Be sure to read our latest SSD article: The SSD Relapse for an updated look at the SSD market.

The Prelude

I spent about three weeks working on my review of Intel’s X25-M SSD. Most of that was research and writing and re-writing to not only review the product but also to talk about the rest of the SSDs in the marketplace and their deficiencies. Truth be told, I spent more time working on SSDs that weren’t the X25-M than the Intel drive itself. The Intel drive just worked as it should, the rest of them didn’t.

If you read the article, you know I was pretty harsh on some of the SSDs out at the time and if you’ve ever used any of those SSDs, you know why. Needless to say, there was some definite fallout from that review. I’m used to negative manufacturer response after a GPU review, but I’m always a bit surprised when it happens in any other segment.

I took a day or two off after that review went live, I think it was a day. Afterwards, I immediately started working on a follow-up. There was a strange phenomenon a few people noticed, something I unfortunately picked up on after the review went live; if you filled the X25-M up and re-benchmarked it, it got slower. And I had no idea why.

A few weeks later, I had it figured out. But then Nehalem was right around the corner. I’d tackle it after that. But then a new batch of SSDs from OCZ and other vendors were almost ready. I told myself I’d do them all at the same time. Then CES happened.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

If you look at the SSD market today, you’d assume that it’s very different from what it was just six months ago when the X25-M launched. People are worried that the Intel drive has issues with degrading performance over time. Some vendors are now shipping “revised” JMicron drives with multiple controllers, supposedly fixing all of the problems I talked about last year.

I hate to break it to you guys. As different as the world may seem today, it’s all very much the same.

The Intel drive is still the best of the best. Yes, it, and other SSDs do get slower over time and later in this article I’ll explain why it happens and why it’s not as big of a deal as you’d think. The issues I complained about with the JMicron drives from last year are still alive and well today; they’re just somewhat occluded.

Delay after delay kept me from writing this article, but I believe it’s for the best. What went in to what you’re about to read is nearly six months of research, testing and plain old work with SSDs.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect. We’re about to see a new wave of SSDs hit the market and it’s time to separate the fact from the fiction, the benchmarks from reality and the men from the boys. The last time I wrote an article about SSDs I ruffled quite a few feathers. That’s never my aim, but we’ll see what comes of this one.

Bringing You Up to Speed: The History Lesson
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  • wicko - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Had a really good read here, thanks for the history and info, Anand. The only thing I don't understand is what the importance of random write is? What kind of task would benefit from high random write speeds (maybe copying many files at once)? I'm tempted to pick up a vertex drive but it depends on whether or not random write will be important for me. But the price... whoa, pretty damn expensive here in Canada.. http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?sku=36023&a...">http://www.ncix.com/products/index.php?...X120G&am... - $625 for a 120GB!!! I kind of want 2, for RAID0, I have a lot of games installed (steam folder alone is 100GB lol). Might even have to raid 3 of em.. but not for $1800 lol. Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    As mentioned in the article, the OS in general makes lots of random writes. Send an IM, it writes to a log. Load a website, it caches some images. Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    >I'm tempted to pick up a vertex drive but it depends on
    >whether or not random write will be important for me.
    Keep in mind, its random write is twice as fast as mechanical HDs.

    >But the price...
    It's only $110USD/32GB.
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Excellent article. One of the best I've seen. Reply
  • cliffa3 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    I can tell a ton of work went into that, and all the history/details are greatly appreciated. I've been checking every week or so throughout February to see if it had been posted, but well worth the wait. As great as SSDs are, I can understand you not wanting to be near one for a while (-: Thanks for all the hard work...especially from the consumer standpoint. And kudos to OCZ for stepping up the way they did...that's (unfortunately) unheard of. Glad to see your no-compromise / report the facts no matter what attitude winning for the consumer. I'm glad at least one manufacturer was able to see (eventually) your intent wasn't to create a commotion, but to just plainly say what needed to be said. Reply
  • sngbrdb - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    An extremely (as always) informative article; comprehensive and no angle missed. Good stuff!

