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 Intel Z97
Chipset Drivers Intel 10.0.24+ Intel RST
Memory Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1866 2x8GB (9-10-9-27 2T)
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 4600
Graphics Drivers
Desktop Resolution 1920 x 1080
OS Windows 8.1 x64

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). 

Introduction & The Drive Performance Consistency
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  • Makaveli - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - link

    I would love to see two Samsung 850Pro 256GB drives in Raid 0 vs this.
  • BPB - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - link

    I was really hoping to see this compared to a RAID 0 setup. I'm considering getting one of these or a competitor's version in 2 or 3 months, but I'm also considering just getting another Samsung SSD and creating a RAID 0 setup.
  • Flash13 - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - link

    Why trust Samsung? I don't anymore.
  • youtard - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - link

  • icrf - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - link

    Suggestion for the graphs/charts picked from a drop down: make them all have the same scale, so when flipping between them, it's easier to compare from a visual shift. Ideally, it wouldn't be a drop down, but a set of checkboxes that would show/hide each line graph on the same chart to see more than one at once. If you're pre-rendering the charts, I understand how that would be a problem.
  • Edgar_in_Indy - Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - link

    It would be a lot easier to get excited about this drive if there were real-world numbers to look at. I find it frustrating that most hard drive reviews don't show some basic load times. You know, how long to boot windows, to load a level in a game, copy a huge file, etc.

    It would make it much easier to judge the relative performance of drives, and decide whether the results justify the upgrade cost.
  • willis936 - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - link

    While it requires more technical knowledge from the reader it actually gives a lot more useful info. Time to load windows? Is that on first boot after install? After updates? After 100 programs are installed? After 10 r/w cycles? After the drive isfiles filled? With overprovisioning? I'd personally much rather synthetic tests that cover most cases so you can extrapolate subjective performance from it. You just have to know which workloads line up with which tests.
  • DanNeely - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - link

    Page 2 of the article, section "A Word About Storage Benches and Real World Tests".

    TLDR version: "Too much background IO for consistent results to be possible."
  • Edgar_in_Indy - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - link

    From that same section: "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. "

    Okay, then. So a complicated real-world test is difficult to duplicate. But why can't we at least have the simple "boot and application launch times" he referenced? And what about a large file copy, like I already mentioned? That's something most people could easily relate to. And time to compress a large group of files? Etc.

    If the whole idea of an SSD is to do things faster, then it would be helpful to get a stopwatch involved in these types of review, at least a little bit!

    Or if it really is "Mission Impossible" to document any real world speed improvements, then I can't help but wonder if this is kind of like people paying premiums for high-performance memory, with very little real-world return.
  • zodiacfml - Wednesday, February 25, 2015 - link

    Why not do a benchmark of a Windows installation in a virtual machine from a RAM disk?

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