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Intel Optane drives worth it in 2023? My thoughts on the 905P vs PCIe drives

My thoughts on Intel Optane, specifically the 905P, versus PCIe SSDs drives in 2023 in terms of performance and value.

Sid Metcalfe


November 20, 2023


I recently dug into the evolving world of storage technology and stumbled upon Intel’s Optane 905P series. Despite being a few years old now, this drive caught my attention for its use of 3D XPoint memory tech. It has great performance in low queue depth operations, which got me thinking about its place in today’s market. The price tag and PCIe 3.0 interface made me question its relevance against bleeding-edge NVMe SSDs. Below are my thoughts.



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Introduction to Intel Optane and Its Place in 2023 Storage Solutions

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Intel’s Optane technology, particularly the 905P series, has been an intriguing element of the storage landscape since its inception. It stands out due to its use of 3D XPoint memory—an alternative to traditional NAND flash used in most SSDs—and maintains its position as an elite storage solution, albeit a niche one, in 2023. While PCIe SSDs have continued to evolve, pushing boundaries with PCIe 4.0 and even PCIe 5.0 speeds, the Optane 905P, with its PCIe 3.0 interface, still commands respect, primarily due to its unmatched low latency and endurance.

In my exploration of storage solutions, I have found that the Optane 905P not only excels at providing fast data access but also boasts an impressive endurance rating. This series introduces us to new durability metrics like petabytes written (PBW), signaling that Optane drives are built to outlast most consumer and prosumer SSDs. Intel guarantees an astonishing 8.76 PBW for the 480GB model and 17.52 PBW for the 960GB model. To put this into perspective, most users would struggle to reach these limits even after years of intensive data writing.

The real-world implications of this high endurance are significant. For instance, database applications that require frequent data modifications or content creators dealing with large 4K video files can benefit significantly from Optane’s consistent high performance. Moreover, the drive’s quality of service (QoS) shines in multitasking environments where multiple simultaneous IO operations are not uncommon.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that there are drawbacks to this extraordinary piece of technology. The most glaring one is the price. Despite dropping significantly from its once eye-watering cost, the Optane 905P remains more expensive compared to leading NVMe SSDs with similar or even larger storage capacities. Additionally, the highest sequential read and write speeds of the Optane SSDs, while impressive, are outpaced by the newest NVMe PCIe 4.0 and 5.0 SSDs, which might be a deciding factor for users with workloads that demand such speeds.

However, to focus solely on sequential transfer rates would be to overlook Optane’s main asset: the performance at low queue depths, which mirrors actual desktop usage more closely than synthetic benchmarks do. Here, Optane is superior, delivering performance that significantly reduces system and application loading times.

As an avid observer of storage innovation, I’ve taken a keen interest in how Optane SSDs such as the 905P perform in actual server and workstation environments. Deep-dive reviews and user testimony on platforms like GitHub reveal that when integrated with advanced file systems like ZFS or used with caching software such as PrimoCache, Optane can unleash potential not wholly realized by many off-the-shelf solutions. This continues to make it an intriguing choice for specific professional and power-user use cases.

In essence, while the Intel Optane SSD 905P might be a product of an older generation, its performance remains largely unmatched in several key areas relevant to modern computing requirements. It’s clear that while the rest of the SSD space races towards higher throughput and capacities, the Optane 905P still holds the crown for those in search of the pinnacle of reliability and response times. For those with the workloads to justify it and the wallets to afford it, the Intel Optane 905P could be a compelling component of their storage arsenal even as we march deeper into the 2020s.

Deep Dive Comparing the 905P to Modern PCIe SSDs

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As someone who’s been following the development of storage technology closely, I’ve had my eye on the Intel Optane 905P since its release. Even in 2023, the comparison between the 905P and the newest PCIe SSDs from the perspective of a power user or enthusiast offers an interesting narrative. What continues to astound is the Optane’s unique 3D XPoint technology, which was, and in many ways still is, ahead of its time when it comes to latency and endurance.

In real-world applications, the difference in responsiveness is palpable, especially in tasks that involve heavy read/write operations or require high IOPS (Input/Output operations per second). This isn’t just theoretical—it’s supported by benchmarks and user experiences. The 905P, with its focus on low queue depth performance, where most desktop applications live, performs admirably. We see this advantage notably in database management systems and specific applications like video editing, where the 905P’s strengths really shine. I’ve observed that these drives deliver a consistent and snappy user experience under workloads that would leave flash-based SSDs gasping for air.

However, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the leaps PCIe 4.0 and now PCIe 5.0 drives have made in sequential read/write speeds. These newer drives absolutely outstrip the 905P in standard benchmarks that focus on these metrics, but these figures still don’t tell the whole story. Many systems or applications don’t constantly hammer drives with sequential large file transfers, which means the real-world advantage of high sequential speeds is often less than benchmarks suggest. When they do, as in some types of content creation, you might want to look beyond Optane.

Price is another factor that keeps the 905P from being an automatic choice for all consumers. It’s significantly more expensive per gigabyte compared to newer NVMe options, and the benefits of its performance could be out of reach for those with more general computing needs or who are budget-conscious. Yet, for those who can leverage its strengths, the 905P still holds a compelling spot.

The role of a boot drive traditionally leans heavily on read performance, and this is an arena where Optane still excels—even alongside the newer generations of SSDs. Moreover, its astonishing endurance means it’s a component you could install now and conceivably not worry about for a decade or more, depending on your usage patterns.

When discussing the longevity and premium aspects of the Optane 905P, the link to Intel’s product page with the staggering 8.76 PBW (petabytes written) for the 480GB model underlines its endurance, and there’s something deeply reassuring about having that headroom in a world where data is constantly being moved around.

