The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs and New Drives from OCZby Anand Lal Shimpi on March 18, 2009 12:00 AM EST
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I began this article with a recap of my history with SSDs, stating that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Honestly, today, the SSD world isn't much different.
Drives are most definitely cheaper today; the Intel X25-M originally sold at close to $600 for 80GB and is now down in the $340 - $360 range. The Samsung SLC drives have lost their hefty price tags and are now just as affordable as the more mainstream MLC solutions.
But the segmentation of the SSD market still exists. There are good drives and there are bad ones.
Ultimately it all boils down to what you optimize for. On its desktop drives, Intel chose to optimize for the sort of random writes you’d find on a desktop. The X25-E is much more resilient to the workload a multi-user environment would throw at it, such as in a server and thus carries a handsome price tag.
At first glance it would appear that Samsung’s latest controller used in the preview OCZ Summit drive I tested optimizes for the opposite end of the spectrum: sacrificing latency for bandwidth. As the Summit was used more and more, its random write latency went up while its sequential write speed remained incredibly high. Based on these characteristics I’d venture that the Summit would be a great drive for a personal file server, while the Intel X25-M is better suited as a boot/app drive in your system.
I’d argue that Intel got it “right”. Given the limited sizes of SSDs today and the high cost per GB, no one in their right mind is using these drives for mass storage of large files - they’re using them as boot and application drives, that’s where they excel after all.
Over the past year Intel continually claimed that its expertise in making chipsets, microprocessors and generally with the system as a whole led to a superior SSD design. Based on my tests and my own personal use of the drive and literally every other one in this article, I’d tend to agree.
OCZ and Indilinx initially made the mistake of designing the Vertex and its Barefoot controller similarly to the Samsung based Summit. It boasted very high read/write speeds but at the expense of small file write latency. In the revised firmware, the one that led to the shipping version, OCZ went back to Indilinx and changed approaches. The drive now performs like a slower Intel drive; rightfully so, as it’s cheaper.
While I wouldn’t recommend any of the JMicron based drives, with the Vertex I do believe we have a true value alternative to the X25-M. The Intel drive is still the best, but it comes at a high cost. The Vertex can give you a similar experience, definitely one superior to even the fastest hard drives, but at a lower price. And I’ll spare you the obligatory reference to the current state of the global economy. The Samsung SLC drives have come down in price but they don't seem to age as gracefully as the Intel or OCZ Vertex drives. If you want price/performance, the Vertex appears to be the best option and if you want all-out performance, snag the Intel drive.
The only potential gotcha is that both OCZ and Indilinx are smaller companies than Intel. There’s a lot of validation that goes into these drives and making sure they work in every configuration. While the Vertex worked totally fine in the configurations I tested, that’s not to say that every last bug has been worked out. There are a couple of threads in OCZ’s own forums that suggest compatibility problems with particular configurations; while this hasn’t been my own experience, it’s worth looking into before you purchase the drive.
While personally I'm not put off by the gradual slowdown of SSDs, I can understand the hesitation. In the benchmarks we've looked at today, for the most part these drives perform better than the fastest hard drives even when the SSDs are well worn. But with support for TRIM hopefully arriving close to the release of Windows 7, it may be very tempting to wait. Given that the technology is still very new, the next few revisions to drives and controllers should hold tremendous improvements.
Drives will get better and although we're still looking at SSDs in their infancy, as a boot/application drive I still believe it's the single best upgrade you can do to your machine today. I've moved all of my testbeds to SSDs as well as my personal desktop. At least now we have two options to choose from: the X25-M and the Vertex.