Geek Sheet: A Tweaker's Guide to Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Linux

Geek Sheet: A Tweaker's Guide to Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Linux

Summary: Got Linux? Got SSD? Here's your tweaking guide.


Editor's note: this post was originally published in July of 2008. It's been updated with current information.

Is 20th century conventional Winchester multi-platter, multi-head random-access disk technology too quaint for you? Want to run your PC or server on storage devices that consume far less energy than the traditional alternatives? Want a portable or mobile storage unit that will never fail due to G-forces or "crashing?". Looking for a highly reliable and fast random access storage medium to use for your most important data? Do you have $250.00-$500.00 in spare change lying around? Then Solid State Drives (SSDs) are for you.

Right now, the cost of using 2.5" SATA SSDs as exclusive primary storage devices is rather high. At around $240.00-$250 for one of the higher-performing 120GB units when compared with commodity pricing on traditional mechanical disk storage, SSDs are out of reach for most consumers as bulk storage at $2 per Gigabyte -- 1TB hard disks can now be found for as little as $60-$75 each, with an approximate price of 6 cents per Gigabyte.

For the most part, they've been relegated to executive-class ultra power-miserly and ultra-thin notebooks like the Macbook Air and other high-end business class notebooks running on Windows.  But that doesn't mean these babies can't perform well on Linux and other Unix operating systems like FreeBSD, and can be an easy way to boost performance of your system provided that you don't use them as your primary storage device.

At their $2 per GB price point, unless you are really rolling in cash, you probably don't want to be stuffing these with anything less than mission-critical data. SSDs perform exceedingly well for things like MySQL databases, provided you tweak your kernel, BIOS, and filesystems accordingly. They're also excellent for boot drives, root filesystems, and storing small VM files. For example, I run my Ubuntu Linux 10.10 boot drive and a 20GB Windows XP VM on mine, a 120GB OCZ Vertex 2.

When this piece was originally posted in 2008, Veteran Linux hacker Geoff "Mandrake" Harrison was happy to provide me with some insight from an O'Reilly MySQL conference in which he and his colleagues presented on how to make your MySQL machines fly using SSDs. Mandrake's employer at the time had spent an obscene amount of money on SSDs, and he was happy to brag about how much power they are saving and the performance they are getting out of them relative to good old SATA2 disk units.

Also See: MagicFab SSD Checklist (

Tweak #1: If your system motherboard uses a disk caching bus, change the BIOS setting from "Write Through" to "Write Back". The standard practice on Linux with conventional drives is to set it as "Write Through" but the simpler architecture of an SSD results in poorer performance with this default setting. Once you've enabled it in the BIOS, you can set this on a drive by drive level by executing this command as the root user:

[root@techbroiler ~]# hdparm -W1 /dev/sda

Similarly, if you have conventional drives in your system in addition to SSDs, you can issue a:

[root@techbroiler ~]# hdparm -W0 /dev/sda

To disable write-back caching.

To make these changes persist between reboots, add the commands to the /etc/rc.local file.

Tweak #2: Use the "noop" simple I/O scheduler. By default, Linux uses an "elevator" so that platter reads and writes are done in an orderly and sequential matter. Since an SSD is not a conventional disk, the "elevator" scheduler actually gets in the way.

By adding  block/sda/queue/scheduler = noop to your /etc/sysfs.conf (requires the sysutils package) or elevator=noop to the kernel boot parameters in your /etc/default/grub file (assuming you are only using one SSD) you will greatly improve read and write performance on your SSD.

For those of you using Linux in virtual machines on conventional drives such as JBOD and SAN-based arrays, this is a good practice as well, since most VMs are implemented in image files (such as .vmdk on VMWare and .vhd on Hyper-V) and there is no need to treat I/O to a virtual disk the same as a physical one.

Tweak #3: Change the file system mount options on SSDs to "noatime" and mount your /tmp in RAM. On certain Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, the default is "relatime". This tells the kernel to write the Last Accessed Time attribute on files. Conversely, "noatime" tells the kernel not to write them, which considerably improves performance.  Linus himself suggests using it in circumstances such as this, so therefore, I consider it to be gospel. Here's what my /etc/fstab looks like.

UUID=aaf49668-2624-4238-a486-baf341361be6 /               ext4   noatime,discard,data=ordered,errors=remount-ro 0       1

tmpfs /tmp tmpfs nodev,nosuid,noexec,mode=1777 0 0

Note that I have set data=ordered as opposed to data=writeback, which you would use if you formatted the drive with ext2 instead of ext4 or another journaled FS. In my case, I'm using ext4, mounted fully journalized, so this is a good compromise.

Additionally, because I have a large amount of RAM on my system (16GB) I've moved the temp file system into RAM as opposed to running it on disk. This also creates a significant performance boost and reduces unnecessary writes to the SSD. If you have at least 4GB of RAM, this is a good idea.

Tweak #4: Ditch the journal and RAID your SSDs.  File system journaling is done primarily for increased reliability, but it's a drag on performance. Given that SSDs by their nature are going to be less prone to reliability quirks than a conventional drive, Mandrake suggests creating a RAID1 of two SSD units and formatting the file system to ext2, or formatting them to ext3 and mounting them as ext2 in the /etc/fstab.

Dump your MySQL database on a RAID of SSDs, and you'll be in performance hog heaven.

[EDIT 11/19/2010: It has been suggested in the comments that formatting the filesystem as ext4 and mounting with the journal enabled and RAID1 may actually be faster than ext2 RAID1 and provide additional referential integrity, and mounting a ext4 RAID1 in unjournalized mode may also be faster than ext2 RAID1. Your mileage may vary.]

