Game Load Performance

I looked at three games for load time performance and I picked these titles because they run the whole spectrum of how well an SSD will work in a gaming machine. First up is Spore.

Here I'm timing how long it took to load the next stage of evolution in the game, my character just grew legs and is about to walk on land for the first time:

Spore Level Load Time 

You'll see that the results are pretty much the same on all of these drives, we're reading from the disk but we're bound elsewhere in the system - an SSD won't do anything for you here and there are many games where you won't see improvements in load times.

Next up, Oblivion - I'm simply loading a savegame:

Oblivion Level Load Time

Compared to notebook drives, the SSDs do extremely well. Against the 3.5" competitors, the margins are smaller but there - you shave a couple of seconds off of the VelociRaptor's time, more off of the 1TB WD drive (or any other 5400RPM drive). For some reason these sorts of performance gains are far less noticeable in real world usage than the improved application launch times. Perhaps it's because when you're playing a game it's all you've got going on and you're more patient, whereas when launching a web browser or an application you're trying to complete a task where time is more valuable. I'll refrain from any more psychological analysis and stick to the drives though.

Finally we get to Crysis, and this is the other end of the spectrum because Crysis is a game that is very demanding on the I/O subsystem. We've got three results here: 1) How long it took to launch the game and load the benchmark level, 2) Minimum FPS, 3) Average FPS. I'm only reporting the minimum and average frame rate of the first run, because in that run of the benchmark the textures and level data are still being streamed off the disk and it actually impacts both minimum and average frame rate.

Crysis Game/Level Load Time

The Intel X25-M manages to load the game and benchmark level in around 80% of the time of the VelociRaptor and about 90% of the time of the Samsung SLC SSDs. Compared to notebook drives the performance advantage is staggering. Game load and level load performance can be improved and Crysis is a good example of that.

The minimum frame rate graph is very interesting because it shows the impact loading textures from a slow disk can have on minimum frame rates in a game. The Crysis test is a bit exaggerated since it's streaming data as fast as possible, which you don't always do in a game, but if you've ever felt your game grind to a halt and hear your disk thrash this is a good test of that.

Crysis GPU Bench (Min FPS)

The X25-M has a 33% advantage here over the VelociRaptor, and I won't even mention the utter destruction of conventional 2.5" HDDs. Compared to other SSDs, the Samsung SLCs come the closest but Intel still manages a 25% advantage. The JMicron based MLC drives suffer terribly here, Intel's MLC drive is 63% faster. I will also point out that for a couple of runs the JMicron MLC drives managed a minimum frame rate of 3 fps, several of those lovely pauses happened in the middle of the benchmark which really changed things. The phenomenon was random enough that I reported the more common frame rate but it's worth pointing out that the pausing issue can happen while gaming, which would be bad if you're playing any sort of multiplayer game.

Average frame rate is obviously affected, but you can see that the numbers are much closer indicating that the minimum frame rates are at least not sustained for long periods of time.

Crysis GPU Bench (Avg FPS)

What can we conclude here? SSDs can be good for gaming, but they aren't guaranteed to offer more performance than a good HDD. And where SSDs do offer an impact on gaming performance, Intel's X25-M continues to dominate the charts.

Application Loading Performance The Killer App: Multitasking Performance
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  • aeternitas - Thursday, September 11, 2008 - link

    Converting all your DVDs to divx is a silly idea. Why would you want to lose dynamic range and overall quality (no matter the settings) for a smaller movie size when 1TB costs 130$?

    SSD = Preformance (when done right)
    HHD = Storage.
    Reply
  • johncl - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    Noise isnt a big problem on a 3.5" in a media pc as the other poster states. But heat can be a problem, especially if you plan on passively cool everything else in the computer. An SSD will solve both problems, but only if the SSD is the only disk in the system. From what I understand you want to have both in yours which makes sense since movies/music occupy a lot of space. In that case you will not experience any improved performance since the media would have to be read off the mechanical drive anyway.

    Your best bet would be to build yourself a small media server and put all noisy hot mechanical disks in that and use small SSDs on your media pc (and indeed any other pc). That way you get the best of both worlds, fast response on application startup/OS boot, silent and no heat - as well as a library of media. You would probably have to use a media frontend that caches information about all media on your server though so it doesnt have to wait on server harddisk spinup etc for every time you browse your media. Perhaps Vista Media Center already does this?
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Thursday, September 11, 2008 - link

    An SSD will not "solve" a heat problem. The hard drive adds only a small % of heat to a system and being lower heat density it has one of the less difficult requirements for cooling.


