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SSD Goodness
Dec 21st, 2012 at 1:32pm
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Over the past eighteen months, my job has migrated from a wide-ranging network engineering and systems administration role into a much more focused storage engineering role.  I've had the opportunity to work with some of the largest and fastest commercial storage devices on the market and I'm constantly barraged by amazing new storage and archiving technologies.  As you guys may have noticed, my home network tends to reflect my professional occupation, and it's time I started catching up on storage.

Over time, I've become increasingly aware of how ridiculously dated the storage system is in the Bobulator.  Although SSDs have been commercially available at the consumer/prosumer level since 2007, I've been avoiding them like the plague for a variety of reasons.  The initial models were ridiculously expensive, had incredibly low capacity (32GB was the largest size available), and had substantial issues with poor lifespans due to a lack of TRIM support.  I could save up money for a good SSD if the performance warranted it, but I can't handle a lack of capacity and I absolutely refuse to jeopardize the safety of my data with an unreliable drive.

As always happens with hardware, the situation has changed substantially over the past couple years.  SSD prices have dropped by 66% over two years from roughly $3.00/GB to roughly $1.00/GB.  Some decent manufacturers are as low as $0.85/GB now.  Capacity has also improved substantially.  64GB SSDs were the largest commonly available drives two years ago, and now quite a few 512GB SSDs are on the market (albeit still very pricy).

It took awhile to wade through the massive number of SSDs on the market to find the right one for the Bobulator.  Whereas hard drives require very strict tolerances to manufacture (thus requiring very expensive factories to build them), SSDs are a lot more forgiving and can be built in factories that were designed for other solid state components such as motherboards, video cards, etc.  As such, there are a veritable crapload of vendors hawking SSDs.  You are limited to Western Digital/Maxtor/Seagate/Hitachi for a spinning disk, but there are easily 30+ vendors selling SSDs.

Here were my requirements for my first SSD:
  • At least 200GB capacity, with 256GB desired.
  • High reliability ratings from consumers.
  • Blazing fast throughput.  At least 400MBps random reads and writes, 40,000+ IOPS.


I finally settled on this bad boy:



256GB is the sweet spot for me.  This is only replacing my C: drive.  I keep all of my applications on a D: drive, mass storage on an E: drive, and Steam games on an F: drive.  I am currently consuming ~100GB on my C: drive, much of which is in my user profile.  Some day I'll move my user profile to another drive, but that is time consuming and I'm lazy.

The Samsung 840 Pro series claims up to 540MBps for sequential reads and 520MBps and up to 100,000 IOPS for random reads, which is ridiculously fast.  Real world performance testing from several different reviewers showed an average of 515MBps for sequential reads and 475MBps for sequential writes, which is insanely fast.  Most of the other comparable SSDs offer about half that performance.  Sadly, the SATA 6GB ports in my computer are attached to a crappy Marvell controller, so I'll likely only see about 2/3 of that.  I'm planning on rebuilding the Bobulator in about 12 months, though, so it's wise to plan ahead.


-b0b
(...more to come.)
  

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #1 - Dec 21st, 2012 at 1:55pm
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I'm a bit old school and I had planned on doing a clean Windows install, along with a reinstall of all of my applications and a migration of my data.  Disk cloning tools used to be a notorious pain in the ass and it was always a crap shoot when cloning a system disk, particularly when the source and target disks were not the same size.  However, I've got access to some pretty nifty tools these days, so I figured I'd try to clone my old spinning disk on to the new SSD and give it a shot.  I've got nightly backups running to the server, so if all else fails I could always reinstall.

Just for the heck of it, I figured I would try the initial clone job using the free cloning tool that came with the SSD.  If it blew up on me, I could simply boot using the old partition and try something else.  The tool is very simple to use, you simply tell it which disk you're cloning from and which disk you're cloning to and it does the rest.  I was able to migrate all 113GB from my C: drive in 16 minutes at a surprisingly brisk 113MBps.  Considering that I had three volumes (C:, D:, and E:) all living on one 7,200RPM disk, that wasn't bad at all.



Once the cloning was done, all I had to do was reboot the computer and change the boot order in BIOS to boot off the SSD first instead of the HDD.  Once that was done, the system instantly booted into Windows from the SSD.  No fuss, no muss!


