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OCZ IBIS HSDL Solid State Drive Preview
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Date: Sep 29, 2010
Section:IT/Datacenter
Author: Dave Altavilla
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Introduction and Specs

We never seem to tire of new SSD technologies. The storage subsystem has long been the primary bottleneck with respect to general computer system responsiveness. And as a result, the explosion of Solid State Drives in the market is indicative of the ground-breaking performance gains the average SSD offers over traditional hard drive technology. As dyed-in-the-wool speed freaks, we're always on the lookout for products that offer the type advances the SSD has offered and we're sure the average HotHardware reader shares the same passion, along with many others in the burgeoning new market segment that has been created. That said, as with most emerging technologies, there is usually a legacy of backwards compatibility and interoperability that tends to hold things back, at least initially.  For SSDs that legacy is the aging Serial ATA interface. Even the new SATA 6G interface will throttle back SSD performance somewhat with the inherent latency due to the bridging required to communicate to native system interfaces like PCI Express.

As we've noted more than once here before, as NAND Flash technologies evolve, SATA will go the way of the dino. It's not going to happen over night but like its old, spinning hard drive counterpart, the writing is on the wall.  The market needs new higher speed interfaces with lower overhead and more direct attachment to native system interfaces. OCZ has been trying its hand at developing PCI Express-based SSDs in an effort to address this requirement.  They've been rolling out all new products like their Revo Drive that we looked at recently and the new device we'll be looking at here today.  The new OCZ IBIS SSD utilizes a proprietary serial interface that the company has coined "HSDL" for High Speed Data Link and it offers up to 20Gb/sec peak bandwidth over an industry standard SAS connector, which is over three times that of next gen 6Gbps SATA technology.  Journey on for all the details and a performance profile of a prototype we've been testing here in the lab.


OCZ IBIS Series 240GB MLC SSD with HSDL Interface

OCZ IBIS 240GB HSDL SSD
Specifications and Features
  • 240GB capacity (223GB usable)
  • MLC NAND
  • 4 x SandForce 1222 Controller
  • 3.5" Standard HD Mechanical Design
  • Power Consumption: 6.6W idle, 9.5W active
  • MTBF: 2 Million Hours
  • Warranty: 3 Years
  • Read: Up to 740MB/s
  • Write: Up to 720MB/s
  • IOPs (4K random write): 120,000, QD32, 4K Aligned
  • Seek Time: 0.1ms
  • Operating Temp: 0C ~ 50C
  • Storage Temp: -45C ~ +85C
  • Interface:  HSDL (High Speed Data Link)

OCZ's upcoming IBIS product family...

Part Number/Capacity MSRP
OCZ3HSD1IBS1-960G $2799
OCZ3HSD1IBS1-720G $2149
OCZ3HSD1IBS1-480G $1299
OCZ3HSD1IBS1-360G $1099
OCZ3HSD1IBS1-240G $739
OCZ3HSD1IBS1-160G $629
OCZ3HSD1IBS1-100G $529

OCZ tells us that the IBIS product family will be offered in a range of densities, as you can see in the chart above.  We've tested the 240GB model that offers up to 740MB/sec max read throughput and 720MB/sec maximum write throughput. Of course, blazing fast SSD technology like this also comes at a premium, as you'd expect.  With the average higher-end 256GB SSD weighing in right around $579 or so for a Sandforce-based drive or the likes of Micron/Crucial's 6G SATA C300 SSD, you're looking at roughly a 30 - 50% premium for the IBIS drive.  As always, at the very high-end, you've got to pay to play and sometimes the scaling is linear with performance, while other times not so much. We'll see what the case is for the IBIS but first, let's take a look at what the drive is made of, next.
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HSDL and IBIS Architecture

The primary differentiator of the IBIS drive is OCZ's new HSDL (High Speed Data Link) interface. OCZ notes that HSDL leverages existing PCI Express technologies by bonding four PCI Express compatible lanes together into a single high speed serial interface capable of up to 20Gb/sec throughput.