    From an enthusiast's perspective, OCZ gained 10 levels of trust as a result of Ryan Peterson's response and handling of the Vertex' firmware. Ryan accepted the harsh reality expressed to him from an outside reviewer, risked marketability to rely on Anand's expertise (Anand is *absolutely* correct that 230MB/s is worthless if it comes with stuttering write latency), and resolved the problem in record time.

    This is the rare kind of responsiveness and attitude that translate directly into sales (I'm on my way to price the Vertex now).
    Reply
  • tshen83 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    BUT, still based on Windows Vista.

    I am going to drill this into reviewer's head -> NTFS isn't designed for SSDs.

    There are three problems for properly reviewing SSDs today:

    FileSystem, RAID controller, and SSD controller.

    Each of them can compensate for the SSDs, the question is which one SHOULD be responsible for optimizing random IOs.

    It is very clear that Intel's SSDs have implemented all the nitty gritty stuff like copy on write onto the SSD controller itself. So the OS or FileSystem shouldn't be responsible for performance degradation, however the same cannot be said for other SSDs.

    I am sure results would be difference if this were conducted on Solaris/OpenSolaris ZFS with Adaptec 5405(IOP348 based RAID card). Not to pump Solaris and ZFS, but it is the primary reason why IBM wants to buy SUN, because it is the only File System on the market that can properly operate SSDs and to do so without RAID controllers.

    If Anand really wants to stick to windows still, I think benchmarking on Windows 7 Beta would be slightly better option that Vista. Windows had made a lot of optimizations for rotational based hard disks that it actually makes SSD perform worse.

    The Vertex random write 4K IOPS benchmark doesn't look right at 2.6MB/sec, that is hardly 650 IOs. It should be much higher. It could be the ICH10R controller though.
    Reply
  • hyc - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    I'd expect IBM's JFS to be pretty efficient on an SSD as well. Anything that appends and avoids overwriting existing sectors will perform better here.

    Stepping back a bit, I still have a perfectly usable Dothan-based laptop with IDE. Any chance of getting an in-depth review on recent Transcend 128GB IDE SSDs? My new laptop is running fine with a G.Skill Titan 256GB SSD, but when I fire up the older laptop it's unbearable, even with that 7200rpm Hitachi 100GB drive inside.

    By the way, I paid under $2/GB for the 256GB G.Skill Titan; for the work I do with it on Linux it performs fine most of the time. (Just make sure to maximize use of the FS cache.) I don't see the value proposition for the OCZ Vertex or Summit.
    Reply
  • tshen83 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    The random write 4K benchmark isn't right for the Vertex and other SSDs because of the test procedure:

    "The write test was performed over an 8GB range on the drive, while the read test was performed across the whole drive."

    It partially disables any write optimization algorithms on the Vertex. Intel wasn't affected as much.

    Anand, your first article pumping X25-M literally screwed Samsung's SSD manufacturers big time: they lost hundreds of millions of dollars because of your blatant pumping. Yes the random write was a big problem, but so was testing it on a Windows OS with NTFS and integrated SATA controller like ICH9/10 with no ram cache and obviously lack of IO optimizations for SSDs.

    Please redo the review with a proper OS, ie Windows 7 beta or OpenSolaris.

    Reply
  • Proteusza - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Yeah, who in their right mind uses Windows and integrated SATA controllers? Oh wait, nearly everyone.

    Since its pretty obvious that you either work for Samsung or one of their partners, I think its laughable that you think this cost them hundreds of millions in sales. How big is the SSD market exactly, and how many potential buyers visit this site? Not enough to cause such an impact if you ask me.

    And the fact remains - had you guys done what OCZ did, and optimized for real world use even if it cost you e-peen in the way of benchmarks, you would have been fine. Its only because you thought you could cheat and swindle consumers that you guys got a bad rep from Anand. Run an honest business, and your customers will thank you. I know that, if I ever considered an SSD, I would either buy Intel or an OCZ Vertex, nothing else. You know why? because they do what they say on the tin. You complain that the X25-M got a glowing review? Make a product as good as it and then Anand will sing your praises, but dont be upset when he tells it like it is.
    Reply

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