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Solid State Won't Improve All Gameplay

Exploring SSD Performance In Battlefield 3, F1 2011, And Rift
I/O Pattern on SSDs
Game Start-up
Level Loading
Read/Write Balance
Nearly all reads
Varies, depending on the game:
Battlefield 3: Reads, Civilization V: Writes, Crysis 2: Writes, F1 2011: Writes, Rift: Reads, WoW: Writes
Seek Distance
Varies, depending on the game:
Battlefield 3: Mostly Sequential, Civilization V: Sequential, Crysis 2: Sequential, F1 2011: Sequential, Rift: Random, WoW: Random
Varies, depending on the game:
Battlefield 3: Mostly Sequential, Civilization V: Sequential, Crysis 2: Sequential, F1 2011: Sequential, Rift: Random, WoW: Sequential
Transfer Sizes
Varies, depending on the game
Varies, depending on the game:
Bias toward sequential, 128 KB
Queue Depths
Almost completely queued one-deep
Mostly queued one-deep, but also varies with game. Up to 50% of ops queued two- to eight-deep

There’s a lot going on when you play a game. So, generalizing about the way storage technology affects gaming ignores many of the nuances that affect how long it takes to fire up a game, load a level, or even just play on through. 

Understandably, then, simply replacing a hard drive with an SSD won't address all of your performance-oriented issues. However, after expanding our testing to three more games, we have to amend our previous findings. In particular, Battlefield 3 and Rift turn out to be substantially different from some of the other games as they're being enjoyed. Mainly, reads are emphasized, just as they are while launching games and loading levels.

The storage profile of each game turns out to be a pretty good barometer of how it'll respond to an SSD upgrade, more easily explaining why some titles realize benefits you can really feel, while others don't. Practically, you don't spend a ton of time waiting for games or levels to load, which is why smooth gameplay should be top priority. We've seen the consequences of choppy gameplay on a system limited to magnetic storage and asked to perform too many I/O-intensive tasks at a time.

Battlefield 3: Choppiness Example

The video above highlights the issue pretty clearly. At 1:07 or so, and then a couple times more, you see the system seize up a bit with an anti-virus scan running in the background, even with a capable CPU and a high-end graphics card. Compare that to the video below, complemented by an SSD. Performance is smooth (even consistent?) throughout.

Battlefield 3: Smooth Example

This is perhaps the most compelling reason to upgrade. The passing of time sees all of our systems slow down. Small programs get installed, storage fills up, and more processes run in the background. You might not even have trouble with an anti-virus scan. It could be an unrequested Windows Update install (Ed.: I hate it when that happens), indexing, a disk degfrag, or Outlook's automatic email check.

While the performance gains aren't quantitatively impressive, SSDs remain a good way to improve system responsiveness. They're not as sexy as a new six-core CPU or a Radeon HD 7000-series graphics card. They're certainly not cheap, either. However, the difference is very much tangible in everyday use.

More than anything, we wanted today's story to connect some dots between the often-dry storage benchmarks you see in most drive reviews and real-world gaming. Those terms, numbers, and graphs do mean something; hopefully now you have a better understanding of how they relate. Take our explanations of how each specification affects your favorite title and use the data in our reviews to draw your own conclusions about which SSD is best for you. Or, if you'd like to see more games dissected like this, feel free to let us know in the comments section!

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