by Robert Tanner on April 19, 2010 in Solid-State Drives
The SSD market is littered with competitors, but up to now, few companies behind mechanical storage have entered the arena. Last month though, Western Digital scratched its name off the list, with the help of its SiliconEdge Blue models. We’re taking a look at the 256GB variant here, so let’s see how it fares against the competition!
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.
Starting with the simple light test, all of the SSDs are able to boot to Windows 7 64-bit and load all the programs in just over one minute. 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, as the nearly two and a half minutes for the HDD clearly illustrates. Again our test platform is becoming the bottleneck here, but the SiliconEdge Blue manages to shave a full second off the best time. For the quickest boot times this is indeed the drive to get.
For the medium scenario things begin to heat up, with the more robust SSD controllers able to flex their strength. A controller needs to be good at just about every task to perform well in this scenario, which stresses every aspect of an SSD and not just pure throughput. Here the SiliconEdge Blue gets edged out of the lead, but delivers solid, tangible performance even beating out the Intel G1 drive. The best drive finishes in 4:26, while the WD drive is just under 5 minutes. This is well ahead of the almost fourteen minutes for the mechanical drive!
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. Anti-virus scans have long been the bane of computer users, and although they are much better optimized today will still slow down mechanical hard drives. The addition of the anti-virus scan gives the Western Digital SSD a solid time of 8:21, which places it just 17 seconds behind the top result in this test! This is a very good showing by Western Digital’s custom firmware that powers the SiliconEdge’s controller. Firmware optimizations can and will have as large of an impact as the controller itself.
The Intel G1 drive clearly shows why TRIM is important as its dirty state makes it easy pickings, although its write limitation of 80MB/s certainly does it no favors here either. The SiliconEdge Blue is able to complete the entire medium workload and the anti-virus scan in just 14 seconds more than the X25-M G1 requires to complete just the medium scenario alone.
We should note that the heavy test would actually begin to overwhelm the hard disk drive as the workload began to pile up behind the bottleneck. The Vertex, SSDNow V+, and SiliconEdge deserve an extra mention here as these drives gave the most responsive system even under the heavy multitasking scenario. Not even with the AV scan running did the system go unresponsive or stutter. We honestly would be hard-pressed to even mind using the computer under such workloads as the system remained responsive at all times, unlike some of the other SSDs.
What to take away from these results is that the SiliconEdge Blue is no slouch. Quixotically while it performed the worst in the PCMark Vantage Vista boot test, in this real-world test it takes the cake by delivering the best load times in the Light OS+application load test. If quick OS and application load times are priorities over multitude of concurrent small file operations (IOMeter) then the SiliconEdge is well worth a closer look.