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ioXtreme PCI Express SSDs Anticipate SATA 6 Gb/s Performance

ioXtreme PCI Express SSDs Anticipate SATA 6 Gb/s Performance
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We looked at Fusion-io’s ioDrive in early 2009. The device plugs into a PCI Express slot and offers 80, 160, or 320GB of storage at formidable performance levels. Unfortunately, the ioDrive is rather expensive, meaning still way beyond the $1,000 mark. But Fusion-io has something new that aims at the high-end enthusiast market without sacrificing too much performance. The ioXtreme is limited to 80GB for now, but you can link several ioXtremes if you go for the Pro version. Amazon sells the 80GB base model for $895.

Flash SSD Development

Flash-based SSDs have seen quite a remarkable development in a relatively short time. Although the first drive generations were already faster than hard drives on most read operations, write performance was slow. Many products didn’t live up to their power efficiency expectations. In fact, many SSD required even more power than hard drives (don’t miss our update article on this point, as well). However, milestones like Intel’s X25-M and Samsung’s PB22-J, along with many drives based on Indilinx controllers (all of which utilize cache and command queuing), redefined SSD storage by delivering higher and more constant performance.

We performed a workload analysis way back in April, and our most recent flash SSD roundup proves that there is now a variety of fast and efficient products available. The latest product generation also supports the TRIM feature now supported in Windows 7. TRIM isn’t an imperative feature, but we still highly recommend it if you want to maximize your SSD’s performance. TRIM makes the SSD aware of erased blocks, reducing the need to call tedious write processes if only small data chunks need modification. SSDs always have to execute the full cycle of read, erase, modify, and write for write operations. This has to be done in large chunks, even though a write may only affect 4KB. More and more SSD vendors offer firmware updates to enable this TRIM capability.

Professional SSDs are Different

This sums up the consumer-oriented SSD market, but the professional market is entirely different. Here, it’s important to talk about the differences between MLC and SLC flash. MLC stands for multi-level cell; SLC means single-level cell. SLC stores one bit per flash cell while MLC can store multiple bits. MLC offers higher storage densities, and hence lower cost. But it requires much more time for writes. As a result, enterprise-class SSDs are typically based on SLC, while all of the consumer SSDs mentioned above utilize more affordable MLC flash. SLC devices such like the Intel X25-E show the quickest latencies and highest write performance. MLC devices tend to lag a bit behind in write operations.

Fusion-io has had its ioDrive aimed at enterprise applications, but the firm sees demand for an enthusiast-class SSD suited to PCs and digital media or content creation workstations. So, the company took its proven technology (MySpace servers use it, among others) and created entry-level products based on MLC flash memory. This entry-level product is still fast enough to remain beyond the reach of even SATA 6 Gb/s hard drives.

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  • 15 Hide
    agnickolov , December 16, 2009 7:10 AM
    It's a shame an article on professional storage does not include benchmarks on compilation times - a definitely professional application of storage. I've asked THG staff on numerous occasions to include a C++ compilation benchmark, but to no avail... It was only offered once in the past 6 years. Please, add such a benchmark so software developers like myself can make sense of your articles too!
  • 10 Hide
    John_Dune , December 16, 2009 9:07 AM
    just a nitpick here, but you listed the charts with the unit ms, which is milliseconds... if you want to do microseconds you need to use µs.
Other Comments
  • 9 Hide
    burnley14 , December 16, 2009 5:34 AM
    Wow these things are fast.

    But not bootable? That's a shame.
  • -4 Hide
    eloplayspolo , December 16, 2009 6:07 AM
    how would these be for a gaming rig?
  • -4 Hide
    eloplayspolo , December 16, 2009 6:15 AM
    eloplayspolohow would these be for a gaming rig?


