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Intel Optane Memory H20 Review

by Lyle Smith
Intel Optane H20 back

Announced back in December 2020, the Intel Optane Memory H20 is the latest release of the company’s unique hybrid technology designed for notebooks and mobile devices. Like its predecessor, the H20 combines Optane with QLC NAND on a single M.2 2280 drive to deliver higher performance without the higher cost. The Intel H20 offers up to 1TB of QLC and up to 32GB of Optane while targeting areas like office productivity, content creation, and gaming experience.

Announced back in December 2020, the Intel Optane Memory H20 is the latest release of the company’s unique hybrid technology designed for notebooks and mobile devices. Like its predecessor, the H20 combines Optane with QLC NAND on a single M.2 2280 drive to deliver higher performance without the higher cost. The Intel H20 offers up to 1TB of QLC and up to 32GB of Optane while targeting areas like office productivity, content creation, and gaming experience.

Intel Optane Memory H20 vs. H10

While it does target the consumer demographic, the H20 will not be purchasable in online stores and will only be available through OEMs like HP, Dell, and so on. Like the H10 before it, these systems will be marketed as Optane-enabled or some other moniker that lets the buyer know that the configuration leverages at least a little bit of Optane inside.

Technically speaking, the H20 isn’t a lot different than the H10 before it. It’s still essentially a portion of Optane Memory in front of a 670P QLC-SSD. This combination will allow Optane to leverage its low latency and high performance at low queue depth workloads with mixed random read/write speeds with QLC’s low cost and smaller footprint. QLC is known as a low-cost, moderately-performing, so for mainstream users, this is an ideal blend between two storage technologies.

Intel Optane Memory H20 front

Intel is now on its third generation of Optane persistent memory, so there are some performance differences between this and the last generation. The underlying QLC-SSD is much better too in the H20, going from the 660P to the 670P is significant. To help manage the drive, the H20 features an upgraded Intel Optane Memory Media and NAND controller. Pyrite 2.0 Security is also a new addition to the hybrid solution.

Intel Optane Memory H20 comparison back

These upgrades from the H10 generation lead to a better performance profile in the H20. The H20 is capable of potential sequential read and write speeds of up to 3,300MB/s and 2,100MB/s, respectively. This is a significant increase over the H10’s quoted 2,400MB/s read and 1,800MB/s write.

Intel anticipates that most consumer activity is expected to occur in low queue depths where the Optane Memory shines; in fact, Intel claims that roughly 90% of all application workloads operate at this level and is predominately random. Random 4K performance (queue depth one) is quoted at a potential 65,000 IOPS read and 40,000 IOPS write by Intel, which is another significant leap over the H10’s 32,000 IOPS read and 30,000 IOPS write.

Intel also has made the H20 more power-efficient with a typical average of 170mW with an idle output of 35mW.

The Intel Optane Memory H20 is available in two SSD capacities, 512GB and 1TB, both of which feature 32GB of Intel Optane Memory. Requirements for the H20 include 11th Generation Intel Core Series processors, RST version 18.1, PCIe-based M.2 slot (PCIe 3.0×4 with NVMe), and Intel 500 Series Chipset. Also included is a 5-year warranty.

Intel Optane Memory H20 layout

Intel Optane Memory H20 Specifications 

Capacities 32GB Intel Optane Memory + 512GB Storage
32GB Intel Optane Memory + 1TB Storage
Form Factor M.2 2280 Single-Sided (2280-S3-M)
Interface PCIe 3.0×4 with NVMe
Performance QD1 Random 4k: Up to 65K/40K Read/Write (IOPS)
Sequential 4k Read/Write (MB/s): Up to 3300/2100 MB/s
Latency Red: 6.75µs (Typical)
Write: 12µs (Typical)
Endurance 32 GB Intel Optane Memory + 512GB Intel QLC 3D NAND: Up to 185 TBW
32 GB Intel Optane Memory + 1TB Intel QLC 3D NAND: Up to 370 TBW
Reliability ≥1.6 million hours Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF)
1 sector per 1015 bits read Uncorrectable Bit Error Rate (UBER)
Power Average: 170 mW (Typical)
Idle: 35 mW (Typical)
Temperature Operating: 0 to 70°C
Non-Operating: -40 to 85°C​
Temperature monitoring
OS Support Windows 10 64 bit
Supported Platforms 11th Gen Intel Core Series Processor
Warranty 5-year limited

