by Robert Tanner on July 14, 2010 in Solid-State Drives
Over the past six months, Corsair has been phasing out its older SSD line-up and replacing it with new series’ with catchier names, such as Reactor, Force and Nova. The latter is what we’re taking a look at here. The goal of the Nova series is to offer huge bang for the buck, and as we’ve seen throughout our testing, Corsair has hit its mark.
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 regular hard disk drive computer to boot, it is possible for an SSD to boot and have fully loaded a multitude of programs and files that you regularly use, as the nearly two and a half minutes for the HDD clearly illustrates. Keep in mind we are talking about booting both the OS and several frequently used programs, the base boot time for the best SSDs in this platform is a rather sedate 55 seconds. While loading these programs only requires an extra twelve seconds, for a mechanical drive they in fact double the time required to boot.
What should make the light batch results all the more impressive is to realize that a motherboard featuring one of the latest chipsets, with the proper tuning should be capable of dropping the best 67 second boot times down to as little as 35-50 seconds depending on the overall system configuration.
For the medium scenario the results are unfortunately beginning to clump together around the seven minute mark. This shows that once again the platform itself is beginning to bottleneck the faster SSDs in our tests, these drives are just fast.
The Corsair Nova performs admirably (did you honestly expect anything less?) here. Although it required a few extra seconds for the light test it required an average of five seconds less for the Medium batch scenario, and finally was five seconds slower in the heavy scenario. While the overclocked Barefoot controller may have had something to do with this back and forth of results we believe them to be just the natural variation between test runs and would consider the medium and heavy runs to be a tie.
In a roughly over four-and-a-half minutes, the Nova and Vertex drives complete the entire workload while keeping the system responsive and stutter-free. Requiring close to double the time (7:27), the Intel G1 drive is clearly showing the write bottleneck of 80MB/s and its lack of TRIM support, yet the competition fairs even worse. The discontinued 40GB V series drive only has half of the normal 10 flash channels and this, as well as the small drive capacity, limit it to a time more than double that (9:11) of the V+ series 128GB SSD. For those like me that are too lazy to do the math, the outclassed mechanical hard disk drive completes the identical scenario in not quite 14 minutes. That’s nearly 10 minutes of time saved just by upgrading to a good quality SSD right there.
As mentioned above the heavy test uses the exact same scenario as the medium test, but includes a concurrent anti-virus scan of a static test folder. If you needed further proof that choice of SSD does matter, take note that the Corsair Nova (and the Vertex Turbo which uses the same underlying controller) complete the heavy workload scenario in the same time tha the X25-M G1 requires just to complete the medium workload scenario! Oh, and for those wondering, while the Indilinx Barefoot controlelr completed the workload in roughly seven and a half minutes, the platter-based drive required an eye-watering 23 minutes and 42 seconds to do the same.
One thing not shown by our graph is that with the medium scenario the Vertex 2 performed all five runs with results that fell within seven seconds of each other. This level of consistency is another sign of a good controller, and the Indilinx Barefoot is second to only the SF-1200 in its consistency. Weaker controllers such as the “V” drive’s JMicron controller by comparison had some results differing by as much as several minutes, which is clear evidence the controller was becoming overwhelmed from the workload.
What to take away from this is even with the most brutal of scenarios, it is that SSDs that are best suited for heavy multi-tasking and quite capable of handling any sort of workload you wish to throw at them. Or simply every type of workload at once, it is up to you. It isn’t drive throughput that matters as much as small, random read/write throughput which is a completely different animal. And you are using an SSD, there is no longer any excuse for not having an active anti-virus program installed. ;-)