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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    80GB = $243
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  • gfody - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    nice thank you, ordered mine from here
    screw Newegg! :D
    Reply
  • jengeek - Wednesday, September 02, 2009 - link

    Both are G2, in stock and ship the next day

    Both are retail box including the installation kit

    Best price I've found
    Reply
  • ARoyalF - Sunday, September 13, 2009 - link

    Thank you posting that!

    I was going to wait out that awful price hike over at the egg.

    You rock
    Reply
  • ElderTech - Tuesday, September 01, 2009 - link

    It's difficult to imagine the amount of time and effort that went into this article, Anand. Just the clean installs of Win7 took a fair amount of extra effort, let alone the other detailed diagrams and testing involved. From an old technology advocate over many years of working to keep pace with Moore's Law in a variety of research environments, your site provides the most satisfying learning experience of all. A sincere thank you!

    PS: As for the availability of the G2, it pops in and out of stock at a variety of online retailers, including Newegg, of course, as well as MWave. Both had it available for a short while at $249, Newegg on Friday and MWave today, Monday. However, it's out of stock presently as of midnight, EST 9-1-09 at both, with MWave still at $249 but Newegg going from there to $279 over the weekend and now at an amazing $499! OUCH. Sounds like supply and demand gouging if the price holds when they are next available! There is also some stock available in the distributor channel from small Intel Partners, as I confirmed by calling around the Chicago area. You might give this a try tomorrow. Good luck!
    Reply
  • blyndy - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    You really got performance anxiety because some high-profile people/sites liked your article and linked to it? It's hardly like it got printed in some prestigious science journal and the publishers are waiting on a follow-up.

    It was just the first time that SDD operation had been detailed in plain english from a reputable website.

    Enough of this 'anthology' nonsense, I don't care if it's 1 page or 20, just tell me how some of the new SSDs perform (eg OCZ, Western Digital). You've already detailed how they work so now I want to know which ones do/will support TRIM and some details on the controller. Nothing to get anxious about.
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    Indeed I did get performance anxiety after the last one, I even got it after the first X25-M. It's not so much the linkage, but the feedback from all of you guys. I received more positive feedback to the last SSD article than any one prior. More than anything I don't want to let you all down and I want to make sure I live up to everyone's expectations.

    As far as your interests go, all three manufacturers (Indilinx, Intel and Samsung) have confirmed support for TRIM. When? I'd say all three before December.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • cacca - Thursday, September 03, 2009 - link

    Dear Anand i really thank you for your SSD articles, the improvements in this area seem tangible.
    Can I ask you to test Fusion-IO & ioXtreme, i am really curious to see how this other approach performs.
    I know that isn't a perfect apple to apple comparison but at least we could compare the per $ performance.

    Best regards

    Ca
    Reply
  • vol7ron - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    Good article.

    I have a follow-up question regarding your size suggestion.

    In more words you say, "get the size you need," but don't these drives perform that much better in a RAIDed system?

    The cost per GB isn't that much more if you're looking at getting a 160GB Intel drive, to get the 2x 80GB instead.

    SSDs are more reliable than HDs and you have the benefit of more RAM. 2x 32MB for an SSD in RAID0.


    Curious to hear your thoughts,
    vol7ron
    Reply

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