Considering the merits, while the Optane 905P may not be the undisputed champion across all performance categories as it once was, it’s very much a premium product with niche appeal for those who need what it offers: low latency and high endurance. Even as the landscape ebbs towards newer technology, the Optane 905P remains something of a specialist in a sea of jacks-of-all-trades.

Understanding the Value Proposition Is Intel Optane Still Relevant

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Understanding the true value of Intel’s Optane SSDs can be challenging, especially when stacked against the latest PCIe NVMe SSDs flooding the market. As I stew over the specs and real-world applications, I consistently find myself in awe of the Optane 905P’s tenacity in holding its own.

Intel’s Optane technology is, without a doubt, fascinating. It utilizes 3D XPoint memory which, even years after its introduction, continues to have a significant latency advantage over traditional NAND SSDs. Look no further than the 905P’s issue-free delivery of consistent performance, regardless of how full the drive is or the nature of the workload. This consistency is a real boon, especially in environments where time is literally money, like trading platforms or real-time data analytics systems.

Sure, the sequential read/write speeds of the latest PCIe 4.0 and impending PCIe 5.0 drives dwarf those of the 905P. The Samsung 970 Pro, for instance, offers higher peak throughput numbers. However, unless you’re frequently moving large files around, how often will you tap into that advantage? For most desktop use — including gaming, general productivity, and even content creation — those blistering sequential speeds are not the bottleneck. Instead, it’s the low queue depth performance where latency becomes the more critical factor, and it’s here that Optane shines bright.

One thing that perpetually impresses me about the 905P is its endurance; we’re talking about petabytes of data that can be written without batting an eyelash. That’s a level of reliability and lifespan that can’t be understated, especially for server and workstation use where data integrity and uptime are paramount. Slapping a 905P in a home PC might seem like overkill to many, and it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge the eye-watering price tag when cheaper NVMe SSDs are “good enough” for most.

Many consider the 905P’s endurance and responsiveness to be somewhat of a niche, with analogies readily drawn between it and Formula 1 cars; immense power and prestige, but how many people really need that level of performance? It’s a point well taken, but it also misses the less glamorous, though no less important, workloads that the 905P excels at. Take databases, for example — the 905P can dramatically increase the performance of a SQL database, making it a standout choice for server-side applications.

For my personal needs, the 905P would likely remain underutilized. I don’t run servers or engage in the kind of data-intensive tasks that would be elevated by an Optane drive. That being said, the enthusiast in me appreciates having this level of technology available. There’s comfort in knowing that should my workloads ever pivot to more demanding processes, there’s a piece of hardware capable of not just stepping up to the plate, but knocking it out of the park.

In an era where “fast enough” often disguises complacency in product development, the 905P is a triumph of pushing boundaries. We might not all need what it offers today, but innovations like Optane pave the way for the storage solutions we’ll all expect tomorrow. The 905P, even in 2023, reminds us that peak performance isn’t just a measure of speed but a synergy of reliability, endurance, and consistent low-latency responsiveness.

Future Outlook and My Personal Use Case Verdict

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Navigating the dense forest of storage options can be a complex affair, but the Intel Optane 905P has been a beacon of high performance since its debut. In 2023, amidst the relentless push towards PCIe 5.0 and larger capacities, the question isn’t just about raw speed; it’s about the nuanced balance between speed, reliability, and endurance.

For my tasks—which often oscillate between demanding database work and gaming—the 905P’s exceptional low-queue depth performance and minuscule latency have been indispensable. Often, I’ve seen it outpace its newer NVMe siblings, not by breaking sequential speed records, but by delivering consistent, rapid-access performance that keeps system responsiveness at its peak.

I must concede that it carries a premium price tag, especially for its relatively modest 960GB capacity. It’s also tethered to PCIe 3.0, potentially capping its bandwidth compared to PCIe 4.0 and 5.0 drives that now dominate the market. However, the 905P’s price can be justified through its unrivaled endurance. Offering up to 17.52 PBW (Petabytes Written), it’s a drive built to outlast. This durability aspect cannot be overlooked, given our ever-increasing data generation and transfer habits. It’s reassuring to know that this drive can take a daily beating for years and remain unphased.

While I wouldn’t tout it as the perfect fit for an average user due to the high cost-per-gigabyte when exploring price-sensitive builds, it’s the ultimate niche product for performance purists who demand the best. Profoundly suited for workstation use and power users’ rigs, its strengths lie in applications that thrash storage with innumerable I/O operations, where traditional SSDs might falter.

Is there something on the horizon that could dethrone the 905P in my rig? Intel’s own Optane DC P5800X serves a hint at the future—a PCIe Gen 4 iteration of Optane promising increased speeds and capacity. Yet, for those who deem dependable and rapid-performance paramount, this technological leap may not be necessary just yet.

In terms of the sheer impact on my user experience, I must say the 905P has set a high bar. The speed at which large databases load, the fluidity with which my development environments operate, and the negligible wait times when launching resource-intensive programs have been nothing short of transformative.

In summary, for users with specific, high-endurance workloads, or those seeking minimal operational latency—like myself—the Intel Optane 905P remains a compelling choice, even as emerging alternatives vie for the storage crown. The blend of reliability, exceptional performance at low queue depths, and substantial endurance continues to make it an attractive albeit niche proposition.

While not without its drawbacks, primarily stemming from its cost and capacity compared to newer NVMe alternatives, the Optane 905P still stands tall in scenarios where microseconds matter. It’s a specialized tool in a rapidly advancing landscape—one that I anticipate will retain its value to a select cohort well beyond 2023.