The Blind SSD

Modern OSes talk to hard drives using logical block addressing. While hard drives are rotational media, logical block addressing organizes sectors on a hard drive linearly. When you go to save a file, Windows simply issues a write command for your file at a specific logical block address, say LBA 15 for example.

Your OS knows what LBAs are available and which ones are occupied. When you delete a file, the LBAs that point to that file on your hard disk are listed as available. The data you’ve deleted hasn’t actually been removed and it doesn’t get wiped until those sectors on the drive are actually overwritten.

Believe it or not, SSDs actually work the same way.

The flash translation layer in a SSD controller maps LBAs to pages on the drive. The table below explains what happens to the data on the SSD depending on the action in the OS:

Action in the OS Reaction on a HDD Reaction on an SSD
File Create Write to a Sector Write to a Page
File Overwrite Write new data to the same Sector Write to a Different Page if possible, else Erase Block and Write to the Same Page
File Delete Nothing Nothing

 

When you delete a file in your OS, there is no reaction from either a hard drive or SSD. It isn’t until you overwrite the sector (on a hard drive) or page (on a SSD) that you actually lose the data. File recovery programs use this property to their advantage and that’s how they help you recover deleted files.

The key distinction between HDDs and SSDs however is what happens when you overwrite a file. While a HDD can simply write the new data to the same sector, a SSD will allocate a new (or previously used) page for the overwritten data. The page that contains the now invalid data will simply be marked as invalid and at some point it’ll get erased.

Strength in Numbers, What makes SSDs Fast Understanding the SSD Performance Degradation Problem
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  • Luddite - Friday, March 20, 2009 - link

    So even with the TRIM command, when working with large files, say, in photoshop and saving multiple layers, the performance will stil drop off? Reply
  • proviewIT - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    I bought a Vertex 120GB and it is NOT working on my Nvidia chipsets motherboard. Anyone met the same problem? I tried intel chipsets motherboard and seems ok.
    I used HDtach to test the read/write performance 4 days ago, wow, it was amazing. 160MB/s in write. But today I felt it slower and used HDtach to test again, it downs to single digit MB per second. Can I recover it or I need to return it?
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Based on the results and price, I would say that the OCZ Vertex deserves a Editor's choice of some sort (Gold, Silver)... Reply
  • Tattered87 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    While I must admit I skipped over some of the more technical bits where SSD was explained in detail, I read the summaries and I've gotta admit this article was extremely helpful. I've been wanting to get one of these for a long time now but they've seemed too infantile in technological terms to put such a hefty investment in, until now.

    After reading about OCZ's response to you and how they've stepped it up and are willing to cut unimportant statistics in favor of lower latencies, I actually decided to purchase one myself. Figured I might as well show my appreciation to OCZ by grabbing up a 60GB SSD, not to mention it looks like it's by far the best purchase I can make SSD-wise for $200.

    Thanks for the awesome article, was a fun read, that's for sure.
    Reply
  • bsoft16384 - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Anand, I don't want to sound too negative in my comments. While I wouldn't call them unusable, there's no doubt that the random write performance of the JMicron SSDs sucks. I'm glad that you're actually running random I/O tests when so many other websites just run HDTune and call it a day.

    That X25-M for $340 is looking mighty tempting, though.
    Reply
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Hi,

    first: great article, thanks to Anand and OCZ!

    Something crossed my mind when I saw the firmware-based trade-off between random writes and sequential transfer rates: couldn't that be adjusted dynamically to get the best of both worlds? Default to the current behaviour but switch into something resembling te old one when extensive sequential transfers are detected?

    Of course this neccesiates that the processor would be able to handle additional load and that the firmware changes don't involve permanent changes in the organization of the data.

    Maybe the OCZ-Team already thought about this and maybe nobody's going to read this post, buried deep within the comments..

    MrS
    Reply
  • Per Hansson - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Great work on the review Anand
    I really enjoyed reading it and learning from it
    Will there be any tests of the old timers like Mtron etc?
    Reply
  • tomoyo - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    That was kind of strange to me too. But I assume Anand really means the desktop market, not the server storage/business market. Since it's highly doubtful that the general consumer will spend many times as much money for 15k SAS drives. Reply
  • Gary Key - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    The intent was based it being the fastest for a consumer based desktop drive, the text has been updated to reflect that fact. Reply
  • tomoyo - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    I've always been someone who wants real clarify and truth to the information on the internet. That's a problem because probably 90% of things are not. But Anand is one man I feel a lot of trust for because of great and complete articles such as this. This is truly the first time that I feel like I really understand what goes into ssd performance and why it can be good or bad. Thank you so much for being the most inciteful voice in the hardware community. And keep fighting those damn manufacturers who are scared of the facts getting in the way of their 200MB/s marketing bs. Reply

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