Who is the Optane SSD 900P for?

With a price per GB a little over twice that of the the fastest flash-based consumer SSDs, the Optane SSD 900P is an exclusive high-end product. For most desktop usage, drives like the 960 PRO are already fast enough to make storage no longer a severe bottleneck. The most noticeable delays due to storage performance on a 960 PRO are when moving around large files, and the Optane SSD doesn't offer any significant improvement to sequential transfer speeds. Random writes can be a challenge for flash-based SSDs, but volatile write caches and SLC caches allow them to handle short bursts with very high performance.

The unprecedented random read performance of the Optane SSD 900P is its biggest strength on paper, but not one that will often lead to a proportional speedup in overall application performance. Too many programs and filesystems are still designed with mechanical hard drive performance in mind as the baseline, and further increases to SSD performance serve mainly to shift the bottlenecks further onto the CPU, RAM, network, and even the user's own reaction time.

The scenarios where a drive like the Optane SSD 900P can offer meaningful and worthwhile performance improvements can be broadly categorized as as situations where the Optane SSD can help with one of two problems:

1. Storage is too slow

About the only time a desktop could challenge the sequential access performance of a high-end PCIe SSD (based on flash or 3D XPoint) is when dealing with high resolution uncompressed video. The Optane SSD doesn't help much here because of its limited capacity, and the PCIe 3 x4 link itself is a bottleneck at the highest refresh rates and bit depths. For video work, flash-based SSDs are definitely a better choice, and RAID arrays of cheaper SATA SSDs may be a better option than PCIe SSDs. Desktop workloads that require extremely high sustained random write performance are very rare, and SLC caching on a flash-based SSD nicely takes care of most realistic quantities of random writes.

That said, there are some situations where higher random read performance can be quite noticeable. Searching through a large volume of data is a common case, such as searching through a video, but it usually presents enough opportunities for parallelization that the drive's queue depth will climb up to the range where flash-based SSDs come close to the Optane SSD. Game level load times can in theory benefit greatly from faster read speeds, but in practice decompressing the assets after loading them into RAM quickly becomes the bottleneck. Most of the other situations where the performance advantage of the Optane SSD will really help are better described as a different kind of problem:

2. RAM is too small

In the workstation market, there are abundant examples of compute tasks with a memory working set that doesn't fit in RAM. Almost any simulation or rendering task will have a parameter for mesh density or particle count that can very quickly scale the memory requirements from a few GB to tens or hundreds of GB. An Optane SSD is far slower than four to eight channels of DDR4, but 16GB DIMMs are least 6-7 times more expensive per GB than the Optane SSD 900P, and putting more than 128GB of DRAM in an ATX motherboard is even more expensive.

Intel PR provided an example of using SideFX Houdini to render a high-resolution animation that included a 1.1 billion particle water simulation. Their test used a machine with a 10-core CPU and 64GB of RAM, and compared the 512GB Samsung 960 PRO against the 480GB Optane SSD 900P. The total memory requirements (DRAM+swap) of the rendering job were not disclosed, but the resulting 2.7x speedup is very plausible for a task that absolutely hammers the swap device. With a sufficiently high thread count to keep the queue depth high, that margin could be narrower (especially with the fastest 2TB 960 PRO), but then context switch overhead would become problematic. With the Optane SSD 900P, the random read latency is low enough that it would be hard to host more than two swap-limited threads per core without context switch overhead wasting more time than waiting on the SSD.

Star Citizen Bundle

Even though gaming isn't the ideal workload for the Optane SSD 900P to show off its performance, Intel is marketing the 900P to gaming enthusiasts. They're bundling a code for the game Star Citizen with the 900P, and including a new in-game spaceship variant as an exclusive item for Optane SSD customers. Intel has partnered with Star Citizen developer Roberts Space Industries (RSI) to hold a launch event for the 900P at CitizenCon 2017 today, which they are streaming live on Twitch and YouTube. Attendees will have the chance to playtest the Intel-exclusive Sabre Raven ship, but it is still undergoing final QA and will not be immediately available to Optane SSD 900P customers. The web page for redeeming the Star Citizen game code had not gone live as of the time of writing, so I was unable to attempt any testing with the game. (ed: I remember when AMD was offering a Star Citizen bundle in 2014 as well. The game still hasn't shipped.)

At the media briefing for the 900P, an RSI representative said they are exploring ways to optimize the Star Citizen experience on Optane SSDs, but not many specifics were provided. One approach under consideration is using less compression for some game assets, freeing up CPU time but relying on high storage performance. It didn't sound like this work was close to release. In the game's current state, RSI claims they've seen load times improve by 20-25%, but they didn't specify what other storage device they were comparing against.

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  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    That only goes to show your thinking skills need a lot of work before they get useful.