    Speed of the HTPC shouldn't be an issue, unlike a highly mixed use desktop scenario all one needs is to use stable apps without memory leaks then they can hibernate to get rid of the most significant boot-time waiting. Running the HTPC itself the OS performance difference would be trivial and the bitrate for the videos is easily exceeding by either storage type or an uncongested LAN.
    Reply
  • piroroadkill - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    To be honest most decent HDDs don't make significant noise anyway, even further quelled by grommets or suspending the drive.

    Also, the reads will occur on the drive you're reading the movie from - so if you plan to use an external HDD as the source, this will make no difference whatsoever.
    Reply
  • dickeywang - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    Imaging you have a 80GB SSD, with 75GB been already occupied by some existing data (OS, installed software, etc), so you only have 10GB space left, now lets say you write and then erase 100GB/day on this SSD, shouldn't the 100GB/day data all be written on the 5GB space? So each cell would be written 100GB/5GB=20cycle/day, so you will reach the 10000cycle/cell limit within less than 18months.
    Can someone tell me if the analysis above is correct? I guess when they say "100GB/day for 5 years", they should really take into account how much storage space that is un-occupied on the SSD, right?
    Reply
  • johncl - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    A good wear leveling algorithm can move about "static" blocks so that their cells are also available for wear. I do not know if the current implementations use this though. Anyone know this? Reply
  • Lux88 - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    I remember reading a number of SSD reviews, but it's first time I read about the pauses. Indeed, quick search revealed 5 articles, starting from May 2007, but the conclusions only mentioned a high price and a small capacity as drawbacks. Nothing about freezing nor pauses. Some of these 5 probably were SCL-drives, some MLC.

    It's funny how a simple multitasking test can reveal an Achille's heel of large group of products, just when a product appears that doesn't suffer from this particular drawback.

    Overall good article and good info. So good that all the previous articles on the matter of SSDs on this site seem bad in comparison. Thanks for the info anyway, better late than never ;).
    Reply
  • eva2000 - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    If the OCZ Core controller does indeed have 16KB on chip cache for read/writes maybe that's the problem as OCZ Core pdf states for their SSD

    "each page contains 4 Kbytes of data, however, because of the parallelism at the back end of the controller, every access includes simultaneous opening of 16 pages for a total accessible data contingent of 64 Kbytes"

    ????
    Reply
  • araczynski - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    looks quite promising. maybe within about 2 years they'll get the bugs worked out, a more realistic price, and an extended life span, and i'll replace my regular drives. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Tuesday, September 9, 2008 - link

    "No one really paid much attention to Intel getting into the SSD (Solid State Disk) business. We all heard the announcements, we heard the claims of amazing performance, but I didn't really believe it. After all, it was just a matter of hooking up a bunch of flash chips to a controller and putting them in a drive enclosure, right? "

    You mean you did not pay attention? I know I did, because Intel has always been serious with things of this nature. That and they are partnered with Crucial(Micron) right ?. . . Now if this was some attempt at sarcasm, or a joke . . .

    Seriously, and I mean VERY seriously, I was excited when Anandtech 'reported' that Intel/Micron were going to get into the SSD market. After all affordable SSDs are very desirable, never mind affordable/very good performing SSDs. That, and I knew if Intel got into the market, that we would not have these half-fast implementations that we're seeing now from these so called 'SSD manufactures'. Well, even Intel is not impervious to screw ups, but they usually learn by their mistakes quickly, and correct them. Micron (most notably Crucial) from my experience does not like to be anything but the best in what they do, so to me this seemed like a perfect team, in a perfect market. Does this mean I think Micron is the best ? Not necessarily. Lets me just say that after years of dealing with Crucial, I have a very high opinion of Crucial/Micron.

    "What can we conclude here? SSDs can be good for gaming, but they aren't guaranteed to offer more performance than a good HDD; and Intel's X25-M continues to dominate the charts."

    Are we reading the same charts ? These words coming from the mouth of someone who sometimes mentions even the most minuscule performance difference as being a 'clear winner' ? Regardless, I think it *is* clear to anyone willing to pay attention to the charts that the Intel SSD "dominates". Now whether the cost of admission is worth this performance gain is another story altogether. I was slightly surprised to see a performance gain in FPS just by changing HDDS, and to be honest I will remain skeptical. I suppose that some data that *could* effect FPS performance could be pulled down while the main game loop is running.

    Either way, this is a good article, and there was more than enough information here for me(a technology junky). Now lets hope that Intel lowers the cost of these drives to a more reasonable price(sooner rather than later). The current price arrangement kind of reminds me of CD burner prices years ago.
    Reply

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