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Benchmark Results: 4 KB Random Performance (Response Time)

Second-Gen SandForce: Seven 120 GB SSDs Rounded Up
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It's wrong to look at data rates (throughput) without taking latency and processing time into account. We've explained this before in our tablet reviews with regard to Wi-Fi throughput, but the same concept applies to storage. Let's go back to the analogy of a phone call, because it easily illustrates why there's more to speed than just throughput.

Throughput is the audio quality. Latency is the amount of time from when you speak into the phone until the person on the other side hears you, and processing time is the delay for the person on the other line to think about what you said before answering back. If we apply this to SSDs, throughput is the amount of data you can send over time, latency is the lag due to data transmission, while processing time is the overhead incurred by the SSD when it receives the data.

Now consider that latency plus processing time equals response time. That's really what we're measuring in Iometer. This can get confusing because Iometer uses the terms latency and response time interchangeably, but it's really only capable of measuring the latter.

In random reads, the Vertex 3 and Agility 3 have a response time of about .10 ms, which is 30% slower than what we see on the higher-capacity m4s. In comparison, the other second-gen SandForce SSDs have response times slightly under .20 ms.

Turning to random writes, nearly all these drives have response times around .07 ms, while the Solid 3 falls behind (.18 ms), presumably due to its firmware-based differences.

Response time is a measure of the difference between initiating and completing an operation, while throughput is a measure of the amount of data transferred. These two values affect performance in different ways, but they don't stack up. So, it's not like the 64 GB m4 "feels" 75% slower than the 128 GB m4 (25% slower throughput plus 50% slower response time). Throughput and response time are usually correlated in that you get high throughput with low response time.

The maximum response time offers a look at the extremes. In random reads, the Crucial m4s all lead, but the SSD 510, Wildfire, and Chronos Deluxe aren't too far behind.

It's worth noting that of the second-gen SandForce-based SSDs, Patriot and Mushkin are the only ones to use memory that doesn't come from IM Flash Technologies, the joint venture between Intel and Micron. Both drives employ synchronous Toggle Mode DDR memory from Toshiba, which may help explain the low response times compared to the S511, Vertex 3, Agility 3, Solid 3, and Force 3.

As we might expect, the new 120 GB SandForce-based drives tend to clump together, with maximum write response times between 42 ms to 55 ms.  Given the identical controller architecture and similar firmware design, this shouldn't be a surprise. However, these numbers indicate that there's more garbage collection occurring immediately after every write operation than we see from the Marvell or Intel controllers.

This is a double-edged sword. You can either perform garbage collection right after a write access or postpone the action to when the drive is idle. If you rely more heavily on idle garbage collection, performance goes up at the cost of increased write amplification. Conversely, active garbage collection minimizes write amplification, but taxes performance.

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  • 6 Hide
    dauthus , July 25, 2011 4:30 AM
    The Corsair force series 3 drives should be instantly disqualified due to BSoDs etc. Go look at their reviews on newegg, it is horrifying.
  • 0 Hide
    garage1217 , July 25, 2011 4:33 AM
    Nice review. You left out the corsair Force GT 120gb however which would have compared equally to the vertex as other sites have scored it. Also I own one, it ROCKS.

    On the force 3, it got horrible reviews because of a production issue. Corsair issued a full recall and now the issues with that particular drive have been cleared up which is why it was not disqualified. Very old news.
  • 5 Hide
    dauthus , July 25, 2011 4:44 AM
    Quote:
    On the force 3, it got horrible reviews because of a production issue. Corsair issued a full recall and now the issues with that particular drive have been cleared up which is why it was not disqualified. Very old news.


    You are wrong sir.
  • 2 Hide
    gregzeng , July 25, 2011 5:56 AM
    Googling told me that SSDs are almost impossible to use with Linux (EXT4). My netbook & notebook drives are in MS NTFS-COMPRESSED partitions (not Linux NTFS-4G, 'cos no compression). MS claims compressions has 'negligible' speed costs. Is that true, for about twice then storage space?
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , July 25, 2011 7:21 AM
    why not include the max iops editions?
    anands benchies showed that 120gb vertex3 max iops ~= 256gb vertex 3 for quite a less price
  • 0 Hide
    Hellbound , July 25, 2011 7:26 AM
    This article mentions installing the OS and applications to SSD, and the rest (movies, music) to conventional hdd's. But I'm not sure how to do that. I've google'd it and there are many suggestions how to do it. I would like to know the best way to go about this.
  • 3 Hide
    whysobluepandabear , July 25, 2011 7:47 AM
    HellboundThis article mentions installing the OS and applications to SSD, and the rest (movies, music) to conventional hdd's. But I'm not sure how to do that. I've google'd it and there are many suggestions how to do it. I would like to know the best way to go about this.

