Intel Optane 3D XPoint Memory Review

Intel doesn’t want you to think of its new Optane Memory as an SSD. The main component is an SSD that comes bristling not only with the hottest new memory technology, but also a combination of protocols, hardware, and software work together to transform Optane Memory into a caching solution, primarily for HDDs. For the uninitiated, caching learns your usage patterns and stores frequently-accessed data on a faster storage device to speed up boot times, application loading, and many other aspects of overall system performance.

The drive comes packaged in the M.2 form factor, but its caching lineage dates back to 2005. That’s when Intel started a crusade to accelerate storage performance by using memory to boost the performance of spinning disks. Intel’s modern interpretation came in 2011 with the introduction of Rapid Storage Technology (RST).

When you look past the song and dance, Optane Memory is a continuation of RST, albeit with a new storage device based on the latest media technology. The new 3D XPoint media just happens to be the first new memory to enter mass production in 25 years, and it is very, very fast. 

Faster Than Flash

Intel and Micron developed 3D XPoint in a top-secret project that spanned nearly a decade. 3D XPoint is the culmination of several new technologies designed to fill the performance gap between DRAM and storage. The speedy new material is more expensive than NAND, but it is faster and provides more endurance. 3D XPoint is slower than DRAM, but it is also cheaper and denser. The best part? It retains data when you remove power.

3D XPoint promises to alter the memory landscape because it offers unique benefits, such as exponentially higher performance during light workloads. That should provide an explosive performance gain for desktop computers. Using 3D XPoint as a supplemental layer of DRAM is already part of Intel’s data center strategy, and bringing that same functionality to the desktop could reduce the amount of DRAM you need for your system. It could also enable a radical new set of capabilities, such as eliminating the operating system boot process.

Those types of advancements could take years to surface because software always lags behind hardware, but 3D XPoint opens the door to those possibilities. For now, Intel’s first 3D XPoint product comes in the form of an M.2 Optane storage device designed to speed up HDDs.

Target Market And Uses

SSDs have gained ground in the notebook market, but 75% of desktops still ship with only a hard disk drive. That may sound like a staggering number, but OEMs charge a high premium for SSDs, which makes them less desirable than aftermarket products. The validation process takes time, so flash-equipped desktops often use older technology.

Intel designed Optane Memory to be a drop-in upgrade for less technical PC users. Optane Memory doesn’t require an operating system reinstall or even the knowledge required to clone an existing drive. Instead, Optane Memory uses software to meld an HDD and SSD into one logical volume. The Optane Memory device becomes transparent once you enable the software, and you can’t access it directly because it sits in front of the accelerated storage device.

Optane Memory can quickly and easily boost performance at a low price point. Intel designed the technology to speed up hard disk drives, but you can use RST to accelerate solid-state drives as well (more on the following page). You can only accelerate one drive at a time, and even though Intel doesn’t officially support it, it can be a secondary drive. This is good news for gamers who already use an SSD for the boot drive and a hard drive for game installations.

If you frequent the storage reviews section, then you’re familiar with the current state of SSDs. Prices have shot up, large capacities are difficult to find, and the current crop of affordable products are, for the most part, slower than previous-generation models. They just don’t build them like they used to. MyDigitalSSD is the only company that offers an affordable high-performance NVMe SSD with MLC NAND. Everything else uses low-cost TLC NAND that is often slower than products released five years ago. The time is ripe for a new storage technology.

Unifying Memory And Storage

“Storage class memory” has become a new buzz term. The goal is to eventually combine system memory (i.e. DRAM) and storage into a unified structure. Optane Memory is a step in that direction.

The page file system inside Windows combines your storage and system memory. When you run out of system memory, the operating system uses your storage device as virtual memory. The performance drop off between DRAM and a hard disk drive is massive. SSDs help, but most of the virtual memory requests happen at low queue depths. That’s where Optane shines, and also where SSDs are least effective.

Systems with a small amount of RAM will benefit the most from Optane Memory. In a future article, we’ll show how Optane Memory increases total system performance in PCs with less DRAM.

