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Intel's Optane Memory tech unquestionably improves the responsiveness of a PC that relies on a hard drive for its primary storage, and by no small margin. Going by the metrics I tested, Optane Memory can even help a hard-drive-powered system outpace an affordable 480GB SSD in some scenarios. That's great performance, and the outstanding speed of 3D Xpoint at low queue depths seems to make it ideal for serving as a cache layer.

Optane Memory significantly reduces the time spent loading games over a hard drive alone. The Optane cache cut the start-up time for Doom in half versus a hard drive alone. That's a huge speed boost, and it suggests Optane Memory can blend a hard drive's capacity and an SSD's responsiveness for gamers on a budget. Grand Theft Auto V's startup and level-loading times also benefited from having a slice of Optane installed, though not quite as much as Doom's did.

Power users will also enjoy benefits from having a stick of Optane Memory installed. Adobe's Photoshop launched an incredible eight times faster with the support of Optane Memory than it did without, and Premiere Pro launched in about a third of the time with Optane enabled as it did without. If your time is money, Optane Memory will definitely let you spend more time working and less time waiting around, even more so than with our affordable SSD.

Other commonly-used applications like Word and PowerPoint already start pretty darn fast even on a mechanical hard drive, so Optane takes things from "pretty darn fast" to "really fast" for those widely-used apps. Windows 10's default fast boot mode lets it start up as quickly from a hard drive as it does with Optane Memory enabled, as well, which might explain why Intel is no longer touting improved boot times as an Optane advantage.

For casual PC users, Optane's biggest advantage might be that it seems to handle heavy simultaneous I/O (like launching apps right at startup) about as well as an SSD does, while asking the same of a hard drive feels like wading through mud. My testbed system felt ready to go more or less right away after booting with Optane Memory enabled, while the first minute or so of using the PC with the hard drive alone felt distinctly unresponsive. That sluggishness is why anyone with the means switched to an SSD for a boot device as soon as they could ages ago, and Optane could help bridge the gap.

I tried to hash out Optane Memory's platform cost out at the beginning of this article, and even after seeing its impressive performance, I think Intel has limited the appeal of Optane Memory a bit by making a Kaby Lake Core CPU a requirement. Had Optane Memory worked with Intel's entire range of Kaby Lake chips, the $44 price tag for the 16 GB module might have been an impulse buy for many budget builders. As matters stand, I imagine that the budget-conscious will only grudgingly step up to the $120 Core i3-7100 over the $65 Pentium G4560 or $93 Pentium G4620 on the way to Optane compatibility, assuming they step up at all. It's hard not to feel nickel-and-dimed by this requirement when one is already spending $44 to $77 on the Optane Memory module itself.

That said, nitpicky DIYers probably aren't the bullseye of Optane Memory's target market. Intel claims PC buyers put storage capacity in their top three priorities for a new PC, and SSDs can't offer large capacities at affordable prices yet. PC makers like Dell seem reluctant even to give buyers a solid-state option in their lower-end desktop PCs. Considering that SSD prices seem likely to rise this year, the relatively low price of Optane Memory modules could make these gumsticks a compelling add-in for folks who want some of an SSD's performance without giving up a big disk in their midrange systems.

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