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How We Test HDDs And SSDs

Test Equipment

I’m a high-volume reviewer, working on an average of eight products per month. I also test devices still in development, often through several firmware revisions before the SSD launches. To maintain this pace while still providing quality commentary, I need several systems to stay ahead of the queue.

SATA Test System

MotherboardAsus Z87 ROG Maximus VI Extreme
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4770K @ 4.5GHz
DRAMCorsair Vengeance DDR3-1866
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 4600
Power SupplyCorsair AX860i
ChassisRosewill RSV-L4000
Hot Swap Drive EnclosureThermaltake MAX-1562
NetworkMellanox ConnectX-3 VPI
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 8.1 Pro

I’ve standardized on the above configuration for consumer SSD and hard drive reviews, utilizing four identical systems. These machines are dedicated to benchmarking SATA-based products. They also test enterprise network equipment from time to time. In order to keep them unchanged, I isolate them from the Internet, preventing automatic updates that might affect my results.

PCIe Test System

MotherboardASRock Z97 Extreme6
ProcessorIntel Core i7-4790K @ 4.5 GHz
DRAMCorsair Vengeance Pro DDR3-1866
GraphicsIntel HD Graphics 4600
Power SupplyCorsair AX1200i
ChassisRosewill RSV-L4000
Hot Swap Drive EnclosureThermaltake MAX-1562
NetworkMellanox ConnectX-3 VPI
Operating SystemMicrosoft Windows 8.1 Pro

PCIe based storage is evaluated across a pair of purpose-built systems. The ASRock Z97 Extreme6 motherboard provides a direct PCIe 3.0 four-lane link from the CPU to M.2 interface. This is the ideal way to attach M.2-based storage to a high-performance, consumer-focused PC. These systems are also isolated from the Internet. The operating system configuration and test software are kept consistent between our PCIe- and SATA-based test beds.

I keep a few other systems available for specialty testing, cloning notebook battery life system images to drives and secure erase operations. In all, there are 29 modern systems at my disposal ranging from Sandy Bridge-based notebooks for testing storage products at trade shows to 10 identical dual-Xeon systems for testing network-attached storage (NAS) appliances with 120 clients running in Hyper-V.

We use two different notebooks to measure notebook battery life. Standard 2.5” SATA drives run through a Lenovo T440, one of the few laptops with DEVSLP support. I use a Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 3 for testing PCIe- and SATA-based m.2 SSDs. The X1 Carbon Gen 3 ships with M.2 storage from Lenovo. There aren't many models with this feature, but that number should increase over the coming months.

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