Specifications

Optane Memory ships in two capacities of 16GB and 32GB. We’re testing the 32GB module that offers more performance than the smaller 16GB model. The drive uses a small, highly optimized controller and two 16GB 3D XPoint packages. Intel hasn’t confirmed the number of channels, but we suspect the PCIe 3.0 x2 controller exposes a single channel to the 3D XPoint memory. Unlike normal SSDs, 3D XPoint doesn’t require DRAM for the translation layer.

The 32GB model is capable of up to 1,350 MB/s of sequential read throughput, but only provides 290 MB/s for sequential writes. That drops to 900/145 MB/s sequential read/write speeds for the smaller 16GB device. The drives are built to accelerate random workloads, but the focus is on random read performance. The 32GB Optane Memory device achieves up to 240,000 random read IOPS, while the 16GB drive is capable of up to 190,000 IOPS. Random write performance tops out at 65,000 IOPS for the 32GB module, and 35,000 IOPS for the 16GB variant.

System Requirements For Optane Memory

Intel certified Optane Memory on 7th-generation Intel Core processors and the 200-Series chipset. We were able to use the physical device with a Core i7-6700K and Z170 motherboard, but Intel doesn’t officially support that combination.

Intel stated at a meeting in Folsom, California that the 200-Series chipset has built-in optimizations for Optane Memory, and it also includes an additional four lanes of PCIe 3.0. Several motherboard vendors recently released Z270 BIOS updates tuned for Optane Memory. We’ll examine our test system setup on the following page.

A Closer Look

The Optane Memory module comes in an industry-standard single-sided M.2 2280 form factor. 3D XPoint memory is fast enough to achieve high performance rates while reading and writing to a single die (and remember, that’s without requiring DRAM). The mysterious controller is smaller than most NAND-based SSD controllers and appears to be purpose-built for Optane Memory.

While the 32GB module uses two 3D XPoint packages with a single 16GB die inside each, the 16GB module uses a single package, but it offers less performance and capacity for frequently accessed data.

The label spans across the two 3D XPoint packages and features a copper layer to spread and dissipate heat.

MORE: Best SSDs

MORE: How We Test HDDs And SSDs

MORE: All SSD Content


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How to remove Google Search bar on Android without root

Some people love the Google search bar sitting on their home screen, but others would rather free up space for app shortcuts. Here’s how to delete the Google Search bar on Android without rooting your phone.

Remove the Google Search bar from Android by disabling Google Now, or using a custom launcher or ROM


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Recognise this? That’s the Google Search bar, and on some Android phones it is set to appear at the top of every home screen, taking up room you’d rather give to app shortcuts. Also see: Best custom Android UIs

There are a couple of quick and easy ways to remove the Google Search bar, and we’d advise starting with the most obvious: tap and hold the search bar, and see if you can drag it to a remove button at the top of the screen.

Unfortunately, if the phone came like that out the box, this probably isn’t going to fix your problem. Here are some alternative fixes.

See all Android tutorials

Disable the Google app

The second easiest way to remove the search bar is to disable the Google app. However, it’s not ideal because that space doesn’t then become available for app shortcuts. It also stops Google Now working, so use this method only if you want to remove the search bar for aesthetic reasons.

Disable Google App

Disable Google App

• Open Settings

• Select Apps

• Choose Google App

• Tap Disable

• Tap Disable App when prompted

Use a custom launcher

A better alternative is to install a custom launcher, which allows you to customise the way your Android home screen looks and works without removing any functionality from the phone.

There are literally thousands of free launcher apps, many of which can be found in Google Play. (We’d recommend sticking to only those launchers for security reasons.)

Simply go to the Play Store and install the launcher you most like the look of. There are paid-for and free launchers.

Here’s Nova Launcher in action:

Remove Google Search Bar Android - Nova Launcher

Remove Google Search Bar Android - Nova Launcher

• Open Google Play

• Search for Nova Launcher

• Select the app and click Install

• Once the installation has finished click Open

• If you’ve used Nova Launcher before you may have a backup you’d like to select, otherwise choose Skip

• Tap the Nova Launcher icon on your home screen to switch to that interface

• Now when you tap and hold the Google search bar you will be given options to resize, remove or edit it. Should you remove it this space can be used for apps

Edit Google Search Bar

Edit Google Search Bar

• You can set Nova Launcher as the default launcher app in Settings, Apps, App Settings (click the cog icon), Home app

Read next: Best Android phones and Best Android tablets 2017

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How to watch Call of Duty WW2 announcement live stream

Activision is set to unveil Call of Duty WW2 to the world this week, and here’s where we show you how you can watch the announcement live.