The chart above notes the new interface's bandwidth advantage over existing technologies such as 6Gbps SATA, Serial Attached SCSI and Fibre Channel.  There's no question 10Gbps is boatload of bandwidth and in 2011 OCZ claims they'll be able to double that.

The implementation for the IBIS drive we're testing here is a single HSDL connection to a single port HSDL X4 PCI Express adapter card.  We'll look at the hardware level technologies employed shortly but, at a high level, the HSDL interface is comprised of 4 LVDS (Low Voltage Differential Signaling) pairs (8 total) bonded together in a single channel.  High speed LVDS pairs are used in a myriad of serial interconnect technologies from HyperTransport, to Firewire, SCSI, SATA, RapidIO and of course good ol' PCI Express. LVDS is simply the physical medium to transmit a low voltage signal over copper. OCZ reports that the HSDL interface utilizes an 8/10b bit encoding scheme much like PCI Express to transmit its data and also utilizes a PCI Express logic layer, so it's compatible with existing PCI Express architectures.  

 

 

 

 

 

Though we're testing with a single port adapter card, OCZ also will be offering a 4-port card and as you can see in the diagrams above you can do some pretty interesting things with it.  Future incarnations of IBIS drives could be super high-bandwidth four port SSDs with theoretically up to 40Gbps of available bandwidth for read/write transactions.  Where we come from, we'd call that drinking from the firehose but of course these are all just theoretical numbers until we see the design running on a test bench.  Finally, traditional RAID arrays can also be built from multiple IBIS SSDs as well, as is illustrated in the bottom diagram here and of course, you could just have multiple individual IBIS volumes installed in a system.
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The OCZ IBIS Up Close

The OCZ IBIS drive is a bundled kit that includes a 3.5" form factor SSD, a standard SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) cable and a small, half-height, half-length X4 PCI Express HBA (Host Bus Adapter) card.  At first glance, it's a simple solution though slightly more complex than just plugging a single SSD into a SATA port on your motherboard.  That said, looking closer still, things get even more complex actually.


The preliminary kit, sans driver CD...


 
Silicon Image PCI/PCI-X Hardware RAID Controller and a Pericom PCI Express to PCI-X Bridge?

There are three primary circuit boards that make-up the 240GB IBIS drive we tested; two Flash memory SSDs with a pair of SandForce 1222 SSD controllers per card (4 total) and a single controller card with a Silicon Image Steel Vine hardware-based RAID controller. 


Silicon Image Steel Vine and companion Pericom Bridge

The Silicon Image 3124 RAID controller is actually a 4-port PCI-X to 3Gps SATA host controller, if you can believe that.  The chip next to it (top right) is a Pericom PCI Express to PCI/PCI-X reversible bridge.  To be honest, when we stopped to think of all the bridging going on here (PCIe to PCI-X and PCI-X to 3G SATA) it raised our hackles a bit. However, the fact of the matter is it just works and this is a hardware-based on-board RAID solution that OCZ determined was economical and able to provide enough bandwidth, while somehow hiding latency.  We questioned OCZ on the use of the Steel Vine PCI/PCI-X chip and they offered this in reply:

"We viewed this controller as fast enough and do not see it as a bottleneck.  PCI-X actually has quite a bit of headroom and will go to 1000MB/sec which isn’t considered slow and both PCI-X DDR and QDR posed serious threats to PCI-Express as a bus. While the industry went PCI-Express over “X”,  the technology is still very viable and though it may be “older” it is not necessarily slower. There is some minor latency with a two chip solution but it is not noticeable in benchmarks, as the timing of the flash is not that quick, in terms of real-world performance it [latency] is definitely not noticeable."

The other chip you might be wondering about in this design is the small blacked-out chip that resides on the X4 PCI Express HBA.  We're told this is a chip made by semiconductor manufacturer PLX.  PLX is known for its high performance PCI Express Switch chips that are utilized on motherboards and even graphics card designs, to fan out PCI Express lanes for additional connectivity and expansion.  Likely this chip is offering low-latency cut-through switching from the HSDL lanes coming in over the SAS cable here, to the PCI Express X4 edge connector on the IBIS adapter card.

