Simulating a Used Drive

Since SSD performance degrades over time, it’s important to not only look at how well these drives perform new - but also the worst they’d perform over their lifetime. In order to do so we’d need a repeatable way of “seasoning” a drive to reduce its performance to the worst it could possibly get. The most realistic worst-case scenario is one where every single block on the drive is full of data. If a secure erase wipes all LBAs, that’s the best place to start. To simulate a well seasoned drive I first secure erased the drive.

After the secure erase, I used iometer to write one contiguous file across the disk - filling up the entire drive with 128KB blocks. In the case of the 80GB Intel X25-M, that’s 74.5GB of data on the drive before I run a single benchmark. The spare area is left untouched.

Next, I take my test image and I restore it onto the partition with a sector by sector copy. The sequential file write made sure that data is stored in every page of the SSD, the test image restore adds a twist of randomness (and realism) to the data.

There are other ways to produce a drive in its well-used state, but this ends up being the most consistent and repeatable. To confirm that my little simulation does indeed produce a realistically worn drive I ran PCMark on three different drives: 1) a freshly secure-erased Intel X25-M, 2) an Intel X25-M setup using the method I just described and 3) the Intel X25-M used in my CPU testbed that has been through hundreds of SYSMark runs.

The benchmark of choice is PCMark Vantage; it simulates the real world better than most drive benchmarks. The results are below:

Intel X25-M State PCMark Vantage Overall Test PCMark Vantage HDD Test
Fresh Secure Erase 11902 29879
Simulated Used Drive 11536 23252
Actual Testbed Used Drive 11140 23438

 

The secure erased system loses about 3% of its overall performance and 22% of its hard drive specific performance compared to my testbed drive. The seasoning method I described above produces a drive with nearly identical drops in performance.

The method appears to be sound.

Now that we have a way of simulating a used drive, let’s see how the contestants fared.

Restoring Your Drive to Peak Performance New vs Used SSD Performance
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  • stilz - Friday, March 27, 2009 - link

    This is the first hardware review I've read from start to finish, and the time is well worth the information you've provided.

    Thank you for your honest, professional and knowledgeable work. Also kudos to OCZ, I'll definitely consider the Vertex while making purchases.
    Reply
  • Bytales - Friday, March 27, 2009 - link

    As i read the article, i'm thinking of ways to slow down the down the degrading process. Intel is gonna ship x-25m 320gb this year. If i buy this drive and use it as an OS drive, i will obviously won't need the whole 320GB. Say i would need only 40 to 50 GB. I can make a secure erase (if the drive isn't new), made a partition of 50GB, and leave the remaining space unpartitioned. Will that solve the problem in any way ?
    Another way to solve the problem, would be a method inside the OS. The OS could use a user controlled % of the RAM memory, as a cache for those small 4kb files. Since ram reads and writes are way faster, i think it will also help. Say you got 8GB ram, and use 2gb for this purpose, and then the OS would only have 6gb ram for its use, while 2gb is used for these smaller files. That would increase also the lifespan of the SSD. Can this be possible ?
    Reply
  • Hellfire26 - Thursday, March 26, 2009 - link

    In reference to SSD's, I have read a lot of articles and comments about improved firmware and operating system support. I hope manufacturers don't forget about the on-board RAID controller.

    From the articles and comments made by users around the web, who have tested SSD's in a Raid 0 configuration, I believe that two Intel X25-M SSD's in a RAID 0 configuration would more than saturate current on-board RAID controllers.

    Intel is doing a die shrink of the NAND memory that is going into their SSD's come this fall. I would expect these new Intel SSD's to show faster read and write times. Other manufacturers will also find ways to increase the speed of their SSD's.

    SSD's scale well in a RAID configuration. It would be a shame if the on-board RAID controller limited our throughput. The alternative would be very expensive add-in RAID cards.
    Reply
  • FlaTEr1C - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    Anand, once again you wrote an article that no one else could've written. This is why I'm reading this site since 2004 and will always do. Your articles and reviews are without exception unique and a must-read. Thank you for this thorough background, analysis and review of SSD.

    I was looking a long time for a solution to make my desktop experience faster and I think I'll order a 60GB Vertex. 200€(germany) is still a lot of money but it will be worth it.

    Once again, great work Anand!
    Reply
  • blackburried - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    It's referred to as "discard" in the kernel functions.

    It works very well w/ SSD's that support TRIM, like fusion-io's drives.
    Reply
  • Iger - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    This is the best review I've read in a very long time.
    Thank you very much!
    Reply
  • BailoutBenny - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - link

    Great in depth article on flash based SSDs. I'm waiting for PRAM though. Reply
  • orclordrh - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - link

    Very illuminating article, very well written and researched. It made me glad that I didn't pull the trigger on an SSD for my I7 machine and regret not buying OCZ memory! I'm interested in adding an SSD as the scratch disk for Photoshop CS4 to use. I don't really launch applications very often, say once a week on the weekly reboot and keep 6-8 apps open at all times. I have 12GB of memory for that. The benchmarks were very interesting, but what sort of activity does Photoshop scratch usage create? Large files or random writes? What type of SSD would be most cost effective here?
    An SSD does sound better than a SSD!
    Reply
  • semo - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    wait for ddr3 to enter the mainstream and buy loads of memory.

    use a ramdisk for your adobe scratch area. much faster than ssd and no wear to worry about (not that you would worry that much with modern ssds anyway).

    http://www.ghacks.net/2007/12/14/use-a-ramdisk-to-...">http://www.ghacks.net/2007/12/14/use-a-ramdisk-to-...

    there is also a paid for and more feature rich ramdisk out there. can't remember the name
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    I'll have to check when I get home, but I believe the recommended size for the scratch disk is upwards of 10GB. So would need a motherboard that supports a LOT of RAM to give enough to main memory plus a scratch disk. Reply

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