One Tough Act to Follow

What have I gotten myself into? The SSD Anthology I wrote back in March was read over 2 million times. Microsoft linked it, Wikipedia linked it, my esteemed colleagues in the press linked it, Linus freakin Torvalds linked it.

The Anthology took me six months to piece together; I wrote and re-wrote parts of that article more times than I'd care to admit. And today I'm charged with the task of producing its successor. I can't do it.

The article that started all of this was the Intel X25-M review. Intel gave me gold with that drive; the article wrote itself, the X25-M was awesome, everything else in the market was crap.


Intel's X25-M SSDs: The drives that started a revolution

The Anthology all began with a spark: the SSD performance degradation issue. It took a while to put together, but the concept and the article were handed to me on a silver platter: just use an SSD for a while and you’ll spot the issue. I just had to do the testing and writing.


OCZ's Vertex: The first Indilinx drive I reviewed, the drive that gave us hope there might be another.

But today, as I write this, the words just aren't coming to me. The material is all there, but it just seems so mature and at the same time, so clouded and so done. We've found the undiscovered country, we've left no stone unturned, everyone knows how these things work - now SSD reviews join the rest as a bunch of graphs and analysis, hopefully with witty commentary in between.

It's a daunting, no, deflating task to write what I view as the third part in this trilogy of articles. JMicron is all but gone from the market for now, Indilinx came and improved (a lot) and TRIM is nearly upon us. Plus, we all know how trilogies turn out. Here's hoping that this one doesn't have Ewoks in it.

What Goes Around, Comes Around

No we're not going back to the stuttering crap that shipped for months before Intel released their X25-M last year, but we are going back in the way we have to look at SSD performance.

In my X25-M review the focus was on why the mainstream drives at the time stuttered and why the X25-M didn't. Performance degradation over time didn't matter because all of the SSDs on the market were slow out of the box; and as I later showed, the pre-Intel MLC SSDs didn’t perform worse over time, they sucked all of the time.

Samsung and Indilinx emerged with high performance, non-stuttering alternatives, and then we once again had to thin the herd. Simply not stuttering wasn't enough, a good SSD had to maintain a reasonable amount of performance over the life of the drive.

The falling performance was actually a side effect of the way NAND flash works. You write in pages (4KB) but you can only erase in blocks (128 pages or 512KB); thus SSDs don't erase data when you delete it, only when they run out of space to write internally. When that time comes, you run into a nasty situation called the read-modify-write. Here, even to just write 4KB, the controller must read an entire block (512KB), update the single page, and write the entire block back out. Instead of writing 4KB, the controller has to actually write 512KB - a much slower operation.

I simulated this worst case scenario performance by writing to every single page on the SSDs I tested before running any tests. The performance degradation ranged from negligible to significant:

PCMark Vantage HDD Score New "Used"
Corsair P256 (Samsung MLC) 26607 18786
OCZ Vertex Turbo (Indilinx MLC) 26157 25035

 

So that's how I approached today's article. Filling the latest generations of Indilinx, Intel and Samsung drives before testing them. But, my friends, things have changed.

The table below shows the performance of the same drives showcased above, but after running the TRIM instruction (or a close equivalent) against their contents:

PCMark Vantage HDD Score New "Used" After TRIM/Idle GC % of New Perf
Corsair P256 (Samsung MLC) 26607 18786 24317 91%
OCZ Vertex Turbo (Indilinx MLC) 26157 25035 26038 99.5%

 

Oh boy. I need a new way to test.

A Quick Flash Refresher
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  • tachi1247 - Friday, September 18, 2009 - link

    Does anyone know what the difference is between the 7mm thick and 9.5mm thick drives?

    http://download.intel.com/design/flash/nand/mainst...">http://download.intel.com/design/flash/nand/mainst...

    They seem to be identical except for the drive thickness.
    Reply
  • dszc - Saturday, September 12, 2009 - link

    FANTASTIC series of articles. Kudos! They go a long way toward satisfying my intellectual curiosity.

    But now it is time to reap the rewards of this technology and earn a living.
    So I need some real-world HELP.

    How do I clone my 320GB (80GB used) Hitachi OS drive (Vista 32 SP2) over to a 128GB Indilinx Torqx?

    All I really care about is Photoshop and Bridge CS4 performance. I am a pro and work 4-16 hours per day in Bridge and Photoshop, with tens of thousands of images, including 500MB - 2GB layered TIFFs. The Photoshop Scratch Disk and Bridge and CameraRaw Cache performance are killing me. Solid State Storage seems to be the perfect solution to my problem

    I really want to simply clone my 320 over to the Torqx, because it would take me a week to re-install and configure all of my software and settings that are now on the 320GB Hitachi.

    Do I just bring the Torqx up in the Vista Storage Disk Management, initialize it with one big partition, and then format it?
    What size allocation unit should I use? :
    Default? 4096? 64k? ???
    Will these settings be wiped out when I clone over the stuff from the old hard drive?
    What about "alignment"?
    What is the best software for a SIMPLE & painless clone procedure?