Optimization

There are a couple of changes you'll want to make to optimize the performance of the SSD.  First, and most importantly, you'll want to enable AHCI mode in BIOS if it isn't already set.  Many motherboards (including mine) default to IDE mode for compatibility with legacy SATA disks.  AHCI mode will improve performance and is a requirement for TRIM support.  TRIM is used for garbage collection and allows the SSD to maintain performance over time.  Without TRIM, the SSDs performance will crater over time. 

AHCI also enables native command queuing, or NCQ, on your disks (if they support it).  NCQ is a technology that re-orders your read/write operations as they arrive at the disk.  On a spinning disk, without NCQ, your disk will need to make three passes (e.g. the disk spins 3 times) if it gets requests for sectors 5, 3, and 1.  With NCQ, the requests would be re-ordered as 1, 3, and 5, allowing the disk to read all three sectors in a single pass.

In Windows, you'll also want to ensure a couple features are turned off.  First, make sure the Indexing Service is either disabled entirely or at least turned off for the SSD.  Indexing is used to build a catalog of files and their contents, thus speeding up searches.  This isn't necessary for an SSD as it should be able to do a raw search very quickly, and the constant disk thrashing caused by indexing can reduce the lifespan of the SSD.

Next, you'll definitely want to disable disk defragmentation for the SSD.  You can either disable the Disk Defragmenter service entirely or disable scheduled defragmentation for the SSD.  Since I still have a couple spinning disks in my system, I left Disk Defragmenter enabled on those disks and disabled it for the SSD.

Finally, you'll want to disable the SuperFetch service.  This is a service that caches commonly-read files in RAM to improve access times.  Since SSDs have insanely fast read speeds, this isn't necessary.  Also, it keeps more RAM available to handle system needs, thus reducing the reliance on the paging file.  This, in turn, reduces wear on the SSD.


-b0b
(...still more to come.)
« Last Edit: Dec 22nd, 2012 at 12:24pm by b0b »  

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #2 - Dec 21st, 2012 at 2:47pm
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So, here's what it comes down to: performance!  I knew the crappy Marvell 9128 controller on my motherboard would be a limiting factor, but I was still hoping for decent performance.  The Bobulator is now two years old and SATA 6GB was a brand new technology in December 2010.  It wasn't supported by Intel's ICH10R chipset, so Asus added SATA 6GB to their high-end motherboards by using a third-party chip.  These "tack-on" solutions always suck, but it's what I've got.  I'll build a new Bobulator in about 12 months, so I'll be able to unlock the total performance of this SSD when that happens.

I used a few different tools to test performance.  Most of the testing was done with a tool called IOMeter.  IOMeter is freeware and it's the industry-accepted tool for storage performance benchmarking.  It's the same tool I use for performance testing on multimillion dollar storage appliances, and it works just as well for standalone disks on gaming PCs.  ;p


Random IO
The first test was for random IO.  Random IO occurs when you have a whole bunch of files being accessed simultaneously, causing the drive to hop all over the place grabbing chunks of data.  A good example is the launching of an operating system which requires a bunch of files to be accessed at the same time.  SSDs are insanely good at random IO because they can access non-sequential sectors just as quickly as sequential sectors.  It takes the same amount of time to access sectors 1/32/179 as 1/2/3.  This isn't the case with spinning disks which can only read or write to a given sector once the correct portion of the platter is aligned underneath the head.

My existing hard drive was able to provide 380 IOPS (input/output operations per second, e.g. a single read or write operation) for random reads and 366 IOPS for random writes.  That's actually not bad for a 7,200RPM spinning disk.  They max out at approximately 80 IOPS natively and the rest is all caching, hence the value of a large cache (64MB or higher) on a spinning disk.  The SSD absolutely blew it out of the water, though, with nearly 57,000 IOPS for random reads and just over 46,000 IOPS write.  These lead to mind-boggling improvements of 14,945% and 12,593%, respectively.




Sequential IO
IOPS can be misleading, though, as the number of operations you can perform is meaningless if those operations don't reflect real-world usage.  Sequential IO is a much better test of true performance.  Unlike random IO, sequential IO is a measure of performance when sectors are read in order (e.g. 1/2/3 instead of 17/5/32).  A good example of sequential IO would be a straight reading of a file like an HD movie file.  Large numbers of sectors are read in numerical order to allow the media player to stream your movie from the disk drive.

