Test Procedures

Our usual SSD test procedure was not designed to handle multi-device tiered storage, so some changes had to be made for this review and as a result much of the data presented here is not directly comparable to our previous reviews. The major changes are:

  • All test configurations were running the latest OS patches and CPU microcode updates for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities. Regular SSD reviews with post-patch test results will begin later this month.
  • Our synthetic benchmarks are usually run under Linux, but Intel's caching software is Windows-only so the usual fio scripts were adapted to run on Windows. The settings for data transfer sizes and test duration are unchanged, but the difference in storage APIs between operating systems means that the results shown here are lower across the board, especially for the low queue depth random I/O that is the greatest strength of Optane SSDs.
  • We only have equipment to measure the power consumption of one drive at a time. Rather than move that equipment out of the primary SSD testbed and use it to measure either the cache drive or the hard drive, we kept it busy testing drives for future reviews. The SYSmark 2014 SE test results include the usual whole-system energy usage measurements.
  • Optane SSDs and hard drives are not any slower when full than when empty, because they do not have the complicated wear leveling and block erase mechanisms that flash-based SSDs require, nor any equivalent to SLC write caches. The AnandTech Storage Bench (ATSB) trace-based tests in this review omit the usual full-drive test runs. Instead, caching configurations were tested by running each test three times in a row to check for effects of warming up the cache.
  • Our AnandTech Storage Bench "The Destroyer" test takes about 12 hours to run on a good SATA SSD and about 7 hours on the best PCIe SSDs. On a mechanical hard drive, it takes more like 24 hours. Results for The Destroyer will probably not be ready this week. In the meantime, the ATSB Heavy test is sufficiently large to illustrate how SSD caching performs for workloads that do not fit into the cache.

Benchmark Summary

This review analyzes the performance of Optane Memory caching both for boot drives and secondary drives. The Optane Memory modules are also tested as standalone SSDs. The benchmarks in this review fall into three categories:

Application benchmarks: SYSmark 2014 SE

SYSmark directly measures how long applications take to respond to simulated user input. The scores are normalized against a reference system, but otherwise are directly proportional to the accumulated time between user input and the result showing up on screen. SYSmark measures whole-system performance and energy usage with a broad variety of non-gaming applications. The tests are not particularly storage-intensive, and differences in CPU and RAM can have a much greater impact on scores than storage upgrades.

AnandTech Storage Bench: The Destroyer, Heavy, Light

These three tests are recorded traces of real-world I/O that are replayed onto the storage device under test. This allows for the same storage workload to be reproduced consistently and almost completely independent of changes in CPU, RAM or GPU, because none of the computational workload of the original applications is reproduced. The ATSB Light test is similar in scope to SYSmark while the ATSB Heavy and The Destroyer tests represent much more computer usage with a broader range of applications. As a concession to practicality, these traces are replayed with long disk idle times cut short, so that the Destroyer doesn't take a full week to run.

Synthetic Benchmarks: Flexible IO Tester (FIO)

FIO is used to produce and measure artificial storage workloads according to our custom scripts. Poor choice of data sizes, access patterns and test duration can produce results that are either unrealistically flattering to SSDs or are unfairly difficult. Our FIO-based tests are designed specifically for modern consumer SSDs, with an emphasis on queue depths and transfer sizes that are most relevant to client computing workloads. Test durations and preconditioning workloads have been chosen to avoid unrealistically triggering thermal throttling on M.2 SSDs or overflowing SLC write caches.

Introduction SYSmark 2014 SE
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  • Samus - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    For $160-$170 (<$150 on sale, basically the price of 64GB of Optane) you can get a the WD Black 512GB M2 NVME PCIe SSD that does 2000MB+/sec rear for all 512GB.

    Why the hell is Optane so expensive. 5-7x the price of traditional NAND?
  • Arnulf - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    Because it is crap which nobody would buy if it was priced close to SSDs of similar performance and capacity:

    "It costs 5-7 times more than SSDs, must be something magical about it, let's buy one honey!"

    Much like $1000 mobile phones, bait for the stupid.
  • CheapSushi - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    Because it uses phase change instead of NAND and it's new tech. They're trying to recoup R&D cost.
  • FunBunny2 - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    "hey're trying to recoup R&D cost. "

    PCM is decades old tech. look it up. throwing good money after bad, just like pharma.
  • deil - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    I have 8 TB drive AND I would enjoy some speedup as current usual run takes ~~5h full run. With that 32 GB joke drive even if it would not double the speed, Speedup of 20% time is a lot in my case. AND I don't get to redesign anything to use another drive or have to build 8 TB ssd raid.
  • Spunjji - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    On what basis do you think you'll achieve any speed-up, though?
  • tipoo - Wednesday, May 16, 2018 - link

    Yeah, I can't see why 5x the NAND for the cost wouldn't almost always be preferable for budget systems.

    I can only see this making sense for datacenter use.
  • 0ldman79 - Thursday, May 17, 2018 - link

    Primocache does the same thing.

    I've got an 80gig in my desktop, a 60 in an Asus laptop that has two 2.5 bays and a 16gig M.2 in my Inspiron 7559.

    I don't use RAM as a buffer, just the SSD. Works great, unless you have an unstable system. Any time you lose power or don't shut down cleanly the cache resets. With the cache, however, my main box boots in about 20-30 seconds, all apps loaded, where as just running the mechanical drive a reboot is nearly a 4 minute affair.
  • lefty2 - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Ironically, these drives work better with AMD motherboards than Intel:
  • CajunArson - Tuesday, May 15, 2018 - link

    Where does Idiot-Zilla prove that Optane works "better" with AMD motherboards than Intel?

    But for a site that starts with "Fud" I will give them credit for dispelling the completely wrong "FUD" that is actually spread by AMD fanboys that Optane is a proprietary technology that only works with Intel products. Never has been proprietary.

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