    I'm not a techie or geek, but have a fair working knowledge of computers.

    Any help would be hugely appreciated. Thanks.
    Reply
  • userwhat - Thursday, September 17, 2009 - link

    I use Drive Snapshot for all these purposes. It works 100%, it´s a very small and fast program. After having issues with Norton Ghost and some other similar programs which were absolutely unable to restore an imaged partition stored on a DVD this is THE one to use.

    Get it here: http://www.drivesnapshot.de/en/">http://www.drivesnapshot.de/en/
    Reply
  • dszc - Saturday, September 26, 2009 - link

    Thank you very much for your help and recommendations.
    To get my Patriot (SolidStateStorage) up and running, I used Seagate DiskWizard (an Acronis subset), as I have lots of Seagate drives already on my system and this free software seems to work.
    When I get a window of time in my schedule, I'll try DriveSnapShot and/or DriveImage to see if they do a better job in helping my Torqx SSS run at its full potential.
    Thanks again for your help.
    Dave
    Reply
  • JakFrost - Tuesday, September 15, 2009 - link

    If you want to image out your current drive and migrate over to an SSD you can use the free software below that works with Windows Volume Shadow Copies to do a online live migration to another drive without losing or corrupting your data. This means that you can do this from the same OS that you are running.

    This software will allow you to image out to an already created partition that is already aligned at the 1MB boundry that is standard for Microsoft Vista/7 operating systems.

    DriveImage XML V2.11
    English (1.78MB)

    Image and Backup logical Drives and Partitions

    Price: Private Edition Free - Commercial Edition - Buy Now Go!
    System Requirements: Pentium Processor - 256 MB RAM
    Windows XP, 2003, Vista, or Windows 7

    An alternative is to use an offline migration system such as Acronis TrueImage, Norton Ghost, etc. to do the migration offline from a bootable CD or USB drive. Search around for Hiren's BootCD to check out these and other tools to do the migration.
    Reply
  • dszc - Saturday, September 26, 2009 - link

    Thank you very much for your help and recommendations.
    To get my Patriot (SolidStateStorage) up and running, I used Seagate DiskWizard (an Acronis subset), as I have lots of Seagate drives already on my system and this free software seems to work.
    When I get a window of time in my schedule, I'll try DriveImage and/or DriveSnapShot to see if they do a better job in helping my Torqx SSS run at its full potential.
    Thanks again for your help.
    Dave
    Reply
  • jgehrcke - Friday, September 11, 2009 - link

    Be careful when buying a Super Talent UltraDrive GX 128 GB with "XXXX" in serial number (unfortunately you cannot check this before ordering the drive). These drives are much slower than measured in the benchmark here and in other benchmarks.

    For more information and related links see

    http://gehrcke.de/2009/09/performance-issue-with-n...">http://gehrcke.de/2009/09/performance-i...est-supe...
    Reply
  • Kitohru - Thursday, September 10, 2009 - link

    Does OS X Snow Leopard have trim support, and if not any word from apple about that or the like? Reply
  • Zool - Thursday, September 10, 2009 - link

    I still dont think that with this price ssd-s will be more mainstream in the next years. And honestly the performance is not even that extra if everything would work like it should. The mechanical drives can reach now 100 MB reads when things are optimal. The small files performance is still only software problem. U should never ever reach point when u need to randomly find 4 KB files in a long row. With todays ram capacity and cpus-s programs should never read such small files or group things in larger files and read whole to memmory. A solid today programed aplication (let it be game or programs) should never let your disk spam with 30k files (like catia or other plenty of aged so called "profesional" programs). With today ram and disk capacity it should read things to memmory and let only grouped larger files on disk and never ever touch the hdd again until users isnt comunicating with the software (u can tell it to windows).Saves can be made to memmory and than write to disk without even seeing a fps drop in games(not just games) becouse of disk comunication latenci
    I dont even think the IO performance would be a problem with the RIGHT software and OS. With 100MB reads it could run perfectly fine with few seconds loading times. Even the latencies of ssd-s are no match to ram latencies so everithing that should activly comunicate with disks (which is just stupid with curent ram prices and 64bit) would just level your latencies down to disks.
    Why should worry about latencies and read speeds when u could copy it to ram and keep the files on disk in shape where the mechanical drive
    should never find itself to read files smaller than few MB.(even your
    small txt documents u can hide in archive).
    Just my toughs. (sorry for my english)
    Reply
  • AlExAkE - Wednesday, September 09, 2009 - link

    Hey, I'm a web & multimedia designer. I spend lots of my time using most of the Adobe CS4 products including Photoshop, Flash, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, After Effects & Premiere Pro.

    The Intel 80GB G2 looks amazing, but the Photoshop test is awful because of his write speed. The Intel 25-Extreme series seem to be the best but is to pricey. The OCZ Vertex has good write speed but is slower than Intel G2 in most of the test. What would be the recommended SSD for my purpose. Thanks
    Reply

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