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Boosting SSD Performance With The Right OS

By , David Murphy - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 20 comments

There’s no question that solid-state drives are the talk of the storage town. We’ve seen them enter into the laptop marketplace with a growing vengeance.  And even the prices of the bare, plopped-into-your-drive-bays products are reaching tolerable levels. Excellent speeds at optimal pricing – what’s not to like about SSDs?

We should have put an asterisk next to the word “speeds,” because not all SSDs are the same. Nor do they interact in the same way regardless of what operating system you use.  According to a recent Computerworld article, a Patriot Memory research project found that SSD performance was best in—you’ll never believe it—Windows 2000.  Following that, Windows Vista came in second place at five to eight percent slower and Windows XP trailed a distant third.

So why is this the case?  There are few reasons for the dramatic differences.  Saeed Arash Far, an engineering manager at Patriot Memory, suggests that the removal of background applications in Windows 2000 catapults it into the performance lead.  But in that case, one would expect to see a difference regardless of what hard drive is used in the testing – a lack of running tasks is an operating system issue, not an SSD benefit.

According to SSD manufacturer Micron, comprehensive performance testing between the Vista and XP operating systems revealed that XP doesn’t block the data for maximum SSD performance.  Whereas XP will partially fill 4KB NAND pages seemingly at a whim, Vista attempts to reduce partially filled pages in a block as much as possible.  This reduces storage inefficiencies and, according to Micron, translates into tangible performance benefits between the two operating systems.

"NAND [flash memory] fundamentally has native 4K block sizes. Anything that's not aligned to a 4K block creates extra challenges," said Justin Sykes, Micron’s Director of Marketing for SSD products, as quoted in the article. "There ends up being background operations to garbage-collect that empty space [in larger file blocks] that isn't fully utilized. And, so that activity is chewing up your bandwidth in the background, and it adds extra wear to the NAND [flash memory]."

SSD performance isn’t just tied to the software running on it. The two prevailing SSD technologies, single-level cell and multi-level cell, each offer different speed benefits. A majority of MLC drives offer poorer performance on their read and write speeds than SLC drives. And even the best of the MLC drives can look impressive on their reads, but still have yet to offer comparable write performance to an SLC drive.  But there’s a reason MLC-based SSDs exist: they’re cheaper than SLCs by hundreds of dollars.

There are also interface issues with modern SSDs, but we’re starting to see a gradual phasing out of SSDs that run on SATA bridges to internal PATA interfaces.  The problem being that a PATA-based SSD could conceivably fill its interface’s performance pipe.  It’s the same reason why eSATA is a better connection choice, speed-wise, than USB: the latter simply can’t handle as much bandwidth as the former.

Where does that leave SSD consumers?  Apparently in the hands of Windows Vista as an operating system, provided the performance metrics are correct—unless you really miss the glory days of Windows 2000.  But as for the specific type of SSD that provides the fastest performance, that’s more a question for benchmarks to answer.  Modern manufacturers aren’t always up to list the exact specifications of the product being purchased.  You might not know you’re getting an MLC or SLC product until you test the performance yourself!

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Top Comments
  • 10 Hide
    Tindytim , December 19, 2008 9:48 PM
    So was this just Windows? IF they tested 2000 I'm guessing they tested older Windows OSes. Did they do any Linux distros?
Other Comments
  • 10 Hide
    Tindytim , December 19, 2008 9:48 PM
    So was this just Windows? IF they tested 2000 I'm guessing they tested older Windows OSes. Did they do any Linux distros?
  • 1 Hide
    soulman76 , December 19, 2008 10:38 PM
    Vista is tweaked for traditional spindle hard drives, not SSDs. Different latencies and transfer speeds. This is becuase SSD disks weren't considered mainstream enough when Vista shipped to tinker with perfomance optimizations for them.
    The fact that SSDs on Win2k perform any faster is anecdotal at best.
    Wait to try Win7 on an SSD.
  • Display all 20 comments.
  • 4 Hide
    enewmen , December 19, 2008 10:53 PM
    Good News stury. I found lots of SLC driver issues as well. I feel there will me many woes before the problems are ironed out. From what little I know, most of the software problems should be fixed and SSD speed will get uncorked by Win7. What about UNIX/Linux?
    my 2 cents worth..
  • 7 Hide
    cruiseoveride , December 20, 2008 1:38 AM
    Linux FTW
  • 3 Hide
    WheelsOfConfusion , December 20, 2008 5:27 AM
    TindytimSo was this just Windows? IF they tested 2000 I'm guessing they tested older Windows OSes. Did they do any Linux distros?


