How do you make an SSD even faster?

How do you make an SSD even faster?

Summary: I now have four SSD-equipped systems - two desktops and two laptops - running full time. That’s given me an opportunity to try a very interesting experiment. How do you make an already fast SSD even faster? What I found is that the combination of an SSD and a disk controller upgrade can boost performance by a minimum of 50% and can triple disk throughput speeds. Here are the details.

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Over the past few months I’ve written a series of posts about the wonders of solid-state drives (SSDs). Short version: SSDs are blazing fast, they’re a bit tricky to set up, and their fast read speeds make them ideal in the role of Windows 7 system drive.

I now have four SSD-equipped systems—two desktops and two laptops—running full time. That’s given me an opportunity to try a very interesting experiment. How do you make an already fast SSD even faster? What I found is that the combination of an SSD and a disk controller upgrade can boost performance by a minimum of 50% and can triple disk throughput speeds.

Since January, I’ve been testing a 256GB Samsung 470 Series SSD, supplied by Samsung as a review unit. (It’s packed up and ready to ship back now.) Over the past few weeks, I’ve also been testing a pair of Crucial C300 drives that I purchased as upgrades. The advantage these Crucial drives claim is that they support the SATA III bus, which is, at least in theory, twice as fast as a SATA II device.

The latest generation of PCs include onboard SATA III capabilities. For my two-year-old desktop PC I used an add-on SATA III controller (it also includes USB 3.0 support) that I paid $30 for roughly a year ago. (Sadly, it is no longer available at retail.) It connects to a PCI Express 4x slot, which also provides at least a theoretical performance boost.

So I now have this system set up with two conventional 7200 RPM hard disk drives on the SATA II (3Gb/sec) controller and two SSDs connected to the SATA III (6Gb/sec) controller. To measure performance, I put together two data sets and copied them multiple times between different drives. The first is a folder filled with 5,085 files in a wide variety of data types—pictures, music files, and documents—with a total size of 5.85GB. The other collection consists of three large disk image files in ISO format, with a total size of 3.4GB.

Here are the results. Each column represents average throughput speeds for a file-copy operation. Bigger bar = higher throughput = faster file copy. The column on the left in each group represents copies between two conventional hard disks. The two columns in the middle show mixed setups, with one SSD and one conventional disk drive. The two columns on the right represent copies from one SSD to another. In all cases, the overall result is determined by the read speed on the source drive and the write speed on the destination.

Yes, SSDs are faster. Simply introducing an SSD as the system drive and keeping the conventional drive for data storage will boost disk throughput by a minimum of 52%, based on these results. If you’re fortunate enough to have a system equipped with two fast SSDs on a SATA III controller, you will be able to copy files from point A to point B up to three times as fast as you would with two conventional SATA II drives.

I was interested to see that in one scenario a mix of an SSD and conventional hard disk drive outperformed a pair of SSDs. That experience suggests that write speeds are the weak spot of SSD performance, and that the combination of an SSD as a system drive with a fast hard disk drive for storage offers winning performance at a sane price.

So, between the Samsung and Crucial drives, which do I prefer?

Page 2: Faster, cheaper, easier to upgrade -->

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When I looked at the performance, price, and upgradability, it's impossible not to like the Crucial C300 drives.

The crude Windows Experience Index gives the Samsung 470 Series an excellent 7.3, but the Crucial drives hit the top of the Windows 7 scale with a 7.9. Here's what the WEI for this system looks like.

Using the detailed performance data available from the Windows System Assessment Tool, I found these differences in measurements taken in the first week after setup:

  Samsung 470 Series Crucial C300
Sequential Read (MB/s) 219.4 352.0
Random Read (MB/s) 130.2 228.7
Those are pretty dramatic differences. In practical use, both systems felt exceptionally fast and responsive. It wasn’t until I added big file-copying operations into the mix that the difference in speed became apparent.

The Crucial drives also had one other significant advantage over the Samsung design. Both companies released updates to the drive firmware during my tests, giving me an opportunity to test the upgrade process. Samsung required me to create my own bootable USB flash drive, copy an updater and a new firmware package to that drive, and then run the update by booting from the flash drive. The update was destructive as well, just as it had been with the two OEM Samsung drives in my Dell notebooks. I had to do a full backup before the upgrade and then restore from that image afterwards.

By contrast, Crucial delivered its update package in an ISO image file that took seconds to download. I used the built-in Windows Isoburn utility to burn that image to a bootable CD, which walked me through the upgrade automatically. And best of all, the upgrades (two upgrades for each drive, to go from firmware version 2 to 6 and then from 6 to 7) were nondestructive. After I ran the upgrader, I restarted the PC and both my system and data drives were intact.

I found the 256GB Samsung drive available online at a variety of outlets for $449, or a cost per GB of about $1.75. The best price I could find on a Crucial drive of similar size was about the same. Ironically, I found the smaller 64GB and 128GB versions of the Crucial C300 drives at Newegg and Amazon, respectively, for significantly lower costs—at $99 and $199, respectively, they cost only $1.55 per GB. (Both prices have since gone up.) So my main system here has a 64GB SSD as a system drive and a 128GB SSD as a data drive. [This paragraph has been updated to revise pricing information.]

And with that setup, I am officially spoiled. Sitting down in front of a PC that uses a conventional hard disk drive is almost painful.

All of those measurements were done on a system where Windows 7 was installed fairly recently. But can they sustain that level of performance over time? And do they really have high failure rates? That’s the subject of my next installment.

