Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Exploring The Performance Of A Full SandForce-Based SSD

Ten 60 GB SandForce-Based Boot Drives, Rounded-Up
By

One of the reasons we brought back fresh out-of-box testing in Iometer was to free up time to explore other aspects of performance. For this round-up, we specifically want to investigate the read performance of a full drive. After all, a 60 GB drive isn't very large, so it's very likely that you'll be dealing with this exact scenario on and off.

In theory, read speeds shouldn't be significantly impacted by the drive's free space. But there is a noticeable drop-off on the lower-capacity SF-22xx-based SSDs. Compression is one reason for this. Compressed data has to be decompressed, which requires sufficient free space. SandForce's garbage collection mechanism is a second explanation. Because most of its clean-up happens in the foreground, decompression requires a rotation of scratch space so that the NAND wears out evenly. This is known as wear leveling.

Both factors penalize the 60 GB drives we're rounding up more than the larger models as a result of limited NAND bandwidth, a side-effect of leaning on fewer NAND dies. We're using HD Tune to illustrate.

The image above shows how read performance varies. After using Acronis True Image Home to clone our system drive, we set HD Tune to read the entire LBA space sequentially. As you can see, reading back information written to our 60 GB Agility 3 falls between 150-200 MB/s. Once we move on to free space, performance accelerates to 450 MB/s. That's a big difference.

But what happens when we get more specific and narrow our focus to incompressible data? After adding about 6 GB of MP3s and H.264-encoded video, we can clearly discern performance at its worst on a SandForce-based drive. Read performance drops to about 150 MB/s. That's why you see performance bounce up and down when we only have Windows and a few apps installed: some of that data is compressible, and some isn't.

That's not the end of the story, though. We repeated this same tests on all of the drives in our round-up and found that the results only apply to 60 GB SF-22xx-based SSDs accessing asynchronous NAND. Let's take Intel's SSD 520 for a spin to compare the performance of a drive with higher-performing synchronous flash.

We already established (using early Iometer testing) that reading back free space is similar regardless of a drive's NAND interface. Yet, comparing the SSD 520 to OCZ's Agility 3, we see read performance in the space occupied by Windows and our application data falls between 250-300 MB/s. In a worst-case scenario, incompressible data is read back at 250 MB/s. Sure, that's low compared to the 450 MB/s we see otherwise. But it's also 100 MB/s faster than the 60 GB Agility 3 and its asynchronous NAND-based competition.

Now, to put it all in context. Check out the results from our 64 GB m4 in the chart below. Crucial mostly employs background garbage collection, and it doesn't lean on compression for its commendable performance. As a result, read performance is largely unaffected by fill state.

Ask a Category Expert

Create a new thread in the Reviews comments forum about this subject

Example: Notebook, Android, SSD hard drive

Display all 36 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
Top Comments
  • 20 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 1, 2012 4:08 AM
    As these drives are basically boot drives, i would have liked a test where you measure the total time taken to install a fresh wi7-sp1 on it and install updates and install a few softwares like

    Ms-Office
    Adobe pdf reader
    a web browser, a photo manipulating program
    a music/video player.
    Install a game from a ISO.
    An antivirus

    And all these apps should be installed from the SSD itself (meaning their setups should be on the SSD).
    Then you should test the startup and shutdown times.

    All these synthetic benchies dont make much sense, IMHO.
Other Comments
  • 20 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 1, 2012 4:08 AM
    As these drives are basically boot drives, i would have liked a test where you measure the total time taken to install a fresh wi7-sp1 on it and install updates and install a few softwares like

    Ms-Office
    Adobe pdf reader
    a web browser, a photo manipulating program
    a music/video player.
    Install a game from a ISO.
    An antivirus

    And all these apps should be installed from the SSD itself (meaning their setups should be on the SSD).
    Then you should test the startup and shutdown times.

