Performance Over Time & TRIM

SandForce's controllers have always behaved poorly if you pushed them into their worst case scenario. Should you fill a SF-2281 based drive completely with incompressible data then continue to write to the drive with more incompressible data (overwriting some of what you've already written) to fill up the spare area you'll back the controller into a corner that it can't get out of, even with TRIM. It's not a terribly realistic situation since anyone using an SF-2281 SSD as a boot drive will at least have Windows (or some other easily compressible OS) installed, and it's fairly likely that you'll have other things stored on your SSD in addition to large movies/photos. Regardless, it's a corner case that we do have to pay attention to.

I was curious to see if Intel's firmware did anything differently than the standard SandForce build used by other partners. To find out I took an Intel SSD 520 (240GB) and a Kingston HyperX (SF-2281 240GB) and filled both drives with incompressible data. I then ran a 60 minute 4KB random write torture test (QD32), once again, with incompressible data. Normally I'd use HDTach to chart performance over time however HDTach measures performance with highly compressible data so we wouldn't get a good representation of performance here. Instead I ran AS-SSD to get a good idea for incompressible sequential performance in this worst case state. Afterwards, I TRIMed the drives and ran AS-SSD again to see if TRIM could recover the drive's performance.

Intel SSD 520 - Resiliency - AS SSD Sequential Write Speed - 6Gbps
  Clean After Torture After TRIM
Intel SSD 520 240GB 284.5 MB/s 162.9 MB/s 162.9 MB/s
Kingston HyperX 240GB 289.3 MB/s 162.5 MB/s 162.5 MB/s

Surprisingly enough, Cherryville doesn't actually perform any differently than the stock SandForce firmware in this case. SandForce definitely improved the worst case scenario performance with the SF-2281 compared to the first generation controller, and it also improved performance compared to earlier builds of the 2281 firmware, but Intel appears to have not done anything above and beyond here. Based on these results I'd be willing to bet that Intel doesn't have source code access to the SF-2281 firmware otherwise it would've worked on a solution to this corner case. Performance in this worst case scenario isn't terrible but the fact that it's irrecoverable even after a TRIM is what's most troubling. Again, I don't see most end users backing themselves into this corner but it's worth pointing out.

AnandTech Storage Bench 2011 - Light Workload Power Consumption
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  • Iketh - Monday, February 06, 2012 - link

    That price premium is doing me in, plus the irrecoverable drive thrashing. The 240gb Samsung will be my next purchase. Reply
  • Galcobar - Monday, February 06, 2012 - link

    Find yourself having to ship a less reliable drive back to the manufacturer and the price premium disappears. At that point, not having to deal with the downtime and inconvenience of reinstallation is all gravy. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, February 06, 2012 - link

    These drives are all built to pretty much the same physical quality standards. Firmware might be a different story, but for firmware it usually doesnt require a trip to the factory. Do you have any evidence to suggest that the physical build quality of an OCZ Vertex 2 is less than an Intel X-25? Reply
  • hackztor - Monday, February 06, 2012 - link

    I had a vertex 1 that I had to ship back 4 times, finally I asked for a newer model. Got back the vertex 2. That right there is what Galcobar was talking about. Each time shipping is usually 10 bucks and about 2 weeks turn around time. Sometimes higher premium for better tested parts is worth the extra cost. Reply
  • pc_void - Monday, February 06, 2012 - link

    The key word is sometimes.

    And sometimes you pay a higher price and have the same thing happen.

    However, you can make an educated guess based upon lots of research. It still doesn't mean it won't happen.
    Reply
  • Flunk - Monday, February 06, 2012 - link

    I don't think firmware alone is responsible for the much lower failure rates of Intel SSDs over say... OCZ.

    I'm not saying other brands are bad, my Vertex 2 is still going strong with no issues, but these SSDs are built a little bit better than OCZ's drives and most of the other competition.
    Reply
  • coder543 - Tuesday, February 07, 2012 - link

    It's widely known that non-Intel SSDs have reliability issues. Recently they've gotten much better, but they still aren't yet comparable. Reply
  • taltamir - Monday, March 26, 2012 - link

    The issue is that there are firmware bugs that intel fixed that sandforce and its other partners do not.
    You are right that there is no need to ship it back to the manufacturer... because they CANNOT fix it. A replacement drive will have the same bugs.

    Your only recourse is to live with the bugs and BSODs or sell it second hand and buy an intel.
    Reply
  • dmprok - Sunday, April 01, 2012 - link

    I got Intel X-25 80Gb drive that failed on me TWICE in one year and I lost data. I picked Intel for TRIM function and because it was highly rated. First drive was purchased for $280 by my friend and it failed on him in 2 weeks, I thought he was doing something wrong, I bought dead drive from him and RMA'ed. It failed again for me in 6 months, one day computer just would not boot, I send it to RMA and got my 3rd drive, I hesitated to install for few months because I lost all faith in Intel SSD drives. I am not a heavy user, I don't run my PC 24/7, also the last drive drive I received does not look like quality made at all, the top of the drive is warped, I am disappointed, considering getting new Sandisk SSD for next upgrade. Reply
  • nsanity - Tuesday, February 07, 2012 - link

    Having to ship a drive back means *absolutely nothing*. Hell, having to buy a complete new drive means nothing. The lost productivity when a business who has used a pair of SSD's as a shortcut to IOPS, as the machine BSOD's or drops an array till the system is physically powered off and on again simply dwarfs those costs.

    I'm a SMB Integrator and having to clean up after the mess of others who have used SF-2281 drives (Corsair Force 3 in particular) to achieve superior IOPS as opposed to using tried and true SAS arrays.

    Random BSOD's and array's falling off a system is the plague i've seen with the SF-2281's. Firmware updates have really done nothing to help on the Corsair Drives.

    On the Corsair Force 3 release, to enthusiast/gamer customers, I sold 3 drives, only to RA them 5 times within a month.

    From that point I essentially told all my enthusiast customers that I would not sell them a Sandforce-based Drive, because I simply do not like unhappy customers, and nothing is more unhappy than someone bringing me a drive back within 48 hours.

    I realise my sample size is small (Probably about 20-30 SSD's total), but I can tell you that out of the 15 Intel Drives I've seen/touched/supported (X-25M G2's, 320's and 510's), none of them have had any faults what so ever. Every, single, SF-2281 drive has had faults.

    The advent of Intel making Sandforce based drives leaves me with very uneasy. Intel's reliability is second to none, but I need more than just an anecdotal review telling me that they've "fixed" the SF-2281. I've been burned on a small scale, and i've watched a fellow SMB integrator friend lose thousands of dollars in free labour trying to repair systems based on these drives.

    I'm looking forward to Anand's part two, using these drives in an Enterprise scenario - and hopefully he's got a machine doing heavy load testing in the mean time to better report on the reliability- or otherwise of these drives.
    Reply

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