Call of Duty WW2 will be officially unveiled later this week and you can tune in live


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In a change to recent Call of Duty titles in the series, the upcoming Call of Duty WW2 takes the franchise back to its roots following Infinite Warfare, the Sci-fi FPS game that Activision claims didn’t resonate with gamers.

So, what can we expect from Call of Duty WW2? Thanks to leaked marketing material, we know that you’ll join battles in iconic locations from throughout World War 2, starting on D-Day in Normandy before battling your way across Europe to destroy the German War Machine.

There’s also a mention of co-operative gameplay separate from both the main campaign and multiplayer, although details are scarce. Check out our rumour hub for the latest Call of Duty WW2 rumours.

We expect to find out more information about the various gameplay modes and available locations during the Call of Duty WW2 announcement live stream, which we go into detail about below.  

Read next: Best upcoming games of 2017

When does the Call of Duty WW2 announcement live stream start?

So, the biggest question right now is ‘when is the Call of Duty WW2 announcement taking place?’. Answer? Sooner than you might think. In fact, Activision is hosting a Call of Duty-themed live stream later this week, on 26 April 2017, where it’ll announce details about this year’s game.

The stream is set to kick off at 10am PDT/1PM EDT according to the teaser posted on Twitter, which makes it 6pm BST for those of us in the UK.

Read next: Best PC games of 2017

How can I watch the Call of Duty WW2 announcement live?

So, now you’ve got the date in your diary, the next question is ‘Can I watch the announcement live?’. Thankfully, as with many modern game reveals, the announcement will be live streamed around the world via the Call of Duty website.

Head over now and you’ll see a countdown to the live stream, along with options to subscribe to get the latest CoD news via email.  

We assume that Activision will also live stream the Call of Duty WW2 announcement via its YouTube and Twitch channels, but this is yet to be confirmed. If Activision does decide to broadcast via YouTube or Twitch, we’ll embed the video above, making it even easier for those interested to tune into the action live.

Read next: Best PS4 games of 2017

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Asus’ tiny, VR-ready gaming PC is now on sale

The Asus VivoPC X, which is a compact console-like PC designed to blend nicely into a living room environment while being powerful enough to tackle VR gaming, is now on sale over in the US for $799 (around £625, AU$1,055).

And, for those who wish to use the machine to get started with virtual reality gaming, both Amazon and Newegg are offering a bundle of the PC along with an Oculus Rift plus Touch controllers priced at $1,299 (around £1,020, AU$1,720), which is a hundred bucks cheaper than you’d otherwise pay for these separately.

The VivoPC X, which has arrived a little later than expected – at CES Asus said it would be out in March – packs plenty of power in a 5-liter case, with an Intel Core i5-7300HQ (Kaby Lake) processor alongside a VR-capable GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card, backed up by 8GB of DDR4 system memory.

Storage shrinkage

Interestingly, Asus originally intended for storage options to include a 512GB M.2 SATA SSD, alongside up to a 2TB spinning disk, but the base model (A80CJ-DS51) of the final product actually comes with just a simple, 1TB hard drive. As Anandtech notes, the PC vendor apparently had to make this move to hit its intended price tag.

Dropping the SSD will obviously hurt a little when it comes to booting and loading speeds, but shouldn’t affect things too much in terms of raw gaming performance (although do note the hard drive is a 5,400 rpm model, not a faster 7,200 rpm disk).

As for connectivity, again there’s plenty packed into the small case. You get 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a pair of HDMI 2.0b ports and a DisplayPort. There are six USB ports on board, four of which are USB 3.0, and the remainder are USB 2.0.

Hopefully we’ll see the VivoPC X around the western world before long. Surely a VR-ready PC the size of an Xbox would be a welcome addition to living rooms on any continent.