    well seeing that Fatality is a partner in this i would imagine it would be pretty good for a gaming rig. my bad
  • 15 Hide
    agnickolov , December 16, 2009 7:10 AM
    It's a shame an article on professional storage does not include benchmarks on compilation times - a definitely professional application of storage. I've asked THG staff on numerous occasions to include a C++ compilation benchmark, but to no avail... It was only offered once in the past 6 years. Please, add such a benchmark so software developers like myself can make sense of your articles too!
  • 0 Hide
    IronRyan21 , December 16, 2009 7:52 AM
    Ouch, almost 1,000 dollars. I would go for the Kingston SSD Boot Drive for under $100 on newegg.
  • 10 Hide
    John_Dune , December 16, 2009 9:07 AM
    just a nitpick here, but you listed the charts with the unit ms, which is milliseconds... if you want to do microseconds you need to use µs.
  • 0 Hide
    tygrus , December 16, 2009 9:22 AM
    Still not overwhelming for the price difference. Sure the headline max STR look great compared to Intel but when the going gets tough the Intel can still keep up. Waiting for better chipsets (wider slots and larger bandwidth to CPU) and PCI-E v2. What size Intel SSD did you use? What were the prices again ?
    They have now replaced the original ioDrive's.
    $6000, $2600, $900, $300 (ioDrive Duo 160GB, ioDrive 80GB, ioXtreme 80GB, Intel 80GB).
    RAID0 of 2x160GB or 3x80GB Intel SSD for proce of ioXtreme.
    What about the others like OCZ Z-drive and PhotoFast ?
  • 0 Hide
    gkay09 , December 16, 2009 10:07 AM
    Too bad no TRIM here...
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , December 16, 2009 11:02 AM
    To add to john_dune's comment, the graph's x-axis states the unit is "ns" which is nanoseconds. You guys managed to use milli, micro and nano all for one graph/paragraph about the same data :) 
  • 1 Hide
    falchard , December 16, 2009 11:06 AM
    eloplayspolohow would these be for a gaming rig?


    Increased minimum frame rate, and faster loading times. Nothing a common SSD can't also do to the same effect.
  • -1 Hide
    cknobman , December 16, 2009 12:05 PM
    No boot, No trim, limited feature set, super limited capacity, super high price = FAIL for 9/10 users in the market.

    Regardless of how fast these are(and yes they are fast enough to use as RAM replacement) they are just to high of a cost per GB when the majority of SSD vendors are offering >= $3gb.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 16, 2009 12:25 PM
    In addition to john_dune's and randumbzor's comment. "µs" microseconds (1 millionth of a second) and "ns" nanoseconds (1 billionth of a second), are not the same thing. In the future, please try to "error" proof your articles; otherwise they loose their validity. XD
  • -2 Hide
    Socnom , December 16, 2009 2:43 PM
    Hmm. How fast would a system be if the bootable drive was the Intel x25 and this as the application? Would Windows running on the x25 and applications running off the ioX be the fastest possible setup for any system? would like to see the tests on that.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 16, 2009 2:58 PM
    Don't be hatin' (l)user-one. I've met and played with/against fatality before. He's a nice guy and a talented player. Back on track...this is a good idea but at the price and storage size, it fails when there are other alternatives out there (re: X25-E).
  • 0 Hide
    ekidhardt , December 16, 2009 4:16 PM
    bout as fast as your mother was last night!
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , December 16, 2009 5:34 PM
    Wouldn't just running programs from a RAMdisk be cheaper and faster?
  • 0 Hide
    blackened144 , December 16, 2009 7:22 PM
    We tested these at work last year, and while they are screaming fast, they were too expensive for the capacity they offered. We are now testing our computing clusters using Intel Enterprise editions SSD gen2 units with 4 drives configured in 2 raid0 arrays.. While the performence isnt comparable to the ioExtreme hardware, we can equip 400 node clusters with the intel drives for the same price as a few of the ioExtremes.. No brainer..
  • -1 Hide
    nforce4max , December 16, 2009 7:59 PM
    eloplayspolohow would these be for a gaming rig?


    Swap For games while running fraps like GTA IV or crysis with less of a hit.
  • 2 Hide
    dankind64 , December 16, 2009 9:31 PM
    *reads* "Amazon sells the 80GB base model for $895." *clicks to next article*
  • -2 Hide
    matt87_50 , December 17, 2009 1:56 AM
    agnickolovIt's a shame an article on professional storage does not include benchmarks on compilation times - a definitely professional application of storage. I've asked THG staff on numerous occasions to include a C++ compilation benchmark, but to no avail... It was only offered once in the past 6 years. Please, add such a benchmark so software developers like myself can make sense of your articles too!



    on that note, i've tried to start using a USB flash drive as my primary development drive so I can code on anything, but its painfully slow, Is there some sort of cacheing driver you can get, that sits somewhere in the file system stack, buffering all read and write operations in memory, and streaming them to the drive asynchronously? I know windows does this A BIT but not nearly enough to make coding off a flash drive easy. I'm fairly sure its possible, I've looked into doing it myself using a FileManager mini filter, but it looks like a massive pain to do (I've never done a driver before).

    so any ideas? this would make drive performance irrelevant for the most part.
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