    WTF?

    Step 1.) Install SSD.

    Step 2.) Install OS on SSD and everything you want to access and run quickly.

    Step 3.) Install HDD.


    Step 4.) Send files to E, F, G, H, I, J or whatever drive the HDD is. Performance orientated apps go to the C, or whatever drive your SSD is.


    It's literally no different than if you were to plug in an external HDD via USB. You direct files and applications as accordingly.

    We'll dismiss the Z68 - which allows you to use a small SSD to boost your normal HDD - otherwise if your SSD is large enough, it's actually a worse route, and just instead use the SSD.
  • 1 Hide
    flong , July 25, 2011 8:00 AM
    This is a superb review because it deals with real-world performance. I commend Tom's for providing a thorough review - one of the most thorough that I have read on any computer site. Tom's is right, the 120 GB size SSD is the sweet spot in SSD drive performance Vs cost.

    If you read similar reviews on other sites, the Patriot Wildfire, The Corsair Force 3 GT and possibly the OCZ Vertex 3 are the top performers in the 120 GB drive performance. The Wildfire uses 32 NM Toshiba toggle flash memory which is the best. The Force 3 GT uses 25 NM memory but somehow manages to keep up with the Wildfire. Note this is not the Corsair Force 3 listed in this review, it is the Corsair Force 3 GT - emphasize the GT. The GT and the wildfire are the two fastest 120 GB drives available right now based on real-world performance benchmarks.

    The real important benchmarks to watch for are the real-world benchmarks at the end of each review. These really are the only ones that count. The other benchmarks are synthetic and they are not very accurate. The OCZ drives win all of the synthetic benchmarks but their real-world performance falls behind the Force GT and the Wildfire.

    Another critical factor is that "fill-rate" performance of the drives. This is the performance of the drives as they fill. Again, the Wildfire and the Force GT rise to the top with the Vertex 3 coming in third place.

    This review lists the Mushkin as a top performer, but it is not listed in many reviews (none that I have read) and so I have not included it in my comments. It is possible that this is a top performer also but I would like to read other reviews about it to confirm.
  • 6 Hide
    Anonymous , July 25, 2011 9:03 AM
    Same thing with OCZ, to be honest. They got an error rate of 33% over at Newegg. Honestly I won't buy a single drive from them, no matter how fast, until they've fixed their issues that have lasted for two bloody generations.

    Crucial m4 for performance and Intel 320 for value is the best.
  • 2 Hide
    compton , July 25, 2011 10:12 AM
    HellboundThis article mentions installing the OS and applications to SSD, and the rest (movies, music) to conventional hdd's. But I'm not sure how to do that. I've google'd it and there are many suggestions how to do it. I would like to know the best way to go about this.


    Besides just manually managing your files on the HDD, there is another method you can use. It's more complicated to set up, but if you can google and follow directions, you'll find it may be easier.

    With Windows 7 you can basically take your "My Documents" folder (the \Users\ stuff) and symbolically link the folders to the mechanical HDD. Everytime an application wants to save to one of your document folders, which would otherwise be on your system drive (in this case a SSD) will just end up on the HDD. From a file management perspective, you may find it easier.

    I do it manually -- just install Windows, Office Pro 2010, Pantone, Google Chrome, iTunes, ect. to the SSD. All of my music, movies, backups of my SSD (I'm only using about 22GB of my Intel 510's 111GB) end up on the HDD. My Steam folder is about 200GB as well, so it goes on the HDD.

    You just have to do stuff like change iTunes folder in advanced options to the folder on the HDD. It's really easy to do. That way, when I want to use another SSD, I have all the Steam games and media on the HDD. Fresh installs are really easy this way.

    I tried installing some of my games on a few of the SSDs I own. Some games can really benefit, but mostly the increase in speed over a fast HDD isn't worth it.

    I bought an original WD Raptor 36GB drive in 2003 that I used for many years, so I was completely comfortable trying to manage the stuff that ends up on my HDD. I ended up moving from a 60GB SSD to a 120GB SSD that is faster but I just can't bring myself to put much on it.
  • 0 Hide
    chovav , July 25, 2011 11:10 AM
    nice work guys :) 

    I do have a question though: for my own use, I need to encrypt the system drive using TrueCrypt (128bit AES). When I did that on a Vertex 2 60GB, the performance went down a hundred-fold! This apparently had to do with the fact that the data was in-compressible (bad for SandForce controllers) and the drive was completely "filled" by TrueCrypt's encryption (so you won't be able to see how much data is on it).

