Why You Should Want an SSD

For the past several months I’ve been calling SSDs the single most noticeable upgrade you can do to your computer. Whether desktop or laptop, stick a good SSD in there and you’ll notice the difference.

I’m always angered by the demos in any Steve Jobs keynote. Not because the demos themselves are somehow bad, but because Jobs always has a perfectly clean machine to run the demos on - and multiple machines at that. Anyone who has built a computer before knows the glory of a freshly installed system; everything just pops up on your screen. Applications, windows, everything - the system is just snappy.

Of course once you start installing more applications and have more things running in the background, your system stops being so snappy and you tend to just be thankful when it doesn’t crash.

A big part of the problem is that once you have more installed on your system, there are more applications sending read/write requests to your IO subsystem. While our CPUs and GPUs thrive on being fed massive amounts of data in parallel, our hard drives aren’t so appreciative of our multitasking demands. And this is where SSDs truly shine.

Before we go too far down the rabbit hole I want to share a few numbers with you.

This is Western Digital’s VelociRaptor. It’s a 300GB drive that spins its platters at 10,000RPM and is widely considered the world’s fastest consumer desktop hard drive.

The 300GB VelociRaptor costs about $0.77 per GB.

This is the Intel X25-M. The Conroe of the SSD world, the drive I reviewed last year. It costs about $4.29 per GB; that’s over 5x the VelociRaptor’s cost per GB.

The VelociRaptor is the dominant force in the consumer HDD industry and the X25-M is the svelte bullfighter of the SSD world.

Whenever anyone mentions a more affordable SSD you always get several detractors saying that you could easily buy 2 VelociRaptors for the same price. Allow me to show you one table that should change your opinion.

This is the Average Read Access test from Lavalys’ Everest Disk benchmark. The test simply writes a bunch of files at random places on the disk and measures how long it takes to access the files.

Measuring random access is very important because that’s what generally happens when you go to run an application while doing other things on your computer. It’s random access that feels the slowest on your machine.

  Random Read Latency in ms
Intel X25-M 0.11 ms
Western Digital VelociRaptor 6.83 ms

 

The world’s fastest consumer desktop hard drive, Western Digital’s 300GB VelociRaptor can access a random file somewhere on its platters in about 6.83ms; that’s pretty quick. Most hard drives will take closer to 8 or 9ms in this test. The Intel X25-M however? 0.11ms. The fastest SSDs can find the data you’re looking for in around 0.1ms. That’s an order of magnitude faster than the fastest hard drive on the market today.

The table is even more impressive when you realize that wherever the data is on your SSD, the read (and write) latency is the same. While HDDs are fastest when the data you want is in the vicinity of the read/write heads, all parts of a SSD are accessed the same way. If you want 4KB of data, regardless of where it is, you’ll get to it at the same speed from a SSD.

The table below looks at sequential read, sequential write and random write performance of these two kings of their respective castles. The speeds are in MB/s.

  Sequential Read (2MB Block) Sequential Write (2MB Block) Random Write (4KB Block)
Intel X25-M 230 MB/s 71 MB/s 23 MB/s
Western Digital VelociRaptor 118 MB/s 119 MB/s 1.6 MB/s

 

If you’re curious, these numbers are best case scenario for the VelociRaptor and worst case scenario for the X25-M (I’ll explain what that means later in the article). While the VelociRaptor is faster in the large block sequential writes look at the sequential read and random write performance. The X25-M destroys the VelociRaptor in sequential reads and is an order of magnitude greater in random write performance. If you’re curious, it’s the random write performance that you’re most likely to notice and that’s where a good SSD can really shine; you write 4KB files far more often than you do 2MB files while using your machine.

If the table above doesn’t convince you, let me share one more datapoint with you. Ever play World of Warcraft? What we’re looking at here is the amount of time it takes to get from the character selection screen into a realm with everything loaded. This is on a fully configured system with around 70GB of applications and data as well as real time anti-virus scanning going on in the background on every accessed file.

  WoW Enter Realm Time in Seconds
Intel X25-M 4.85 s
Western Digital VelociRaptor 12.5 s

 

The world’s fastest hard drive gets us into the game in 12.5 seconds. The Intel X25-M does it in under 5.

SSDs make Vista usable. It doesn’t matter how much background crunching the OS is doing, every application and game launches as if it were the only thing running on the machine. Everything launches quickly. Much faster than on a conventional hard drive. If you have the ability, try using your system with a SSD for a day then go back to your old hard drive; if that test doesn’t convince you, nothing will.

That’s just a small taste of why you’d want an SSD, now let’s get back to finding a good one.

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  • KadensDad - Tuesday, October 27, 2009 - link

    How do these drives fail? I have heard that they will just suddenly die, no more writes or reads possible. What I would like to know is what happens when it dies? Do you lose all data? Just can't write anymore? How does the OS respond? Any early warnings? What about e.g. CRC? How does possibility of data corruption compare to traditional SSD? What about RAID? Since the drives are electrical, not mechanical, this reduces the number of failure vectors and environmental concerns (e.g., ambient temperature over lifetime of the drive). Won't SSDs therefore fail closer together in time in a RAID configuration? This reduces the window of opportunity for fixing an array and also decreases the applicability of RAID, however marginal.
    Reply
  • adsmith82 - Monday, September 14, 2009 - link

    I need to run HDDErase on an X25-M. No matter what bootable CD or flash drive I create, HDDErase does not see either of my SATA hard drives. I already disabled AHCI in BIOS. Also, I am using version 3.3. I know that 4.0 does not work with the X25-M.