    All these synthetic benchies dont make much sense, IMHO.
  • 4 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 1, 2012 4:12 AM
    I have found that when working with SSD's, single core CPU performance becomes a big bottleneck in some tasks.
    A lot of operations use only a single core and the SSD cant use its true potential. That is, the CPU cant process data as fast as the SSD can provide.
    This is just reverse of what happens in case of mechanical HDD's.
  • 4 Hide
    acku , March 1, 2012 4:14 AM
    http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/ssd-520-sandforce-review-benchmark,3124-14.html

    You're not going to see a major difference.
  • -4 Hide
    phamhlam , March 1, 2012 4:38 AM
    mayankleoboy1I have found that when working with SSD's, single core CPU performance becomes a big bottleneck in some tasks.A lot of operations use only a single core and the SSD cant use its true potential. That is, the CPU cant process data as fast as the SSD can provide.This is just reverse of what happens in case of mechanical HDD's.


    Well, it is pointless though since everything you are doing is so fast that it doesn't matter anymore. I however see your point since I can be loading a program and my SSD is not even at max speed my CPU frequency is maxed out. The only way to get more speed is to just overclock as much as you can.
  • 0 Hide
    mayankleoboy1 , March 1, 2012 5:05 AM
    ackuhttp://www.tomshardware.com/review [...] 24-14.htmlYou're not going to see a major difference.



    that is the point of buying a cheaper SSD based on a chepaer NAND.
  • 1 Hide
    compton , March 1, 2012 6:00 AM
    Considering the conclusion that performance is defined by flash, I find it interesting that the one SF2281 with Toggle NAND at 60GB is not in the roundup (in North America anyway). The Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 60 is substantially cheaper now at $99. It's performance characteristics are much more profound than the 25nm ONFI sync/async models. They're often out of stock at Newegg, and for good reason.

  • 1 Hide
    clownbaby , March 1, 2012 6:08 AM
    Is there a benchmark to compare virtual memory performance? My current workstation has 24gb of memory, which means Windows eats up 36gb of my boot drive for virtual memory. (yes, I know I can change/disable it, but some programs act wonky when it's screwed with). A dedicated virtual memory drive would free up space on my primary ssd, as well as keep the writes down.

    I'd also like to see small drives benchmarked as swap drives in video editing machines. Currently I'm using a raid 0 array of 1tb samsung drives that keeps up well enough, but I'd be interested to see if there are tangible productivity differences.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 1, 2012 11:07 AM
    fwiw...intel uses its own premium binned 25nm sych...that why 4k read were so good.
  • 5 Hide
    JackNaylorPE , March 1, 2012 12:49 PM
    With a final page heading "Performance Is Defined By Flash" I would have like to see that difference looked at more closely. For example, the Mushkin Chronos Deluxe uses premium 3Xnm Toshiba Toggle Mode Flash (as does Patriot Wildfire, Vertex 3 Max IOPS and OWC Mercury Extreme Pro) and I would love to see for example how just changing the Flashin in an SSD from the same manufacturer and line (i.e Chronos standard versus Deluxe, Vertex 3 versus Vertex 3 Max IOPS). With that info, a user can decide whether it's makes sense to invest in say the premium Toshiba stuff as compared to the "same SSD w/o the premium Flash. That was what I expected to see when I read the referenced page heading.
  • 0 Hide
    jsowoc , March 1, 2012 12:51 PM
    I'm wondering why Toms' own trace-based benchmark didn't make it into this round-up? Does it take much longer to run than the other tests? While comparing synthetics is important to determine why a certain drive behaves a certain way, trace-based benchmarks (PCMark 7 could be considered trace-based) is what makes the final purchasing decision. In this case, PCMark was the one with the most clear-cut differences, ones that would likely be mirrored in a trace-based benchmark.

    For a future SSD review/roundup could you take, for example, 10 real-life traces from 10 different editor's machines (the more variation in workload, the better), and then compare the %change in execution time vs. a reference drive?
  • 6 Hide
    memadmax , March 1, 2012 1:44 PM
    Dear Tom's,
    Great article.
    Can we get a "Best motherboards for the money" type?
    Thanks.
  • 1 Hide
    Marcus52 , March 1, 2012 3:55 PM
    comptonConsidering the conclusion that performance is defined by flash, I find it interesting that the one SF2281 with Toggle NAND at 60GB is not in the roundup (in North America anyway). The Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 60 is substantially cheaper now at $99. It's performance characteristics are much more profound than the 25nm ONFI sync/async models. They're often out of stock at Newegg, and for good reason.


