Blistering performance for everyday computing tasks. Convenient M.2 form factor.
Limited capacity. Expensive.
- Bottom Line
The Intel Optane SSD 800P brings lightning-fast boot times and excellent everyday performance to the form factor, making it a top choice for enthusiasts building cutting-edge PCs.
Intel's Optane storage technology, unveiled last year, offers lightning-fast memory and hard drive options for both enterprise users and enthusiasts building their own PCs. The latest addition to the Optane family is the 800P SSD ($129), which finally brings the technology to the M.2 drive format that is becoming ubiquitous on laptops and desktops. If you're building a tricked-out gaming rig or looking for the absolute fastest SSD to serve as your new boot drive, the 800P should be high on your consideration list. However, it suffers from its high price and low capacity, drawbacks that it shares with the other Optane drive released so far, the 900P.
Two Sizes, Too Small
The Optane 800P is available in two sizes, our 58GB review unit or a $199 118GB version. These are shockingly low capacities in a world where even midrange ultraportable laptops now come with 512GB SSDs, and a clean install of Windows 10 requires 20GB or so. The low capacity clearly positions the drives as repositories for your operating system files and not much else, which means you'll need to pair it with another drive to store all of your files.
To understand why you'd want to set up a dual-drive configuration with Optane means taking a deep dive into Intel's new 3D XPoint (read: "cross-point") memory technology that's more suited to an electrical engineering textbook than a consumer tech publication. For the purposes of this review, we'll simply explain it as Intel's proprietary storage format that differs from other more common SSD technologies in ways that the company is mostly keeping confidential. What we do know about Optane is that when you send a request to access information stored on your drive, Intel's storage controller, acting as a sort of banker or librarian, retrieves it from a single cell of 3D XPoint memory, rather than the blocks of cells (called pages) that hold memory in a NAND-based SSD.
The speed gains from this new process depend on how many storage requests you are making, of course. Since typical PC tasks like opening and closing applications don't require tons of simultaneous requests, Intel is touting significant speed gains over other SSDs, which themselves are much faster than the hard disks that they have mostly replaced. The question is whether the Optane 800P's performance is so much better than already-screaming drives like the Samsung SSD 960 Evo that it's worth the significantly higher cash outlay and the capacity constraints.
Blistering App-Loading and Boot Times
The Optane 800P is indeed fast, as its results on our PCMark 7 storage benchmark demonstrate. The benchmark spits out a proprietary score based on simulated everyday tasks in Windows, like launching apps, manipulating images, and watching videos. The Optane 800P's PCMark 7 score of 6,224 means that it is faster not only than the Editors' Choice 960 Evo (5,872), but also Samsung's more expensive 960 Pro (6,099). It even beats the astronomically expensive Intel SSD 750 Series (5,879), a 1.2TB non-Optane SSD that we reviewed as an external drive sold by Akitio.
In other words, the PCMark 7 results appear to validate Intel's boasting. If you're into building your own gaming or general-use PCs and don't mind dealing with a dual-drive configuration to compensate for the Optane 800P's measly capacity, you can rest assured that this drive will be a key ingredient in a super-fast build.
Some anecdotal real-world testing confirms this. It took me just 8 minutes to install Windows 10 Home onto a blank Optane 800P from an external USB 3.0 SSD. In a testbed with a seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor, the Optane SSD consistently took less than 4 seconds from the boot screen to the Windows desktop. Your boot times will likely be slower once you install your antivirus and other software, but the fact remains that the Optane 800P is lightning fast at the types of activities that historically have been big bottlenecks.
That all changes if you're considering using this drive in a server or other environment where it will be subjected to multiple simultaneous access requests. To simulate these conditions, we use the Crystal Diskmark software to test a drive's read and write performance when it's processing a large number of requests, a situation that engineers refer to as a long queue depth. (Based on internal testing, Intel claims that typical end user PC tasks involve queue depths of about four).
At a queue depth of 32, the Optane 800P recorded read speeds of 633MBps and write speeds of 576MBps. That's slower than the 960 Evo (688MBps read, 601MBps write) and the SSD 750 series (683MBps read, 601MBps write). These results demonstrate that Optane drives are great at what they're marketed to do—offer blistering performance on common computing tasks—but they're not quite as versatile as competing drives from Samsung and others based on the more common NAND architecture.
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Consider Waiting for Higher Capacities
If you're in the midst of building a bleeding-edge PC, Optane storage is for you. In addition to the new 800P, there's also a 900P that comes in a PCIe x4 add-in card form factor, which is significantly bigger and more expensive, but boasts capacities up to 480GB. This means you have lots of options if you're willing to put in some tinkering time. You could buy several 800P drives, potentially configuring two of them in a RAID array, or you could use a single 900P.
If you prefer an easier, more capacious, and less-expensive setup, you could also wait until Intel introduces higher-capacity versions of Optane storage in an 800P form factor. The company won't comment on upcoming products, but during a recent briefing, an executive said that higher-capacity M.2 Optane drives are an "obvious next step."
Yet a third option, assuming you are installing a motherboard with Optane memory support, is choosing a conventional SSD like the 960 Evo and opting for an Optane memory module instead. These modules have the same 3D Xpoint technology, but they work their magic by improving RAM performance, instead of streamlining storage requests. Optane memory is also the least-expensive entry point into Optane technology, with a 16GB module costing $44.
About the Author
As a hardware analyst, Tom tests and reviews laptops, peripherals, and much more at PC Labs in New York City. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a news reporter for PCMag in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, where he rode in several self-driving cars and witnessed the rise and fall of many startups. Before that, he worked for PCMag's s… See Full Bio
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