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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  • tshen83 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Nearly everyone uses Windows and integrated SATA controllers. It still does not negate the fact that neither were optimized for SSD random IO patterns.

    No, I don't work for Samsung or its partners. It didn't cost them hundreds of millions in sales, but it did cost them hundreds of millions in inventory markdowns. Just look at the free falling of price of JMicron and original Samsung based SSDs in the past few months, and multiply by the inventory, that's the loss I was mentioning.

    I am not saying that Intel X25-M is a bad drive. It is good. but there is no reason to use crippled OS File Systems and crippled SATA controller to show off the X25-M's internal copy on write features. When windows 7 comes out of beta(soon), it will be the OS the majority of people will use, and I am just looking forward 6 months when SSD adoption rate will improve more. As to Solaris ZFS, you don't need it if you aren't mentally capable of understanding its elegance.(Most people won't and it is ok)
    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    If they had also tested with Solaris/ZFS and reported that the drives worked well there, but 99.x% of users can't take advantage of that, would you have been happier? They may work perfectly well in that scenario, but it is meaningless to most users. Working properly in Vista and OSX is currently a requirement for selling to general consumers. Windows 7 was not even available in beta at the time of the last test, I would expect they will test with it once it launches but for now with the OS/FS they are likely to use most of the available SSDs fail.

    Also, your economic analysis assumes they would have been able to sell all their inventory at the inflated prices they wanted to. Whether or not they received a negative review from sites like Anandtech, word would have gotten out from early adopters that they had problems. Also, they would have moved fewer units at those prices.
    Reply
  • tshen83 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    I could really careless if they did review SSD ZFS. I am using it right now and it kicks ass. Next Version of OSX will have ZFS so I guess Apple agrees that ZFS is the way to go here.

    Vista is one of the crappiest OS Microsoft put out in recent memory, maybe besides the Windows ME release. Just look at Vista adoption rates, and you will see why.

    You still don't understand my argument. My argument was that either File System, or RAID controller or SSD controller must implement copy on write.(basically if you have to erase a block to write to it, you are screwed) ZFS implements that in the file system. Adaptec 5 series or any Intel IOP RAID cards also help SSD performance greatly. If you don't use those two, then the SSD controller must implement it(X25-M is in this category.) You only need one of the three to properly handle SSDs to get greatly improved performance. Anandtech's review obviously skips file system optimization by picking Vista, and RAID controller optimization by picking ICH10R. What is left is the poor SSD controller that needs to virtualize the logical space, thus making the review entirely biased toward the X25-M for a good reason.

    It is sad that this is supposedly a review for the Vertex units that OCZ sent to Anand, but it seems to me that it just turned out to be another article defending the X25-M. I know X25-M is a good SSD, but it does not explain why Anand should cripple the OS, Controller so much to do it and then test the SSDs with strange IO queue depth of 3 and during the random write IOPS test, tried to cap the write space to a 8GB confinement. Those settings greatly exaggerate X25-M's internal implementation advantages.

    My economic analysis was based on SSD spot price published on dramexchange.com. Since the release of X25-M's review by Anandtech, all Samsung/JMicron MLC drives(Core, Core v2, Supertalent, etc) have been reduced to spot price of 2 dollars per GB to clear the inventories from the typical 4-5 dollars per GB that they used to command. The inventory markdown can be as high as 200+ dollar per drive and then you multiply that by the inventory that major vendors had, giving you hundreds of millions of dollars of aggregate damage sustained by the group of Samsung/JMicron partners.

    Reply
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    I understand your point, but I am not sure you understand the point I (and others) are trying to make. The SSD makers (should) know their market. As they seem to be marketing these SSDs to consumers, they should know that means the vast majority are on Vista or OSX, so the OS won't be optimized for SSDs. It also means the majority will be using integrated disk controllers. Therefore, in choosing a SSD controller which does not operate properly given those restrictions, they chose poorly. The testing here at Anandtech shows that regardless of how the drives might perform in ideal circumstances, they have noticeable issues when used the way most users would use them, which is really all those users care about. Reply
  • tshen83 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    In the history of computing, it was always the case that software compensated for the new hardware, not the other way around. When new hardware comes out that obsoletes current generation of software, new software will be written to take advantage of the new hardware.
    Think of it this way: you always write newer version of drivers to drive the newest GPUs. When is the last time newer GPUs work with older drivers?

    Nobody should be designing hardware now that makes DOS run fast right? All file systems (except ZFS and soon BTRFS) are obsolete now for SSDs, so we write new file systems. I am not sure Intel X25-M's approach of virtualizing flash to the likings of NTFS and EXT3 is the correct one. It is simply a bridge to get to the next solution.

    SSD makers right now are making a serious mistake pushing SSDs down consumer's throats during an economic crisis. They should have focused on the enterprise market, targeting DB servers. But in that space, Intel X25-E sits alone without competition. (Supertalent UltraDrive LEs should be within 25% of X25-E by my estimation)
    Reply
  • pmonti80 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Now I understand what you meant in the beginning. But still I don't agree with you, the system reviewed is the one 99% of SSD buyers will use(integrated mobo controller + NTFS). So, why optimize the benchmark to show the bad drives in a good light?

    About the Vertex, I don't understand what you are complaining about. After reading this article most people got the idea that Vertex is a good drive and at half Intel's price (I know, I searched on google for comments about this article).
    Reply
  • tshen83 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Professional people only look at two SSD benchmarks: random read IOPS at 4k and random write IOPS at 4k(Maybe 8K too for native DB pages).

    The Vertex random write IOPS at 4K size is abysmal. 2.4MB/sec at 4K means it only does 600ish random write IOPs. Something was wrong, and Vista/ICH10R didn't help. The 8GB/sec write boundary Anand imposed on the random write IOPS test is fishy. So is the artificial io queue depth = 3.

    The vertex random write IOPS should be better. The random read IOPS also should be slightly better. I have seen OCZ's own benchmark placing the Vertex very close to Intel X25-M at random read/ write IOPS tests.

    I personally think that if you use NTFS, just ignore the SSDs for now until Windows 7 RTM. You can't hurt waiting for SSD price to drop some more in the next 6 months. Same thing for Linux, although I would argue that Linux is even in a worse position for SSDs right now than windows 7. EXT3/EXT4/JFS/XFS/REISERFS all suck on SSDs.
    Reply
  • gss4w - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Anandtech should adopt the same comment system as Dailytech so that comments that don't make any sense can be rated down. Who would want to read a review of something using a beta OS, or worse an OS that is only used on servers? I think it would be interesting to see if Windows 7 beta offered any improvements, but that should not be the focus of the review. Reply
  • 7Enigma - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Here's another vote for the Dailytech comments section. The ability to rate up down, but more importantly HIDE the comments below a threshold would make for much more enjoyable reading. Reply
  • curtisfong - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Why should Anand test with Windows 7b or *nix? What is the majority OS?

    Kudos to Anand for testing real world performance on an OS that most use, and to Intel for tuning their drives for it. I'm happy the other manufacturers are losing business..maybe they will also tune their drives for real world performance and not synthetic benchmarks.

    To the poster above: do you work for OCZ or Samsung?
    Reply

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