The Downside: Consistency

Initially it's very easy to get excited about Intel's SRT. If you only run a handful of applications, you'll likely get performance similar to that of a standalone SSD without all of the cost and size limitations. Unfortunately, at least when paired with Intel's SSD 311, it doesn't take much to kick some of that data out of the cache.

To put eviction to the test, I ran through three games—Portal 2, Starcraft 2 and World of Warcraft—then I installed the entire Adobe CS5.5 Master Collection, ran five of its applications and tried running Starcraft 2 again. All of Starcraft 2's data had been evicted from the SSD cache resulting in HDD-like performance:

Starcraft 2 Level Loading—Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache)
  Load Time Load Time After App Install/Launch
Game Launch 9.7 seconds 17.4 seconds
Level Load 15.0 seconds 23.3 seconds

I thought that may have been a bit excessive so I tried another test. This time I used the machine a bit more, browsed the web, did some file copies and scanned for viruses but I didn't install any new applications. Instead I launched five Adobe applications and then ran through all of our game loading tests. The result was a mixed bag with some games clearly being evicted from the cache and others not being touched at all:

Game Load Comparison
Intel SSD 311 20GB Cache Portal 2 (Game Launch) Portal 2 (Level Load) Starcraft 2 (Game Launch) Starcraft 2 (Level Load) World of Warcraft (Game Launch) World of Warcraft (Level Load)
Load Time 9.9 seconds 15.1 seconds 9.7 seconds 15.0 seconds 4.5 seconds 5.8 seconds
Load Time After Use 12.1 seconds 15.1 seconds 10.1 seconds 15.3 seconds 3.6 seconds 14.0 seconds

Even boot time was affected. For the most part performance didn't fall back down to HDD levels, but it wasn't as snappy as before when I was only running games.

Boot Time—Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache)
  Time
Boot Time 32.6 seconds
Boot Time After Use 37.3 seconds
Boot Time Without Cache 55.5 seconds

Although Intel felt that 20GB was the ideal size to balance price/performance and while SRT is supposed to filter out some IO operations from being cached, it's clear that if you frequently use ~10 applications that you will evict useful data from your cache on a 20GB SSD 311. For lighter usage models with only a few frequently used applications, a 20GB cache should be just fine.

There's also the bigger problem of the initial run of anything taking a long time since the data isn't cached. The best way to illustrate this is a quick comparison of how long it takes to install Adobe's CS5.5 Master Collection:

Install Adobe CS5.5 Master Collection
  Time
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (No cache) 13.3 minutes
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache) 13.3 minutes
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB (6Gbps) 5.5 minutes

A pure SSD setup is going to give you predictable performance across the board regardless of what you do, whereas Intel's SRT is more useful in improving performance in more limited, repetitive usage models. Admittedly most users probably fall into the latter category.

In my use I've only noticed two reliability issues with Intel's SRT. The first issue was with an early BIOS/driver combination where I rebooted my system (SSD cache was set to maximized) and my bootloader had disappeared. The other issue was a corrupt portion of my Portal 2 install, which only appeared after I disabled by SSD cache. I haven't been able to replicate either issue and I can't say for sure that they are even caused by SRT, but I felt compelled to report them nevertheless. As with any new technology, I'd approach SRT with caution—and lots of backups.

 

Application & Game Launch Performance: Virtually Indistinguishable from an SSD AnandTech Storage Bench 2011 - Heavy Workload
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  • JarredWalton - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Obviously, I missed changing the pasted text above. That's Bold, Italics, and underlined text. (And highlighted text is now gone, thankfully, so people talking about [H]OCP don't look weird. LOL) Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    I hadn't though to try BBCode[\b[\i][\u].

    Thanks, Jarred.
    Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    Much less use it correctly... Reply
  • FlameDeer - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    Hi Jarred, about the option to do links, I have tried before, by using the below codes:

    [L=text]/[/L] = [L=AnandTech]http://www.anandtech.com/[/L]

    The codes I put are
    <L=AnandTech>http://www.anandtech.com/</L>
    just replace the < > symbols to [ ] will do. :)

    Hopefully Intel will be more concern about what the users really needs & not just simply apply their own set of rules to users by limiting certain functions as they like.

    Good job of the review & take care, guys! :)
    Reply
  • FlameDeer - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    Ops, not working, anyway I try again few codes here, if still not working then just abandon it.

    [ L ]/[ /L ] = [L]Text[/L]
    [ A ]/[ /A ] = [A]Text[/A]
    [ B ]/[ /B ] = Text
    [ I ]/[ /I ] = Text
    [ U ]/[ /U ] = Text
    [ H ]/[ /H ] = [H]Text[/H]
    Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Obviously, a lot of time goes into these reviews, but I would really like to see an update using a 64GB Vertex 3 or other fast 64GB drive as the cache. I suppose that the only real improvement would be how many apps/files are cached before eviction. But the Vertex 3 is a LOT faster than the new Intel 311 or whatever it is... Reply
  • y2kBug - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Take this with a huge grain of salt. The following quote from the review makes me shiver “In my use I've only noticed two reliability issues with Intel's SRT. The first issue was with an early BIOS/driver combination where I rebooted my system (SSD cache was set to maximized) and my bootloader had disappeared. The other issue was a corrupt portion of my Portal 2 install, which only appeared after I disabled by SSD cache.”

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trolling. I was really looking forward to SSD caching. But my previous experience when I randomly lost all data on an Intel RAID 1 array without any signs of hard-drive failures made me skeptical in the Intel RAID software.
    Reply
  • NCM - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Anand writes: "Paired with a 20GB SLC SSD cache, I could turn a 4-year-old 1TB hard drive into something that was 41% faster than a VelociRaptor."

    That's an assertion that really needs some heavy qualification, for instance by appending "at least sometimes and for certain things."

    SRT is an intriguing approach on the part of Intel, but ultimately it comes across to me as insufficient and unfinished. I have little confidence in its ability to gauge what's important to cache as opposed to what's used more often. Those aren't the same things at all.

    I'd like to see a drive approach where a limited capacity boot/application SSD is combined with a conventional HD within a single standard drive enclosure. This hybrid would present itself to the host as a single drive, but include a software toggle to allow selective access to each drive for setup purposes. You'd install the OS and programs on the SSD for rapid boot/launch, while user mass file storage would be on the HD. In normal use you wouldn't know, other than in performance terms, that two devices were involved.

    Yes, I know that we can achieve much of that today by using separate SSD and HD devices. I have two such setups, one a server and the other a workstation. However they both require some technical attention on the part of the user, and it's not an approach that works in a laptop, at least not without big compromises.
    Reply
  • LancerVI - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Can install OS on 1 60 GB SSD for example and then SRT a second 60 SSD for a 2 TB Raid 0 array?

    I've got two 60's in a Raid 0 now, but obviously, most of my programs are on seprate HDD's. If my above question is possible, maybe this is a way to split the difference as it were.

    Any insight would be appreciated.
    Reply
  • djgandy - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Considering you can pick up a 30GB SSD in the UK for £45, this seems like an easy way to get some performance increase for desktop productivity.

    http://www.overclockers.co.uk/showproduct.php?prod...
    Reply

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