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Second-Gen SandForce: Seven 120 GB SSDs Rounded Up

What's Important: Steady-State Performance

Steady-State Performance

SSD manufacturers prefer that we benchmark drives the way they behave fresh out of the box because solid-state drives slow down once you start using them. If you give an SSD enough time, though, it will reach a steady-state performance level. At that point, its benchmark results reflect more consistent long-term use. In general, reads are a little faster, writes are slower, and erase cycles happen as slow as you'll ever see from the drive.

We want to move away from benchmarking SSDs fresh out of the box whenever possible because you only really get that performance for a limited time. After that, you end up with steady-state performance until you perform a secure erase and start all over again. Now, we don't know about you, but we don't reformat our production workstations every week. So, while performance right out of the box is an interesting metric, it's not nearly as relevant in the grand scheme of things. Steady-state performance is what ultimately matters.

While this is a new move for us, IT professionals have long used this approach to evaluate SSDs. That's why the consortium of producers and consumers of storage products, Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), recommends benchmarking steady-state performance. It's really the only way to examine the true performance of an SSD in a way that represents what you'll actually see over time.

There are multiple ways to get there, but we're going to use Intel’s IPEAK (Intel Performance Evaluation and Analysis Kit). This is a trace-based benchmark, which means that we're using an I/O recording to measure relative performance. Our trace, which we're dubbing Storage Bench v1.0, comes from a two-week recording of my own personal machine, and it captures the level of I/O that you would see during the first two weeks of setting up a computer.

Installation includes:

  • Games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Crysis 2, and Civilization V
  • Microsoft Office 2010 Professional Plus
  • Firefox
  • VMware
  • Adobe Photoshop CS5
  • Various Canon and HP Printer Utilities
  • LCD Calibration Tools: ColorEyes, i1Match
  • General Utility Software: WinZip, Adobe Acrobat Reader, WinRAR, Skype
  • Development Tools: Andriod SDK, iOS SDK, and Bloodshed
  • Multimedia Software: iTunes, VLC

The I/O workload is somewhat moderate. I read the news, browse the Web for information, read several white papers, occasionally compile code, run gaming benchmarks, and calibrate monitors. On a daily basis, I edit photos, upload them to our corporate server, write articles in Word, and perform research across multiple Firefox windows. 

The following are stats on the two-week trace of my personal workstation:

StatisticsStorage Bench v1.0
Read Operations7 408 938
Write Operations3 061 162
Data Read84.27 GB
Data Written142.19 GB
Max Queue Depth452

According to the stats, I'm writing more data than I'm reading over the course of two weeks. However, this needs to put into context. Remember that the trace includes the I/O activity of setting up the computer. A lot of this information is considered one-touch, since it isn't accessed repeatedly. If we exclude the first few hours of my trace, the amount of data written drops by over 50%. So on a day-to-day basis, my usage pattern evens out to include a fairly balanced mix of read and writes (~8-10 GB/day). That seems pretty typical for the average desktop user, though this number is expected to favor reads among the folks consuming streaming media on a larger and more frequent basis.

On a separate note, we specifically avoided creating a really big trace by installing multiple things over the course of a few hours, because that really doesn't capture real-world use. As Intel points out, traces of this nature are largely contrived because they don't take into account idle garbage collection, which has a tangible effect on performance (more on that later).

  • dauthus
    The Corsair force series 3 drives should be instantly disqualified due to BSoDs etc. Go look at their reviews on newegg, it is horrifying.
    Reply
  • garage1217
    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.
    Reply
  • dauthus
    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.
    Reply
  • gregzeng
    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?
    Reply
  • mayankleoboy1
    why not include the max iops editions?
    anands benchies showed that 120gb vertex3 max iops ~= 256gb vertex 3 for quite a less price
    Reply
  • Hellbound
    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.
    Reply
  • whysobluepandabear
    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.
    Reply
  • flong
    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.
    Reply
  • 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.
    Reply
  • compton
    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.
    Reply