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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  • cbass64 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Who says you can't use your old 100 or 256GB SSD as an SRT device? The article clearly states that you can use whatever size drive you want. Up to 64GB of it will be used for cache and the rest can be used for data. If you have more than 64GB of data that you need to have cached at one time then SRT isn't the solution you should be looking into.

    As for OS limitations...you can't seriously think Intel would wait until they had this running on every platform imaginable before they released it to the public, can you? This is the first version of the driver that supports it so of course it will have limitations. You can't expect a feature of a Windows-only driver to be supported by a non-Windows OS. I'm sure this feature will be available on Linux once Intel actually makes a Linux RST driver.
    Reply
  • futrtrubl - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    And don't forget that if you don't partition the rest of the space on the SSD it will use it for wear levelling, which will be even more important in this situation. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    I still dont get why western digital doesnt take 4GB of SLC and solder it onto the back of their hard drive controller boards. It's not like they dont have the room. Hopefully now they will do that. 1TB +4GB SLC all for under $100 in one package, with 2 sata ports. Reply
  • mamisano - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Seagate has the Momentus 500gb 7200rmp drive with 4GB SLC. It's in 2.5" 'Notebook' format but obviously can be using in a PC.

    I am wondering why such a drive wasn't included in these tests.
    Reply
  • jordanclock - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Because, frankly, it sucks. The caching method is terrible and barely helps more than a large DRAM cache. Reply
  • Conficio - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    What is the OS support on those drivers (Windows?, Linux?, Mac OS X?, BSD?, Open Source?, ...)?

    Does the SRT drive get TRIM? Does it need it?

    "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."???

    Is there any optimization to allow the hard drive to avoid seeks? If this all happens on the driver level (as opposed to on the BIOS level) then I'd expect to gain extra efficiency from optimizing the cached LBAs so as to avoid costly seeks. In other words you don't want to look at LBAs alone but at sequences of LBAs to optimize the utility. Any mention of this?

    Also one could imagine a mode where the driver does automatic defragmentation and uses the SSD as the cache to allow to do that during slow times of hard drive access. Any comment from Intel?
    Reply
  • Lonesloane - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    What happened to the prposed prices? If I remember correctly the caching drive was supposed to cost only 30-40$?
    Now with 110$, the customer should better buy a "real" 60GB SSD.
    Reply
  • JNo - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    +1

    It's interesting, Anand has a generally positive review and generally positive comments. Tom's Hardware, which I generally don't respect nearly as much as Anand, reviewed SRT both a while back and covered it again recently and is far less impressed as are its readers. I have to say that I agree with Tom's on this particular issue though.

    It is *not* a halfway house or a cheaper way to get most of the benefit of an SSD. For $110 extra plus the premium of a Z68 mobo you may as well get an SSD that is 40-60GB bigger than Larson Creek (or 40-60GB bigger than your main system SSD) and just store extra data on it directly and with faster access and no risk of caching errors.

    For those who said SRT is a way of speeding up a cheap HTPC - it doesn't seem that way as it's not really cheap and it won't cache large, sequential media files anyway. For those who said it will speed up your game loadings, it will only do so for a few games on 2nd or 3rd run only and will evict if you use a lot of different games so you're better off having the few that count directly on the SSD anyway (using Steam Mover if necessary).

    For your system drive it's too risky at this point or you need to use the Enhanced mode (less impressive) and to speed up your large data (games/movies) it's barely relevant for the aforementioned reasons. For all other scenarios you're better off with a larger SSD.

    It's too little too late and too expensive. The fact that it's not worth bothering is a no brainer to me which is a shame as I was excited by the idea of it.
    Reply
  • Boissez - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Could one kindly request for the numbers from both the 64GB C300 and 20GB sans harddisk 311 to be added. It would give a good idea of the performance hit one could expect for using these in SRT vs as a standalone boot drive. Reply
  • Boissez - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    First sentence should be: "Could one kindly request for the numbers from both the 64GB C300 and 20GB 311 sans harddisk to be added?"... sorry Reply

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