Fusion-io ioXtreme PCI Express SSD Review
Our Summary and Conclusion
The ioXtreme drives performed a lot like their higher-end brethren, the ioDrive, from Fusion-io. These diminutive, half-height cards offered peak bandwidth that was often times three to five times faster than a standard SSD and in some cases, as with our Iometer testing, even versus higher-end solutions like OCZ's Z-Drive. The ioXtremes excel in random, fast read operations like application loading, where the bulk of the end user experience in desktop environments lies. Where it lagged behind higher-end solutions like the Z-Drive occasionally, was with write operations where the product's peak throughput tops out at 300MB/sec.
In reality, the new ioXtreme from Fusion-io is a high-end niche' product that caters to the performance enthusiast and high-end workstation user looking to maximize system performance for one of the age-old bottlenecks that will continue to be the single-most limiting factor in system performance in the foreseeable future. Storage subsystems have traditionally been orders of magnitude slower than other system components with nanosecond access times and several GB/sec of bandwidth. SSD technology has come a long way to closing that performance gap but even existing bridging requirements, from Serial ATA storage interfaces to PCI Express native system interfaces, still hamper performance. Fusion-io's direct-attach PCI Express Flash SSD technology is quite literally a ground-breaking advancement. Though its base cost structure is still very high, even compared to the current $2.75 - $3.50 per GB cost range of standard SATA SSDs, Fusion-io's ioXtreme version of their product makes solid strides towards driving their technology down from the enterprise datacenter to the end user market.
As we noted early on in this product showcase, it takes a lot to get us excited in the lab these days. From its design elegance to its blisteringly fast performance, even for the most jaded tech journalist among us, it's hard not to be thoroughly impressed with Fusion-io's technology. Whether or not you can personally justify the cost of the product for your own use, is another question all together. One thing is for sure however, you'll really want to be clear on your intended usage model for this device. We've noted before that Fusion-io likens their product to a "new memory tier" in the desktop or workstation architecture. These devices are not bulk storage products obviously, though loading them up with your most-used demanding applications for things like content creation, 3D animation, CAD and gaming, will bring you relatively huge dividends in performance. Even a few business class applications like a overly huge Outlook PST file for example, will show significant benefit from the ultra-high bandwidth and low latency of the ioXtreme.
That's not to say the product isn't without its caveats. For one thing, the value proposition of the ioXtreme Pro is a little fuzzy in that unfortunately you have to rely on a Windows software RAID to stripe or mirroring cards together, not to mention it costs a stiff $600 more. A full-fledged, configurable RAID BIOS would do wonders for this product, affording a RAID configuration pre-boot, and while we're at it, let's get these cards bootable! Again, Fusion-io has noted that boot functionality is coming though they were non-committal with respect to when exactly. What really excites us, is the opportunity Fusion-io has to cost reduce these cards in the future. Those Xilinx FPGAs cost big bucks and they're not really a full-production vehicle for a product that could sell in the kind of volumes these cards should be selling in. Drop in a custom ASIC at a fraction of the price and now the the ioXtreme starts tracking a more traditional SATA SSD cost curve. It would make sense this is on the roadmap for Fusion-io but we've gotten not so much as a wink or a nod in this direction. Still, it seems only natural, right Woz?
The other thing that hampers some of the joy here is retail availability. To date, the only place we've been able to find the product is over at Amazon. All that said, we tip our collective hats to the team at Fusion-io for impressing us with something new and truly innovative. The ioXtreme paves the way for direct-attach PCI Express storage in the mainstream. Let's hope the Fusion-io team can continue to offer products so wildly appealing to our inner-geek. We have to admit, the ioXtreme is just plain <HOT>.