Monday, June 18th 2018

Wishful Thinking, Disingenious Marketing: Intel's Optane Being Marketed as DRAM Memory

Intel's Optane products, based on the joint venture with Micron, have been hailed as the next step in memory technology - delivering, according to Intel's own pre-launch slides, a mid-tier, al-dente point between DRAM's performance and NAND's density and pricing. Intel even demoed their most avant-garde product in recent times (arguably, of course) - the 3D XPoint DIMM SSD. Essentially, a new storage contraption that would occupy vacant DIMM channels, delivering yet another tier of storage up for grabs for speed and space-hungry applications - accelerating workloads that would otherwise become constrained by the SATA or even NVMe protocol towards NAND drives.

Of course, that product was a way off; and that product still hasn't come to light. The marriage of Optane's density and speed with a users' DRAM subsystem is just wishful thinking at best, and the dreams of pairing DRAM and 3D Xpoint in the same memory subsystem and extracting the best of both worlds remains, well... A figment of the imagination. But not according to some retailers' websites, though. Apparently, the usage of Intel's Optane products as DRAM memory has already surfaced for some vendors - Dell and HP included. How strange, then, that this didn't come out with adequate pomp and circumstance.
Well, the reason for that is simple. There's no real new Optane DIMM product blurring the line in select laptop systems from both those makers. The thing that's happening here is, at best, a naive error from retailers' part, and at worst, a full-blown effort from Intel and its partners to take advantage of the not so tech-savy consumers - a blasphemy that never happened before, granted. Retailers are basically picking their in-built Optane drives' capacities and merge them with the system's DRAM pool - hence, as in the Dell product result below, total system memory appears at the 24 GB mark. Incredible that a under $1000 system packs that amount of DRAM, when pricing of that particular PC component still is what it is.

In reality, though, and you might have seen this coming, not all of it is DRAM - those 24 GB are made out of a 16 GB Optane Cache SSD and 8 GB of DDR4. And there's a slight - a huge difference, really - in performance between both solutions. The same is repeated in regards to a HP laptop - which is touted as having "24 GB memory" - again, an 8 GB DRAM + 16 GB Optane configuration. HP's mistake seems more innocent than originally reported - the company correctly separates the "memory" concept (which come on, is really vague to begin with) from Intel's Optane - so there's that. But Dell doesn't - the company sums up the two amounts of memory as if they were interchangeable, and that's it. And I distinctly remember my father telling me, not so long ago, that his public-servant, workplace computer had 1 TB of RAM memory. And this happens with clear-cut memory distinctions such as HDD and DRAM - what did these companies really expect with this indiscriminate lumping of system memory? Well, perhaps increased product awareness from users that look at 24 GB of system memory on an Intel system, compare with an AMD one's feeble 8 GB of DDR4 RAM, and opt for the bigger number? Again - it's not like that's likely the majority of the market's thinking, is it?
Of course, this could all be chalked up to two OEMs' (well, more Dell than HP, as we've seen) zealot interpretation of Intel's Optane products as the last cookie in the jar. However, one has to take into account that Intel dominates its marketing department and message with a steel demeanor; the company wouldn't want its products to be mishandled by OEM makers. The idea in this Optane push, one guesses, is that it helps Intel move Optane cache drives still in stock (writing-off hardware is a costly affair, as we know, and Optane bundles are a dime a dozen now). This also allows for a one-upper against the competition in the amount of system memory that's displayed, deviously or not - competition that lacks support for Optane in the first place, let's not forget.

