Intel's speed-boosting Optane Memory won't work with Celeron and Pentium PCs

Intel's new Optane Memory is aimed at non-enthusiast users, but only those with at least a Core i3.

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Credit: Intel

Intel’s revolutionary new non-volatile Optane Memory wants to make hard drives as fast as SSDs, but apparently not if you bought a PC on the cheap.

The super-fast Optane Memory M.2 drives announced Monday not only require a Kaby Lake processor, but a Core one at that, as first spotted by The Tech Report. According to Intel’s ARK database and Optane website, Kaby Lake-based Celeron and Pentium processors aren’t supported. 

That’s puzzling because these new Optane Memory drives target mainstream PCs rather than enthusiast systems, supercharging the performance of traditional hard drive. With an Optane M.2 drive installed, Intel promises speeds close to that of an SSD in some scenarios. The Optane Memory does this by caching your regular tasks, such as launching a particular program or game. The launch time then gets faster with each successive operation.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that appeared easy to implement in Intel-controlled tests we performed at Optane’s launch event.

But if this first round of Optane Memory is aimed at speeding up non-enthusiast PCs, why not support Celeron and Pentium? Non-enthusiasts often buy cheaper PCs that are likely to be running these lower grade processors (and traditional hard drives) rather than the more expensive Core CPUs. Nobody's reviewed these Optane cache drives yet but this restriction seems likely to narrow their potential audience.

Why this matters: While this first release of Optane Memory may not excite hardcore gaming enthusiasts, the future for the technology could still be bright. When Intel and Micron first announced 3D XPoint—the technology that Optane products use—the companies promised nothing short of a revolution. 3D XPoint could function as both volatile and non-volatile memory with 1,000 times the performance and endurance of NAND-based SSDs, they claimed.

This first effort for consumer-grade Optane gear doesn’t come close to that. But with Optane SSDs for servers rolling out in 2017, who knows what the future will bring? The idea of a full-blown, standalone Optane SSD is still tantalizing indeed.

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