Hey, There’s an Elephant in the Room

When the first X25-M reviews went live a few people discovered something very important, something many of us (myself included) missed and should’ve addressed: the drive got slower the more you filled it up. It’s no great mystery why this happened, but it seemed odd at the time because it went against conventional thinking.


LegitReviews was one of the first to spot the SSD slowdown phenomenon, good work Nate.

It’s worth mentioning that hard drives suffer from the same problem; just for a different reason.

Hard drives store data on platters; the platters rotate while an arm with read/write heads on it hovers over the surface of the platter and reads data while the platter spins. The diameter of the platter is greater the further out on the platter you go, that’s just how circles work. The side effect is that for the same amount of rotation, the heads can cover more area on the outside of the platter than on the inside.

The result is that transfer speeds are greater on the outer sectors of the platter than on the inner ones. OSes thus try to write as much data to the outer sectors as possible, but like beachfront property - there’s only a limited amount of space. Eventually you have to write to the slower parts of the drive and thus the more full your drive is, the slower your transfer rates will be for data stored in the innermost sectors.

Fragmentation also hurts hard drive performance. While modern day hard drives have gotten pretty quick at transferring large amounts of data stored sequentially, spread the data out all around the platter and things get real slow, real fast.

Randomness is the enemy of rotational storage.

Solid state drives aren’t supposed to have these issues. Data is stored in flash, so it doesn’t matter where it’s located, you get to it at the same speed. SSDs have +5 armor immunity to random access latency (that’s got to be the single most geeky-sounding thing I’ve ever written, and I use words like latency a lot).

So why is it that when you fill up a SSD like Intel’s X25-M that its performance goes down? Even more worrisome, why is it that when you delete data from the drive that its performance doesn’t go back up?

While SSDs are truly immune to the same problems that plague HDDs, they do also get slower over time. How can both be true? It’s time for another lesson in flash.

Why You Should Want an SSD The Anatomy of an SSD
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  • 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
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, March 25, 2009 - link

    I was wondering the same thing. I'd guess it would be a lot of writing/erasing, so an SSD might not be the best from a longevity standpoint, but if your system is hitting the scratch disk often then the speed might make it worthwhile. Reply
  • mikepers - Tuesday, March 24, 2009 - link

    Anand,

    I wanted to compliment you on what I think was an excellent article. This is the type of thing I really have always liked from Anandtech. The detailed background, the technical reasons for the issues and then a thorough review of the current state of things.

    I just finished upgrading my desktop. The only remaining item I wanted to replace was the hard disk. I had been thinking about getting a Velociraptor but instead I just ordered a 60GB Vertex from Newegg.

    Thanks again for all the work.

    Mike P.
    Reply
  • ameatypie - Monday, March 23, 2009 - link

    That sure was a lot to take in! Fantastic article though, it has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that Solid State Drives provide. Probably wont be buying one in the immediate future given the so-called depression and such things, but i will certainly keep up with SSD progress.
    Thanks again for your fantastic articles - im sure im not the only one who really appreciates them :)
    Reply
  • coopchennick - Monday, March 23, 2009 - link

    Hey Anand, I just finished reading through this whole article and I'm very impressed with the thoroughness and how informative it was.

    You just acquired a new regular reader.
    Reply

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