    Can someone help me troubleshoot this please? Thanks.
    Reply
  • gallde - Thursday, June 11, 2009 - link

    You point out that TRIM will only work on deletions, not on overwrites. But, couldn't a smart controller look at blocks that have a majority of invalid pages and "trim" them as well, recovering clean pages as a background process? Reply
  • forsunny - Thursday, August 13, 2009 - link

    Why not just make the SSDs capable of individual page erases instead of blocks? Problem solved. Reply
  • Ron White - Sunday, August 31, 2014 - link

    Erasing the NAND transistor in an SSD requires such a large jolt of voltage that it would affect surrounding transistors. Reply
  • lyeoh - Friday, May 29, 2009 - link

    Good and informative article.

    Regarding the shill tshen83 who claims that Anandtech cost the drive manufacturers millions of dollars in sales.

    If that is true, Anandtech has saved customers millions of dollars.

    Anandtech should care more about their readers losses than drive manufacturer losses. If Anandtech was a site for drive manufacturers and their shills we wouldn't be reading it.

    To me, if the SSD drive manufacturers lose money, it's their own fault for building crap that has higher write latencies than old fashioned drives with metal discs spinning at 7200RPM or slower. Not anandtech's.

    I can get higher sequential reads and writes by using RAID on old fashioned drives. It is much harder to get lower latency. So Anandtech did the right thing for OCZ.

    Lastly, there might be a way of making your windows machine stutter less even with a crap SSD. Note: I haven't tested the actual effect on an SSD because I don't have an SSD.

    Basically by default when Windows accesses a file on NTFS, it will WRITE to the directory the time of the access. Yep, it writes when it opens files and directories (which are just special files). That might explain the stuttering people see. For a lot of things, Windows has to open files.

    Warning! There are reasons why some people or programs would want to know the last access time of files. Me and my programs don't (and I doubt most people would).

    If you are sure that's true for you (or are willing to take the risk) set NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate=1 as per:

    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc75856...">http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc75856...
    Reply
  • poohbear - Sunday, April 26, 2009 - link

    Brilliant article and very informative on these emerging technology. I wont be buying one anytime soon @ their prices, but good to know we'll FINALLY be replacing convential HDD which are the one component that have been pretty much the same since as far back as i can remember

    "SSDs have +5 armor immunity to random access latency"

    rofl that's the best analogy i've seen on a hardware review site. is every comp geek a RPG geek @ heart?
    Reply
  • Gootch - Sunday, April 19, 2009 - link

    Great article. Realy made me understand what I need to look at before making the plunge. Mistakes and all, my compliments. As for value between the now seemingly drastically improved Vertex vs the X25-M, I compared prices between the two and per Gb, the Intell product for say an 80 Gb drive is Can $5.86/Gb, while the OCZ 60 Gb SSD is Can $6.81/Gb. Now that we are no longer comparing apples and oranges, I think we need to point out that the Intel product is not only faster and maintains it's performance edge better, but it is cheaper per Gb. At least in Canada. I have many OCZ products and I love the company and it's customer support. I can only hope that they will make their SSDs more competitive in the near future, because most consumers will pay the extra 70 bucks and go with the X25 when they pay attention to the numbers, both performance and price. Reply
  • Baffo - Saturday, April 11, 2009 - link

    I could forsee a whole host of issues with encrypting SSD drives, not the least of which is essentially making the drive completely "used" outside of the drive slack space - which would be a temporary reprieve for the reasons discussed in this article. However, I could also see potential performance and lifetime issues since modern encryption uses streaming ciphers (e.g. an entire encrypted block - which may or may not conform to the physical block size will be changed for even one bit change within the block itself). Has anyone looked at the resultant effect on performance due to using encryption - it would be good to compare say Bitlocker, PGP, Checkpoint, and an open source encryption solution (Crypt or something like that?). This could actually become a real driver for moving to on-drive encryption where it would have the opportunity to optimize the encrpytion for the pro/cons of the SSD architecture. Reply
  • brandensilva - Friday, April 10, 2009 - link

    Great article! I respect that OCZ made the necessary changes to make this drive work. I'd rather take a slightly slower drive if it meant consistent performance.

    If my hard drive started to stutter I'd flip out! I'm glad that they took the feedback and instead of selling faulty drives, that would ultimately hurt their brand, they decided to go back to the drawing board and iron out the kinks. I'm not expecting them to compare to Intel's 25-M per price or performance. They don't have nearly the cash or manufacturing capacity to compete with Intel but they do have that small business feel with receiving feedback and making improvements, which is important to customers.

    Lets hope they continue to utilize that aspect of their business and further improve on their products and bring us some reliable SSD's in the future.
    Reply

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