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Exploring SSD Performance In Battlefield 3, F1 2011, And Rift

Solid State Won't Improve All Gameplay

I/O Pattern on SSDsGame Start-upLevel LoadingGameplay
Read/Write BalanceNearly all readsVaries, depending on the game:Battlefield 3: Reads, Civilization V: Writes, Crysis 2: Writes, F1 2011: Writes, Rift: Reads, WoW: Writes
Seek DistanceVaries, depending on the game:Battlefield 3: Mostly Sequential, Civilization V: Sequential, Crysis 2: Sequential, F1 2011: Sequential, Rift: Random, WoW: RandomVaries, depending on the game:Battlefield 3: Mostly Sequential, Civilization V: Sequential, Crysis 2: Sequential, F1 2011: Sequential, Rift: Random, WoW: Sequential
Transfer SizesVaries, depending on the gameVaries, depending on the game:Bias toward sequential, 128 KB
Queue DepthsAlmost completely queued one-deepMostly 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.

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.

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!

  • asnorton44
    Interesting to see it won't imrpove all gameplay
    Reply
  • clonazepam
    Makes sense. I'll install sw:tor to the ssd after i figure out how to make its 20GB fit on it lol... the rest go to the HDD...

    Good read. Thanks for being so thorough.
    Reply
  • IMO, a WD Caviar Black or a Samsung Spinpoint F3 would have been a better test drive than the Green one.
    Reply
  • christoforo
    Thanks to all the reviews you made here guys. A couple of months ago I started planning my ssd purchase, and i decided to buy a Kingston HyperX 240gb bundle kit. I cant wait till it arrives. I have advanced computer skills, so many things I thought from personal experiences are published here, like I knew some games are more write dependant or read dependant from and HDD, and about the apps on the background on WIN7, and many many more. I already ordered my SSD, but its nice to have a serious review about ssds on gaming performance. Its all about the speed that the apps can be done by write/read on a ssd on the background that really matters, from this simple thing is that anyone willing to upgrade to an ssd can benefit with a smoother playable experience.
    Reply
  • gmcizzle
    Storage can actually make a difference in FPS in certain situations. Only put in 2gb or so of RAM in the test system and rerun Battlefield 3, and the difference in frame rates will be different between HDD and SSD as the game switches to secondary storage once RAM is exhausted.
    Reply
  • Supernova1138
    True, but it is much more cost effective to add more RAM to your system in that circumstance than to get an SSD large enough for your OS and a couple of games. With RAM so inexpensive these days there is absolutely no reason to be running low on it under any gaming scenario.
    Reply
  • cumi2k4
    Agreed with xyzqwerty, please do another test with faster drives such as wd black or the f3. Comparing the ssd with green version is like racing your turtle with the neighbor's hare.
    Reply
  • acku
    cumi2k4Agreed with xyzqwerty, please do another test with faster drives such as wd black or the f3. Comparing the ssd with green version is like racing your turtle with the neighbor's hare.
    I'm a little confused why you would want to see that comparison. We established there was no diff between a slow HDD and a fast SSD. And you expect a difference between a fast HDD and fast SSD?

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
    Reply
  • silverblue
    asnorton44Interesting to see it won't imrpove all gameplayI see what you did there. :P
    Reply
  • FunSurfer
    9523292 said:
    I'm a little confused why you would want to see that comparison. We established there was no diff between a slow HDD and a fast SSD. And you expect a difference between a fast HDD and fast SSD?

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com


    He probably want to see that comparison on the "Hard Drive Performance Comparison" page, where is a big difference between SSD and HDD performance (the HDD up to 477% slower)
    Reply