My existing drive provided 46MBps for sequential reads and 59MBps for sequential writes.  These numbers are a bit backward, as read operations should always outpace write operations.  I chalk this up to an overtaxed drive.  I had three volumes on a single physical disk (C: for OS, D: for applications, and E: for mass storage), so I was splitting the paltry IO across three different volumes.  For instance, any IO used by the OS on drive C: would be unavailable for applications on drive E:.  By moving the C: drive to the SSD, I was not only accelerating the C: drive substantially but also reducing the IO constraints on the D: and E: drives. 

The SSD provided 383MBps for sequential reads and 238MBps for sequential writes.  That's an improvement of 832.61% and 403.39%, respectively.  Sadly, this is where the weakness of the Marvell chip really shows up.  I should be seeing another 140-160MBps for reads and nearly 280MBps for sequential writes, but the Marvel 9128 just can't handle it.  I'm considering purchasing a high-end RAID adapter just to get the performance I'm paying for, but that money would can probably be put to better use by saving up for the next Bobulator.




Launch Times

For me, launch time isn't a huge concern as I very rarely reboot my system.  Like most of you, my PC runs 24/7.  Screw the environment!  With that said, I understand that many people use OS launch times as their benchmark of SSDs.  Keep in mind that I have a very "heavy" OS that loads a lot of extremely resource-intensive applications (e.g. Visual Studio, SQL Server, etc), so my load times won't be anywhere near as low as a system that is specifically engineered for fast boots.

Since my system is on an Active Directory domain, I have to provide credentials to log into the system.  As such, I'm breaking my results into two categories.  The first, Windows Launch, measures the time from hitting the power button to seeing the "Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete to Log On".  The second, Desktop Ready, measures the time from me hitting "enter" after entering my credentials to the point where everything is completely loaded and my primary disk backs down from 100% utilization.

The launch time for Windows was 65 seconds with the spinning disk.  This dropped to a mere 18 seconds after migrating to the SSD for a 361% improvement in boot time.  The desktop ready time was a very substantial 386 seconds on the spinning disk, or nearly six and a half minutes.  This is why you should never, ever put your applications and operating system on the same spinning disk!  The queue lengths were absolutely astronomical for that poor disk.  By improving the IO of the operating system and removing that burden from the disk containing my applications, I now have a ridiculously fast desktop ready time of 15 seconds.  That's a 2,526% improvement!




Final Thoughts

Overall, I'm incredibly satisfied with the Samsung 840 Pro series, and I would recommend it to any enthusiast that's looking to improve the performance of their system.  Honestly, I can't think of a single component I've ever replaced that had even half the impact of this SSD.  Just look at these numbers!




-b0b
(...sorry about the lengthy posts!)
« Last Edit: Dec 22nd, 2012 at 12:32pm by b0b »  

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #3 - Dec 21st, 2012 at 3:59pm
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Whenever someone has asked me about building a new rig, I tell them from experience that they need to dedicate an SSD just for their OS and main programs.  It is insane on how fast boot up is.  I think I've only ever gotten maybe 2-3 BSoD.  Heck I even think browsing is easier on them.

I got a standard drive for my my files (games, tv shows, books, etc.) but it'd be interesting to see how video games works on one.  I spent about $175 for my 120gb 2 summers ago.  I would have spent it again and again.  I am always amazed at how well the SSD works.

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #4 - Dec 21st, 2012 at 4:21pm
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I'm with ya, Stewie.  I have this odd problem where I want the best-of-the-best-of-the-best when it comes to hardware, so I'll suffer with crap hardware for way longer than I need to instead of compromising.

I'm planning on buying another identical drive in the next few weeks to move my D: drive (applications) to.  That will live my E: drive (mass storage) on it's own disk much like my current F: drive (Steam games).  It will also leave me enough space on the D: drive that I can install a handful of my current favorite Steam titles.  The new Steam client allows you to specify which drive you want to install a game to, so you don't have to mess around with junction points and other crappy hacks.


-b0b
(...can't wait to play a game off an SSD.)
  

