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How We Test HDDs And SSDs

Real-World Software

Lab Notes

We use the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark to test the performance of SSDs, HDDs and hybrid drives with traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office and a selection of popular games. You can test the system drive or any other recognized storage device, including local external drives. Unlike synthetic storage tests, the PCMark 8 Storage benchmark highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices.

Once we get past the synthetic tests that measure the extreme corners of performance, we move into testing storage traces from real-world software. Our storage traces come from Futuremark and are part of the PCMark 8 suite.

PCMark 8's standard storage test leverages a number of real-world applications. The software runs and its I/O traces are recorded. PCMark 8 then plays the traces back on your computer, just as if you were running the workload in real-time. The benchmark also plays back the data stops, just as they'd appear with you running the workload. This is the most advanced test available for reproducing such a wide range of real-world software.

Futuremark PCMark 8 Storage Test

Sequential ReadsRandom ReadsSequential WritesRandom WritesData ReadData Written
Photoshop Light150817525183421743313MB2336MB
Photoshop Heavy427718655447422065468MB5640MB
After Effects17721779386500311MB16MB
World of Warcraft14151492710659390MB5MB
Battlefield 3578243487218431887MB28MB

A standard run gives us a result for each individual test in the form of service time. More often than not, these numbers only demonstrate small differences between premium and value-oriented products. This happens in the real world, too.

PCMark also gives us a breakdown, conveying the average throughput of all tests. This result shows us a wider range with all of the software workloads combined. The single results are misleading since they capture a moment in time. But the final throughput number is an average of around one hour worth of work.

Chris Ramseyer is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He tests and reviews consumer storage.