Enter the Poorly Designed MLC

The great thing about everyone making MLC drives based on the same design is it helps drive cost down, which gives us a very affordable product. After rebate you can buy a 64GB OCZ Core SSD, an MLC drive, for $240 from Newegg. Compared to the $1000+ that 64GB SSDs were selling for a year ago, this is good cost savings. The bad thing about everyone using the same design however is if there's a problem that affects one of the drives, it affects all of them. And indeed, there is a problem.

The symptoms are pretty obvious: horrible stuttering/pausing/lagging during the use of the drive. The drive still works, it's just that certain accesses can take a long time to complete. It's a lot like using a slow laptop hard drive and trying to multitask, everything just comes to a halt.

I first discovered this problem a couple of months ago when I started work on an article looking at the performance of a SSD in a Mac Pro as a boot/application drive. Super Talent sent me one of its 3.5” drives, which I had assumed was a SLC drive. Application launches were ridiculously fast, but I noticed something very strange when I was using my machine. Starting to type in a document, or sending an IM, or even opening a new tab in Safari would sometimes be accompanied by a second-long pause. At first I assumed it was a problem with my drive or with the controller, or perhaps a combination of the drive, the SATA controller on the Mac Pro’s motherboard and OS X itself. I later found out it was an MLC drive and thus began my investigation.

SuperTalent had received a lot of attention for its SSDs, and rightfully so - they were starting to be affordable. OCZ however quickly took the spotlight with its Core SSD, finally bringing the price of a 64GB MLC SSD to below $300. Users flocked to the Core and other similarly priced drives, because if you looked at the marketed specs of the drive you were basically getting greater than SLC performance, at a fraction of the cost:

Advertised Specs OCZ Core (MLC) OCZ (SLC)
Read Up to 143MB/s Up to 100MB/s
Write Up to 93MB/s Up to 80MB/s
Seek < 0.35ms unlisted
Price < $300 > $600

 

However the real world performance didn't match up.

Let's start with the types of benchmarks that we usually see run in SSD reviews, here's a quick run of PCMark Vantage's HDD. Vantage paints the Core as a screamer:

  PCMark Vantage HDD Test
OCZ Core (JMicron JMF602, MLC) 8117
OCZ (Samsung, SLC) 12143
Western Digital VelociRaptor (10,000 RPM SATA) 6325

 

Digging a bit deeper we only see one indication of a problem, performance in the Media Center test is significantly slower than the VelociRaptor - but overall it's much faster, what could one test actually mean?

  Windows Defender Gaming Picture Import Vista Startup Windows Movie Maker Media Center WMP App Loading
OCZ Core (JMicron JMF602, MLC) 48.1MB/s 72.5MB/s 90.4MB/s 47.9MB/s 23.2MB/s 33MB/s 17.8MB/s 20.3MB/s
OCZ (Samsung, SLC) 69.3MB/s 71.8MB/s 86.9MB/s 63MB/s 43.7MB/s 65.6MB/s 33.8MB/s 39.9MB/s
Western Digital VelociRaptor (10,000 RPM SATA) 27.5MB/s 20.1MB/s 59.0MB/s 22.9MB/s 58.5MB/s 113.3MB/s 15.2MB/s 7.6MB/s

 

If we turn to SYSMark however, the picture quickly changes. The OCZ SLC drive is now 30% faster than the MLC drive, and performance in the Video Creation suite is literally half on the MLC drive. Something is amiss.

  SYSMark 2007 Overall E-Learning Video Creation Productivity 3D
OCZ Core (JMicron JMF602, MLC) 138 143 111 134 168
OCZ (Samsung, SLC) 177 161 200 178 172
Western Digital VelociRaptor (10,000 RPM SATA) 179 155 222 177 169

 

The Generic SSD Delving Deeper
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  • aeternitas - Thursday, September 11, 2008 - link

    Wow.

