Some Dell Systems Shipping with 24GB of memory: 8GB DDR4 and 16GB Optane Memory

Subject: Memory, Storage | May 29, 2018 - 04:10 PM |
Tagged: Optane, Intel, g3, dell

Recently I came across an interesting product listing on Dell’s website for its new G3 15” gaming notebook. These are budget-friendly gaming systems with mainstream discrete GeForce graphics cards in them like the GTX 1050 and GTX 1050 Ti. Starting at just $699 they offer a compelling balance of performance and value, though we haven’t yet gotten hands on one for testing.

One tidbit that seemed off to me was this:

dell1.png

Several of these systems list 24GB of memory through a combination of 8GB of DDR4 and 16GB of Optane Memory for caching. A similar wording exists in the configuration page for these machines:

dell2.png

Clicking on the More Info link takes you to the “Help Me Choose” portion of the page that details what system memory does, how it helps the performance of your machine, and how Optane comes into the mix. There is important wording to point out that Dell provides (emphasis mine):

Some systems allow you to add Intel® Optane™ memory, which is a system acceleration solution for the 7th Gen and 8th Gen Intel® Core™ processor platforms. This solution comes in a module format and by placing this new memory media between the processor and a slower SATA-based storage devices ( HDD, SSHD or SATA SSD), you are able to store commonly used data and programs closer to the processor, allowing the systems to access this information more quickly and improve overall system performance.

Mixing DRAM with Intel® Optane™ delivers better performance and cost. For example, 4 GB DRAM + 16GB Intel® Optane™ memory delivers better performance and cost than just 8GB DRAM.

What is the difference between Intel® Optane™ memory and DRAM? Does it replace DRAM?
The Intel® Optane™ memory module does not replace DRAM. It can be, however, added to DRAM to increase systems performance.

If I use Intel® Optane™ memory with an HDD to accelerate my games, game launches and level loads become faster and close to that of an SSD experience, but what about the game play? Is the game play impacted?
Game play will not be that different between an SSD and an HDD based systems since the games in loaded into DRAM during play.

While my initial reaction of this as a clever way to trick consumers into thinking they are getting 24GB of memory in their PC when in reality it is only 8GB holds true, there are a lot of interesting angles to take.

First, yes, I believe it is a poor decision to incorporate Optane Memory into the specification of “memory” in these PCs. Optane Memory is an accelerant for system storage, and cannot replace DRAM (as the FAQ on Dell’s website states). If you have 8GB of memory, and your application workload fills that, having 16GB of memory would be a tremendous improvement in performance. Having 16GB of Optane caching on your system will only aid in moving and swapping data from main storage INTO that 8GB pool of physical memory.

Where Dell’s statements hold true though is in instances where memory capacity is not the bottleneck of performance, and your system has a standard spinning hard drive rather than an SSD installed. Optane Memory and its caching capabilities will indeed improve performance more than doubling the main system memory in instances where memory is not the limiter.

I do hope that Dell isn’t choosing to remove SSD options or defaults from these notebooks in order to maintain that performance claim; but based on my quick check, any notebook configuration that has the “24GB of memory” claim to it does NOT offer an SSD upgrade path.

Though it isn't called out one way or the other in the Dell specifications, my expectation is that they are NOT configuring these systems to use the Optane Memory as a part of the Windows page file, which MIGHT show some interesting benefits in regards to lower system memory capacity. Instead, these are likely configured with Optane Memory as a cache for the 1TB hard drive that is also a required piece of the configuration. If I'm incorrect, this config will definitely warrant some more testing and research.

Where the argument might shift is in the idea of performance per dollar improvements to overall system responsiveness. As the cost of DDR4 memory has risen, 16GB of Optane Memory (at around $25) is well below the cost of a single 8GB SO-DIMM for these notebooks (in the $80-90 range), giving OEMs a significant pricing advantage towards their bottom line. And yes, we have proven that Optane Memory works well and accelerates application load times and even level loads in some games.

But will it allow you to run more applications or games that might need or want more than 8GB of system memory? No.

Ideally, these configurations would include both 16GB of DDR4 system memory AND the 16GB of Optane Memory to get the best possible performance. But as system vendors and Intel itself look for ways to differentiate a product stack, while keeping prices lower and margins higher, this is one of the more aggressive tactics we have seen.

I’m curious what Dell’s input on this will be, if this is a direction they plan on continuing or one that they are simply trialing. Will other OEMs follow suit? Hopefully I’ll be able to get some interesting answers this week and during Computex early next month.

For now, it is something that potential buyers of these systems should pay attention to and make sure they are properly informed as to the hardware configuration capabilities and limits.

Source: Dell