This might have looked like a blatant hit piece on Intel were it not for how the company changed they way it presents Optane memory in its FAQ sheets - from June 2017 to the last May 2018 revision, some truths became muddy, and the overall Intel approach to the separation between Optane (in its current M.2 cache drive implementation, which is what we're talking about) and DRAM became less clear. Namely, it went from: "The Intel Optane memory module does not replace DRAM" to "Intel Optane memory is called memory because it uses a new memory media to store information closer to the processor. It's similar to the function of dynamic random access memory (DRAM)." Which could be justified if the underlying technology had seen some advancements that warranted that, getting it closer to DRAM - but it hasn't.
Well, false - the memory and cache hierarchy that Intel started doing its presentations at first, in a triangular shape, now have become a horizontal affair with a "hot" and "cold" codification for super duper best memory (DRAM) and the worst possible (according to Intel, erm, NAND?) That's an improvement in terms if I've ever seen one. In all seriousness, even if the product lineup did change and Optane DIMMs in the form of the Intel Optane DC persistent memory had already been launched to market, thus blurring the line between system memory and DRAM, the question remains of whether users - and particularly laptop users - will want that product in their machines. With laptop designs being what they are, DIMM slots will be served up in up to two per laptop - which leaves either two for DRAM modules (the best configuration, so as to take advantage of dual-channel performance), or a single DRAM module and one Intel Optane DIMM solution. Performance of that is yet to come, but we have to wonder whether the trade-off is worth it in bandwidth-intensive scenarios, especially integrated graphics performance (which uses system RAM as graphics framebuffer).
Of course, there's not really fire that we can touch and burn ourselves with in this subject right now - this is all a matter of smoke signals and what seems to be a strange correlation of events between Intel changing its FAQ sheets, the Optane bundle push with the company's own CPUs and partner motherboards, and Intel's OEM partners beginning to create "memory" aberrations out of DRAM and Optane cache drives. Intel's FAQ changes seem to point towards a creating a somewhat misty environment that allowed for a mixed message from its OEM partners, thus allowing for more Optane drives to be bundled in more attractive ways in different systems. Of course, we could all be wrong about this. Or we could not be - there have been mean, green, anti-consumer things happening relatively recently. Maybe that gave Intel the blues?

In the meantime, I'll search for laptops with 40 GB of system memory. Sources: HP's Official Store, Dell, Intel Optane June 2017 FAQ, Intel Updated Optane FAQ
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28 Comments on Wishful Thinking, Disingenious Marketing: Intel's Optane Being Marketed as DRAM Memory

#1
xkm1948
Wow this is pretty low for Intel and OEM. Basically a scam.
Posted on Reply
#2
dorsetknob
"YOUR RMA REQUEST IS CON-REFUSED"
Time for those shareholders of HP / Dell / Intel to re-manage their Share portfolio (ie Sell) before the inevitable Class Action Law suit rolls
Posted on Reply
#4
windwhirl
There will be lawsuits. Calling it now...
Posted on Reply
#5
dj-electric
Have had 32GB optane memory - works kind of as expected. The speed IS there.
My only problem with it is the pricing.
Posted on Reply
#6
dorsetknob
"YOUR RMA REQUEST IS CON-REFUSED"
"windwhirl said:
There will be lawsuits. Calling it now...
See Post three above ^^^^^^^ :)
Posted on Reply
#7
windwhirl
"dorsetknob said:
See Post three above ^^^^^^^ :)
Ah, crap. You win this time :D
Posted on Reply
#8
eidairaman1
The Exiled Airman
Oh I saw the Commercial already, Sheldon anyone.

Lame
Posted on Reply
#9
bug
Wow, that's some "creative" reporting used there to paint Intel as the bad guy here. I held TPU is higher regards.
Posted on Reply
#10
Hood
I don't see the problem. Stupid people will buy things they don't understand, but it's up to them to spend the few minutes it takes to understand the difference. Marketing - separating lazy people from their money for over 6000 years, and counting. How do you think products get sold? They can't all be the perfect solution for every customer, so marketing steps in to make it seem like a good idea,legally using every tactic they can dream up, just short of actual, provable lies (Intel told no lies). If Intel is using more aggressive tactics lately, it's probably because they're tired of their competitors telling outright lies in their marketing, and then being forgiven when they say "we didn't lie, it was all just a misunderstanding - forgive us, we're just the struggling underdog here". I understand it, but don't agree with Intel stooping to their level. Their play should have been to keep ignoring the competition, letting their superior products speak for themselves. The small market share possibly regained was not worth the loss of dignity and credibility, and may cost them more in the long run.
Posted on Reply
#11
R-T-B
"bug said:
Wow, that's some "creative" reporting used there to paint Intel as the bad guy here. I held TPU is higher regards.
Is anything he said false? I'm not seeing the "creative" aspect thus far.
Posted on Reply
#12
bug
"Hood said:
I don't see the problem. Stupid people will buy things they don't understand, but it's up to them to spend the few minutes it takes to understand the difference. Marketing - separating lazy people from their money for over 6000 years, and counting. How do you think products get sold? They can't all be the perfect solution for every customer, so marketing steps in to make it seem like a good idea,legally using every tactic they can dream up, just short of actual, provable lies (Intel told no lies). If Intel is using more aggressive tactics lately, it's probably because they're tired of their competitors telling outright lies in their marketing, and then being forgiven when they say "we didn't lie, it was all just a misunderstanding - forgive us, we're just the struggling underdog here". I understand it, but don't agree with Intel stooping to their level. Their play should have been to keep ignoring the competition, letting their superior products speak for themselves. The small market share possibly regained was not worth the loss of dignity and credibility, and may cost them more in the long run.
Intel isn't even using more aggressive tactics here. It just happens that their first XPoint product was too small to use as a SSD so it was sold as an "accelerator", their second generation was (barely) large enough to be sold as a stand alone drive and their third product can almost cut it as RAM replacement.
But nowhere have I seen (or anyone else has, otherwise there'd be some proof out there) that Intel actually told OEMs: "here, take this first gen product, you can sell it as RAM". That's just clickbait.