Previous installments in this series:

Topics: Storage, Hardware, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Samsung, Software, Windows

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20 comments
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  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    I can't wait to see the performance with "Smart Response" SSD caching when the Intel Z68 chipset motherboards ship later this month. I'm sure it won't be as fast as an all-SSD system, but I'm hoping for a big improvement over a conventional hard drive alone.
    1DaveN
    • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

      @DaveN_MVP Sun Microsystems has sold read-optimized and write-opti<a href="http://vb.maas1.com/">m</a>ized SSDs for several years as part of their 7000 line of ZFS based storage devices. Most consumer SSDs tend to be a compromise, which explains why wri<a href="http://www.tran33m.com/vb/">t</a>ing to a spinning disk gives better performance.
      alasiri8
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    I can't wait for these drives to become cheap. Windows' experience index is always a waste of time atm because you can build a giant beast of a machine and your score is always going to be 5.9 because of the HDDs. I mean, what's the point of the index if the aggregate score is almost always going to be the same?
    Imrhien
    • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

      @Imrhien my system has standard 7200 rpm drives that get a 6.2 rating in win 7. granted they are in a raid 0 but still....
      eriksmalley
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    Ed, one the the salient points you make, and to which I can attest, is that not all SSDs are alike.
    palavering
  • Crucial is My Choice

    I have most of our systems on SSD's from a variety of manufacturers (Crucial, A-Data, Kingston, etc.). For my laptop (Lenovo ThinkPad T410s) I chose the Crucial model that Ed tested, but with a 256GB SSD as my primary and a 500GB 7200 RPM Seagate drive as my secondary/backup drive (UltraBay). All by itself, the SSD just scorches. I found similar results that Ed did with using an old fashioned drive and a SSD, with performance between the two being surprisingly good.
    matricellc
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    Ed, did you mean Newegg, not Amazon, for the C300 at $100? I don't show that it's been lower than $120 at Amazon, and it's almost $140 now. Newegg had it on sale briefly for $100 in late January.
    rseiler
    • One was from Amazon

      @rseiler <br><br>I just checked the order confirmation e-mails, and the price I quoted for the 128GB drive was correct. The current price has gone back up to $238 for the 128GB model at Amazon.

      The $100 price for the 64GB model was indeed from Newegg.
      Ed Bott
  • I already have SSD for all my systems

    My two laptops now have SSDs (OCX) and my big desktop pc is waiting for a couple of SSD (256GB) for the RAID 0 configuration. This will break the speed barrier for Hard drives and I finally will get 7.9 in Windows Experience Index.
    alexisgarcia72@...
  • Have an SSD for my new computer

    I built a new computer for home (gaming) and bought an Intel 510 - 120GB drive and it screams. I'm getting 7.9 on the Windows Experience Index. I think any SSD is better then a physical drive.
    bwills80
    • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

      @bwills80 Many thanks for your post, i found a lttle bit different standpoint at http://edproblemsolver.com
      Desire
      kollywolly
  • What About Failure Rates?

    I just read an interesting article on Coding Horror where one person's experience was a 100% failure rate among 8 different drives.

    Do you have any experience or insight on this?

    I still believe SSD's are a great option but if this is true then one definitely has to be even more diligent about backing up their data.

    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2011/05/the-hot-crazy-solid-state-drive-scale.html
    bwsd
    • That's the next installment

      @bwsd

      As I noted at the end of this post, the next installment will be about SSD reliability. In fact, I'm talking to Jeff Atwood (author of the post you linked) later today as part of my research for the next installment.
      Ed Bott
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    I don't quite understand the point this article is making. Where is the answer to the title, "to make an SSD even faster"? The comparison should have been within an SSD brand before and after tweak, instead of between 2 different SSD brands which are obviously having performance difference.
    yopiea
    • SATA III

      @yopiea

      You didn't notice the different disk controllers?
      Ed Bott
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    You're comparing apples and oranges. How about testing a 450 GB WD Velociraptor 10,000-rpm (enterprise class) drive running on a SATA-3 controller against your SSDs? No wonder the SSDs are faster than a 7,200-rpm drive running on a SATA-2 controller! (The WD drive is $200 at Newegg.)
    flboffin
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    Sun Microsystems has sold read-optimized and write-optimized SSDs for several years as part of their 7000 line of ZFS based storage devices. Most consumer SSDs tend to be a compromise, which explains why writing [i]to[/i] a spinning disk gives better performance.
    914four
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    Do you have any recommendations on new laptops, netbooks and desktops with SSDs already installed?

    I'm surprised that, despite the increased interest in SSDs, there aren't more new machines coming out with SSDs in the box (vs. retrofitting later on).
    bmoura
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    interesting article. To clear up one point. The legend on the chart identifies the last 2 bars as "SSD>SSD1" and "SSD>SSD2". Does SSD1 mean a SATA2 controller and SSD2 a SATA 3 controller? The story implies it, but isn't definite.

    My favorite example of SSD madness is this YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96dWOEa4Djs&fmt=22 raiding 24 SSDs. Granted it is 2 years old now, and the formerly bleeding edge hardware no longer is. But the "performance" is still mind boggling. And as an example of excessive consumption, it's funny.
    Ron_007
  • RE: How do you make an SSD even faster?

    The Windows Exp. Index is not a good test of disk performance.
    greg_turnbull