[EDIT 07/27/2008: Some concerns were raised about what could happen if the power goes out and you lose referential integrity of the FS and are unable to replay it from the journal -- so you might want to use a traditional disk using a journaled FS to sync the database to for backups.]

Gonna mortgage your house or send your children into slavery for sweet SSD love? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Hardware, Linux, Open Source


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Geek Sheet: A Tweaker???s Guide to Solid State Disks (SSDs) and Linux

    How sad is that? You need a tweaking guide just to get a disk drive to work in linux! The linux community wonders why people don't use their sorry excuse of an OS. Well that is one good reason why! Users don't want to spend hours trying to configure the system, let alone just a single disk drive. Strike one more fault against linux.
    Loverock Davidson
    • It's not that it doesn't work

      It's that default kernel performance is optimized for regular hard drives. You don't have to do anything to make them "work". They 'Work' out of the box.

      In Vista or Windows 2008 Server, you have no such options for improving performance of an SSD.
      • Oh, It's just Loverock at it again? Pay no attention Jason.

        D T Schmitz
      • Vista is already optimized for SSD
        "The results indicate that the new Windows Vista operating system will run optimally when installed on the SanDisk SSD"
        • That's funny because SanDisk

          is blaming Vista for performance issues with SSDs and why they are delaying shipment of optimized drives with Multilevel Cell Technology for a year.

          • Vista Enhanced Performance with SSD

            SanDisk website says:
            "Enhanced Performance
            These performance figures boost system performance and enhance the user experience. For instance, SanDisk SSD SATA 5000 2.5" can boot Microsoft Windows? Vista? Enterprise on a laptop in as little as 30 seconds. SanDisk SSD achieves an average file access rate of 0.11 milliseconds. On Windows Experience Index for Microsoft?Vista?, SanDisk SSD scores 5.6 out of a total 5.9.5 "
          • Well, the SanDisk marketers are very tricky. Did you notice that they never

            said anything about Vista being optimized for these drives. The marketers were doing their best to say something positive about using the SSD with Vista, without outright lying.

            If the Vista disk subsystem were really optimized for SSDs, SanDisk could really sell a whole lot more. But, then again, because of the Vista bloat, that is another problem of SSDs under Vista.
      • It doesn't work

        You just wrote an article about how it doesn't work and needs to be tweaked! So something is broken with it.
        Loverock Davidson
        • So, are you genetically related to the Pakleds?

          • Yes, he is. He uses very simple insults and arguments. Nothing he does is

            very deep. He is not capable.
          • Outrageous

            Speaking on behalf the Pakled community, your assertion that the correspondent in question might have a Pakled genetic heritage is deeply offensive. For one thing, Pakleds have no use for Windows; universally they are Apple users. Okay, since Linus' comments became public, there has been some community interest in Gnome, but very little since Steve Jobs is an icon of great stature in Pakled society.
            Rambo Tribble
          • 'Loverock'


            Please do not feed the M$ [b]troll!!![/b]

            Thank You.
      • RE: Geek Sheet: A Tweaker???s Guide to Solid State Disks (SSDs) and Linux


        Just ingnore Lover(cough)ock, he's like the mad old Uncle who turns up a weddings and funerals. Politely humour him, offer a bowl of trifle and he will be quite content to gibber to himself even though nobody actually cares.
        Alan Smithie
      • RE: Geek Sheet: A Tweaker???s Guide to Solid State Disks (SSDs) and Linux


        LOL! Someone is quoting SanDisk! LOL! HP keeps trying to use Sandisk, presumably because they are cheap, but Sandisk manages to degrade the performance of their own SKUs without warning in half a prototype cycle, so they get dropped before finished product.
      • Who cares about Vista? Windows 7 supports it.


        And so does Intel. You linked to a 2 year old doc. Who knows what they did in updates.

        By the way, if you are using an SSD with a database server, avoid the MLC technology with 100k writes. It will fail quickly with intensive I/O. Use the SLC technology instead with its 2-5m writes. They even have a hard drive in a PCIe slot if you really want to fly at sustained 850MB/sec by Fusion-io.

        Go here for everything you wanted to know about storage.

        I would just put a swap file on a physical ram disk using DDR-2 tech along with my browser cache. There are no write limitations on RAM.
    • .....

      The Darwin candidate, figured you would be the first to post. Such a moron, such a moron. You completely miss the point that this is a tweak on existing performance. Dolt. ]:)
      Linux User 147560
    • What's sad is these drives run

      terrible in Vista and there is nothing you can do about it. Linux is such a great OS that you can make it fit any scenario you need. Vista on the other hand has no such ability. You have to buy your hardware configured a certain way with no room to tweak.

      It's no wonder Linux is taking over the Enterprise server world. It's light years beyond Windows.
      • RE: Geek Sheet: A Tweaker???s Guide to Solid State Disks (SSDs) and Linux

        @bjbrock : LOL, almost ROFL! You're pretty inexperienced, aren't you?
    • I'll let the SanDisk people tell it.

      From the article Jason linked to:
      [i]Speaking during SanDisk's second-quarter earnings conference call, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Eli Harari said that Windows Vista will present a special challenge for solid-state drive makers. "As soon as you get into Vista applications in notebook and desktop, you start running into very demanding applications because Vista is not optimized for flash memory solid-state disk," he said.

      This is due to Vista's design. "The next generation controllers need to basically compensate for Vista shortfalls," he said.[/i]

      Jason's article was about tweaking Linux so SSDs run optimally, which of course is not saying they don't run, or even that they don't run well out of the box. You know, unlike Vista.
      • RE: Geek Sheet: A Tweaker???s Guide to Solid State Disks (SSDs) and Linux

        @heres_johnny Don't look now, but almost no one is using Vista anymore other than a few newbies that got sucked in by hype.