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With The Pulsefire FPS Gaming Mouse, HyperX Completes The Peripherals Hat Trick

Following its endeavors into the gaming peripherals market with its two Alloy mechanical keyboards, HyperX is now officially in the mouse game. The company announced the Pulsefire FPS Gaming Mouse, a device that, at $50, will slide into the middle of the expansive mouse market.

The Pulsefire FPS has a PixArt 3310 optical sensor inside, and you can adjust the DPI to 400/800/1,600/3,200 presets. There’s no software attached to this mouse, so all of the configuration will happen on-device; that also makes this a plug and play mouse.

The right-handed Pulsefire FPS is designed to be ergonomic, which is code for a design that you’ll either love or hate. In other words, HyperX is shooting for a particular feel instead of creating a mouse with a simplified design that may be palatable to all.

It has six buttons–left/right click, forward/back navigation buttons on the left side, clickwheel, and DPI switcher. The left/right click buttons feature Omron switches that promise a 20 million-click lifetime. Underneath are two exceptionally large mouse feet (HyperX calls them “skates”) that ostensibly deliver a better glide. The sides have a textured, “no-slip” grip, and the front buttons splay outwards a bit. Really, it looks like a close cousin of the Razer Mamba.  

It weighs in at 95g without its cable (and 120g with the cable). It costs $50–which isn’t bad for a decent gaming mouse–and you can grab one now directly from HyperX.

With the release of the Pulsefire FPS, HyperX has completed the gaming peripherals hat trick of mouse-keyboard-headset. It’s been known for its headsets for some time, and as we mentioned up top, it has a pair of fairly new gaming keyboards, too. Adding a mouse to the family puts HyperX in the same camp as the likes of Patriot–companies that are attempting to translate success in other areas to the peripherals world.

HyperX Pulsefire FPS Gaming Mouse
Sensor PixArt PMW3310
Resolution 400/800/1600/3200 DPI
Speed 130ips
Acceleration 30g
Ambidextrous No (right-handed only)
Switches Omron (20m clicks)
Polling rate    1,000Hz
Lighting Red
Buttons 6 (L/R click, forward/back nav, clickwheel, DPI button)
Software No
Cable USB, braided, 1.8m
Dimensions 127.54 x 41.91 x 71.07mm (LxHxW)
Weight 95g (w/o cable), 120g (w/cable)
Price $50

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Digital Domain Launches Live VR Distribution Platform For Professional Broadcast Companies

Digital Domain revealed a live distribution platform for VR, complete with tools for creating broadcast-quality VR content, a camera to capture said content, and a place in the cloud to store and distribute live and pre-recorded VR video.

Digital Domain is betting heavily on the success of the virtual reality market. The company offers a range of services and tools for (and deals with) Hollywood studios and television companies to help them create and distribute high-quality VR content. Digital Domain’s latest product suite brings VR capabilities to live broadcasters.

“VR experiences can transport audiences to new levels of engagement,” said Amit Chopra, Executive Director and CEO of North America, Digital Domain. “But the process can be a challenge for brands entering this new realm. We’ve made it much easier for our clients by introducing a comprehensive suite of VR broadcast solutions that not only opens their eyes to what is possible but also dramatically reduces the production time and expense involved in bringing new VR content to consumers.”

Portable 360-Degree Livestreaming Camera

Digital Domain calls its new spherical camera for livestreaming Kronos. The Kronos Camera is a weatherproof 360-degree 4K video camera that captures 60 FPS video and audio in 360 degrees in a package that’s small enough to tote around for an offsite shoot. The Kronos features 12-bit image processing and integrated gyros for image stabilization. Digital Domain developed the Kronos camera to operate over a single data and power cable, which allows for rapid on-site setup.

Tools For Content Production

Digital Domain’s publishing and broadcasting suite includes live-production software that enables real-time broadcasting. The package includes the company’s patented live-stitching software, which takes the recordings from the Kronos camera’s multiple lenses and blends them together seamlessly in real time. Digital Domain’s software combines the video and audio feeds and allows creators to blend graphics and visual effects into the scene. The package also includes tools that let you use multiple cameras in your broadcast and alternate between them. The multi-cam software also helps directors mix recordings from the Kronos camera into linear television broadcasts.

