Test Configurations

So while the Intel SSD DC P4800X is technically launching today, 3D XPoint memory is still in short supply. Only the 375GB add-in card model has been shipped, and only as part of an early limited release program. The U.2 version of the 375GB model and the add-in card 750GB model are planned for a Q2 release, and the U.2 750GB model and the 1.5TB model are expected in the second half of 2017. Intel's biggest enterprise customers, such as the Super Seven, have had access to Optane devices throughout the development process, but broad retail availability is still a little ways off.

Citing the current limited supply, Intel has taken a different approach to review sampling for this product. Their general desire for secrecy regarding the low-level details of 3D XPoint has also likely been a factor. Instead of shipping us the Optane SSD DC P4800X to test on our own system, as is normally the case with our storage testing, this time around Intel has only provided us with remote access to a DC P4800X system housed in their data center. Their Non-Volatile Memory Solutions Group maintains a pool of servers to provide partners and customers with access to the latest storage technologies and their software partners have been using these systems for months to develop and optimize applications to take advantage of Optane SSDs.

Intel provisioned one of these servers for our exclusive use during the testing period, and equipped it with a 375GB Optane SSD DC P4800X and a 800GB SSD DC P3700 for comparison. The P3700 was the U.2 version of the drive and was connected through a PLX PEX 9733 PCIe switch. The Optane SSD under test was initially going to be a U.2 version connected to the same backplane, but Intel found that the PCIe switch was introducing some inconsistency in the access latency on the order of a microsecond or two, which is a problem when trying to benchmark a drive with ~8µs best case latency. Intel swapped out the U.2 Optane SSD for an add-in card version that uses PCIe lanes direct from the processor, but the P3700 was still potentially subject to whatever problems the PCIe switch may have caused. Clearly, there's some work to be done to ensure the ecosystem is ready to take full advantage of the performance promised by Optane SSDs, but debugging such issues is beyond the scope of this review.

Intel NSG Marketing Test Server
CPU 2x Intel Xeon E5 2699 v4
Motherboard Intel S2600WTR2
Chipset Intel C612
Memory 256GB total, Kingston DDR4-2133 CL11 16GB modules
OS Ubuntu Linux 16.10, kernel 4.8.0-22

The system was running a clean installation of Ubuntu 16.10, with no Intel or Optane-specific software or drivers installed, and the rest of the system configuration was as expected. We had full administrative access to tweak the software to our liking, but chose to leave it mostly in its default state.

Our benchmarking is a variety of synthetic workloads generated and measured using fio version 2.19. There are quite a few operating system and fio options that can be tuned, but we generally ignored them: for example the NVMe driver wasn't manually switched to polling mode, or the CPU affinity was not manually set, and nothing was tweaked about power management or CPU clock speed turbo. There is work underway to switch fio over to using nanosecond-precision time measurement, but it has not reached a usable state yet. Our tests only record latencies in microsecond increments, and mean latencies that report fractional microseconds are just weighted averages of eg. how many operations were closer to 8µs than 9µs.

All tests were run directly on the SSD with no intervening filesystem. Real-world applications will almost always be accessing the drive through a filesystem, but will also be benefiting from the operating system's cache in main RAM, which is bypassed with this testing methodology.

To provide an extra point of comparison, we also tested the Micron 9100 MAX 2.4TB on one of our systems, using a Xeon E3 1240 v5 processor. In order to not unfairly disadvantage the Micron 9100, most of the tests  were limited to use at most 4 threads. Our test system was running the same Linux kernel as the Intel NSG marketing test server and used a comparable configuration with the Micron 9100 connected directly to the CPU's PCIe lanes rather than through the PCH.

AnandTech Enterprise SSD Testbed
CPU Intel Xeon E3 1240 v5
Motherboard ASRock Fatal1ty E3V5 Performance Gaming/OC
Chipset Intel C232
Memory 4x 8GB G.SKILL Ripjaws DDR4-2400 CL15
OS Ubuntu Linux 16.10, kernel 4.8.0-22

Because this was not a hands-on test of the Optane SSD on our own equipment, we were unable to conduct any power consumption measurements. Due to the limited time available for testing, we were unable to make any systematic test of write endurance or the impact of extra overprovisioning on performance. We hope to have the opportunity to conduct a full hands-on review later in the year to address these topics.

