by Robert Tanner on March 2, 2011 in Storage
There couldn’t be a better time than the present to purchase an SSD, and on the same token, it’s also a strange time. Performance drives cost the same as budget drives, and a perfect example of this is Corsair’s Force F90. It’s priced-right, offers incredible performance, and makes perfect use of its SandForce SF-1200 controller.
This test is perhaps the most important in our battery of benchmarks as it gives us truly real-world results. It is designed to simulate three kinds of multi-tasking scenarios in order to see how well the storage drive can cope with concurrent workloads. The better a drive performs here, the quicker and more responsive it should feel in everyday tasks. It shouldn’t need to be said that this is where SSDs shine and where traditional HDD bottlenecks are most directly experienced.
In addition to stressing the controller with a demanding, large queue to sort through (NCQ support helps here), this test will give any weak controller a complete panic attack by overwhelming it with simultaneous random read/write operations to juggle with large sequential writes, which is the Achilles’ heel of many cheaper SSDs.
Queue depth and IOPs optimizations have long been a strength of Intel’s own SSDs, however, there is enough differing types of workloads here that regardless of drive, every SSD should see some part of the workload playing to its own unique strengths and weaknesses in some fashion. A good-quality SSD should allow the system to remain responsive as the tasks are carried out in the background at all times. (Please for your own safety don’t try this at home on your HDD!)
Our Medium test consists of the following:
- Playback of a 56MB FLAC music file in Winamp.
- 50 ~8MB images queued to open in Photoshop CS4.
- Opening of three Excel, three Word, and one PowerPoint files (various large sizes, for example one Excel file consists of an actual 72MB database).
- Browsing to four different websites in Firefox.
- Extraction of a 1GB RAR containing numerous “program file” folders.
- Extraction of an 893MB ZIP containing 100 RAW images.
- Transfer of a 7.16GB file to a second partition on the same drive
- Viewing of two PDF documents.
- Viewing of two small RAR utility archives
- Execution of four small utilities
Our Heavy test consists of all-the-above in addition to a full Anti-Virus scan running concurrently in the background with the start of the test. The AV scan uses a static, unchanging 5.1GB test folder that contains 19,748 files and 2,414 sub-folders created from the Program Files directory.
Granted, even with a Core i7 processor, no computer user would be performing all of these tasks concurrently unless they wish to see their computer go unresponsive for up to 30 minutes at a time, but with an SSD, this is almost child’s play! If you think we are exaggerating then just look at what a fairly typical SATA HDD is able to offer, which is a representative sample for any other desktop HDD.
Last but not least, the Light test changes things slightly. This test is a batch file dropped into the Startup folder designed to load several programs as soon as Windows 7 reaches the desktop. This light test will open four websites in Firefox, load five images in Photoshop CS4, start playing our favorite 8 minute (56MB FLAC) music file in Winamp, and open a single large Word, Excel, and PowerPoint document, in addition to a single PDF file. For this specific test in particular, we start measuring from the moment the power button is pressed to the moment the last program and all files have been fully loaded ready for use.
In the time required for a typical computer using a hard disk drive to boot to desktop, it is possible for an SSD to have reached desktop and fully load a multitude of programs and files. In fact, the Corsair Force 90GB can load all the above programs and files in 76 seconds, which is still HALF the time required for a mechanical hard drive just to load Windows. That begs the question: maybe it isn’t the OS that is so slow, but the storage device most commonly used?
Keep in mind boot times are also dependant on the motherboard and system hardware, a newly released Sandy Bridge motherboard with UEFI that replaces the BIOS will drop boot times significantly below those seen in our older testbed. (The newer SB processor will certainly contribute, too).
Although not at the top, the 90GB Force drive puts in respectable performance in our medium batch test. One thing not shown in our graph is the remarkable consistency SandForce drives in particular seem able to deliver. Despite seven gigabytes of data being copied across partitions, a few more being generated from archive extractions, and hundreds to possibly thousands of file reads and writes occurring nearly at once, during all five runs results always fell within the same 14 second range. Now that is consistency! Those SSDs with good controllers in particular have this effect for generating very consistent results which is why they see widespread adoption in all sorts of benchmarking platforms, but from my personal experience SandForce drives are currently one of the best at it.
As mentioned already our heavy batch test uses the same scenario as the medium test, but adds a concurrent anti-virus scan of a static, 5.1GB test folder that consists of nothing but Program Files. If I was using a mechanical hard drive this is usually the part of the test where I could start it up, then watch last night’s evening news and come back in time to catch it finishing. (Okay, admittedly only if I skipped through the drug and oil commercials). Whereas a 320GB mechanical drive required an average of 23 and a half minutes, the 90GB Corsair Force on average was able to achieve the same result in a much more reliable seven minutes and eight seconds.
At less than a third of the time to complete the task it isn’t any wonder SSDs have become so attractive to end users and businesses alike. For consumers that don’t have the liberty of having their boss foot the bill they will need to decide if they have sufficiently demanding applications with disk IO (besides games, mind you) that need a fast solid-state drive, or if they simply want one bad enough. However it is done, SSDs are well worth the upgrade.
We already mentioned the SSD consistency, for the heavy test the slowest and quickest results deviated only by 19 seconds between all five runs. Now go run a full anti-virus scan on a computer that uses a hard drive and try to get anything done at the same time, let alone reliably, it just isn’t going to happen. With the Corsair Force the system remained responsive and had plenty of performance left to handle opening programs or files, including stutter-free playback of music even with everything else running in the background. With an SSD program file installations, anti-virus scans, file searches, and program updates don’t have to interrupt whatever the user is doing.