    The linked articleThat aging operating system, said Saeed Arash Far, engineering manager at SSD manufacturer Patriot Memory, is markedly faster than Windows XP, Vista, Mac OS X or Linux when using NAND flash memory.
    ...
    According to Far, Mac OS X runs "a little faster than Vista" with an SSD drive, but Linux is "always faster" than Vista or Mac OS X -- to the tune of 1% to 2% -- because like Windows 2000, "it never runs anything in the background."
    ...
    XP does not align the data in the most efficient way for an SSD -- in 4KB blocks -- while Vista and Mac OS X do, according to Justin Sykes, director of marketing for SSD products at Micron. (Linux, which wasn't tested, also aligns data in 4K blocks.)

    So whether it's because of processes (doubtful) or block organization (more likely), Linux is better than either OS X or Vista with SSDs, but not by much.
  • -2 Hide
    randomizer , December 20, 2008 7:03 AM
    soulman76Wait to try Win7 on an SSD.

    SSDs fly on Win 7.
  • 4 Hide
    physx7 , December 20, 2008 2:59 PM
    I'll wait until they iron some bugs out first
  • -6 Hide
    thomasxstewart , December 20, 2008 8:05 PM
    Vista & SSD=Reliably Faster with Most Advanced Systems.

    Signed:p HYSICIAN THOMAS STEWART von DRASHEK M.D.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 21, 2008 7:56 AM
    Linux and elevator=noop to kernel command line. There you go.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , December 21, 2008 11:58 AM
    its really obvious, win2000 has the best kernel performance i've ever noticed in my life, you can even feel the stability by just looking at it without doing anything, it just works. It's one of the best OS's ever released, not just by MS. And its the only OS from MS where you can totally remove IE without having and bug, which speeds up the system even more. Ive used it till 2007 to be honest, i had to migrate in XP just because of the damn software that i needed didnt support Win2000 anymore.
  • 0 Hide
    tmc , December 22, 2008 3:27 PM
    Where are the ultra high capacity SSD's? Screw 64gb.. I want 1.5TB drives released... $450 (about where 750's were for a while)..
  • 0 Hide
    KITH , December 22, 2008 6:48 PM
    toshiba is supposed to be coming out with a 512GB drive
  • 0 Hide
    firemage , December 23, 2008 3:30 AM
    I couldn't help but laugh, as i read this while using my window 2000 booting desktop, but alias it doesn't use an SSD but it's WD Raptor still works rather nicely.

    Win 2k still works nicely for me as far as common use, and honestly if i still could i'd sell it to my non-gamer clients, any day.

    -G
  • 0 Hide
    Shadow703793 , December 23, 2008 11:30 AM
    @ Editors:

    Read this:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/forum2.php?config=tomshardwareus.inc&cat=31&post=258117&page=2&p=1&sondage=0&owntopic=3&trash=0&trash_post=0&print=0&numreponse=0"e_only=0&new=0&nojs=0
    Look at the OCZ links that roadrunner linked to.
  • 0 Hide
    Tindytim , December 24, 2008 3:38 AM
    randomizerSSDs fly on Win 7.

    What build number?

    Would be nice to at least have seen a mention of 7 in this article.
  • 1 Hide
    randomizer , December 24, 2008 3:55 AM
    TindytimWhat build number?Would be nice to at least have seen a mention of 7 in this article.

    Build 6801 was the one that was used by the person who was talking about the performance.
  • 0 Hide
    enewmen , December 24, 2008 5:11 AM
    Randomizer has been around THG a long time. I assume he knows what he's talking about.
  • 0 Hide
    randomizer , December 24, 2008 5:35 AM
    enewmenRandomizer has been around THG a long time. I assume he knows what he's talking about.

    Never assume anything ;) Just FYI, I am talking purely subjective "flying", no hard numbers. Unfortunately I can no longer find the thread on XS where it was mentioned.
  • -2 Hide
    Blessedman , December 25, 2008 11:56 PM
    2000 is by the best OS they have ever built (next gen NT I guess). I would put any build of linux up against win2k.
  • 1 Hide
    Tindytim , December 26, 2008 4:40 AM
    Blessedman2000 is by the best OS they have ever built (next gen NT I guess). I would put any build of linux up against win2k.

    ...everything after 2k is NT based, with 2k being NT 5.0 and XP being NT 5.1 (Vista is 6.0, and 7 will be 6.1 ironically).

    The fact that 2k wasn't made for personal computers also lends to it's stability. But stacking NT up against a modern Linux Distro would be rather silly, while it may have a slight performance edge, the real question would be usability.