Intel Optane Memory H20 Performance

To gauge the performance of the Intel Optane Memory H20, we will put the drive through a range of tests and compare results to the H10. We installed both drives inside an HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 laptop, which features the following highlights:

  • 11th Generation Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor
  • 15.6-inch display, 4K UHD (3840×2160)
  • 16GB DDR-2933 RAM
  • Intel Iris Xe Graphics

To keep the test results as consistent as possible between the two generations of Optane drives, we cloned the H10 off the H20, so both were identical in driver versions and installed software base. Capacities shown in our CrystalDiskMark photos are smaller than the 1TB H20 and 512GB H10 capacities would indicate, but this is a result of shrinking the partition to allow a simple clone operation.

First up is the CrystalDiskMark 7, one of the most popular open-source SSD benchmarking tools for Windows. We tested both drives in two different profiles: one with Optane turned on and one with Optane turned off.

With Optane turned off, the H20 hit 1,6258.5MB/s read and 1,633.81MB/s write for sequential speeds (8 queues, 1 thread) while posting 1,621.1MB/s read and 1,630.1MB/s write (32 queues, 1 thread).

Looking at 4K performance (32 queues, 16 threads), the H20 posted 895.89MB/s read and 1,041.24MB/s write. At 1Q/1T this measured 69.46MB/s read and 210.36MB/s write.

StorageReview-CrystalDiskMark- Intel Optane Memory H20 Optane OffIn the same configuration, the Intel H10 posted 1,472.84MB/s read and 950.32MB/s write in sequential (8 queues, 1 thread) and 1,377.2MB/s read and 857.5MB/s write (32 queues, 1 thread).

For 4K (32 queues, 16 threads), the H10 posted 349.86MB/s read and 668.05MB/s write. At 1Q/1T it measured 58MB/s read and 193.19MB/s write.

StorageReview-CrystalDiskMark- Intel Optane Memory H10 Optane OffNext, we will look at performance with Optane turned on, which will be how the drives will be enabled.

Here, the Intel H20 w/cache enabled posted 2,903.78MB/s read and 1,421.42MB/s write in sequential at 8 queues, 1 thread, while hitting 3,191.6MB/s read and 1,692.9MB/s write at 32 queues and 1 thread.

In 4K (32 queues, 16 threads), performance posted 982.26MB/s read and 774.11MB/s write. At 1Q/1T this measured 173.64MB/s read and 125.72MB/s write.

StorageReview-CrystalDiskMark- Intel Optane Memory H20 Optane On

In the same configuration, the Intel H10 posted 2,667.64MB/s read and 1,067.97MB/s write for sequential performance at 8 queues, 1 thread while hitting 2,708MB/s read and 1,142.4MB/s read at 32 queues, 1 thread.

For 4K (32 queues, 16 threads), the H10 posted 1,012.9MB/s read and 704.93MB/s write. At 1Q/1T this measured 143.90MB/s read and 123.82 MB/s write.

StorageReview-CrystalDiskMark- Intel Optane Memory H10 Optane On

Comparing both the previous-generation Intel H10 to the current-generation H20, we see solid improvements on the new model in sequential read and write speeds which mostly comes through from the better underlying QLC drives. When it comes to Optane improvements, both drives do see good gains from cache off to cache on, although what’s interesting is you see some of the weakness of a small Optane module on the 4K random write numbers, where the QLC drive with its SLC cache can squeeze out a little more performance. This gets exhausted quickly as the workload size increases, but it is an interesting nuance of the drive. The 4K random read and sequential random read figures are the biggest bang that most users will feel in daily use (application load and boot times) and those see big improvements from Optane.

