Intel brings Optane Memory storage to desktops with a caveat

If you're a desktop user still green with envy from Intel's big Optane announcement last week, you can now revert to your regular color just a wee bit. Intel is now bringing that same ultra fast memory technology to the desktop, but not in the way you might think. Last week's announcement was about bringing Intel Optane SSDs to servers and workstations. This week, Intel is bringing Optane Memory to desktops in limited capacities of 16 and 32 GB not to replace your SSD or HDD but to supplement it.

Intel Optane is a new brand of memory that utilizes the 3D Xpoint technology developed by Intel and Micron. It's a type of non-volatile, high-speed, low-latency memory that promises to be a lot faster than conventional storage like hard drives but are still slower than RAM or DRAM. The technology can be used to build an SSD, like last week's announcement, or, in this case, a memory module.

Intel Optane Memory doesn't replace your computer's RAM. It sits in between RAM and a HDD as a sort of cache for faster access. In a way, it's like the SSD and HDD combos, where files and programs you want to access faster are stored on the SSD. Optane Memory, however, is both simpler yet also a bit more complex at the same time.

For one, you don't actually install anything directly on Optane memory. And with only 16 or 32 GB of space, there's not much you can install anyway, especially games. Instead, the system, Windows in particular, cherry picks what files need to be accessed quickly and regularly and stores those in Optane memory, leaving the rest of the program in HDD. The user doesn't have to do anything except use the program or game. The optimization is handled in the background.

This is you can't simply buy an Intel Optane Memory module and slap it on any old desktop. In addition to having an 7th gen Intel Core processor, you also need an "Optane-ready" motherboard, which boils down to having "an M.2 type 2280-S1-B-M connector on a PCH Remapped PCIe Controller and Lanes in a x2 or x4 configuration with B-M keys that meet NVMe Spec 1.1,System BIOS that supports the IntelĀ® Rapid Storage Technology (IntelĀ® RST) 15.5." The specialized software also requires 64-bit Windows 10.

Intel Optane Memory, in 16 or 32 GB capacities, will be available starting April 24, no price details yet. Users, especially gamers, should note that Optane Memory is no panacea as it only speeds up the launching time of apps and games. The actual running speed of apps and games won't have a significant improvement as the programs are mostly loaded into RAM anyway. Optane Memory is also best used with HDD storage and those with SSDs might also not see much improvement.