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Optane SSD as Boot drive - SQ Nirvana?

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Some of you may know that I don't like Flash drives or MLC or TLC based SSDs. (I know nothing about SLC SSDs). While I love the fast boot time, the flash memory based product used here always seem to diminish sound quality with a kind of glaze over the sound.  Yes, I have tried external LPSes to power SSDs.  I have also gone to extraordinary lengths to get rid of SSDs using hard disks, NAS based iSCSI boot drives, and most recently USB 3.0 hard drives via an Adnaco fiber connection.  The last solution is the best and fastest so far.


Despite every effort to stop random disk reads and writes during music playback, Windows 10 seems to want to talk to the disk drive incessantly.  Worst, player software like Roon logs everything without providing user controls to turn logging off.


Having read about the new 3d Xpoint technology from Intel and Micron for years, product has finally shipped under the Optane brand.  16 and 32gb SSDs are now available using this technology. Whats promising is that Optane has a very simple structure that is lower latency then flash memory.  The question is "Does Optane generate far less noise during operation then a flash based SSD?"  If so, this could be audio SQ Nirvana.


It seems that regular SSDs are constantly testing memory cell data and moving data around even when they are not being accessed.  They depend on massive redundancy for reliability. SSDs have internal microprocessors running to get this done.  This is a noisy process.


In comparison 3d xpoint is actually non-volatile RAM and is directly addressable by the processor. See more here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_XPoint.  


For $80 you can now get 32gb of Intel Optane packaged as an NVME SSD or drive cache(caching only works on a i7-77XX Z270 machine).  My music PC is a i7-6700k Z170 machine. I read an Optane review the other day, http://www.tweaktown.com/reviews/8234/intel-optane-raid-worlds-fastest-system-disk/index.html and realized that my machine will run an Optane SSD. So I bought one at Microcenter yesterday.


In the SSD package tested here, I suspect there is a processor of sorts to handle the serial to parallel interface from the NVME PCIE bus to the NVRAM.  Nevertheless, this process should be much less noisy than a normal SSD.  After shrinking my Windows boot drive down to 26gb, I used Paragon Migrate to move the boot image to the Optane memory stick in the motherboard NVME slot.  After some BIOS configuration, I can now boot from the Optane stick or USB 3 based 4 TB hard disk at will.


All of that aside, as a new technology, the exercise is to learn Optanes impact on sound quality.  New memory technologies happen infrequently. My hope is that Optane is far quieter then flash memory and therefore usable as a boot drive.  With 4 hours in, I can tell you it's far quieter then any SSD I have ever tried, but still needs to open up a little. The good news is that I am hearing bass lines in well known test tracks that I never heard before. Soundstage started a little too zoomed in, but has receded over the 4 hours of operation so far. Let's see what happens in the next few days.


Stay tuned,



Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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14 minutes ago, ted_b said:

Larry, are there music files on that Optane or just the system OS?  If no, is music on the 6 inch SATA-cable-connected (via mSata adapter) hdd we discussed (and I implemented)?  Or am I reading you moved on to USB 3 something?

Ted, yes Optane is for the system only no music.  There is no room.


Yes, I moved to using the Adnaco USB to connect to a new UASP USB 3.1 disk enclosure for the 4 tb hard disk. The SATA controller on the motherboard is now disabled.  The Optane lives in the M.2 aka NVME slot on the motherboard previously occupied by the Msata adapter.


I also removed the PCIE ethernet card, disabled the motherboard ethernet controller, and bought a $20 USB 3 ethernet NIC at Bestbuy which is also plugged into the Adnaco USB. The Adnaco is still powered by an LPS-1, and the Hard Disk enclosure via a high quality 12 volt LPS.  I have been running this config with two virtual drives one boot and one for music as previously discussed.  This separation made the transfer of the Windows image to the Optane drive very easy.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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8 minutes ago, Johnseye said:


Problem with the Z270 chipsets is I haven't found one that can run on 12v yet.  I've been waiting for a Q or H270 chipset which may come in the thin mini-ITX form factor which also may allow for a 12v connection.  Until then I'm using a Q170T/CSM.  What mobo model and Optane drive model are you using?

