Intel Adds Optane Support to Pentium, Celeron Processors
Intel’s Optane SSDs have slowly trickled out to market, but they’ve been hampered a bit by limitations on hardware support. Up until now, Pentium and Celerons haven’t been supported — just Core i3, i5, and i7 chips. Now, Intel has quietly removed that restriction.
A new driver update states:
Intel Optane memory support extended to desktop Intel Pentium and Intel Celeron processors starting with Intel 8th generation systems and Intel RST 17.2 driver or later. You must have the corresponding system BIOS for support. Consult your motherboard/system vendor for more information.
The line immediately above this, however, reads: “Note: 8th/7th generation Intel Processor required.” For now, we’re reading this to mean that you need a 7th Generation Core i3/i5/i7 to use Optane but that 7th Gen Pentium and Celeron CPUs — those based on Kaby Lake or early cores — won’t work. Intel’s 7th and 8th-generation Pentium cores are significantly faster than the older chips, thanks to the addition of Hyper-Threading support back in early 2017.
The bigger question is whether this shift means we’ll see more PCs using Optane cache drives in 2019. The addition of an SSD or SSD cache drive is one of the best ways to improve system responsiveness and performance. Here, Intel has already given us a clue. The company has announced an H10 Memory SSD, which combines Optane cache on the same M.2 drive as QLC (quad-level cell) NAND. QLC NAND isn’t as fast as normal NAND, but the additional capacity per cell means that it costs less to build dense drives.
Between the H10 drives and this new change, Intel is clearly positioning Optane to appeal to a broader set of systems than can currently use the technology. If this pushes more OEMs to adopt SSD storage, either as a primary drive or a cache solution, the end result will be the same: Faster I/O performance and a better user experience for customers at these price points.
Ordinarily, we’d be more circumspect in our praise. But one of the performance advantages of solid state drives is that they really can make any machine feel faster. A ten-year-old system that moves from an HDD to an SSD will be visibly, tangibly quicker and more responsive. SSDs are cheap enough now that we should see more low-end systems deploying solid-state storage. Hopefully, we will.