"R-T-B said:
Is anything he said false? I'm not seeing the "creative" aspect thus far.
See above.
Posted on Reply
#13
n-ster
"bug said:
Intel isn't even using more aggressive tactics here. It just happens that their first XPoint product was too small to use as a SSD so it was sold as an "accelerator", their second generation was (barely) large enough to be sold as a stand alone drive and their third product can almost cut it as RAM replacement.
But nowhere have I seen (or anyone else has, otherwise there'd be some proof out there) that Intel actually told OEMs: "here, take this first gen product, you can sell it as RAM". That's just clickbait.


See above.
My 900P is definitively not even close to replacing RAM for now.

Intel's marketing department is very strict with their products. Intel knew full well naming it Optane "memory" (Intel named it memory NOT accelerator) would create confusion it's quite a coincidence that their biggest OEMs somehow find a way blatantly fraud customers by taking advantage of this confusion. Keep in mind Intel had already planned for Optane DIMMs before coming up with the Optane memory name for their accelerator.

Let's hope Intel doesn't keep trying to trick their customers with these shady tactics
Posted on Reply
#14
Patriot
HP inc's website clearly lists them separately but they do use Intel's official name of Optane memory.
Sam's club's listing of an HP inc laptop lists it as combined, most likely to make comparisons against the dell configs that show them as combined.
Posted on Reply
#15
R-T-B
"bug said:
But nowhere have I seen (or anyone else has, otherwise there'd be some proof out there) that Intel actually told OEMs: "here, take this first gen product, you can sell it as RAM". That's just clickbait.
The point is it's nowhere even close.

And it's marked "editorial," furthermore. If it wasn't I'd probably have issues too, but TPU has made that distinction clear.
Posted on Reply
#16
Caring1
" the 3D XPoint DIMM SSD. Essentially, a new storage contraption that would occupy vacant DIMM channels, delivering yet another tier of storage up for grabs for speed and space-hungry applications - accelerating workloads that would otherwise become constrained by the SATA or even NVMe protocol towards NAND drives.

Of course, that product was a way off; and that product still hasn't come to light. The marriage of Optane's density and speed with a users' DRAM subsystem is just wishful thinking at best, and the dreams of pairing DRAM and 3D Xpoint in the same memory subsystem and extracting the best of both worlds remains, well... A figment of the imagination. But not according to some retailers' websites, though. Apparently, the usage of Intel's Optane products as DRAM memory has already surfaced for some vendors - Dell and HP included."

Isn't that just a type of NVDIMM, which is already out?
Posted on Reply
#17
mcraygsx
Intel really take consumers for a blind fool now a day. Problem is some consumers are OKAY with this.
Posted on Reply
#18
Zubasa
"xkm1948 said:
Wow this is pretty low for Intel and OEM. Basically a scam.
Contrary to popular believe, this is not even the lowest thing Intel had done with OEMs. o_O
Posted on Reply
#19
londiste
Of course, that product was a way off; and that product still hasn't come to light. The marriage of Optane's density and speed with a users' DRAM subsystem is just wishful thinking at best, and the dreams of pairing DRAM and 3D Xpoint in the same memory subsystem and extracting the best of both worlds remains, well... A figment of the imagination.
Wishful thinking? Dreams? Figment of imagination? Dude, come on. Seriously?
You link to articles from 2015 and 2017 with increasing likelyness of this being an actual product. Today, this is an actually announced product in the form of Optane DC Persistent Memory. The availability is not there yet not because the DIMMs are not ready but because memory controllers aren't.