The motherboard here is an Asus Z170M-plus.  I'm upsampling everything to DSD512.  I don't like the DC only boards. They have on-board SMPSes.  You may be better off with an ATX board and a titanium level ATX SMPS, or a big linear power supply and a Hdplex dc to dc converter.  I use a 1600 watt EVG ATX titanium monster here.


I am using the 32gb Optane drive.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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37 minutes ago, Johnseye said:


Hynes is building my SR7 with an adjustable rail up to 19v so I can use the HDPlex converter if I want.  This is tempting me to go that route.


I'm guessing this is your drive. Intel Optane M.2 2280-S3-B-M.

The Hdplex is good to 300 watts so that will be a great solution.  Yep, that's the Optane drive model I purchased.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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33 minutes ago, davide256 said:

Found this article reviewing Optane, they seem to think this is being implemented by MOBO manufacturers as another disk cache solution, not as an alternative to SSD storage. Which would lead one to assume that your testing is limited to can OS cached on the Optane drive improve audio. Or is there a way to store music on the Optane drive itself for an A/B comparison to SSD drive?



Yes, my testing is limited to storing the boot drive, OS (Win 10), music apps and Roon database.  My hard disk stores the music files, or they stream from Tidal.


And yes, the audio quality appears to be improved by using the Optane drive for the system rather then the hard disk.  More on that later.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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2 hours ago, sig8 said:



I am using 2-pc Jplay, with both pc's remote booting (iSCSI) with Win10 images on a third computer, with all fiber network (fiber NIC in all three pc's, with dual port Intel fiber NIC's in Control, and Audio PC's one for network connectivity, and one for direct connection between Control, and Audio PC). My music is on a Synology NAS (fiber FMC's).


What you are doing is quite simple, and I like it to be simple with least amount of devices; and I also I know that you have used iSCSI boot and fiber in the past. Do you think Adnaco with USB drive and Optane for OS will improve over my setup? I know it is a loaded question, but based on your experience with similar systems, what is your opinion?


Could you please provide links to Adnaco PCI to USB card, and 4tb HDD you are using. Also, if Win10 loaded from scratch (from USB), does M2 or Optane drive appears as an option to use to load Windows to? Thanks.

Read more  

Hi Sig8,


Rickca has pointed to the Adnaco device webpages, thanks Rick.  I'm using a Western digital 4tb black drive for music that is partitioned into boot and music drives.


I didn't load win 10 from scratch, but the nvme drive should visible within the Windows installer as a drive. Like me, you may have to fiddle with the bios and diskpart to get this going.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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7 hours ago, rickca said:

From Anandtech:


3D XPoint memory has better endurance than NAND flash, but not enough to get away without wear levelling. The fine-grained accessibility of 3D XPoint memory gets rid of a lot of the wear leveling and write amplification headaches caused by flash pages and erase blocks being larger than the sector sizes exposed by the drives, but the drive still needs some spare area plus storage for error correction overhead, metadata for tracking the mapping between logical blocks and physical addresses, and potential replacement of bad sectors, similar to normal SSDs.


Future products promised from Intel should add non-volatile DIMMs to the mix, and then later on, if everything goes to plan, a potential wholesale replacement of NAND flash (or at least a strong competitor).


To me, it's NVDIMM that will mark the arrival of 'real' Optane products.  Today's products are just transitional.  That doesn't mean they aren't useful. 



Well the vote is still out on useful  I made a second change to Windows and now can't tell if the SQ bump is from the software tweak or Optane.  I going to pull Optane, make the software change in the prior config, and then retest.


Either way, what I am hearing is a major bump in SQ, but with some caveats.


