Strength in Numbers, What makes SSDs Fast

Given the way a single NAND-flash IC is organized one thing should come to mind: parallelism.

Fundamentally the flash that’s used in SSDs cut from the same cloth as the flash that’s used in USB drives. And if you’ve ever used a USB flash drive you know that those things aren’t all that fast. Peak performance to a single NAND-flash IC is going to be somewhere in the 5 - 40MB/s range. You get the faster transfer rates by reading/writing in parallel to multiple die in the same package.

The real performance comes from accessing multiple NAND ICs concurrently. If each device can give you 20MB/s of bandwidth and you’ve got 10 devices you can access at the same time, that’s 200MB/s of bandwidth. While hard drives like reads/writes to be at the same place on the drive, SSDs don’t mind; some are even architected to prefer that data be spread out all over the drive so it can hit as many flash devices as possible in tandem. Most drives these days have 4 - 10 channel controllers.

The Recap

I told you I’d mention this again because it’s hugely important, so here it is:

A single NAND flash die is subdivided into blocks. The typical case these days is that each block is 512KB in size. Each block is further subdivided into pages, with the typical page size these days being 4KB.

Now you can read and write to individual pages, so long as they are empty. However once a page has been written, it can’t be overwritten, it must be erased first before you can write to it again. And therein lies the problem, the smallest structure you can erase in a NAND flash device today is a block. Once more, you can read/write 4KB at a time, but you can only erase 512KB at a time.

It gets worse. Every time you erase a block, you reduce the lifespan of the flash. Standard MLC NAND flash can only be erased 10,000 times before it goes bad and stops storing data.

Based on what I’ve just told you there are two things you don’t want to do when writing to flash: 1) you don’t want to overwrite data, and 2) you don’t want to erase data. If flash were used as a replacement for DVD-Rs then we wouldn’t have a problem, but it’s being used as a replacement for conventional HDDs. Who thought that would be a good idea?

It turns out that the benefits are more than worth the inconvenience of dealing with these pesky rules; so we work around them.

Most people don’t fill up their drives, so SSD controller makers get around the problem by writing to every page on the drive before ever erasing a single block.

If you go about using all available pages to write to and never erasing anything from the drive, you’ll eventually run out of available pages. I’m sure there’s a fossil fuel analogy somewhere in there. While your drive won’t technically be full (you may have been diligently deleting files along the way and only using a fraction of your drive’s capacity), eventually every single block on your drive will be full of both valid and invalid pages.

In other words, even if you’re using only 60% of your drive, chances are that 100% of your drive will get written to simply by day to day creation/deletion of files.

The Anatomy of an SSD The Blind SSD
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  • Slash3 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Page 29: "Not all applications will launch faster than a VelociRaptor on a SSD, but let's not forget that the VelociRaptor is the world's fastest hard drive."

    Really? What about the nice and speedy enterprise-level 15k SAS/SCSI drives everyone neglects to acknowledge? :)
    Reply
  • George Powell - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    I believe it refers to consumer drives. While SAS drives are beginning to be a possibility on the desktop with newer motherboards supporting them natively, the drives themselves are too expensive and too noisy for most consumers to actually want them.


    Reply
  • FishTankX - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Good info. However, I noticed one mistake.

    Second page
    Samsung had a MLC controller at the time but it was too expensive than what SuperTalent was shooting for.
    Reply
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  • matrixireland - Thursday, December 24, 2009 - link

    hi would like to know what you pros think of the;
    Golden Leopard ASAX-ZIF1.8-SSD? what would you add to it?
    And how would you rate it against other ssd?

    Specifications:

    product description

    ASAX-ZIF1.8-SSD is a high-performance design solid state drive based on the high-end micro-control IC with flash memory storage medium integrated advantaged of high speed,convenient ,aseismatic,energy-saving etc.


    specification

    Model

    Size

    Interface

    Material
    ASAX-ZIF1.8-SSD

    1.8inch 70×54×6mm

    ZIF
    Aluminum-magnesium alloy appearance ,drawbench and colorful oxidation surface,elegant temperament


    performance
    read speed:80- 96Mbytes/second write speed:50- 60Mbytes/second
    support ATA-7 V3 PIO/multi word/ultra DMA MODES
    Low power TFBGA,4 channel of flash controller,masked ROM and data SRAM
    SAMSUNG flash keeps the data faster on reliability and endurance
    Dynamic and static wear-leveling prolong NAND FLASH and SSD for longer life
    8/16 bit BCH ECC data error correction ability effectively guarantee the data read security.

    Design consideration

    Capacity

    16G/32G/64G/128G/256G
    Average access time

    <0.25MS
    operating temperature

    0-85°
    power consumption

    DC Input Voltage(3.3V or 5 V ± 10%)Read and write:135mA/194Ma wait:70mA
    shock

    1500G


    Application
    the Laptop, pc, server,workstation,portable media player,digital collection apparatus and any computer equipment which need consecutive read and write speed and high reliability storage.
    Reply
  • jay401 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    yeah, he wants "more expensive than" or "too expensive for". Reply
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Second page as well:

    missing charts before and after this paragraph:

    "The chart above shows how much faster these affordable MLC SSDs were than the fastest 3.5” hard drive in sequential transfers. But now look at random write performance:"
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    chart 1 on page 2 now shows sequential read but the paragraph is changed to mention random read ;)

    page 21: As far as I know, this is THE one of THE only reviews

    Some very surprising benchmark results for the ocz vertex, I thought the new firmware tanked sequential read speeds (to 80-90) based on the explanation beforehand, but not according to the actual graphs.
    Reply
  • Spoelie - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    third page, first table, first column: SSD and HDD entries are switched Reply
  • mikaela - Tuesday, March 16, 2010 - link

    yeah great info. also great resource Reply

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