All told, to be completely honest, the design does look a bit kludgy to us.  The engineers at OCZ might cringe on that word but it is what it is.  Let's face it, there are a lot of interfaces at play here and plenty of bridging going on.  However, the fact of the matter is, though the design isn't completely elegant, it gets the job done nicely, as you'll see in the benchmark numbers we have for you on the following pages.

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Test System and IOMeter

Our Test MethodologiesUnder each test condition, the Solid State Drives tested here were installed as secondary volumes in our testbed, with a standard spinning hard disk for the OS and benchmark installations.  A low-level format was performed on all SSDs prior to testing.  The SSDs were left blank without partitions wherever possible, unless a test required them to be partitioned and formatted, as was the case with our Vantage benchmark tests. AHCI was enabled in the system BIOS before installation of Windows 7 Ultimate x64.  Windows firewall, automatic updates and screen savers were all disabled before testing. In all test runs, we rebooted the system and waited several minutes for drive activity to settle before invoking a test.

 

HotHardware Test System
Intel Core i7 Powered

Processor -
Motherboard -


Video Card -
Memory -
Audio -

Storage -

 

Hardware Used:
Intel Core i7 970

Gigabyte GA-EX58-Extreme
(X58 Express Chipset)

GeForce GTX 285
6144MB Kingston HyperX DDR3-1333

Integrated on board

Western Digital Raptor - OS
OCZ IBIS 240GB HSDL SSD
OCZ Vertex LE 100GB SSD
Fusion-io ioXtreme 80GB PCIe SSD


OS -

Relevant Software:
Window 7 Ultimate 64-bit

Benchmarks Used:

ATTO ver 2.41
PCMark Vantage
SiSoftware Sandra 2010 SP2
IOMeter 2008.06
CrystalDiskMark 3.0 x64
Custom File Transfer Tests

 

 IOMeter
 I/O Subsystem Measurement Tool

The IOMeter Question:
As we noted in a previous SSD round-up article, though IOMeter is clearly thought of as a well respected industry standard drive benchmark, we're not completely comfortable with it for testing SSDs.  The fact of the matter is, though our actual results with IOMeter appear to scale properly, it is debatable whether or not certain access patterns, as they are presented to and measured on an SSD, actually provide a valid example of real-world performance for the average end user.  That said, we do think IOMeter is a gauge for relative available bandwidth with a given storage solution.

In the following tables, we're showing two sets of access patterns; our Workstation pattern with an 8K transfer size, 80% reads (20% writes) and 80% random (20% sequential) access and our Database access pattern of 4K transfers, 67% reads (34% writes) and 100% random access.

 


 

The first thing you'll note here is how flat the standard SATA SSD's performance was across test patterns and IO queue depth.  Our IO queue depth was set in IOMeter and essentially it represents higher levels of workload requests of the same access patterns simultaneously.  The Vertex LE SSD was saturated here as we turned up queue depth, however, the Fusion--io ioXtreme and OCZ IBIS drives scaled up significantly at higher request levels.  The IBIS drive actually started to level off above a queue depth of 144 in the database test but scaled slightly higher still in the workstation test.  The ioXtreme SSD topped out at nearly 84000 IOPS in the database test, while the IBIS drive peaked at nearly 50,000 IOPS.  In the workstation test the field was grouped tighter with the ioXtreme hitting a wall at 65K or so, while the IBIS drive cleared 44K IOPS. 

We would offer that the 12 - 144 queue depth ranges are probably more indicative of standard desktop and workstation performance.  Also, note that the Fusion-io ioXtreme's cost per GB ratio is about $10 or so, while the IBIS drive drops in at a little over $3/GB or $3.08 to be exact.

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SiSoft SANDRA Testing

 

Next we fired up SiSoftware's SANDRA 2010, the S ystem AN alyzer, D iagnostic and R eporting A ssistant. Here, we used the Physical Disk test suite and provided the results from our comparison SSDs. The benchmarks were run without formatting and both read and write performance metrics are detailed below.