And you are really reaching it with that HP screenshot.
Posted on Reply
#20
bug
"n-ster said:
My 900P is definitively not even close to replacing RAM for now.

Intel's marketing department is very strict with their products. Intel knew full well naming it Optane "memory" (Intel named it memory NOT accelerator) would create confusion it's quite a coincidence that their biggest OEMs somehow find a way blatantly fraud customers by taking advantage of this confusion. Keep in mind Intel had already planned for Optane DIMMs before coming up with the Optane memory name for their accelerator.

Let's hope Intel doesn't keep trying to trick their customers with these shady tactics
Your 900p isn't supposed to replace RAM. The XPoint DIMMs are supposed to be released later this year. And even those may not be able to replace RAM, because it seems they have higher latencies.
"R-T-B said:
The point is it's nowhere even close.

And it's marked "editorial," furthermore. If it wasn't I'd probably have issues too, but TPU has made that distinction clear.
My only issue is that this is all on Dell, HP and such, yet the editorial had no problem leading with an Intel logo. And then it went on to explain how Intel encouraged this, without a shred of proof.
Posted on Reply
#21
londiste
What is the problem with HP anyway? I cannot see anything on that screenshot that I would want to complain about.
Posted on Reply
#22
bug
"londiste said:
What is the problem with HP anyway? I cannot see anything on that screenshot that I would want to complain about.
Ha, serves me well for taking this "editorial" at face value. So all there is to it is probably some genius at Dell thought they were smart.
Posted on Reply
#23
Raevenlord
News Editor
"londiste said:
Wishful thinking? Dreams? Figment of imagination? Dude, come on. Seriously?
You link to articles from 2015 and 2017 with increasing likelyness of this being an actual product. Today, this is an actually announced product in the form of Optane DC Persistent Memory. The availability is not there yet not because the DIMMs are not ready but because memory controllers aren't.

And you are really reaching it with that HP screenshot.
I said in the article that HP's wrongdoings, as initially reported by Extremetech, may well be written off. The example they give likely can't be pinned to HP, who go the extra mile to separate RAM from Optane in their products, as the screenshot suggests.

What you are talking about is indeed an announced product that will, indeed, help blur the line between DRAM and Optane. However, that product is not yet for sale; it's simply announced. Intel announced its 10 nm tech eons ago in roadmaps and look where we're at. The argument I make is that in the case of Optane DIMMs + System RAM, the INtel message of adding optane as "Memory that's very much like RAM" would be at least defensible. As it stands, with these Optane cache drives, it's a premature change in stance, that has the favorable implications of allowing for these kind of plays. That's my issue.
Posted on Reply
#24
voltage
Meh... everyone is freaking out like the sky is failing. should the memory be listed as DDR4, well duh, of course not, if its not, but you all are really over the top with hate. oh my, the milk has spilled.
Posted on Reply
#25
bug
"Raevenlord said:
I said in the article that HP's wrongdoings, as initially reported by Extremetech, may well be written off. The example they give likely can't be pinned to HP, who go the extra mile to separate RAM from Optane in their products, as the screenshot suggests.

What you are talking about is indeed an announced product that will, indeed, help blur the line between DRAM and Optane. However, that product is not yet for sale; it's simply announced. Intel announced its 10 nm tech eons ago in roadmaps and look where we're at. The argument I make is that in the case of Optane DIMMs + System RAM, the INtel message of adding optane as "Memory that's very much like RAM" would be at least defensible. As it stands, with these Optane cache drives, it's a premature change in stance, that has the favorable implications of allowing for these kind of plays. That's my issue.
So your issue is a product that's pretty much under heavy development, isn't perfectly settled into a category already?
Because that's what XPoint is at the moment: a technology that seems to offer a lot of potential, but you need to figure out how to build it first.

"voltage said:
Meh... everyone is freaking out like the sky is failing. should the memory be listed as DDR4, well duh, of course not, if its not, but you all are really over the top with hate. oh my, the milk has spilled.
Well, selling what's essentially a drive cache as RAM is beyond dishonest (and probably subject to lawsuits). I believe nobody is disputing that.
At the same time, if I had a penny for each time I heard someone referring to the HDD as "memory"...
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