Samsung SM951 (512GB) PCIe SSD Reviewby Kristian Vättö on February 24, 2015 8:00 AM EST
AnandTech 2015 Client SSD Suite
The core of our SSD test suite has remained unchanged for nearly four years now. While we have added new benchmarks, such as performance consistency and Storage Bench 2013, in response to the evolution of the SSD industry, we haven't done a major overhaul to take our testing to the next level. That all changes today with the introduction of our 2015 Client SSD Suite.
Just to be clear, there weren't any flaws in the way we did testing in the past -- there were simply some shortcoming that I've been wanting to fix for a while now, but like any big upgrade it's not done overnight. There are four key areas where I focused in the 2015 Suite and these are modernizing our testbed, depth of information, readability and power consumption.
Our old testbed was old, really old. We were using a Sandy Bridge based system with Intel Rapid Storage Technology 10.2 drivers from 2011, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out that our system was desperately in need of a refresh. The 2015 testbed is the latest of the latest with an Intel Haswell CPU and ASUS Z97 motherboard. For the operating system, we have upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1 with native NVMe driver, which ensures that our setup is fully prepared for the wave of PCIe NVMe SSDs arriving in the second half of 2015. We are also using the latest Intel Rapid Storage Technology drivers now, which should provide a healthy boost over the old ones we were using before. I've included the full specs of the new system below.
|AnandTech 2015 SSD Test System|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-4770K running at 3.5GHz (Turbo & EIST enabled, C-states disabled)|
|Motherboard||ASUS Z97 Deluxe (BIOS 2205)|
|Chipset Drivers||Intel 10.0.24+ Intel RST 220.127.116.110|
|Memory||Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 2x8GB (9-10-9-27 2T)|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 4600|
|Desktop Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|OS||Windows 8.1 x64|
- Thanks to Intel for the Core i7-4770K CPU
- Thanks to ASUS for the Z97 Deluxe motherboard
- Thanks to Corsair for the Vengeance 16GB DDR3-1866 DRAM kit, RM750 power supply, Hydro H60 CPU cooler and Carbide 330R case
The second improvement we have made is regarding the depth of information. Every now and then I found myself in a situation where I couldn't explain why one drive was faster than the other in our Storage Bench tests, so the 2015 Suite includes additional Iometer tests at various queue depths to help us understand the drive and its performance better. I'm also reporting more data from the Storage Bench traces to better characterize the drive and providing new metrics that I think are more relevant to client usage than some of the metrics we have used in the past. The goal of the 2015 Suite is to leave no stone unturned when it comes to explaining performance and I'm confident that the new Suite does an excellent job at that.
However, the increase in depth of information creates a readability problem. I know some of you prefer to have easy and quick to read graphs, but it's hard to present a mountain of data in a format that's convenient to read. To give you the best of both worlds, I'm providing both the easy and quick to read graphs as well as the full data for those who want to dig in a bit deeper. That way the benchmarks will remain comfortable to skim through in case you don't have a lot of time on your hands, but alternatively you will get access to far more data than in the past.
Last but not least, I'm taking power testing to a whole new level in our 2015 Suite. In the past, power consumption was merely a few graphs near to the end of the article and to be honest the tests we ran didn't give the full scope of the drive's power behavior. In our 2015 Suite, power is just as important as performance is because I'm practically testing and reporting power consumption in every benchmark (though for now this is limited to SATA drives). In the end, the majority of SSDs are employed in laptops and power consumption can actually be far more critical than performance, so making power consumption testing a first class citizen makes perfect sense.
A Word About Storage Benches and Real World Tests
While I'm introducing numerous new benchmarks and performance metrics, our Storage Bench traces have remained unchanged. The truth is that workloads rarely undergo a dramatic change, so I had no reason to create a bunch of new traces that would ultimately be more or less the same that we have already used for years. That's why I also dropped the year nomenclature from the Storage Benches because a trace from 2011 is still perfectly relevant today and keeping the year might have given some readers a picture that our testing is outdated. Basically, the three traces are now called The Destroyer, Heavy and Light with the first one being our old 2013 Storage Bench and the two latter ones being part of our 2011 Storage Bench.