    This meant that the performance was actually LOWER than an encrypted mechanical hard drive, and actually almost unusable. Is there any way for you to devise a test that looks at this effect on SSD performance? This situation is not very rare, a lot of business users must encrypt their drives in order to comply with Company Policy..

    I've used AS-SSD for testing, with read/write results at around 3.5MB/s :S

    Thank you,

    Chovav
  • 0 Hide
    brenro , July 25, 2011 1:52 PM
    Tiger Direct's selling the Solid 3 for $165. That's only about 50 bucks more than a Velociraptor. I think it might be time to pull the trigger. Are these things reliable enough now to use them as the only drives in a RAID?
  • 1 Hide
    aznguy0028 , July 25, 2011 2:12 PM
    garage1217On the force 3, it got horrible reviews because of a production issue. Corsair issued a full recall and now the issues with that particular drive have been cleared up which is why it was not disqualified. Very old news.

    Nope, I had a new force 3 120gb, model 1124 (which was the one that is supposedly fixed), and I was still getting BSODs so I returned it. I waited for the whole early fiasco to be over but still had problems. Go check the Corsair forums, tons of people are still having issue. I'm staying away from any ssd that is using the SF 2281 but I'm keeping my eye on the Wildfire to see how reliable that one is.
  • -2 Hide
    garage1217 , July 25, 2011 3:13 PM
    Rocking mine just fine with no bsods or issues of any kind and tons of others are rocking their 120gb force drives with no issues. The editors of this review did not find or have issues as well, nor have other reviewers since the recall. So does that tell you anything at all?

    Sort of comes down to that old story about the girl that just cannot keep a man. She complains and moans about how it is always the guys fault or she cannot find the right guy and they all suck. She never thought it was her retarded self that was the real issue things never worked out lol So along those lines, have you ever considered it is YOUR equipment and setup, not the drive that is causing the issue? I hear crap like this every day from people with oc'ed systems that they claim is stable when it really is not causing issues that really show themselves with ssd drives. Or people that really have no clue what they are doing in the bios mucking things up and causing problems that may be tolerable to one piece of equipment and not another so when they switch, issues arise. Or a ton of other combos of crap that just do not workout at all together like a junk power supply causing instability issues, or trying to install the latest equipment on quite old hardware.

    Bottom line, I am not seeing any issues at all, tons of others are not seeing any issues and if you care to look at other reviews on say newegg of other brands, you will find the same thing across all ssd manufacturers, not just one in particular. You also find the same thing with mobos, standard drives, optical drives, power supplies, video cards. Really throws up red flags when the person claims in a review "i have tried 5 of these and not a one works!!!" Duh morons, wake up and realize what the real issue is, a lack of troubleshooting skills and the knowledge to properly use a device.
  • -1 Hide
    acku , July 25, 2011 3:29 PM
    SSDs are more problematic than just about every other piece of hardware. It's like a Jenga puzzle, you remove one block and something else goes wrong. Just look at the Solid 3 and Agility 3. Identical hardware, different performance due to firmware.

    That said, I believe that each SSD manufacturer is experiencing their own unique issues. I personally haven't experienced any BSOD issues in the lab. As an example, our workstations are allowed to sleep, which has been a cited issue with the new OCZ SSDs. Anand has the same experience - no BSOD errors in his lab. That's a similar sentiment shared by other reviewers.

    Overall, SSDs are kind of like cars. You may experience something on the road, but once you bring it to your mechanic, nothing seems wrong. Problems with SSDs are highly correlated with configuration and how they are used (what is written, how fast it is written, how much is written, etc...). And I'd go so far as to chalk 99% of the "soft errors" to be related to the flash translational layer (FTL).