Lastly, we put the drives through PCMark10, a system benchmark for Windows PCs with a focus on modern office tasks. It offers a variety of workloads categorized into three groups. The Essentials group includes web browsing, video conferencing, and app start-up time. The Productivity group includes tests based on spreadsheets and writing. The Digital Content Creation group includes photo editing, video editing, and a rendering and visualization test. We set Optane on for both drives in this test.

Here (inside the HP Spectre x360), the H20 showed solid results with an overall score of 5,051, which comprised 9,894 in essentials, 6,585 in productivity, and 5,367 in digital content. The latter score was hindered a bit by the graphics and ray tracing likely due to limitations of the graphics card inside the laptop (Intel Iris Xe Graphics).

The H10 posted an overall score of 5,005 in the PCMark10 test, which comprised 9,522 in essentials, 6,678 in productivity, and 5,351 in digital content creation. The overall scores are actually really close here. One thing to note, however, is the App start-up scores that are much higher in the H20 version. While hard numbers are close, the actual feel of the new drive in the same laptop will result in a better user experience.

Conclusion

Designed for notebooks, all-in-one PCs, and small form factor systems, the Intel H20 is the next iteration of the company’s hybrid SSD for 11th Gen Intel Core CPU-based platforms. This unique marriage high-performing Intel Optane Memory between the cost-effective Intel QLC all fit on a compact single-sided M.2 SSD that leverages the NVMe interface. Those who need an affordable storage solution that can compensate the inherent performance limitations of QLC NAND with the performance boost of Optane will benefit most from the new Intel release. Ultimately, the goal of the H20 is to offer end-users the same capacity and performance of a standard SSD but at a lower price tag.

As far as functionality goes, nothing has changed since the previous model. Because this is an OEM product that will be available inside complete solutions from major brands like HP, Dell, and Asus, the consumer might not even know their laptop is using these hybrid SSDs. Moreover, Intel’s Rapid Storage Technology (RST) automatically does all the caching of data in the background without any user intervention. This means consumers won’t have to worry about managing the drive; however, more advanced users certainly have the option to set preferred applications and files to the Optane Memory component as needed.

Looking at performance inside an HP Spectre x360, the Intel Optane H20 showed noticeable improvements over the H10 in most areas. The Optane helped the SSD post some decent sequential performance during our CrystalDiskMark tests, including 2,904MB/s and 3,192MB/s for SEQ1M 8-queues read and SEQ128K 32-queues read, respectively. When turned off, the Intel hybrid SSD posted just 1,659MB/s read (8 queues) and 1,621MB/s read (32 queues). In comparison, the last-gen H10 posted 2,668MB/s read (8 queues) and 2,708MB/s (32 queues) and with Optane on. Turned off, the H10 hit 1,473MB/s read (8 queues) and 1,377MB/s (32 queues).

As far as writes go, the H20 posted 1,421MB/s read and 1,692MBs read for 8 queues and 32-queue, respectively, with Optane turned on. With Optane off, the H20 actually showed better 8 queues sequential write performance with 1,634MB/s, while posting slightly less in 32-queues with 1,630MB/s. The H10 posted 1,068MB/s write (8 queues) and 1,142MB/s write (32 queues) with Optane on, while hitting under 1GB/s in the same categories with Optane turned off.

We also looked at the PCMark 10 test, the H20 showed an improvement over the previous generation with an overall score of 5,051 (9,894 in essentials, 6,585 in productivity, and 5,367 in digital content). In comparison, the H10 posted an overall score of 5,005 (9,522 in essentials, 6,678 in productivity, and 5,351 in digital content creation). Both PCMark scores are very similar, but the H20 will result in faster application start times. This will make the entire user experience more responsive.

While traditional QLC drives offer low-cost, high-capacity models at the expense of write performance, and TLC drives offer better performance at a higher price tag, the Intel H20 provides a nice blend of performance and affordability. Without trying to punch too far above its weight class, the H20 fills the gap between low-cost QLC and midrange-performance TLC SSDs.

HP Laptops

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