 SiSoft SANDRA 2010
Synthetic Benchmarks




As far as SANDRA is concerned, the new OCZ IBIS is the fastest SSD here by a long shot in terms of write performance and just a bit slower with reads, versus the ioXtreme SSD card.  We'll also note that the IBIS drive's performance across its entire 240GB volume was relatively flat, with no apparent saw-toothed peak/valley pattern that we occasionally see from SSD RAID configurations.  In short, according to SANDRA the IBIS is a rather balanced high-bandwidth SSD solution.
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CrystalDiskMark Performance

CrystalDiskMark is a synthetic benchmark we've started looking at that tests both sequential as well as random small and large file transfers.  It does a nice job of providing a quick look at best and worst case scenarios with regard to SSD performance, best case being large sequential transfers and worse case being small, random 4K transfers. 

 

CrystalDiskMark Benchmarks
Synthetic File Transfer Tests


OCZ Vertex LE - 100GB MLC SSD


Fusion-io - 80GB MLC PCI Express SSD

 
 
OCZ IBIS 240GB HSDL SSD

 

The OCZ IBIS drive performed a little bit like it did in our previous SANDRA testing, offering higher write bandwidth over all sequential tests and with larger 512K transfers, but about 10% behind the ioXtreme with respect to read requests.  Also note that small file random reads and writes are only about on par with a standard single SSD, but as queue depth is increased the IBIS drive extends a significant lead, doubling the ioXtreme's read performance and matching it in writes. 

We'll take a look at one more synthetic test setup and then some real work numbers, on the pages ahead.
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ATTO Disk Benchmark Performance

ATTO is a more straight-forward type of disk benchmark that measures transfer speeds across a specific volume length.  It measures raw transfer rates for both reads and writes and graphs them out in an easily interpreted chart.  We chose .5kb through 8192kb transfer sizes and a queue depth of 6 over a total max volume length of 256MB.  This test was performed on blank, formatted drives with default NTFS partitions in Windows 7 x64. 

 

ATTO Disk Benchmark
http://www.attotech.com/products/product.php?sku=Disk_Benchmark


OCZ Vertex LE 100GB SSD


Fusion-io ioXtreme 80GB PCI Express SSD


OCZ IBIS 240GB HSDL SSD


In ATTO testing, the OCZ IBIS drive showed some of the highest overall read and write bandwidth of the three SSD solutions we compared.  Again, small file transfers are not its strong suit but when you get up to 16 - 32K and higher, the product really begins to stretch its legs, besting even the Fusion-io drive by a significant margin from 32K to 8MB transfers.
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File Transfer Tests - General Performance

Our final series of tests are what you might call more "crude measurements" in that we simply fired up our trusty stop-watch and measured the time it took to complete a copy and paste command of a single large file or a bunch of large files from one storage volume in our test system to another.

** Please note that we utilized a Fusion-io ioDrive card as our source drive in some of the following tests, to read files from or copy files to, for our read and write measurements of all reference products and the OCZ IBIS drive.  This affords us the luxury of much higher available bandwidth from the source drive or to a target drive, such that either direction would not be the limiting factor in a given test condition. 

Bulk File Transfer Tests - Read/Write Performance
Custom File Transfers Measured

 

Here the IBIS drive offers a sizable performance gain over a standard SSD and actually bests the ioXtreme drive in write performance.  Though its lead is only about a 1.4 second advantage, that equates to about a 22% gain.
 


Here the IBIS drive shows a more modest edge in write performance over the ioXtreme, but over a 2X advantage over a single high-end SATA SSD.
  Read performance of the IBIS drive is about on par with the ioXtreme PCI Express card, according to our simple custom file transfer test here.  Also, note that for the large sequential reads seen in this test and the test charted above, a single SSD offers similar performance.
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PCMark Vantage HDD

We really like PCMark Vantage's HDD Performance for its real-world application measurement approach to testing.  From simple Windows start-up performance to data streaming from a disk drive in a game engine and video editing with Windows Movie Maker, we feel more confident that these tests reasonably illustrate the performance profile of SSDs in an end-user/consumer PC usage model.

