Application & Game Launch Performance: Virtually Indistinguishable from an SSD

We'll get to our standard benchmark suite in a second, but with a technology like SRT we need more to truly understand how it's going to behave in all circumstances. Let's start with something simple: application launch time.

I set up a Z68 system with a 3TB Seagate Barracuda 7200RPM HDD and Intel's 20GB SSD 311. I timed how long it took to launch various applications both with and without the SSD cache enabled. Note that the first launch of anything with SSD caching enabled doesn't run any faster; it's the second, third, etc... times that you launch an application that the SSD cache will come into effect. I ran every application once, rebooted the system, then timed how long it took to launch both in the HDD and caching configurations:

Application Launch Comparison
Intel SSD 311 20GB Cache Adobe Photoshop CS5.5 Adobe After Effects CS5.5 Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5 Adobe Illustrator CS5.5 Adobe Premier Pro CS5.5
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (No cache) 7.1 seconds 19.3 seconds 8.0 seconds 6.1 seconds 10.4 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Enhanced Cache) 5.0 seconds 11.3 seconds 5.5 seconds 3.9 seconds 4.7 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache) 3.8 seconds 10.6 seconds 5.2 seconds 4.2 seconds 3.8 seconds

These are pretty big improvements! Boot time and multitasking immediately after boot also benefit tremendously:

Boot & Multitasking After Boot Comparison
  Boot Time (POST to Desktop) Launch Adobe Premier + Chrome + WoW Immediately After Boot
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (No cache) 55.5 seconds 37.0 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Enhanced Cache) 35.8 seconds 12.3 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache) 32.6 seconds 12.6 seconds

Let's look at the impact on gaming performance, this time we'll also toss in a high end standalone SSD:

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)
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (No cache) 12.0 seconds 17.1 seconds 15.3 seconds 23.3 seconds 5.3 seconds 11.9 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Enhanced Cache) 10.3 seconds 15.0 seconds 10.3 seconds 15.1 seconds 5.2 seconds 5.6 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache) 9.9 seconds 15.1 seconds 9.7 seconds 15.0 seconds 4.5 seconds 5.8 seconds
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB (6Gbps) 8.5 seconds 13.1 seconds 7.5 seconds 14.5 seconds 4.1 seconds 4.7 seconds

While the Vertex 3 is still a bit faster, you can't argue that Intel's SRT doesn't deliver most of the SSD experience at a fraction of the cost—at least when it comes to individual application performance.

Game Loading Performance

Look at what happens when we reboot and run the application launch tests a third time:

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)
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (No cache) 12.0 seconds 17.1 seconds 15.3 seconds 23.3 seconds 5.3 seconds 11.9 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Enhanced Cache) 10.3 seconds 15.0 seconds 10.3 seconds 15.1 seconds 5.2 seconds 5.6 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache) 9.9 seconds 15.1 seconds 9.7 seconds 15.0 seconds 4.5 seconds 5.8 seconds
Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache)—Run 3 9.9 seconds 14.8 seconds 8.1 seconds 14.9 seconds 4.4 seconds 4.3 seconds
OCZ Vertex 3 240GB (6Gbps) 8.5 seconds 13.1 seconds 7.5 seconds 14.5 seconds 4.1 seconds 4.7 seconds

Performance keeps going up. The maximized SRT system is now virtually indistinguishable from the standalone SSD system.

Gaming is actually a pretty big reason to consider using Intel SRT since games can eat up a lot of storage space. Personally I keep one or two frequently used titles on my SSD, everything else goes on the HDD array. As the numbers above show however, there's a definite performance benefit to deploying a SSD cache in a gaming environment.

I was curious how high of a hit rate I'd see within a game loading multiple levels rather than just the same level over and over again. I worried that Intel's SRT would only cache the most frequently used level and not improve performance across the board. I was wrong.

StarCraft 2 Level Loading—Seagate Barracuda 3TB (Maximize Cache)
Levels Loaded in Order Load Time
Agria Valley 16.1 seconds
Blistering Sands 4.5 seconds
Nightmare 4.8 seconds
Tempest 6.3 seconds
Zenith 6.2 seconds

Remember that SRT works by caching frequently accessed LBAs, many of which may be reused even across different levels. In the case of StarCraft 2, only the first multiplayer level load took a long time as its assets and other game files were cached. All subsequent level loads completed much quicker. Note that this isn't exclusive to SSD caching as you can benefit from some of this data being resident in memory as well.

Intel's SSD 311 20GB: Designed to Cache The Downside: Consistency
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  • arthur449 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Google "Steam Mover" Reply
  • LittleMic - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Indeed, someone has done a nice GUI to do the operation I just described. Reply
  • jimhsu - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    http://schinagl.priv.at/nt/hardlinkshellext/hardli... for a general GUI way to do this, not just for Steam but for all content. Reply
  • jimhsu - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    The basic steps.

    1. Manually move folder from SSD to hard drive.
    2. On HDD, select folder, right click, "Pick Link Source"
    3. On SSD, right click, "Drop As" > "Symbolic Link"
    4. Profit!
    Reply
  • velanapontinha - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    I can really 'feel' Windows' superfecth advantadges, sam way I can feel when I'm requesting files that are not 'fetched'.

    This software-feature Intel is now pulling is very similar to Superfecth, although it uses as SSD instead of RAM, and a lot more is available in an SSD than it usually is in RAM.

    It is a neat feature, and I'm sure it will be copied from other software houses from now on.
    Reply
  • shatteredstone - Thursday, May 19, 2011 - link

    In fact, Sun has invented a timemachine and copied this approach into ZFS years ago. ;-)

    The feature is called L2ARC (level 2 adaptive replacement cache) there and works nicely with SSDs (but also "fast" HDDs, battery-backed DDR nonvolatile memory, etc.). The nice thing is that if SRT takes off and these 20g SLC SSDs get competition and a price crunch (as well as general availability), using these features in ZFS is going to become a lot cheaper. Though even now there is nothing preventing you from using a dozen 240g SSDs as L2ARC (and ZIL) to speed up your farm of disks :)
    Reply
  • AnnihilatorX - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Damn you Intel, so all my old first gen 16GB SSDs can go to the bin?
    Only you in the world uses 10bit channel for flash, and that's why you set a 20GB (18.6 formatted) limit? ******
    Reply
  • MonkeyPaw - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Its Intel. If there's one thing that is almost certain, it's that forward compatibility is not going to happen. Reply
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Where does it say that the minimum size of the SRT cache is 20GB? Reply
  • Mr Perfect - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Dan's correct, it doesn't say you have to have a 20GB drive. Intel just happens to be launching a 20GB drive that they are hoping you will use for this. Reply

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