    Pardon me for not clapping my hands and cheering at pointless mediocrity. Hopefully some day I will be able to reach that level of excellence ;)

    That's the limited mindset of today. If you applaud AMD's achievements, you have got to be an AMD fanboy, and when that same person criticizes AMD stupidity, it defines all logic, because only fanboys like AMD and fanboys don't criticize their idols, right?
  • CajunArson - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Tell ya what, when AMD invents a completely new type of non-volatile storage technology that nobody has ever put on the market before then I promise not to literally ignore the actual facts that are set forth in Anandtech's review of the product to come to some predetermined bigoted conclusion.
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    AMD would probably invest in a lot, had it not been sandbagged by intel's illegal business practices over the course of decades. It was intel violating the cross-license agreement they agreed to first, and after that was no longer possible, they simply bribed the market away from amd.

    And don't me wrong. I do not "love" AMD, I do realize they only slow love for the consumer because they are not in the position intel is, which is a position they would definitely love to be in, and will abuse as much as intel does.

    My only concern about about AMD has to do with the fact that if they do better, intel has to do better too. True that AMD has a better track record, but again, that's only because they weren't in the position to do worse.
  • CajunArson - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Yawn, another butthurt "OMG INTEL ILLEGAL" delusional fanboy.

    Fact 1: AMD founder Jerry fried-chicken Sanders took kickbacks from Microsoft to testify *that Microsoft was not a monopoly* in federal court. If Colonel Sanders thinks Microsoft was never a monopoly then you know he never thought Intel could possibly have been a monopoly.

    Fact 2: Your former hero Hector Ruiz ran AMD into the ground while paying himself more than Intel's CEO was earning while conducting insider trading. His contribution was to piss away AMD's ability to fab leading edge silicon while massively overpaying for ATi. Oh, and Bulldozer... yeah that was him too. Funny how Intel must have magically mind-controlled him and the rest of AMD into all those decisions!

    People like you love to blame other people for your own bigotries and personal failings. The last thing you could do is to ever think that your Holy AMD could possibly maybe not be perfect.
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Thanks but my butt is fine, and branding makes a zero difference in my purchase decisions.

    You however are obviously a butthurt intel fanboy who got triggered by the very mention of intel's misdeeds, which are not a conspiracy theory but a PUBLICLY KNOWN FACT.
  • eddman - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    You are such a proponent of "facts", just like when you said Note 7 was sabotaged by intel and/or western powers to hold back samsung's and/or south korea's advancements without any shred of evidence.

    You simply do not like whatever intel, nvidia, (insert X,Y,Z company I don't approve of) make and try your hardest to dismiss them by pretending you are "criticizing" them and then trying to cover your personal attacks against other posters as "sarcasm" and by coming up with words out of a 14-years old's vocabulary like "hypetane".

    It would've been ok if you actually were a kid but you claim to be an expert of decades in pretty much everything. Very professional.
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    OK, you seem to have a problem with exploring eventualities. Do you have a problem with evolution? Or the big bang? Those are after all, just theories, some claim they make sense and have some factual or logical support, but they are essentially still just theories and not facts.

    My bet is you don't. You don't really have a problem with claims that are unsubstantiated by evidence, you only have a problem with those of them that are not endorsed by the status quo.

    Because you are a conformist. Which is also why you have a persistent problem with me, because it annoys you that I stand up to conformity and cultivate individualism. How dare I?

    Speaking about 14 year olds, I am pretty sure that unlike you, a 14 year old would get the joke. Optane - over-hyped -> hypetane. Probably even a 5 year old would. But not you, to you it is absolutely inappropriate for someone to mock the lies of a monopoly. Because you are a conformist. You are obligated to show respect and admiration. And you get triggered when someone does not.
  • eddman - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    Good job trying to pretend you just said it as a "theory". You mentioned it as an absolute, 100%, undeniable fact without ever using words like "maybe", "could be", "possibly", etc. and belittled anyone who said otherwise.

    As for the "joke", only a kid would come up and use something like that, right there with words like "poser", etc. You are such a professional critic that has to resort to such childish words. At least you finally acknowledged that you simply do all this for mocking purposes.

    Also, changing from the word "sheep" to "conformist". It seems you found a way to hide your insults. Yes, every single person in the world is a "conformist" except you. I'm sure your spamming on anandtech will finally get rid of the evil corporations.
  • ddriver - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    "you mentioned it as an absolute, 100%, undeniable fact"

    That's your theory. Unless I explicitly said it is "absolute, 100% undeniable fact", it is only your insinuation.

    "You are such a professional critic that has to resort to such childish words"

    Nah, I just don't limit myself, foolishly believing that being "serious" will make me any smarter, you know, like you do. That's dumb, and I don't feel urges to be considered smart by dumb people.

    "It seems you found a way to hide your insults"

    Nah, I just don't like insulting sheep by comparing them to you. Unlike you, a sheep cannot help but be a sheep. Also, you clearly don't know what "spamming" means, and clearly ignorant of what else I do in regard with the "evil corporations" aside from "spamming".

    I am pretty sure if I was spamming or in violating the site rules in any other way, I would have been banned, don't you think? I haven't even gotten warnings, public or private. Let me know, if I am doing something wrong, would ya AT staff?
  • eddman - Friday, October 27, 2017 - link

    You do not care about what others think about you, that's why you keep commenting and boasting about yourself. You are a typical ego driven person. Keep spamming. AT cannot be bothered with you.

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