Kaby Lake Pentiums and Celerons won’t support Optane Memory

When Intel's Optane Memory technology launched this week, we overlooked a critical requirement for the platform. Despite seeming ideal for speeding up budget-friendly systems with hard drives as their sole storage devices, Optane Memory apparently won't have support from Intel's most budget-friendly Kaby Lake CPUs: the Celeron G3930, the Celeron G3950, the Pentium G4560, the Pentium G4600, and the Pentium G4620. Lower-power "T" variants of those chips won't work, either. Only Kaby Lake Core CPUs are Optane Memory-compatible, according to Intel's ARK database and the Optane Memory product page.

We've gotta say: this is a baffling decision on Intel's part. Assuming ARK is correct, the cheapest CPU one can pair with an Optane Memory device is the Core i3-7100, a $120 part that's $28 more expensive than our budget-favorite Pentium G4620. The Core i3 adds 200 MHz of clock speed and AVX support to the bargain, to be fair. Even so, paying $65 or so in total to get that Core i3 CPU and the 16GB Optane Memory hardware itself seems like a hard sell for the frugal system builder who's already chosen a capacious hard drive.

If we play the incremental cost game a bit more, one can get a reputable budget 480GB SSD like Toshiba OCZ's TR150 for $130—not that much more versus the $105-ish extra that one would pay for the 16GB Optane Memory module, the Core i3-7100 CPU, and the WD Blue 1TB hard drive one would need to get our Budget Box's storage subsystem Optane Memory-ready. We'll have to reserve judgment until we've had time with Optane Memory products to be sure, but it seems like those 3D Xpoint-equipped gumsticks and their caching software will need to be quite competitive with SSD performance to be worth the platform cost.

We've asked Intel to comment on this matter, and we'll update the post if we hear back.

Comments closed
    • Ruklaw
    • 2 years ago

    This is exactly the same as Intel Smart Response from 2011 then, which also require I3 upwards – basically the same thing but using a small SSD as the cache instead of Optane.

    It was a stupid limitation then also, for the same reasons – it’s cheap machines with celeron/pentiums and hard drives that benefit the most from this type of caching.

    • sophisticles
    • 2 years ago

    I have seen almost every tech site say the same thing, obviously this is what Intel is claiming but here’s what I don’t understand:

    Let’s assume I buy a motherboard that supports Optane and I buy a 16GB Optane Memory Module and I pick up Kaby Lake Celeron/Pentium, will the board recognize the Optane device as a separate bootable disk drive?

    My thinking is that the perfect way to use this technology is by installing the OS on it, based on all the articles I’ve read it seems that Optane basically tries to split the difference between ram and SSD’s, so if one were to install an OS on it then one would see the most benefit.

    The way most articles make it sound is that one still installs the OS on a traditional drive, be it SSD or spinning rust, and then they install the software that caches programs and data to the drive but to me that seems a) like a waste and b) it means that people won’t be able to use it with any OS that Intel and MS don’t want it to be used with; I know the software will only install on Win10 but I doubt there will be a Linux/BSD version.

    I see myself building a low end Kaby Lake Celeron/Pentium system with 8GB of fast ram, picking up a 16GB Optane module and installing Ubuntu or Manjaro with the latest kernel on it for a really responsive system.

    • Welch
    • 2 years ago

    And I just said this on the other Optane post. Whether it would be supported on Pentiums and i3. At least half of that way right.

    A good portion of cheap systems from places like Sam’s club and the like are i3, a few of them being Pentiums. Unless you are buying sub $300 Walmart systems you probably won’t see a Celeron.

    I’m also assuming that their Atom CPUs are not supported either?

    All around, niche as hell and waste of money. Sounds like more of a pain than it is worth.

    • xeridea
    • 2 years ago

    Intel business as usual with completely pointless and arbitrary market segmentation.

    • tipoo
    • 2 years ago

    At 5X the cost of NAND, who would want to pair it with a celeron though? Wouldn’t most low end systems see more benefit from 5x the NAND itself?