This series of Vantage tests will stress read performance in simple real-world usage models, with a broad mix of sequential and random read transactions of both small and large file sizes. 

 

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

 

Here, the OCZ IBIS puts up strong performance but perhaps not as Earth-shattering as the ioXtreme.  The Vista Startup test shows IBIS to be over 60% faster than one of the fastest single SSDs on the market.  The good news here, unlike the ioXtreme PCI Express SSD, the IBIS drive can also be used as a bootable volume. 

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PCMark Vantage (Continued)

The following PCMark Vantage HDD tests are more write intensive and in some cases stress the Achilles' Heel of the average storage subsystem, that being random write performance

 

Futuremark's PCMark Vantage
http://www.futuremark.com

 


This time the OCZ IBIS drive takes it up a notch, beating out even the ioXtreme SSD, that retails for almost 3X its cost per GB.  For write performance the IBIS drive is king.  With the read-intensive Application loading test, we're looking at a 43% gain over the average SSD and about 75% of the ioXtreme's read performance.  Let's face it, the ioXtreme is an over-the-top niche' product for the average end user (targeted more to the workstation/server market) product that isn't even a bootable solution at this point.  So this is a strong showing for the OCZ IBIS comparatively.  The question becomes, within its own right, how niche' is the OCZ IBIS drive? After all, you do need a proprietary adapter card and at least a free PCI Express X4 slot, but since the adapter card is bundled in, the barrier to entry has been minimized a bit.

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Performance Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary:
From a raw performance perspective, the OCZ IBIS drive impressed us on many levels. Often times it kept pace and occasionally beat the considerably more expensive Fusion-io ioXtreme 80GB PCI Express SSD card. This one watermark spoke volumes to us actually. We witnessed the OCZ IBIS offering, on average, 600+MB/sec read throughput and 350MB/sec write throughput (or higher), depending on the test we ran. Our IOMeter testing showed the OCZ drive to offer significantly fewer IOPS throughput than the ioXtreme over the access patterns we tested, but then again at a level of performance we have yet to see from the likes of something built with off-the-shelf industry standard components.  Finally, in our PCMark Vantage HDD testing, the IBIS drive punched out almost 2X the performance of one of the fastest single SSDs on the market (OS start-up scores) and occasionally challenged the ioXtreme card (Windows Media Center), all the while offering a bootable storage solution, which is something the ioXtreme still cannot offer currently. 

 

In terms of write performance, you'd be hard pressed to find a faster solution on the market in the IBIS drive's price range. In terms of read throughput the same can be said, perhaps with the exception of the Fusion-io ioXtreme 80GB SSD and again the ioXtreme comes at a significant premium with its own set of caveats. To say we were surprised to see this sort of result from the OCZ IBIS SSD, with its varied assortment of PCI Express and PCI-X bridges and switches at play, would be an understatement.  We were actually pleasantly surprised at how robust the solution was, across multiple test conditions.  We should also note that the SandForce controllers employed on each of the IBIS SSD subsections also offered the traditional garbage collection and drive clean-up algorithms that we've come to know and love with SandForce-based SSDs. So, in short, while it was still a pre-production unit that we tested, OCZ impressed us with their new IBIS SSD.

OCZ tells us that the IBIS will be coming to market in volume within the next couple of months.  The product we tested was in fact a prototype, so we'll have to reserve offering our standard HotHardware product rating, at least until it's released in its final retail-ready form.  From here, the IBIS should only get more stable and polished from a build quality standpoint.  We're looking forward to seeing OCZ execute and deliver on this product. Could the IBIS garner enough industry support that others follow suit or will the product remain a niche solution with a prerequisite that only speed freaks, workstation and video production professionals need apply?  We can only speculate on that question but in the mean time, there appears to be more breakout SSD performance to be had and its waiting in the wings, near ready for prime time.

  

  

  • Killer all around performance
  • Great sustained performance with maintenance algo
  • Best of class write performance
  • Claimed 2 million hrs MTBF
  • Price premium over standard SSDs
  • Complex design with more possible points of failure.

 



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