It should be said that the big benefit of this new technology is very low measured latency which is ideal for a chatty OS like Windows.  I haven't seen a storage technology with lower latency then Optane.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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OK, so I pulled the Optane card, booted off the disk image, made the same software tweaks as with the Optane, listened to a few tracks, put the Optane back in, and listened to the same tracks.


Optane wins, no doubt.  Biggest difference is the bass line from Eva Cassidys live version of Blue Skies that sounds "one note" without the Optane.  It is easy to follow the bass line with the Optane.  Imaging doesn't seem to change, but resolution seems higher, so the entire spectrum has gains.  I am noticing improved presence as well, depth, room reverb and increased difference between redbook to high resolution tracks despite running DSD512 upsampling.  My 96khz version of Fleetwood Macs Never Going Back Again is jaw dropping.  The 2L classical recordings at DXD resolution sound crazy good.


The improved SQ and faster boot times makes this a very worthwhile $80 tweak.


Enjoy,  Larry

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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On 7/9/2017 at 8:16 AM, davide256 said:

In my experience SW like Audiophile Optimizer, /Fidelizer and HW like USB3 connected fast SD cards yield better audio. The "picture" I have of this is that data transfer from disk to Ethernet packet or USB out is a "swiss cheese" output riddled with "interrupt or system error correction" holes and that the fewer of these "holes" that occur during processing, the better the timing integrity of audio data at output. Can one make a case that the Optane memory will reduce interrupts during read off an SSD or does this mean that more will occur? 

I do think the Optane is helping on timing as windows is constantly logging small bursts of data to the system disk, and the low latency at small data sizes is where Optane shines in benchmarks.  This is mentioned in article I linked to above and I've been able to duplicate the benchmark speeds in that article here.


The 3x to 6X shorter service times for the Windows logs must increase the chance the processor is available to play music as opposed to the OS playing with itself.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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2 hours ago, joelha said:

I'm using an SLC SSD which, while pretty expensive, offers a very nice improvement in sound.


It also offers me the ability to power that OS drive with an LPS.


My concern with the Optane SSD, which sounds very interesting, is that it would be very difficult to power via an LPS.


I'd love to find out that my concerns are unwarranted.





I am not feeling any need to use external power with the Optane, but YMMV.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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15 minutes ago, Johnseye said:


That's any NVMe drive, not just Optane.  Although as Roy was pointing out in his thread it depends on what else is on the bus.  There are added benefits from Optane beyond NVMe.

Well yes, of course. FYI - none of my pcie lanes are shared here.


Sound quality here has hit "ludicrous mode".

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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1 hour ago, rickca said:

Intel specs say that Q170 does not support Optane.

There are two use cases for the Optane drive.  


The first is as a caching device for a hard drive.  This is the intended use of the 16 and 32 gb sticks. Caching will only work with a z270 chipset motherboard powered by an i7-7xxx processor.


The second use case is as a nvme SSD drive substitute.  This is how I am using the device here with my z170 motherboard powered by a i7-6700k processor machine. While this is an unsupported use case, it works beautifully and adds to sound quality.


My expectation is that the Optane stick will work in any nvme capable motherboard. As this use case is unsupported, you won't know that it does work until tried.


Looking at the Asus Q170T-CSM specs, there are two m.2 slots but no support for nvme, so tough to say if it will work as an SSD or not.


I don't have a straight m.2 slot machine to use for a test here.


Sorry this wasn't explained in more detail earlier.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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2 hours ago, baconbrain said:

Following this thread with interest and have a question regarding mobo compataility. 


My Z170 mainboard claims Socket 3, M key, type 2260/2280 SATA & PCIe x4/x2/x1 SSD Support.


Is that compatible with the Intel Optane Series SSD 32GB PCIe NVMe 3.0 x2 - M.2 2280 80mm?



My expectation is that it will work but no guarantee.  This is effectively the same spec board used here.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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2 hours ago, Johnseye said:


Damn, thanks for finding that.