    Sure, it’s a super fast cache, but
    1) What workloads on a Pentium or Celeron benefit from 1000x faster access time than NAND, and
    2) A 16 or 32GB cache of any sort still has a fair bit of spillover to the HDD in my experience, so a 160GB NAND cache for the same price would be preferable for the vast majority of low end system workloads.

      • cygnus1
      • 2 years ago

      Honestly though, I don’t get the point of it at all. It feels like a gimmick to try to slightly upsell cheap PCs. I mean, the only niche I see this working in, is cheap PCs. Cheap laptops with no room for more storage and OEM desktops that are never going to be upgraded after purchase trying to compete with the more expensive systems with 512GB or 1TB SSDs. Combining a 1TB or larger HDD with an Optane cache, even the 32GB one, will be a lot cheaper and/or a lot higher margin than the system rocking the big SSD.

      • xeridea
      • 2 years ago

      NAND is fast enough that most, even power users would not notice the difference, so may as well get 8x the capacity for the same price. XPoint is for a niche market, not the masses.

    • Krogoth
    • 2 years ago

    It is pure market segmentation and the intended market for Pentium/Celerons aren’t going to be missing Optane support either (Bargain basement OEM laptops/desktop rigs).

    • south side sammy
    • 2 years ago

    if you’re going to come out with ground breaking technology, make it work on all platforms. Intel = idiots.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 2 years ago

      Point taken, but it’d be a better start if it just worked with all the CPUs on a given platform first.

      • Krogoth
      • 2 years ago

      Not really.

      The intended market doesn’t care for Optane and it will simply drive up bottom costs for OEMs on bargain basement-tier laptop/desktop PCs where Pentium/Celeron chips typically reside in.

    • JosiahBradley
    • 2 years ago

    I cannot wait for Micron’s release. Intel releases a product directly aimed at budget builds, as all caches are, and then hamstrings the same market. Ryzen 3 plus real Xpoint are needed more than ever to stop this nonsense.

      • DPete27
      • 2 years ago

      I don’t think Optane is compatible with Ryzen. Am I mistaken?

        • JosiahBradley
        • 2 years ago

        Optane is Intel’s branding for XPoint and is not compatible with anything other than Kaby core models. Micron are the ones who co-invented the technology and their implementation should have fewer restrictions.

    • DavidC1
    • 2 years ago

    Here’s why I see potential for Optane caching is much better than NAND based caching.

    Simply, NAND devices need significant work for wear-levelling and performance. The crap performance is mostly masked by elaborate algorithms and things like DRAM buffers. That’s why a crucial part of SSD benchmarking is performance consistency and performance when the drive is “dirty”.

    So if you use NAND for caching, the NAND cache itself has its own cache! The hybrid performance would be limited because the cache itself isn’t so awesome. What happens to the hybrid system when the NAND cache runs into problems into its own? Optane, won’t have such problems and the worst case scenario on a hybrid system will fair better.

    Now, I know this Optane device is mostly for HDD caching. They have a rather big market if it works well though, because significant part of the market still uses HDDs.

    The pricing isn’t that bad, well, maybe the 32GB is unnecessary. The 16GB is only $44. Also, enough stores sell Core i7 systems with HDDs. Core i3 minimum isn’t ideal, but far from being terrible.

    • derFunkenstein
    • 2 years ago

    Well of course. The CPU performance is too close to that of a Core i3, so they needed something to artificially segment product families.

    The good news is that the same $77 that gets you 32GB of Optane also gets you a 240GB SSD. So get that instead and enjoy your budget box. Or do what Jeff did at the end of the post and get a 480GB drive. The justification makes sense.

      • juzz86
      • 2 years ago

      I hope so many people listen to you, Ben. This is a far better plan if you’re competent enough to build-it-yourself.

      This should go alright in those $300 500GB Celeron N3050 PoS laptops that seem so common, though. As long as they stay at $300, of course. At $350 you go to eBay and buy an ex-lease EliteBook or Precision with an i5/i7 and a real SSD.

      • cygnus1
      • 2 years ago

      I just don’t see these ending up in many, if any, custom built PCs. It’s definitely an upsell for the cheap laptops and OEM desktops of the world. “SSD performance with X TB’s of space!!

