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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  • Glenn - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    tshen83 "A very thorough review by tshen83, an hour ago
    BUT, still based on Windows Vista.
    "

    As long as these drives are marketed toward said OS, why would you not use it? Most of us wouldn't recognize Solaris if we saw it! And I believe you seriously overestimate yourself if your gonna drill anything into Anands head! You might need your own site, huh?

    Great Job Anand! Don't forget to remind these CEO's that they also need to provide any software needed to configure and optimize these drives to work properly. ie go to OCZ Forums and try to figure out how to align, optimize and keep your drive running like it's supposed to, in less than 4 hours of reading! It would be nice if these companies would do their own beta testing and not rely on early adopters to do it for them!
    Reply
  • Roland00 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    It was a joy to read all 31 pages Reply
  • MagicPants - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Anand it would be really helpful to have a list of SSD companies blacklisting you so I know which ones to avoid. In general it would be nice to know who doesn't provide review samples to reputable sites. Reply
  • Jamor - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    The best tech article I've ever read, and I've read a few. Reply
  • haze4peace - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Wow, excellent article and so much useful information in an easy to understand way. I have just recently been paying attention to SSDs and thanks to this article I am armed with the information to make the correct choice for my needs. Thanks AnandTech, its the deep and honest articles like these that keep me coming back for more. Reply
  • Alseki - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    I just registered then simply to say, great article. Really informative and enjoyable to read. Reply
  • alexsch8 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Anand,

    Thank you for this article, very informative.

    Looking at the example you are giving with your self-manufactured SSD drive: If I save the DOC I use up a page. Based on what you are saying, if I make a change to that DOC, it would then be saved in the next page instead of overwriting the existing page? If that is true, then the File Allocation system (FAT or MFT) itself would contribute quite a bit to the 'filling up of pages' phenomena. Could you elaborate if the proposed file system for SSD addresses this?
    Reply
  • Ytterbium - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Fantastic article, shame that the vendors blacklisted you for telling the truth and OCZ rock for working so hard to address issues.

    I'll be ordering my Intel SSD soon, I'll defintly consider the Summit when it comes out for my encoding rig as there sequental writes matter to me.
    Reply
  • mindless1 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Great even, but I've have to disagree with the significance of the passage that suggested the Indilinx controller makes data loss as bad on those SSD as on a conventional hard drive.

    The primary cause of data loss is mechanical or component failure, not power loss. If we want to consider power loss, it's not just the drive which is prone to lose data, the entire system memory suffers far more data loss than that.

    Further, a sufficiently sized supercapacitor should keep the drive operating for a period of time beyond when the rest of the system would be operational, it could be sufficient for the controller to finish writing to flash all received data (or just use an UPS, that's what they're for?).

    Second, I can't believe that OCZ only tests designs with HDTach and Atto, I think it more likely they knew of the problem but didn't expect anyone to find it so quickly, and felt the higher sequential speeds made it more marketable. This makes me feel that manufacturers, then online sellers should differentiate their drives with a standardized random read/write score.

    What would be really nice is if the Indilinx based SSDs had an application available, similar to a HDD acoustic management bit changing app, that lets the owner set their own preference for IO versus sequential read performance.
    Reply
  • gomakeit - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    This is by far the BEST article on SSD I've ever read! Great job anand and yes I read every single word of it! Reply

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