Intel has announced it will discontinue all of its Optane drives in the consumer space, even the top-end enthusiast-oriented products. This isn’t entirely surprising given how the storage market has performed these past few years, but we’re hoping it’s a tactical retreat, not a complete pullback.
According to new Product Discontinuation Notices, Intel has discontinued the M10, 800P, 900P, and 905P SSDs. That’s the entirety of the Optane desktop family, and the company does not plan to provide an immediate replacement. The discontinuation notice for the 905P family states: “Intel will not provide a new large capacity Optane Memory SSD as a transition product for the client market segment. Intel will focus on the new Optane Memory H20 with Solid State Storage for the client market segment.”
Intel has shared a few details about the Optane H20. The new drive still pairs Optane with slower QLC NAND. The Optane may be “upgraded” in some fashion, but our contact at Intel specifically confirmed it as first-generation Optane:
There may be some performance-enhancing tweaks in the H20 family, but it’s going to be modestly faster than the H10, not a fundamentally different product. It’s unfortunate to see Intel taking this path, but it isn’t too surprising, given trends in the NAND market these past few years. NAND prices have been completely in the tank.
The graph above runs through the end of 2019, but things didn’t substantially improve in 2020. NAND prices have remained low. DRAM and NAND were two of the only things you could get a reasonable price on, as far as hardware upgrades, during the last holiday season.
This has undoubtedly hurt the adoption of Optane, which has remained far more expensive than NAND. This is scarcely unusual for emerging memory technology, but it hit Optane doubly hard. The performance arguments in favor of Optane are modest outside of certain server and enterprise workloads, but they exist. Had both technologies remained more competitive, Intel would have had more luck driving adoption. With NAND prices down so dramatically, there was less market for Optane as an SSD replacement or even an Optane cache drive.
Intel’s third-generation Optane — which won’t appear for a few years — is supposed to bring some genuine performance improvements, so we may have to wait a few years to see if Intel can scale 3DXPoint to the point that it leads NAND flash in all cases. If it can, we’ll probably see the technology reappear in consumer products. For now, however, Optane will be an enterprise-only option.