Distributed Through The Cloud

Digital Domain’s 360-degree live production platform is an end-to-end solution. In addition to the aforementioned hardware and software, it offers a way to distribute the content you produce. It’s a cloud-based distribution system that supports live and pre-recorded VR content. Digital Domain said the system supports any device that can view 360-degree content. Once a broadcaster uploads a video, Digital Domain’s platform can send it to a wide variety of devices, including smartphones, Gear VR, Google Daydream, PSVR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift.

Digital Domain provides tools for “content curation, geo-fencing, adaptive delivery, interactivity hotspots and embedded ads; and SDKs and APIs that allow content owners to embed their content into websites and mobile apps.” Digital Domain also offers white-labeled apps from every VR platform, which you can customize and rebrand.

“We’re excited to bring our VR platform to the market,” said Dhruv Gupta, Vice President of VR Platform and Apps, Digital Domain. “After a year in development and working with our partners and customers, the platform is now battle tested, scalable to millions of viewers and has reliably powered some of the most popular VR destinations and events on the market.”

Digital Domain is demonstrating its content distribution platform and the Kronos 360-degree camera at the National Associations of Broadcastion’s NAB Show in Las Vegas from April 24-27 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information about the platform and the rest of Digital Domain’s portfolio, see the company’s website.

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How to turn on phone without power button

A broken power button is really annoying but you don’t necessarily need a new smartphone or tablet. We show you what you can do about it.

There’s hope if you have a faulty power button on your phone or tablet


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If you have a broken power button and you’re trying to turn your phone on, we can help. There are various things you can do if the phone in powered on or even switched off. See also: Best smartphones.

Whether old or new, sometimes smartphones and tablets break. One of the most annoying faults is a broken power button. After all, if you can’t switch your device on then it’s no more useful than a paper weight.

How to turn on phone without power button

If you’re in this situation, there are two possibilities: you’re phone or tablet is powered on but you can’t wake it up or it’s switched off and you can’t boot it up. We’ll look at both these problems individually below.

Switched off

If you have a broken power button and you’re device is switched off then you’re in a tricky position but there is some hope. Different methods will work depending on the make and model of your device so we’re making no guarantees.

The first and easiest thing to try is to plug your phone into the charger in case the battery is depleted. Some phones may even switch on this way but it’s unlikely so try long pressing the volume buttons in case a boot menu appears.

With some charge in your battery, preferably 5 percent or more, (the screen should show the percentage even if it’s off) try unplugging it from the mains charger and connecting to a PC or laptop via USB. We’ve tried this with a Motorola Moto G and it booted up instantly.

A third option if you happen to have enabled USB debugging before the device switched off is to use a command prompt. Install ADB and open a command prompt window (instructions can be found in our how to install Android Lollipop guide). Once you’ve done so, with your phone plugged into the computer type ‘adb reboot’ and hit enter – also try ‘adb reboot recovery’.

Switched on

If you’re lucky enough to have a device which is still switched on but the power button is broken then things are a lot easier. For starters don’t let you phone or tablet run out of charge and therefore shut down.

With some phones, like Samsung Galaxys and iPhones, a broken power button isn’t too much bother because the physical home button below the screen will wake it up. You might also be able to double tap to wake depending on the device you have. Most smartphones don’t use physical keys so there’s no way of waking it up.

There are various things you can do to wake up your phone without using the power button. Try simply plugging it into a charger or getting someone to ring you. If you have a physical camera button use this to launch the camera app then quit out.

Not all these methods are convenient ways to wake up your phone with no power button so once you have gained access you’ll want to install an app which will help you wake the device up. Remember you’ll still need to stop it running out of juice.

Power button to Volume Button does exactly what you’d expect, Gravity Screen will put your device to sleep when placed face down on a flat surface or in your pocket then wake it up when you pick it up. Alternatively, Proximity Actions is a way of waking a device up with the proximity sensor and Shake Screen On Off is pretty self-explanatory.

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