Intel releases specs for its Optane+QLC NAND H10 memory

At CES this year, Intel announced its Optane H10 memory solution — a novel idea for combining Optane and new, quad-level cell NAND on the same M.2 card. It’s an adaptation of the same caching idea we’ve seen used to pair fast NAND memory with slow, mechanical hard drives, only now the Optane cache is being used to accelerate the performance of QLC NAND.

Intel has now released additional specifications on the H10 solution and how the entire package fits together.

The H10 will be offered in three flavors: 256GB, backed by 16GB of Optane, 512GB backed by 32GB of Optane, and 1,024GB, backed by the same 32GB of Optane. Sequential read performance is listed as 2,400MB/s, with write performance of up to 1,800MB/s. The advantage of the H10 is that it can fit into a single M.2 slot, making it suitable for ultrabooks which don’t support 2.5-inch HDDs or offer dual M.2 slots.

The H10 has an x4 PCIe 3.0 connection, but it also has two memory controllers, one for the NAND (Silicon Motion SM2263) and one for the Optane (Intel’s own SLL3D). Each controller is limited to a PCIe 3.0 x2 connection, but Intel says that the system is capable of using both simultaneously, which is why the SSD has a maximum sequential read of 2400MB/s.

The included warranty is excellent, at five years, and the drive has a combined write endurance of 300TB. Idle power is 15mW courtesy of deep sleep states on both controllers. The SSD portion of the drive will still include the use of SLC NAND for write-caching to boost performance, though the presence of the Optane cache should relieve most of the write pressure.

I’m curious to see how this combo card is priced and whether we’ll see it tipping up in systems. Using Optane to accelerate rather slow (but cheap!) NAND is a novel idea, and the use of an SLC cache on the same drive should ensure that even after you run out of Optane, you can maintain suitable performance for a longer period of time. The H10 solution has tighter restrictions than Optane itself — it needs a slot that can provide all four PCIe 3.0 lanes but can still operate them in a 2×2 configuration.

For now, it appears Intel is queuing up this support primarily for OEMs, not the retail channel. It isn’t clear if the H10 will come to market or not for regular buyers, but the chip could be an interesting upgrade opportunity for upgradeable notebooks or M.2-limited desktops that otherwise meet the hardware specifications.