Free Space to the Rescue

There’s not much we can do about the scenario I just described; you can’t erase individual pages, that’s the reality of NAND-flash. There are some things we can do to make it better though.

The most frequently used approach is to under provision the drive. Let’s say we only shipped our drive with 20KB of space to the end user, but we actually had 24KB of flash on the drive. The remaining 4KB could be used by our controller; how, you say?

In the scenario from the last page we had to write 12KB of data to our drive, but we only had 8KB in free pages and a 4KB invalid page. In order to write the 12KB we had to perform a read-modify-write which took over twice as long as a 12KB write should take.

If we had an extra 4KB of space our 12KB write from earlier could’ve proceeded without a problem. Take a look at how it would’ve worked:

We’d write 8KB to the user-facing flash, and then the remaining 4KB would get written to the overflow flash. Our write speed would still be 12KB/s and everything would be right in the world.

Now if we deleted and tried to write 4KB of data however, we’d run into the same problem again. We’re simply delaying the inevitable by shipping our drive with an extra 4KB of space.

The more spare-area we ship with, the longer our performance will remain at its peak level. But again, you have to pay the piper at some point.

Intel ships its X25-M with 7.5 - 8% more area than is actually reported to the OS. The more expensive enterprise version ships with the same amount of flash, but even more spare area. Random writes all over the drive are more likely in a server environment so Intel keeps more of the flash on the X25-E as spare area. You’re able to do this yourself if you own an X25-M; simply perform a secure erase and immediately partition the drive smaller than its actual capacity. The controller will use the unpartitioned space as spare area.

Understanding the SSD Performance Degradation Problem The Trim Command: Coming Soon to a Drive Near You
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  • siberx - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    This is, very likely, the best article I have ever read, period. Online, in magazines, about any subject... this was an absolutely fantastic read. Suddenly, all smoke surrounding SSDs has cleared and the truth shines through in editorial brilliance. It's great to see that at least some computer news sites out there can still cut through the crap and get to the heart of the issue. My already high opinion of AnandTech has risen even further.

    Thank you for taking the immense time it must have taken to compile and assemble all this information - this article is now a must-read for *anybody* considering purchasing an SSD, and it's just about all the background you could need in one place.

    In addition to all the extremely useful general SSD information contained within, the detailing of the issues with the JMicron controllers as well as OCZ's efforts to address the concerns to produce the best product possible (despite the reduced marketability to the uninformed) is reassuring and comforting in a world where tech companies seem more concerned with how much they can deceive their customers instead of producing quality products.

    In short, the article is a win on all fronts, thank you greatly for posting it. When I purchase my first SSD (which I'm considering doing reasonably soon) this article, its information and suggestions, and OCZs actions to resolve the issues with its drives will definitely be at the forefront of my mind.
    Reply
  • jkua - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    I have to say, I really appreciate the effort and throughness with which you have covered the state of the SSD market today. As an engineer and scientist, I applaud your methods in tracking down and reporting the major issues with SSDs. As a consumer, I really appreciate the timeliness of this article as I was just thinking of putting an SSD in a netbook for a robotics application where mechanical drives are not ideal.

    Cheers!
    Reply
  • jkua - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    That said, one thing I would have like to have seen is some numbers on power consumption for these drives compared to average mechanical desktop and laptop drives. Reply
  • aamsel - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Anyone have a link to the Intel HDD ERASE program that Anand referred to? Reply
  • HolyFire - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/download.html">http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/download.html (includes HDD erase 3.1)

    http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/SecureErase.sht...">http://cmrr.ucsd.edu/people/Hughes/SecureErase.sht... (version 4.0)
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    AWESOME ARTICLE.

    The huge difference in read/write flash performance looks a lot like this article: http://www.anandtech.com/memory/showdoc.aspx?i=257...">http://www.anandtech.com/memory/showdoc.aspx?i=257...
    Reply
  • wind glider - Thursday, March 19, 2009 - link

    Thanks for the orgasmic review. Reply
  • 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

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