Fusion-io vs Intel X25-M SSD RAID, Grudge Match Review

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We've taken a detailed look at Intel's MLC flash-based X25-M SSDs a couple of times here already and we've found that they are one of the all around fastest SSD drives currently on the market. That being said, the obvious potential for performance scaling with setting up four of these drives in a RAID 0 configuration is promising, since theoretically we could achieve up to 1GB/sec of read bandwidth and 280MB/sec for writes.  Though our available write throughput would be lower than the Fusion-io solution, available read bandwidth of a 4xRAID 0 array of these drives is enormous to be sure.

On a side note, we're also sure many desktop end users have found themselves clamoring for a mechanical solution inside a standard ATX chassis, that can support mounting an SSD with its 2.5" hard drive form-factor, much less four of them in tandem.  We discovered a solution to this problem that is both elegant and highly functional, especially given a multi-drive installation.

  

Intel X25-M Series and Supermicro M14T-B 2.5" Drive Cage
Specifications and Features

Capacity
80GB and 160GB
NAND Flash Components
Intel Multi-Level Cell (MLC) NAND Flash Memory
10 Channel Parallel Architecture with 50nm MLC ONFI 1.0 NAND
Bandwidth
Up to 250MB/s Read Speeds
Up to 70MB/s Write Speeds
Read Latency
85 microseconds
Interface
SATA 1.5 Gb/s and 3.0 Gb/s
Form factor
1.8" Industry Standard Hard Drive Form Factor
2.5" Industry Standard Hard Drive Form Factor
Compatibility
SATA Revision 2.6 Compliant. Compatible with SATA 3.0 Gb/s with Native Command Queuing and SATA 1.5 Gb/s interface rates
Life expectancy
1.2 million hours Mean Time Before Failure (MTBF)
Power consumption
Active: 150mW Typical (PC workload)
Idle (DIPM): 0.06W Typical
Operating shock
1,000G / 0.5ms
Operating temperature
0°C to +70°C
ROHS Compliance
Meets the requirements of EU RoHS Compliance Directives
Product health monitoring
Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) commands plus additional SSD monitoring





Toggle this check-box (right) if your numbers look low...

Above you can see we've found a four bay 2.5" hot-swappable drive cage from Supermicro that fits nicely into a standard 5.25" drive bay.  A single 4-pin molex power connector provides power for the entire cage and a single 4-to-1 SATA cable allows connectivity for each drive in the cage to all of the host controller ports that are required.  We decided to plug our four SSDs right into the ICH10R SATA controller on an Intel X58-based motherboard.  Finally, there is a small high speed fan in the back of the unit which can be disabled with a jumper setting thankfully, since the fan itself is really loud and SSDs don't need much airflow and produce very little heat comparatively to their 2.5" spinning drive counterparts.  Even with the fan completely disabled, thermals in the cage were just fine with the SSD 4-pack.  And of course, this rendered our new high-end SSD RAID storage solution completely silent.

Once we had everything installed mechanically, it was time to setup our RAID array and initialize the volume for testing in our operating system (Vista 64-bit).  One small snafu that plagued our benchmark results was the Vista "Enable advanced performance" option you see captured in the screen shot above.  We found on some benchmark runs, particularly with HD Tach, that a performance degradation occurred that was inexplicable. It was only after we unchecked this box, that we saw performance return to expect levels for the configuration we were testing.  Re-checking the box after this had little affect on performance.  This anomaly was observed very consistently, so much so that we'd suggest unchecking this box if you're installation includes an Intel SSD.  We have alerted Intel to this issue and are awaiting a further detail.  Regardless, we're confident in the following benchmark numbers you're about to see with the setup we had configured for testing.

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Nice article. I really can't wait till the Fusion-io drives come down in price. I also really like that Supermicro 2.5" rack, which I think you mean fits into a 5.25" bay, not 3.5". I currently have two SSDs TAPED to the inside of my case so you can see them facing the window.

On a related note, do you think you do do a similar set of tests on different RAID controllers? I noticed you said your X58 southbridge was faster than the controller cards you had in the lab, which is odd. I really want to know the benefits of using something like the crazy Areca RAID controllers with their own upgradeable RAM sticks, like the ones DV Nation have.

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Hey Lev,

We actually tried an Acreca 1210 card with 256MB of on board cache and the Intel array. It was actually slower than the ICH10R believe it or not. I was surprised too. However, it doesn't take much heavy lifting for RAID 0 an Intel probably has their Southbridge chipset and drivers tuned pretty well for their own SSD, so perhaps it's not all that surprising. However, with a RAID 5 setup, you definitely want hardware RAID of course.

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And Lev, we caught that typo within like 3 seconds of go-live. You're QUICK man! LOL

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What kind of alignment did you guys do on those Intel drives? And did you guys enable write-back cache? Those Intel drives didn't seem to scale as good as they should have after 2 were installed. Changing the alignment alone could result in some large gains. I know they are probably hitting the limits of the board, but i'm still curious if you could squeeze a little more out of them.

I didn't think that ioFusion card would be bootable. Once these kind of cards start to catch on tho... that might change with some BIOS updates, etc.

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You guys have 4 X25-Ms. Me wants.

Anyway thats some crazy performance on the fusion io. I can't wait until stuff like that becomes affordable on the consumer end.

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Bob, stick around for another few weeks. We'll be looking at the ioXtreme drive from Fusion-io very soon. It will be priced in the hundreds range, rather than thousands. :)

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Dave_HH:

Bob, stick around for another few weeks. We'll be looking at the ioXtreme drive from Fusion-io very soon. It will be priced in the hundreds range, rather than thousands. :)

Thats a bit more intresting. A solid SSD would perfect my desktop I think.

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Acarzt, write-back cache was definitely enabled and as far as alignment goes, the drives were setup with 128K stripe (default for RAID 0 on the ICH10R) and formatted with defaults for NTFS.

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Ahh I see... That's exactly how I have mine set... it's amazing the differece write-back cache makes.

About the alignment tho... I was talking about the volume itself after creating the RAID. I don't know if this applies to the Intel drives, but I did this with my raid...

http://www.ocztechnologyforum.com/forum/showthread.php?t=53756

Vista has a default allignment of 1024. 128k is more common for RAID'd drives. I've seen guys pick up over 100MB/s by changing it. So instead of

"create partition primary align 64"

like in the walkthrough... you would use...

"create partition primary align 128"

It's worth a shot... it might make a difference :-P

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Awesome review, $7200 wouldn't really justify for any home-use though. I saw a PCI-E add-on card where it has 8 DIMM slot for you to add old memory modules and make it into a cheap fast storage, non-bootable, and it only takes 32GB, MSRP at $499 (without the ram).

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