    If you're looking for rock solid reliability, you're better off with a hard drive. It doesn't matter if you own a hard drive or a SSD, everyone should practice good backup practices.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    Tomshardware.com
  • 0 Hide
    banthracis , July 25, 2011 3:51 PM
    Current Cost per GB on newegg for the reviewed drives

    OCZ agility 3 120gb $1.50/gb (includes rebate. $1.75/gb without )
    OCZ solid 3 120gb $1.62/gb (includes rebate. $1.79/gb without)
    Crucial M4 128gb/256gb $1.67/gb
    Corsair Force 3 120 $1.75/gb
    Intel 320 120gb $1.83/gb
    AData s511 120 $1.91/gb
    OCZ Vertex 3 120 $1.91/gb (includes rebate. $2.08 without)
    Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 120gb $2.16/gb
    Intel 510 120gb $2.30/gb
    Patriot wildfire 120gb $2.50/gb

    Going through your benchmarks, it actually looks like the Crucial M4 drives are the best choice with consistent good performance and very low cost/gb.
    In fact, the 256 gb M4 particularly stands out for having the same $/gb as the 120gb M4, yet top of the pack performance throughout the benchmarks.

    Edit: Forgot the Deluxe in Mushkin Chronos. Price/gb was correct though.
  • 0 Hide
    acku , July 25, 2011 3:55 PM
    That's because we test with 4kb transfer sizes in random accesses. The 256 GB and 512 m4s have a native 8kb page. We're going to cover all of that in another article dedicated to m4s.

    If you want nothing to do with compression and still want a performance SSD, m4s are probably the best choice. That's why they're often included in the best SSDs for the money.

    FYI, we used a Chronos Deluxe ~= Wildfire. The regular Chronos is the async stuff, same as Force 3 and regular Vertex 3.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • -1 Hide
    garage1217 , July 25, 2011 3:56 PM
    Quote:
    SSDs are more problematic than just about every other piece of hardware. It's like a Jenga puzzle, you remove one block and something else goes wrong. Just look at the Solid 3 and Agility 3. Identical hardware, different performance due to firmware.

    That said, I believe that each SSD manufacturer is experiencing their own unique issues. I personally haven't experienced any BSOD issues in the lab. As an example, our workstations are allowed to sleep, which has been a cited issue with the new OCZ SSDs. Anand has the same experience - no BSOD errors in his lab. That's a similar sentiment shared by other reviewers.

    Overall, SSDs are kind of like cars. You may experience something on the road, but once you bring it to your mechanic, nothing seems wrong. Problems with SSDs are highly correlated with configuration and how they are used (what is written, how fast it is written, how much is written, etc...). And I'd go so far as to chalk 99% of the "soft errors" to be related to the flash translational layer (FTL).

    If you're looking for rock solid reliability, you're better off with a hard drive. It doesn't matter if you own a hard drive or a SSD, everyone should practice good backup practices.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    Tomshardware.com


    I will agree to that :)  SSD drives in general are not perfect, but they are not the horrid plague that some make them out to be.
  • 0 Hide
    acku , July 25, 2011 4:01 PM
    Quote:
    nice work guys :) 

    I do have a question though: for my own use, I need to encrypt the system drive using TrueCrypt (128bit AES). When I did that on a Vertex 2 60GB, the performance went down a hundred-fold! This apparently had to do with the fact that the data was in-compressible (bad for SandForce controllers) and the drive was completely "filled" by TrueCrypt's encryption (so you won't be able to see how much data is on it).

    This meant that the performance was actually LOWER than an encrypted mechanical hard drive, and actually almost unusable. Is there any way for you to devise a test that looks at this effect on SSD performance? This situation is not very rare, a lot of business users must encrypt their drives in order to comply with Company Policy..

    I've used AS-SSD for testing, with read/write results at around 3.5MB/s :S

    Thank you,

    Chovav


    I actually hadn't thought of using TruCrypt with a SSD. But your experience with a SandForce drive makes a lot of sense. Near to no compression being done, which is horrible for SF's garbage collection which relies on "extra" space made available by compression. Basically, you're completely throttling the drive and every write leaves little to no time for idle garbage collection because everything written is encrypted. This would be the same as running Iometer with completely random data over the course of weeks at a time. That's why performance is going to be better on a hard drive. I'd recommend trying an m4 if TruCrypt is a must.

  • 0 Hide
    mariush , July 25, 2011 4:40 PM
    gregzengGoogling told me that SSDs are almost impossible to use with Linux (EXT4). My netbook & notebook drives are in MS NTFS-COMPRESSED partitions (not Linux NTFS-4G, 'cos no compression). MS claims compressions has 'negligible' speed costs. Is that true, for about twice then storage space?


    The compression algorithm used by the NTFS system can at best compress text and various uncompressed stuff down to about 50% of the original size, with little CPU usage.

    It will not compress at all the most often found files such as mp3, avi, mkv, docx, which are already compressed. Also, the majority of games' files are already compressed so enabling NTFS compression really won't save a lot of disk space.
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