Well it looks like I'll need a new mobo if I want to get an Optane drive then.  Preferably one with the 200 series chipset.  Larry, I'm assuming when you say z270 chipset you mean any 200 series and not just the Z.  Please clarify.  I will also be waiting for a mobo that can be powered with by 12v.  I could go to 19v but would need to use the HDPlex 160W DC-ATX which I'm not excited about.

Actually, if I were you, and assuming you can return it, I'd try the 32 gb Optane in your existing board.


I can't say which PCH chipsets will support Optane SSDs. Clearly the z270 does, as does the z170, others IDK.


Also, clearly there compatible z170 boards that have DC power input and support nvme drives.  I don't like the DC input boards myself. I'd rather have the DC to DC smps away from the motherboard, not on it.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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42 minutes ago, baconbrain said:

Thanks, understand that there are no guarantees.


One more question; I assume that one can do a fresh Win10 installation directly on the Optane drive partition as long as one follows the tweaktown recommendations referenced at the beginning of the thread, correct?



The Tweaktown article explains how to build the world's fastest RAID SSD using 3 Optane sticks and the three m.2 slots on an Asus Taichi motherboard.  That's cool, but we don't need the space for Windows and apps on a dedicated music server. One stick is plenty.


I did nothing but install the stick in the one M.2 slot on my z170 motherboard.  From there it is important to ensure it is seen in the bios.  I had to change the bios switch controlling recognition of devices in the m.2 slot to auto from manual.  


At this point, I suspect Windows will install in the normal fashion from a USB stick.


Alternatively, I just booted Windows from my USB attached hard disk.  The Optane drive was now shown under disk management as offline.  Using disk partition I set it online and once working copied the system partition to the Optane stick using Paragon Migrate. From there I just set the boot drive to the Optane in the bios and it booted.


No drivers were installed.  The whole install took 45 mins.


Re-reading the tweak town guide it seems they installed the 3 Optane as SSD drives not nvme drives, so my guess is any motherboard with an m.2 SSD slot will work with Optane as well, but nvme is preferred.


Also, I am getting the exact performance numbers as the tweak town article indicates for a single stick.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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13 hours ago, rickca said:

From the Intel Optane FAQ:


Intel does not provide a vendor-unique NVMe* driver for this series. System acceleration requires the Intel RST driver version 15.5 or later. If the drive is not used for system acceleration, it is supported by the standard NVMe* Microsoft* in-box driver that comes with the Windows® 10 operating system.


Note that system acceleration refers to caching a SATA boot drive and requires a motherboard with a 200-series chipset. 


Here's the whole set of FAQ about Optane from Intel:


Rick, based on this, do you think the Optane stick works in non-nvme slot? I don't have a system without nvme slots or I'd try it.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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1 hour ago, seeteeyou said:





USB 3.0 ports should be good for delivering up to 900 mA and iFi Audio iGalvanic 3.0 is bus-powered, that means 4.5 Watts at best and maybe that wouldn't provide enough juice for powering something like this with 32GB Optane?




LPS-1 should be able to provide up to 5.5 Watts and I assume that USB 2.0 output of ISO REGEN won't supply anything higher than 500 mA. Most likely that wouldn't really work for music storage.


So far nobody seemed to be selling an enclosure for M.2 drives with external DC power input yet, most likely it's no go unless we mod that ourselves.

Interesting idea, but I am pretty sure the latency will negate any benefit here.  There however pcie boards that could be used to provide an nvme slot.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 7/24/2017 at 1:57 AM, Louie said:

Hi Larry, can you teach me how to trim down the win10? I am running a Win10 Enterprise onto a MSATA for around 60G, and I am using HQP to play my music.:x

I always download and run Windirstat to find where the space is used. Doing this on a friend's machine recently, we found four copies of room databases.  Deleting all but one freed enough space for the Optane transfer.

Pareto Audio aka nuckleheadaudio

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