      MS has tiering tech similar in function (definitely not similar design) to Apple Fusion drive. It’s part of Storage Spaces Direct in Server 2016. I’d love to see some form of that come to the desktop and be bootable. That would let you pair any size/kind of fast disk with a capacity disk and get you very good overall performance. The enterprise version requires multiple disks in each tier because of redundancy, but I bet they could make a version that worked with a single disk in each tier if they really wanted. Maybe in the next few years.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 2 years ago

        I did see this as an up-sell for cheap laptops until Intel decided it won’t work with the Pentiums and Celerons. There are some i3 and i5 notebooks with spinning rust still, but this change really limits the number of models where adding Optane makes sense.

        Edit: if MS does what you’re hoping for that should make tiny SSDs come back and really compete with Optane, since it would do for all CPUs what Intel is doing for some, even if it’s not quite as quick.

          • cygnus1
          • 2 years ago

          Idiots will always be parted from money. I fully expect to see i3, i5, and maybe even i7 laptops and OEM desktops sold with 4TB HDDs and Optane caches.

            • derFunkenstein
            • 2 years ago

            That’s probably very likely. Silly, but likely.

            • south side sammy
            • 2 years ago

            wonder, does anybody find it very “odd” that cpu’s aren’t making, and haven’t been making major speed increases for quite some time now ( years ). It seems things are being done to avoid that, and efforts are made to find ways around it.
            and, as well as with this Intel thing, you have to pick a side ( team ). Why can’t stuff just work together. ( Gsync/FreeSync ) why? If your product is good enough it shouldn’t matter.

          • Waco
          • 2 years ago

          Yeah…you’d think that’d be the core market segment for this.

    • Forge
    • 2 years ago

    This is the same thinking that means my i7-4790K can do 4K over Displayport, but the Pentium G3258 (also Haswell silicon) has a hard limiter at WQHD. Nobody at Intel cares about what the hardware can actually do. They care about what the marketing team needs it to be capable of.

    • barich
    • 2 years ago

    More of Intel’s absurd market segmentation. Wouldn’t want one of those Celeron or Pentium systems to accidentally perform too fast.

      • blastdoor
      • 2 years ago

      Hey now, let’s not be too hard on Intel’s market segmentation — AMD’s business model depends on it!

    • blahsaysblah
    • 2 years ago

    Vista had an advanced file caching feature as one of key selling points (for me anyway).

    It was good at first, it figured out I played a lot of WoW back then, and i would turn on computer, go get a drink and it would have it all loaded in memory. Problem was when i turned on computer and didnt want to play WoW, just browse the web or do some work….

    Still dont see how this cache can be smart enough to be useful except by accident. A gamer will use different “big” apps to saturate the cache. Only person this might be good for is someone that only browses web/youtube day-in, day-out…. That person would be just fine with a small cheap SATA SSD.

    • DragonDaddyBear
    • 2 years ago

    Doesn’t Optane have some crazy I/O and is immune from the read/write penalty associated with MLC/TLC flash drives? I’m not saying I like it or think it’s valuable for most, but I could see a niche case where a person could take advantage of the features.

      • tay
      • 2 years ago

      It does and it is. Check out the article on this very site. It still seems like a bad deal, unless there is a decent performance bump over SSD.

        • DragonDaddyBear
        • 2 years ago

        I totally agree we need benchmarks to confirm the benefits. I guess my point is that the lower end market is not the target for this technology.

          • Jeff Kampman
          • 2 years ago

          It’s certainly the target for Optane Memory, a small cache of fast non-volatile RAM that’s meant to improve performance for systems whose primary storage device is a hard drive.

            • DragonDaddyBear
            • 2 years ago

            That may be what they aimed for but as you pointed out they missed the mark. The only real benefit I could see in the low end is a prebuilt system adding this after the fact.

          • rechicero
          • 2 years ago

          If the low end market is not the target of this tech and the medium and high end markets don’t need this tech (they already have SSD), which market is the target?

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