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #5 - Dec 22nd, 2012 at 1:14am
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I agree with both of you wholeheartedly. I've been on an SSD for a while for windows/applications and i have one for whatever project I'm working on, and it has made all the difference. I am very impressed with those figures you came up with bob, it is quite awesome to see the exact improvements in chart form!
  

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #6 - Apr 9th, 2013 at 1:23pm
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I just purchased the 128GB version of the SSD you installed. Currently, I'm uninstalling a bunch of development tools to get my source disk size small enough to transfer. I don't have a windows disk or key, otherwise a new OS install would have been my approach as well.

Looking forward to getting my 5+ minute boot time down.
  
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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #7 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 8:29am
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Stick wrote on Apr 9th, 2013 at 1:23pm:
I just purchased the 128GB version of the SSD you installed. Currently, I'm uninstalling a bunch of development tools to get my source disk size small enough to transfer. I don't have a windows disk or key, otherwise a new OS install would have been my approach as well.

Looking forward to getting my 5+ minute boot time down.


It's really an impressive difference.  I purchased a Samsung 840 120GB model (non-Pro series) for my laptop and it's like night and day.  The laptop is encrypted and has a ridiculous amount of software running on it, so boot times were ~10 minutes.  It is now around 90 seconds and is largely CPU-bound at this point, so I'm very happy.


-b0b
(...is still planning on buying another 256GB 840 Pro for an applications drive.)
  

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #8 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 10:47am
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Oh yeah, tested it out yesterday and it's the best upgrade I've experienced for my machine. System restore was eating up a ton of storage on my source drive. I lowered the allocation percentage freeing up 50GB of space and allowing the transfer.

During the transfer I wasn't able to get above 55MB/s. Comparing that to your speeds, I must have had a really slow primary disk read.
  
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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #9 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 2:27pm
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I was seeing 59MBps on my spinning disk, so that is almost identical to what you experienced.  The read speed on the source disk was definitely your bottleneck.

Did you run any tests after you moved over?  I'd love to see what kind of read/write performance you're getting.


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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #10 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 3:13pm
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I was telling a friend of mine who was building on a budget that if there was one thing he shouldn't skimp on is a primary SSD for at least his OS.

I think the only other time I've been this amazed with an upgrade it hardware is when I bought my first one gig hard drive for $100 all those years ago.

Sometimes our tech is so amazing it just shocks me.

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #11 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 3:43pm
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I can run some tests, hopefully tonight. Of course, I didn't run any before the migration.

X, reminds me of when I bought my first 512MB thumb drive. Went all out! Still couldn't fit a CD on it.
  
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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #12 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 5:21pm
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Stick wrote on Apr 10th, 2013 at 3:43pm:
I can run some tests, hopefully tonight. Of course, I didn't run any before the migration.

X, reminds me of when I bought my first 512MB thumb drive. Went all out! Still couldn't fit a CD on it.



I still use my very first thumb drive, bought it in 2001.  128MB, USB 1.0, and roughly $300.  Not my smartest purchase, but I'll get my money's worth out of it if it kills me.


-b0b
(...!)
  

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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #13 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 10:09pm
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There was a facebook meme going around about a 60mb hardrive that barely fit in a wheelbarrow and cost millions back in the 80s.  Then right below it was a 16gb sd card for 20 dollars at walmart...

Tech is an amazing thing.
  
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Re: SSD Goodness
Reply #14 - Apr 10th, 2013 at 11:13pm
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Check out this amazingly compact 5MB hard drive:



They don't make 'em like they used to.  I work with similarly-sized (physically) storage appliances.  They hold about 5PB, or approximately 1 billion times as much data.  They also do all kinds of crazy stuff like deduplication, caching, archiving, cloning, etc. as opposed to simple storage.

This is one of my favorite comparison images:



The drive in the back is a 60MB IBM disk designed for PDP-10 servers.  When they were originally built, they cost over $25,000 each.  As you can see, the disk platters were about a half-inch thick and were roughly the size of vinyl records.  Each of the six platters held a whopping 10MB.

These days, high-end systems have 128GB of cache on a class 10 SD card, and they only cost about $150.  1TB enterprise SSDs have started to ship that are 2.5" in size, and 4TB spinning disks have been shipping in the same form factor for a couple years now.


-b0b
(...can always use more storage.)
  

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