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


View All Comments

  • 7Enigma - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    But that would make sense....and we know marketing rarely does. Reply
  • paulinus - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    That art is great. Finally someone done ssd test's right, and said loud what we, customers, can get for that hefty pricetags.
    I've supposed that only choices are intel and new ocz's. Now I know, and big kudos for that.
    Just need a bit more $$ for x25-m, it'll be ideal for heavy workstation use, and biggest vertex'll replace wd black in my aging 6910p :)
  • punjabiplaya - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Great info. I'm looking to get an SSD but was put off by all these setbacks. Why should I put away my HDDS and get something a million times more expensive that stutters?
    This article is why I visit AT first.
  • Hellfire26 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Anand, when you filled up the drives to simulate a full drive, did you also write to the extended area that is reserved? If you didn't, wouldn't the Intel SLC drive (as an example) not show as much of a performance drop, versus the MLC drive? As you stated, Intel has reserved more flash memory on the SLC drive, above the stated SSD capacity.

    I also agree with GourdFreeMan, that the physical block size needs to be reduced. Due to the constant erasing of blocks, the Trim command is going to reduce the life of the drive. Of course, drive makers could increase the size of the cache and delay using the Trim command until the number of blocks to be erased equals the cache available. This would more efficiently rearrange the valid data still present in the blocks that are being erased (less writes). Microsoft would have to design the Trim command so it would know how much cache was available on the drive, and drive makers would have to specifically reserve a portion of their cache for use by the Trim command.

    I also like Basilisk's comment about increasing the cluster size, although if you increase it too big, you are likely to be wasting space and increasing overhead. Surely, even if MS only doubles the cluster size for NTFS partitions to 8KB's, write cycles to SSD's would be reduced. Also, There is the difference between 32bit and 64bit operating systems to consider. However, I don't have the knowledge to say whether Microsoft can make these changes without running into serious problems with other aspects of the operating system.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    I only wrote to the LBAs reported to the OS. So on the 80GB Intel drive that's from 0 - 74.5GB.

    I didn't test the X25-E as extensively as the rest of the drives so I didn't look at performance degradation as closely just because I was running out of time and the X25-E is sooo much more expensive. I may do a standalone look at it in the near future.

    Take care,
  • gss4w - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    Has anyone at Anandtech talked to Microsoft about when the "Trim" command will be supported in Windows 7. Also it would be great if you could include some numbers from Windows 7 beta when you do a follow-up.

    One reason I ask is that I searched for "Windows 7 ssd trim" and I saw a presentation from WinHEC that made it sound like support for the trim command would be a requirement for SSD drives to meet the Windows 7 logo requirements. I would think if this were the case then Windows 7 would have support for trim. However, this article made it sound like support for Trim might not be included when Windows 7 is initially released, but would be added later.

  • ryedizzel - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    I think it is obvious that Windows 7 will support TRIM. The bigger question this article points out is whether or not the current SSDs will be upgradeable via firmware- which is more important for consumers wanting to buy one now. Reply
  • Martimus - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    It took me an hour to read the whole thing, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of the time I spent testing circuitry and doing root cause analysis. Reply
  • alpha754293 - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    I think that it would be interesting if you were to be able to test the drives for the "desktop/laptop/consumer" front by writing a 8 GiB file using 4 kiB block sizes, etc. for the desktop pattern and also to test the drive then with a larger sizes and larger block size for the server/workstation pattern as well.

    You present some very very good arguments and points, and I found your article to be thoroughly researched and well put.

    So I do have to commend you on that. You did an excellent job. It is thoroughly enjoyable to read.

    I'm currently looking at a 4x 256 GB Samsung MLC on Solaris 10/ZFS for apps/OS (for PXE boot), and this does a lot of the testing; but I would be interested to see how it would handle more server-type workloads.
  • korbendallas - Wednesday, March 18, 2009 - link

    If The implementation of the Trim command is as you described here, it would actually kind of suck.

    "The third step was deleting the original 4KB text file. Since our drive now supports TRIM, when this deletion request comes down the drive will actually read the entire block, remove the first LBA and write the new block back to the flash:"

    First of all, it would create a new phenomenon called Erase Amplification. This would negatively impact the lifetime of a drive.

    Secondly, you now have worse delete performance.

    Basically, an SSD 4kB block can be in 3 different states: erased, data, garbage. A block enters the garbage state when a block is "overwritten" or the Trim command marks the contents as invalid.

    The way i would imagine it working, marking block content as invalid is all the Trim command does.

    Instead the drive will spend idle time finding the 512kB pages with the most garbage blocks. Once such a page is found, all the data blocks from that page would be copied to another page, and the page would be erased. Doing it in this way maximizes the number of garbage blocks being converted to erased.

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