Memory and the Trion 150 are preferable to spinning rust alone by a wide margin.
What about common productivity applications like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel? We tried timing launches of those applications, but we ultimately decided it wasn't worth the effort. Even trying to open multiple large documents at once from a hard drive, Word launches in less than five seconds, and the other Office apps aren't far behind. (We also had trouble determining when these applications were finished launching, since some of them don't stagger multiple document windows.) Optane makes launching those apps take just a couple seconds at worst.
Our guess is that Microsoft already optimizes the heck out of these apps so they can perform well even on resource-constrained systems, and Optane just speeds them up more. In short, if Office is your thing, you'll likely experience a boost from Optane Memory—just don't expect Photoshop or Premiere levels of boost.
Gaming tests with Doom and GTA V
With productivity apps out of the way, we further tested load times using id Software's hit Doom remake and Grand Theft Auto V. As we did with Premiere Pro, we tested Doom's load times two ways: one for the application startup time, and once while loading the game's Foundry level.
Doom seems most I/O-bound in its initial load, where Optane Memory and the Trion 150 both cleave off more than half the time versus the hard drive alone. Once it's loaded, Doom performs much more consistently among storage devices, at least as far as load times are concerned. Once again, having either Optane Memory or an SSD in one's system is far more preferable than plain old spinning rust.
Firing up Grand Theft Auto V lets our WD Black 1TB hard drive close the gap with solid-state storage a bit in our intial application load test. The hard drive can't keep up when we actually go to load the game's story mode, however. With Optane Memory enabled, the 3D XPoint cache lets the game load over 11 seconds faster than it can from the mechanical drive, and the OCZ SSD isn't far behind.
We'd have to test more games to be sure, but it seems that in the three-way race between Optane Memory, no Optane Memory, and an SSD, it's far preferable to have Optane Memory in a gaming system than it is not to. As far as system responsiveness goes, Optane Memory is actually even slightly faster than our budget SSD representative. Not bad, given its modest cost.
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