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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  • jordanclock - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    You can use a drive for both, but you must set up your data partition AFTER you set up the cache partition. Reply
  • jorkolino - Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - link

    What do you mean by that? You partition the SSD drive, install the OS in the first partition, set-up the other partition as a cache, and then format your remaining HDD? Reply
  • jorkolino - Wednesday, June 06, 2012 - link

    I wonder, can you tell SRT to cache blocks only from the HDD onto the cache partition, because by default SRT may decide to cache system files that already reside onto a fast SSD partition... Reply
  • evilspoons - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    I know it's early on for Z68, but I'm curious how other SSDs will perform in SRT mode. I ask because the 40 GB X25-V is on sale here for half its usual price... Reply
  • evilspoons - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    To answer my own question, Tom's Hardware reviewed SRT with several SSDs and to put it bluntly, the X25-V sucks. Its very low write speed of 35 mb/sec actually drags the hard drive down in a few tests. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Yeah that is a nice way of putting it. Talk about sugar coating. Here is a question for ya: was intel being "conservative" when they tried to shove rambus down everyone's throats? If it werent for AMD and DDR god knows how much memory would cost now. I still have one of those rambus P4 systems running in the lab right now. (intel 850 chipset with dual channel RDRAM). I did some memory benchmarking on it and was shocked to find that it was actually slower than any of the P4 DDR 266 machines we have running. (Yes we are slow to upgrade lol.) It runs at about DDR200 equivalent speeds. And we really paid out the wazoo for that system. Reply
  • Shinobisan - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    discrete graphics cards are limited - even though they often have three, four.. or more connectors these days, they can often only drive two monitors at a time. (unless you use a displayport connector... and monitors with DP don't really exist yet)
    I have two monitors driven by my HD6950 via the digital video out connectors. So the HDMI connector on that card is "dead" until I turn one of the monitors off.
    What I would like to be able to do... is have my dGPU drive my two monitors, and the iGPU drive my 1080p TV via HDMI.
    Can I do that? This discussion on virtu muddies the water some. unclear.
    Reply
  • Conficio - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Well, so SRT is a good idea but again it is limited artificially in its use. Sounds to me like the P67/H67 stund all over again.

    Why is it limited?
    * For starters it is driver supported, and I believe that means Windows only (I could find no mention of what OS is supported). To be fully useful it belongs into the chipset/BIOS realm.
    * Next there is the artificial 64GB limit. As is obvious from even the tests that is not really the practical limit of its usefulness. It is simply a marketing limit to not compete with Intels own full SSD business. You got to ask yourself, why not use your aging SSD of 100GB or 256 GB (a couple years down the road) as an SRT drive?
    * "With the Z68 SATA controllers set to RAID (SRT won't work in AHCI or IDE modes) just install Windows 7 on your hard drive like you normally would." So only RAID setups are supported? Well you are testing with a single hard drive, so this might be a confusing statement. But if it is RAID only then that is ceratinly not what Joe Shmoe has in its desktop (let alone in its Laptop).
    Reply
  • A5 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    If the AT Heavy Workload Storage Bench is a typical usage case for you, than you shouldn't be using SRT anyway - you'd have a RAID array of SSDs to maximize your performance. Reply
  • jordanclock - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    For caching purposes, I'm sure 64GB is a very reasonable limit. The more data you cache, the more data you have to pay attention to when it comes to kicking out old data.

    And it isn't a RAID set up, per se. You set the motherboard to RAID, but the entire system is handled in software. So Joe Shmoe wouldn't even have to know what a RAID is, though I don't see Joe Shmoe even knowing what a SSD is...
    Reply

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