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

    RAID0 can't even compare. With PCMark Vantage a RAID0 with MD's gives you roughly a 10% increase in performance in the HDD suite. A high end SSD is is 300-400% faster in the Vantage HDD suite scores. Even if you only achieve 50% of the SSD performance increase with SRT you'd still be seeing 150-200% increase and this article seems to claim that SRT is much closer to a pure SSD than 50%.

    Obviously benchmarks like Vantage HDD suite don't always reflect real world performance but I think there's still an obvious difference between 10% and a couple hundred %...
    Reply
  • Hrel - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    all I know is since I switched to RAID 0 my games load in 2/3 the time they used to. 10% is crazy. RAID 0 should get you a 50% performance improvement across the board; you did something wrong. Reply
  • DanNeely - Thursday, May 12, 2011 - link

    Raid only helps with sequential transfers. If Vantage has a lot of random IO with small files it won't do any good. Reply
  • don_k - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Or the fact that it is an entirely software based solution. Intel's software does not, as far as I and google know, run on linux, nor would I be inclined to install such software on linux even if it were. So this is a non-starter for me. For steam and games I say get a 60-120gb consumer level ssd and call it a day. No software glitches, no stuff like that.

    This kind of caching needs to be implemented at the filesystem level if you ask me, which is what I hope some linux filesystems will bring 'soon'. On windows the outlook is bleak.
    Reply
  • jzodda - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Are there any plans in the future of this technology being made available to P67 boards?

    Before I read this I thought it was a chipset feature. I had no idea this was being implemented in software at a driver level.

    I am hoping that after a reasonable amount of time passes they make this available for P67 users. I understand that for now they want to add some value to this new launch but after some time passes why not?
    Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Given that the drive has built in 4gb of flash, it would be very interesting to compare this to the aforementioned SRT. Architecturally similar, though it requires two drives instead of one. Heck, what would happen if you used SRT with a Seagate Momentus? Reply
  • kenthaman - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    1. You mention that:

    "Even gamers may find use in SSD caching as they could dedicate a portion of their SSD to acting as a cache for a dedicated games HDD, thereby speeding up launch and level load times for the games that reside on that drive."

    Does Intel make any mention of possible future software versions allowing user customization to specifically select applications to take precedence over others to remain in cache. For example say that you regularly run 10 - 12 applications (assuming that this work load is sufficient to begin the eviction process), rather than having the algorithm just select the least utilized files have it so that you can point to an exe and then it could track the associated files to keep them in cache above the priority of the standard cleaning algorithm.

    2. Would it even make sense to use this in a system that has a 40/64/80 gig OS SSD and then link this to a HDD/array or would the system SSD already be handling the caching? Just trying to see if this would help offload some of the work/storage to the larger HDDs since space is already limited on these smaller.
    Reply
  • Midwayman - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    What is the long term use degradation like? I know without TRIM SSD's tend to lose performance over time. Is there something like trim happening here since this all seems to be below the OS level? Reply
  • jiffylube1024 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Great review, as always on Anandtech!

    This technology looks to be a boon for so many users. Whereas technophiles who live on the bleeding edge (like me) probably won't settle for anything less than an SSD for their main boot drive, this SSD cache + HDD combo looks to be an amazing alternative for the vast majority of users out there.

    There's several reasons why I really like this technology:

    1. Many users are not smart and savvy at organizing their files, so a 500GB+ C drive is necessary. That is not feasible with today's SSD prices.

    2. This allows gamers to have a large HDD as their boot drive and an SSD to speed up game loads. A 64GB SSD would be fantastic for this as the cache!

    3. This makes the ultimate drop-in upgrade. You can build a PC now with an HDD and pop in an SSD later for a wicked speed bump!

    I'm strongly considering swapping my P67 for a Z68 at some point, moving my 160GB SSD to my laptop (where I don't need tons of space but the boot speed is appreciated), and using a 30-60GB SSD as a cache on my desktop for a Seagate 7200.12 500GB, my favourite cheap boot HDD.
    Reply
  • samsp99 - Wednesday, May 11, 2011 - link

    Is the intel 311 the best choice for the $$, or would other SSDs of a similar cost perform better. For example the egg has OCZ Vertex 2 and other sandforce based drives in the 60GB range for approx $130. That is a better cache size than the 20GB of the intel drive.

    Sandforce relies on compression to get some of its high data rates, would that still work well in this kind of a cache scenario?
    Reply

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