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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  • bharatwaja - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    This is by far the best article I have ever read about SSDs... Anand you ROCK!!! and EVERYONE at ANANDTECH ROCKS!....

    Great article... Thank you........ you just saved me from spending $99 on a pretty much useless SSD.
    [Takes a printout of Anand to worship]
    Reply
  • hyperdoggy - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    I noticed that ocz have released core v2 series of their ssd. It seems to come in a different size configurations than its 1st gen product, can you confirm if this is based on the same controller as its 1st gen product Anand?

    Also, i would love to see some ssd raid action since ssd does not lose its data when the array fails. I'm more interested to see if there is other limiting factor when you raid with such fast ssds, such as the motherboard chipset itself. If raiding two of those cheap $99 core 32gig ssd helps to reduce the write bug, it might be worthwhile buy, which was something i was thinking of doing till i read the review here.

    And might i say, great review indeed Aanad.
    Reply
  • bytekeeper - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    Hi there. There is a discussion in the OCZ support forum about
    the test results published in this article and the OCZ support
    staff is thinking that you've got a faulty drive. Check here:

    http://www.ocztechnologyforum.com/forum/showthread...">http://www.ocztechnologyforum.com/forum/showthread...

    Is there any chance you can re run the test with another
    Core drive or Supertalent/Patriot JMicron JMF602 victims?

    Thanks.
    Reply
  • Gary Key - Wednesday, September 10, 2008 - link

    I posted results with a newly arrived Core drive straight off the shelf from Newegg in that thread. No changes to our initial results, although I will try a different controller later this week. Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    In total I have four drives based on the JMF602 controller: one from OCZ, SuperTalent, Patriot and Silicon Power.

    Of the drives, the OCZ Core is the oldest. If you look at page 9 in the article I've got a table that has the SuperTalent, Silicon Power and OCZ Core drives in it. The Silicon Power and SuperTalent drive both perform worse than the OCZ.

    The situation gets more interesting if you look at the Iometer results for the drives, which I didn't publish in great depth but I did run internally. Average write latency goes down tremendously on the SuperTalent drive, but max latency more than doubled. I suspect that the SuperTalent drive may use a newer version of the JMF602, but the result is a reduction in real world performance - at least in the test cases I ran.

    The inability to complete an OS install also applies to other drives. As I mentioned in the article I had the same problem with the SuperTalent MLC drive in OS X.

    While there are undoubtedly ways of attempting to lessen the impact of the JMF602's poor design, I believe only a new controller will actually completely address these problems.

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • yottabit - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    This is why I love your website. Lots of your articles are so in-depth they make me think I'm reading some grad school journal that I should be paying money for.

    I actually first saw the Intel SSD article on TomsHardware, but didn't even bother to read it because I imagined it was going to say something like "OMG INTEL SSD ROX LOLZ SO MUCH FASTER THAN OTHER HDS"

    I come here expecting to get a detailed analaysis, and that's always what you provide! Thank you so much.

    My only gripe is you seem to have skipped a very basic test- dragging and dropping large files! You combine extracting files with other tests but you don't have any basic drag + drop tests I saw.

    This rocks for the computer industry though. I personally couldn't believe so many people were buying the existing SSDs. This new Intel stuff looks like something that would actually make an improvement without compromises. I could certainly live with the capacity, I'm still running a 36GB raptor for my boot drive. Hah.


    Reply
  • Dariusbird - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    I'm proud to be working for the company producing these IC's. Nice work on the article. Reply
  • therealnickdanger - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    It would be very nice to see where on all these charts the best 5400RPM 2.5" SATA drive would sit. Most laptop users have 5400RPM drives, so this would be MOST EXCELLENT to see the benefits of all these drives in comparison - especially the now "crappy" JM-based MLC drives. Reply
  • johncl - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    I must congratulate Intel for adressing the issues with MLC and creating a brilliant product. Also thanks to the author of this article to point to the problem of MLC that seems to go by unnoticed by so many benchmark review sites.

    The initial price from intel is suggested retail price so I guess in a short while this should come down a bit, as its a bit over the top. As the author says, at around $400 this is a no-brainer for an enthusiast considering the improvement you will experience on your system. This is for me the most important advancement in computer technology in the last years and we are just starting to see the advantages of it. Besides the person sitting behind the keyboard, the slowest thing in your computer is the harddisk. You can swap CPUs and GPUs to your hearts desire, but eventually, percieved performance of a computer often boils down to how fast you get data in and out of system memory. SSDs will fix this technological void we have had for all these years with mechanical disks.

    In general its about time we get rid of all mechanical parts in a computer, including fans. We need good cooling solutions built into our systems that rely on other means than rotating motors. If it means to stop the CPU speed race, then by all means do that, lets try to get todays performance but passively cooled. The SSD will walk hand in hand with this new trend in computing so we can get truly silent workstations. Amen to SSDs!
    Reply
  • Gastrian - Tuesday, September 09, 2008 - link

    I'm looking into creating a small multimedia PC where by I'll be archiving all my DVDs to DivX and running them through the PC instead of a DVD Player.

    Would I see any benefits in performance and acoustics (I don't want any noise from the PC interfering with my viewing) by having the OS on the Intel MLC SSD while storing the movies on a mechanical HDD?

    Essentially I want to be able to sit down and browse my movies then pick one and watch it without having to worry about loading/transfer times and noise levels.
    Reply

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