Due to time, we were unable to cover Intel's new Memory Drive Technology software. This is an optional software add-on that can be purchased with the Optane SSD. The Memory Drive Technology software is a minimal virtualization system that allows software to pretend that their Optane SSD is RAM. The hypervisor will present to the guest OS a pool of memory equal to the amount of available DRAM plus up to 320GB of the Optane SSD's 375GB capacity. The hypervisor manages the placement of data to automatically cache hot data in DRAM, such that applications or the guest OS cannot explicitly address or allocate Optane storage. We may get a chance to look at this in the future, as it offers an interesting aspect of the new ways multi-tiered storage will be affecting the Enterprise market over the next few years.

3D XPoint Refresher Checking Intel's Numbers
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  • masouth - Tuesday, May 2, 2017 - link

    With ddriver and RAM? I've only skimmed ddriver's posts but I believe a summary would be.

    1) RAM is faster than this product so adding more RAM would be a better option than adding a middle man that is only faster than the data storage device but still slower than RAM.
    2) RAM has much more endurance than these drives
    3) Servers tend to stay on 24/7 and have back up power solutions (UPS, generators, etc) to allow for a RAM data flush to a non-volatile data storage device prior to any power loss so it renders Optane's advantage of being non-volatile fairly moot.

    ddriver believes these reasons result in this product having very niche uses yet Intel keeps hyping this as a solution for every user while hiding behind synthetic benchmarks instead of demonstrating real world applications which would reveal that more RAM would lead to a superior solution in many/most cases.

    I may have missed something but I think that sums up what I have read so far.
    Reply
  • masouth - Tuesday, May 2, 2017 - link

    oops, in the last part I forgot that he saying they are using the benchmarks to hide the fact that it's not as far ahead of NAND speads (although it is ahead) as they claim. Reply
  • AnTech - Saturday, April 29, 2017 - link

    Is Intel XPoint Optane a fiasco? Check out:
    Intel crosses an unacceptable ethical line
    http://semiaccurate.com/2017/03/27/intel-crosses-u...
    Reply
  • Santoval - Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - link

    A few days ago I registered here on Anandtech and I found it very odd that such a very knowledgeable website provided (only) unsecure cleartext registration and log-in forms. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, because that is a very no no for me. I wanted to register though, so I used the Tor Browser, to risk being sniffed only by the exit node. Now I see that Charlie (which I used to read ages ago) has taken this quite a few steps further..
    The guy sells $1,000 annual "professional subscriptions" on a completely private, crystal clear transparent, as public as it gets, 100% unencrypted page. I am utterly dumbfounded... And I lost all appetite to read his article or anything from him ever again. For life. Click your link and then click the "Become a subscriber" link on the top to enjoy this adorable (in)security atrocity..
    Reply
  • tsk2k - Thursday, April 20, 2017 - link

    You forgot one thing, CRYSIS 3 FPS?!?! Reply
  • philehidiot - Thursday, April 20, 2017 - link

    I find the go faster stripes on my monitor screen make a massive difference to my FPS. I have many, many more FPS as a result. It's due to the quality of the paint - Dulux one-coat just bring down my latency to the point whe...

    .... I've sniffed too much of this paint, haven't I?
    Reply
  • ddriver - Friday, April 21, 2017 - link

    If you use this instead of ram it will most likely be 3 FPS indeed :) Reply
  • mtroute - Friday, April 21, 2017 - link

    never has Intel claimed that this product is faster the DRAM...Your indignation is not proportional to even your perceived slight by Intel. You work for SK Hynix or more likely Powerchip don't you? Reply
  • ddriver - Sunday, April 23, 2017 - link

    Nope, I am self employed. I never accused intel of lying about hypetane being faster than dram. I accused them of lying how much faster than NAND it is and how close to dram it is. And I have only noted that it is hundreds of times slower than dram, making the population of dimm slots (which some intel cheerleaders claim will magically make hypetane faster) is a very bad prospect in 99.99% of the use cases.

    I don't have corporate preferences either, IMO all corporations are intrinsically full of crap, yet the amount of it varies. I also do realize that "nicer" companies are only nicer because they are it a tough situation and cannot afford to not be nice.

    What annoys me is that legally speaking, false advertising is a crime, yet everyone is doing it, because it has so many loopholes, and what's worse, the suckers line up to cheer at those lies.
    Reply
  • MobiusPizza - Sunday, April 23, 2017 - link

    It is still a first gen product and I think it has potential in servers and scientific computing. First gen SSDs were also crappy with low capacity. Give it 5 years I think it will make more sense. Reply

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