    #1 Meaning; Great read.
    #2 Meaning; Why do you not use World of Warcraft in your testings more? This game still has huge system requirements on absolute full settings in crouded areas. No one is getting 60fps in that game in Shatt on a saterday night 16xAA/AF full distance view. Everything maxed running a high resolution. Also, the disk access of this game may not be as much as Crysis, but its far FAR more prolonged as people play this game for a matter of years, instead of a handfull of months tops.
    Reply
  • hoohoo - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    What?! Google Chrome Launch Time? Is this a new benchmark? The world was waiting for that test I can tell ya! Did Google slip a little something in your pocket? Reply
  • Ph0b0s - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    Sorry if this repeats what anyone else has said, but I think this is the best harddisk review I have seen. All the other hdd reviews I have read though, all go into detail about how many mb/s the drive can transfer and what the access time is, I/O performance etc. This is all very nice, but all we really care about is how does the hdd perform in real world apps and games in comparision to other drives. How much faster is my browser going to load.

    And that is why I was so impressed with this review. I realise it probably took more time to create this review, but it was well worth it. You can see how much the drives in the comparision compare to the amount of money you will spend instead of having to extrapolate from throughput benchmarks.

    I would feel a lot more confident in putting down money on the X25 after this review. Because I can see what the benefit I would get after in comparsion to other drives. Though the X25 needs to be another $100 dollars cheaper...

    Anyway, please more hdd reviews like this...
    Reply
  • bruto - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    Anand, could you please post map load times for R6 Vegas 2 using
    these drives?
    That game was killing me, and I'd like to know just how much
    happiness is around the corner :)
    Reply
  • FFFFFF - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    I am very familiar with the tech works of SSDs and it is interesting to know of the security risk that involves the technology. http://www.techworld.com/SECURITY/NEWS/index.cfm?n...">http://www.techworld.com/SECURITY/NEWS/...cfm?news...
    This is one reason why I am not going to upgrade to SSD just yet till they figure out a more secure encryption.
    Reply
  • cokelight - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    RE: PLEASE LEARN HOW TO USE COMMAS! by ggordonliddy, 19 hours ago

    You are just making it clear that you do not have a firm grasp of English. You are afraid of those who criticize poor grammar, because you know that you yourself will be exposed for the fraudulent pustule that lies beneath your slimy veneer.

    I have a life. I'm just sick of illiterate authors. Just because it is a tech site is no excuse for extremely poor writing skills. I'm talking about skills that should be completely mastered before being allowed to graduate from elementary school.

    ^
    Take your elitism elsewhere. If you actually practiced what you preached then you'd note your own comma abuse:

    "You are afraid of those who criticize poor grammar, because you know that you yourself will be exposed for the fraudulent pustule that lies beneath your slimy veneer."

    The second clause is dependent. Therefore, it does not necessitate a comma.
    Reply
  • aeternitas - Thursday, September 11, 2008 - link

    Use the reply link. Reply
  • xenon83 - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    "Do keep in mind though, the numbers we're talking about here are ridiculously low - even 900 µs to write to MLC flash is much faster than writing to a mechanical hard disk."
    But when it comes to random writes ssd's in general - this intel ssd included - fails miserably.
    http://www.alternativerecursion.info/?p=106">http://www.alternativerecursion.info/?p=106
    Reply
  • johncl - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    Yes as the other poster say, the Intel drive have solved the issues with small random writes that the OZC and other MLC drives so far have been suffering from. If you read the whole article thoroughly you will see that clearly.

    Lets hope OCZ can come up with a better controller in their next generation MLC SSDs. We really need the competition here to bring those prices down, the Intel drive is a tad too expensive atm imo.
    Reply
  • balotz - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    Random writes are exactly as fast as sequential writes on this Intel SSD (10,000 random 4k writes per second).

    The article you referenced uses data from an SSD which appears to suffer from issues relating to the JMicron controller.

    The Intel SSD is obviously not affected, this is clearly shown by the numbers in this very review!
    Reply

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