I know some of you have criticized our benchmarks due to the lack of real world application tests, but the unfortunate truth is that it's close to impossible to build a reliable test suite that can be executed in real time. Especially if you want to test something else than just boot and application launch times, there is simply too many tasks in the background that cannot be properly controlled to guarantee valid results. I think it has become common knowledge that any modern SSD is good enough for an average user and that the differences in basic web-centric workloads are negligible, so measuring the time it takes to launch Chrome isn't an exciting test to be honest.
In late 2013, I spent a tremendous amount of time trying to build a real world test suite with a heavier workload, but I kept hitting the same obstacle over and over again: multitasking. One of the most basic principles of benchmarking is reproducibility, meaning that the same test can be run over and over again without significant unexplainable fluctuation in the results. The issue I faced with multitasking was that once I started adding background operations, such as VMs, large downloads and backups like a heavier user would have in the background, my results were no longer explainable as I had lost the control of what was accessing the drive. The swings were significant enough that the results wouldn't hold any ground, which is why you never saw any fruit of my endeavors.
As a result, I decided to drop off real world testing (at least for now) and go back to traces, which we have been using for years and know that they are reliable, although not a perfect way to measure performance. Unfortunately there is still no TRIM support in the playback and to speed up the trace playback we've cut the idle times to a maximum of 25 milliseconds. Despite the limitations, I do believe that traces are the best to measure meaningful real world performance because the IO trace is still straight from a real world workload, which cannot be properly replicated with any synthetic benchmark tool (like Iometer).
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DanNeely - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - link"In any case, I strongly recommend having a decent amount of airflow inside the case. My system only has two case fans (one front and one rear) and I run it with the side panels off for faster accessibility, so mine isn't an ideal setup for maximum airflow."
With the space between a pair of PCIe x16 slots appearing to have become the most popular spot to put M2 slots I worry that thermal throttling might end up being worse for a lot of end user systems than on your testbench because it'll be getting broiled by GPUs. OTOH even with a GPU looming overhead, it should be possible to slap an aftermarket heatsink on using thermal tape. My parts box has a few I think would work that I've salvaged from random hardware (single wide GPUs???) over the years; if you've got anything similar lying around I'd be curious if it'd be able to fix the throttling problem.
Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkI have a couple Plextor M6e Black Edition drives, which are basically M.2 adapters with an M.2 SSD and a quite massive heatsink. I currently have my hands full because of upcoming NDAs, but I can certainly try to test the SM951 with a heatsink and the case fully assembled before it starts to ship.
DanNeely - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkOk, I'd definitely be interested in seeing an update when you've got the time. Thanks.
Railgun - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkWhile I can see it's a case of something is better than nothing, given the mounting options of an M.2 drive, a couple of chips will not get any direct cooling benefit. In fact, they're sitting in a space where virtually zero airflow will be happening.
The Plextor solution. and any like it is all well and good, but for those that utilize a native M.2 port on any given mobo, they're kind of out of luck. As it turns out, I also have a GPU blocking just above mine for any decent sized passive cooling; 8cm at best. Maybe that's enough, but the two chips on the other side have the potential to simply cook.
DanNeely - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkDepends if it's the flash chips or the ram/controller that're overheating. I think the latter two are on top and heat sinkable.
jhoff80 - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkIt'd be even worse too for many of the mini-ITX boards that are putting the M.2 slot underneath the board.
I mean, something like M.2 is ideal for these smaller cases where cabling can become an issue, so having the slot on the bottom of the board combined with a drive needing airflow sounds like grounds for a disaster.
extide - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkYeah I bet it's the controller that is being throttled, because IT is overheating, not the actual NAND chips.
ZeDestructor - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkI second this motion. Prefereably as a seperate article so I don't miss it (I only get to AT via RSS nowadays)
rpg1966 - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkMaybe a dumb question, but: the 512GB drive has 4 storage chips (two on the front, two on the back), therefore each chip stores 128GB. If the NAND chips are 64Gbit (8GB), that means there are 16 packages in each chip - is that right?
Kristian Vättö - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - linkThat is correct. Samsung has been using 16-die packages for quite some time now in various products.