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Workstation Storage: Modeling, CAD, Programming, And Virtualization

Analyzing Workstation Storage Performance

In light of the many stories we've written analyzing real-world storage performance, we have enough data to definitively say that, even in intensive tasks, queue depths are generally pretty low.

Although synthetic metrics are great for showing the differences between SSDs on specification sheets, they aren't particularly indicative of what you'll see and "feel" from solid-state storage once it's inside of your chassis. 

At the end of the day, the performance benefits attributable to SSDs aren't as inflated as you might think after comparing the speeds and feeds of solid-state and magnetic drives. They're still massively huge, though. In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to switch back to a hard drive after enjoying what a good SSD can do for boot-up and application start times. The video above helps illustrate how much more productive you can be with an SSD. Instead of running a batch file to stress storage performance to the extreme, we decided to emulate real-world use. Consequently, the video represents the real-time activity of compiling code in the background and then moving on to other tasks.

Clearly, when it comes to workstation-class loads, an SSD is going to benefit you (just like it did in our other real-world performance analysis stories). But just because you're using an SSD for work doesn't mean you have the extra budget to pay $1.50 or $2.00 per gigabyte of capacity.

That's why we continue to recommend a tiered storage strategy, employing a large mechanical data disk and a smaller SSD. You throw your operating system on the solid-state drive, along with performance-sensitive applications. Meanwhile, user data goes on the disk. Caching could be another way to help improve the performance of a workstation, without the manual intervention of separate hard drives and SSDs.

More than anything, we're just happy to see all of this real-world data, cumulatively, compiled for the first time. You can bet that we'll be using it in our storage reviews moving forward, backing up our benchmarking methodology.

  • clownbaby
    Thanks for the workstation analysis. I'd really like to see some tests comparing performance while utilizing multiple programs and lots of disk caching. I.E. having many complimentary programs open, photoshop, illustrator, after effects and premiere pro ), with many gigs worth or projects opened and cached and multiple background renders. Something like this would be a worst case scenario for me, and finding the balance between ssds, raided disks, and memory properly configured would be interesting.

    I currently run my OS and production software from an SSD, have 24gb of system memory, page file set to write to ssd, and user files on striped 1tb drives. I'd be interested to see the benefits of installing a separate small ssd only to handle a large page-file, and different configurations with swap drives. Basically, there are a lot of different drive configuration options with all of the hardware available atm, and it would be nice to know the most streamlined/cost effective setup.
    Reply
  • acku
    clownbabyThanks for the workstation analysis. I'd really like to see some tests comparing performance while utilizing multiple programs and lots of disk caching. I.E. having many complimentary programs open, photoshop, illustrator, after effects and premiere pro ), with many gigs worth or projects opened and cached and multiple background renders. Something like this would be a worst case scenario for me, and finding the balance between ssds, raided disks, and memory properly configured would be interesting.I currently run my OS and production software from an SSD, have 24gb of system memory, page file set to write to ssd, and user files on striped 1tb drives. I'd be interested to see the benefits of installing a separate small ssd only to handle a large page-file, and different configurations with swap drives. Basically, there are a lot of different drive configuration options with all of the hardware available atm, and it would be nice to know the most streamlined/cost effective setup.
    We'll look into that!

    Cheers,
    Andrew Ku
    TomsHardware.com
    Reply
  • cknobman
    As an applications developer working on a brand new dell m4600 mobile workstation with a slow 250 mechanical hard drive it is very interesting to see tests like this and makes me wonder how much improvement I would see if my machine was equipped with an SSD.

    I would really like to see more multitasking as well including application startup and shutdowns. Throughout the day I am constantly opening and closing applications like remote desktop, sql management studio, 1-4 instances at a time of Visual Studio 2010, word, excel, outlook, visio, windows xp virtual machine, etc.......

    Reply
  • teddymines
    Is having to wait for a task really that much of a deal-breaker? I tend to use that time to hit the restroom, get a coffee, discuss with co-workers, or work on another task. Besides, if computers get to be too fast, then we'll be expected to get more done. ;^)
    Reply
  • willard
    Consequently, compiling code isn't a usage scenario where SSDs provide a clear lead.
    I disagree. Try the test again with a distributed build system.

    I work on a project with around 3M lines of code, which is actually smaller than Firefox. To get compile times down, we use a distributed build system across about a dozen computers (all the developers and testers pool their resources for builds). Even though we all use 10k RPM drives in RAID 0 and put our OS on a separate drive, disk I/O is still the limiting factor in build speed.

    I'll agree that building on a single computer, an SSD has little benefit. But I'd imagine that most groups working on very large projects will probably try to leverage the power of more than one computer to save developer resources. Time spent building is time lost, so hour long builds are very, very expensive.
    Reply
  • jgutz2006
    ackuWe'll look into that!Cheers,Andrew KuTomsHardware.com

    On top of the SSD Cache, i would like to know where this performance gains plateau off (like if a 16gb SSD cache performs the same as a 32 or 64+ etc etc)

    I'd like to see these put up against some SAS drives in RAID 0, RAID 1 and RAID10 @ 10k and 15k RPMs. I"m currently running a dual socket xeon board with 48gb RAM on a 120GB Vertex2 SSD and a 4 pack of 300GB 10K SAS Disks in RAID10.

    I think i'd LOVE to see Something along the lines of the Momentus XT in a commercial 10k/15k RPM SAS disk with 32gb SSD which could be the sweet spot for extremely large CAD/3dModeling Files out there.
    Reply
  • Zatanus
    PLEASE!

    Add VMware benchmarks on normal desktop CPUs reviews!
    Reply
  • It's nice that you test "workstation software", however you do not test any compositing software such as Eyeon Fusion or Adobe After Effects. Testing 3D rendering seems pretty silly. Compositing and video editing is a LOT more demanding on storage.
    Reply
  • andywork78
    SSD 1TB for $200 right now !!!!
    Reply
  • jaquith
    Very nice Article & Thanks! Pictures, in this case a Video is all you needed to make the point ;)

    Andrew - the reference to the 'Xeon E5-2600 Workstation' completely screwed me up, the benchmarks made no sense until I looked at the 'Test Hardware' and then noticed an i5-2500K??!! Please, swap-out the image, it's misleading at best.

    Try doing this on a RAM Drive and better on the DP E5-2600 with 64GB~128GB; 128GB might be a hard one. I've been 'trying' to experiment with SQL on a RAM Drive (my X79 is out for an RMA visit). However, the few times with smaller databases it's remarkable. Like you feel about going from HDD to SSD's, it's the same and them some going from a RAM Drive. Also, playing with RAM Cache on SSD's, stuck until RMA is done.
    Reply