    You can comment on, wish for, or suggest a product be tested without implying there's some kind of intentional skewing or fault in the data collected.
  • 0 Hide
    fanboy555 , March 1, 2012 3:55 PM
    I'm buying a new SSD and I'm deciding between Corsair: Force 3, Force GT and Crucial m4 (all 60GB versions). Which one would you recommend? I'm leaning towards m4.
  • 1 Hide
    nukemaster , March 1, 2012 4:08 PM
    This article has been GREAT.
  • 0 Hide
    slicedtoad , March 1, 2012 4:09 PM
    fanboy555I'm buying a new SSD and I'm deciding between Corsair: Force 3, Force GT and Crucial m4 (all 60GB versions). Which one would you recommend? I'm leaning towards m4.

    I recommend upping your budget to a larger drive. Otherwise m4.
  • 0 Hide
    nforce4max , March 1, 2012 4:15 PM
    clownbabyIs there a benchmark to compare virtual memory performance? My current workstation has 24gb of memory, which means Windows eats up 36gb of my boot drive for virtual memory. (yes, I know I can change/disable it, but some programs act wonky when it's screwed with). A dedicated virtual memory drive would free up space on my primary ssd, as well as keep the writes down.I'd also like to see small drives benchmarked as swap drives in video editing machines. Currently I'm using a raid 0 array of 1tb samsung drives that keeps up well enough, but I'd be interested to see if there are tangible productivity differences.


    I already do that, just pick up a cheap 30-64GB SSD and move the virtually memory over to it. As for killing the page file well good luck as that doesn't work. If it did there would be 36gb worth of more free space. As for using a ssd for only page file well it really does work and it doesn't degrade as quickly as you might think. When there is no static data for the controller to deal with while there is high read/write the drive tends to not have the same issues as most get. Just under 6,000 hours of heavy use and my 30gb kingston ssd is holding up.
  • 1 Hide
    acku , March 1, 2012 4:17 PM
    jsowocI'm wondering why Toms' own trace-based benchmark didn't make it into this round-up? Does it take much longer to run than the other tests? While comparing synthetics is important to determine why a certain drive behaves a certain way, trace-based benchmarks (PCMark 7 could be considered trace-based) is what makes the final purchasing decision. In this case, PCMark was the one with the most clear-cut differences, ones that would likely be mirrored in a trace-based benchmark.For a future SSD review/roundup could you take, for example, 10 real-life traces from 10 different editor's machines (the more variation in workload, the better), and then compare the %change in execution time vs. a reference drive?


    It's a bloody long test that I've decided to reserve for comparing between different SSDs employing different controllers. It would have probably taken a full week to test all the SSDs and that only would happen if we were test 24x7 and perfectly timed the drive swaps ;p
  • 1 Hide
    acku , March 1, 2012 4:19 PM
    comptonConsidering the conclusion that performance is defined by flash, I find it interesting that the one SF2281 with Toggle NAND at 60GB is not in the roundup (in North America anyway). The Mushkin Chronos Deluxe 60 is substantially cheaper now at $99. It's performance characteristics are much more profound than the 25nm ONFI sync/async models. They're often out of stock at Newegg, and for good reason.


    We sent an invitation to Mushkin. They did not respond in proper time for this roundup. In any event, Toggle at 60 GB is quite rare. Though, I agree, it would have been an interesting contender. Unfortunately, we didn't want to put the roundup on the back burner any longer, because we've made multiple postponements to accommodate this that and the other.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
  • 0 Hide
    acku , March 1, 2012 4:20 PM
    memadmaxDear Tom's,Great article.Can we get a "Best motherboards for the money" type?Thanks.


    I believe you're referring to our Best SSDs column? If you want something different, feel free to suggest it.
  • 0 Hide
    acku , March 1, 2012 4:21 PM
    fanboy555I'm buying a new SSD and I'm deciding between Corsair: Force 3, Force GT and Crucial m4 (all 60GB versions). Which one would you recommend? I'm leaning towards m4.


    Sure! Read our controller agnostic 60 GB roundup. :)  http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/tests-ssd-review-solid-state,3103.html

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
Display more comments