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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  • StraightPipe - Tuesday, September 01, 2009 - link

    Since RAID cards aren't going to support TRIM commands for a while, I'd stick with a large, single SSD.

    Anybody ahve any experience running these cards in RAID? I'd love to put some of these in my server, but i'm terrified of lossing data through the complexities of RAID combined with SSD.

    I'd love to do a simple RAID1 setup, but it looks like i may be better of waiting too.

    In the mean time, these look like a mean machine for an OS disk.
    Reply
  • Jedi2155 - Monday, August 31, 2009 - link

    Anandtech has always been known for its in-depth analysis, you're just looking for a simple review list. I much prefer these detailed articles than just hearing the list of performance and simple recommendations that most people can write if provided the proper hardware.

    I love how Anand always writes excellent, very well detailed articles that are still SIMPLE to understand. A number of other sites may offer some similar levels of detailed but are sometimes a bit too difficult to comprehend without a background in the same field.
    Reply
  • KommisMar - Sunday, April 04, 2010 - link

    Anand,

    I read your long series of articles on SSDs today, and just wanted to say thanks for writing the most informative and interesting series of tech articles I've read in years. I've been avoiding SSDs because my first experience with one was horrible. The sustained transfer rates were no better than a traditional hard drive, and the system halting for several seconds on each random write operation was too much for me to stand.

    I was so sick of the SSD coverage that I was reading on other websites because none of them seemed to answer my biggest question, which was "Which SSD won't bring my system to a screeching halt every time it needs to write a little data?"

    Thanks for answering that question and explaining what to look for and what to avoid. It sounds like it's a good time for me to give SSDs another shot.
    Reply
  • jamesy - Thursday, April 22, 2010 - link

    That about sums it up: disappointment. Although this was a top-caliber SSD article, like i have come to love and expect out of anand, this article didn't make my buying decision any easier as all. In fact, it might have made it more complicated.

    I understand Intel, Indillinx, and Sandforce are good, but there are so many drives out there, and most suck. This article was amazing by most standards but the headline should be changed: removing the "Choosing the Best SSD."

    Maybe "Choosing the right controller before sorting through a hundred drives" would be an appropriate replacement.

    Do i still go with the intel 160 X-25m G2?
    Do I get the addon Sata 6g card and get the C300?
    Do i save the money, and get an indillinx drive? Is the extra money worth the Intel/C300 drive?

    These are the main questions enthusiasts have, and while this article contained a great overview of the market in Q3 2009, SSD Tech has progressed dramatically. Only now, i think, are we getting to the point that we could publish a buying guide and have it last a few months.

    I trust Anandtech, i just wish they would flat-out make a buying guide, assign points in different categories (points for sequential read/write, points for random read/write, points for real-life performance or perceived performance, points for reliability, and points for price.). Take all of these points, add em up, and make a table pls.

    A few graphs can help, but the 200 included in each article is overwhelming, and does nothing to de-complicate or make me confindent in my purchase.

    It's great to know how drives score, how they perform. But it's even important to know that you bought the right drive.
    Reply
  • mudslinger - Monday, June 28, 2010 - link

    This article is dated 8/30/2009!!!!
    It’s ancient history
    Since then newer, faster SSD’s have been introduced to the market.
    And their firmware have all been updated to address known past issues.
    This article is completely irrelevant and should be taken down or updated.
    I’m constantly amazed at how old trash info is left lingering about the web for search engines like Google to find. Just because Google lists an article doesn’t make it legit.
    Reply
  • cklein - Monday, July 12, 2010 - link

    Actually I am trying to find a reason to use SSD.
    1. Server Environment
    No matter it's a webserver or a SQL server, I don't see a way we can use SSD. My SERVER comes with plenty of RAM 32G or 64G. The OS/start a little bit slow, but it's OK, since it never stop after it's started. And everything is loaded into RAM, no page file usage is needed. So, really why do we need SSD here to boost the OS start time or application start time?
    For SQL server database, that's even worse. Let's say I have a 10GB SQL server database, and it grows to 50GB after a year. Can you image how many random writes, updates between the process? I am not quite sure this will wear off the SSD really quick.

    2. For desktop / laptop, I can probably say, install the OS and applications on SSD, and leave everything on other drives? And even create page file on other drives? As I feel SSD is only good for readonly access. For frequent write, it may wear off pretty quick? I am doing development, I am not even sure I should save source code on SSD, as it compiles, builds, I am sure it writes a lot to SSD.

    So over all, I don't see it fits in Server environment, but for desktop/laptop, maybe? even so, it's limited?

    someone correct me if I am wrong?
    Reply
  • TCQU - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Hi people

    I'm up for getting a new Macbook pro with ssd.
    BUT i heard somthing about, that the 128gb ssd, for apples machines, was made by samsung. I was ready to buy it, but now that i've heard that first of all "apples" ssd's is much slower that they others on the marked. Then i read this. So now i'm really confused.
    What shoud i do?
    buy apples macbook pro with 128gb ssd
    or should i buy it without and replace it with an other ssd? thoughts? plzz help me out
    thanks
    Thomas
    Reply
  • TCQU - Thursday, July 29, 2010 - link

    Hi people

    I'm up for getting a new Macbook pro with ssd.
    BUT i heard somthing about, that the 128gb ssd, for apples machines, was made by samsung. I was ready to buy it, but now that i've heard that first of all "apples" ssd's is much slower that they others on the marked. Then i read this. So now i'm really confused.
    What shoud i do?
    buy apples macbook pro with 128gb ssd
    or should i buy it without and replace it with an other ssd? thoughts? plzz help me out
    thanks
    Thomas
    Reply
  • marraco - Friday, August 13, 2010 - link

    Why Sandforce controllers are ignored?

    I’m extremely disappointed with the compiler benchmark. Please test .NET (With lot of classes source files and dependencies). It seems like nothing speeds up compilation. No CPU, no memory, no SSD. It makes nonsense.
    Reply
  • sylvm - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    I found this article of very good quality.

    I was looking for a similar article about express card SSDs using PCIe port, but found nothing about their performance for rewrite.
    The best I found is this review http://www.pro-clockers.com/storage/192-wintec-fil... saying nothing about it.

    Expresscard SSDs would allow good speed improvement/price compromise : buying a relatively small and cheap one for OS and softwares, while keeping the HDD for data.

    Has anyone some info about it ?

    Best regards,

    Sylvain
    Reply

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