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First Optane DIMMs Disappoint

April 9, 2019

Author: Linley Gwennap

After a long wait, Intel’s first Optane memory modules are now in production. For more than three years, the company has promised to deliver a revolutionary memory that is persistent, is less expensive than DRAM, and has “near-DRAM” speed. The new Optane DIMMs, code-named Apache Pass (AEP) and officially branded as Intel Optane DC Persistent Memory, mostly meet these goals, but they’re considerably slower than DRAM—so much so that they typically require some amount of DRAM to function as a cache.

Intel offers the new Optane DIMMs in three capacities: 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB. All have lower per-byte cost than DRAM, although the 512GB Optane DIMM sells for nearly $7,000. Since DRAM DIMMs top out at 256GB, Optane allows customers to pack more memory in their servers than ever before: up to 4.5TB per processor. The company previously offered Optane memory only in SSDs and a small PCIe stick.

Although Optane DIMMs plug into a standard memory slot, they use a modified protocol called DDR-T to communicate with the processor. The only processor that supports this protocol, and thus Optane DIMMs, is Intel’s new second-generation Xeon Scalable, known as Cascade Lake.

The new DIMMs can improve performance in two ways. First, they allow larger memory systems at a lower cost per byte than DRAM. The larger memory system boosts performance for big data and other memory-intensive workloads. At a system level, the cost savings are about 20%, enough for only a small memory increase. Second, by retaining their value during a power loss, the Optane DIMMs can greatly reduce boot time. For customers that focus on minimizing downtime, faster reboots have a significant benefit. NVDIMMs, which combine DRAM with a battery backup, offer the same function.

Subscribers can view the full article in the Microprocessor Report.

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