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the 3 fastest "PCIe SSDs" list

or is it really lists?

by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - - March 18, 2011
If I could just say one quick thing about the current state of the SSD market it would be this.

Don't place too much reliance on published benchmarks when selecting between different flash SSD vendors - even if the tests have been set up correctly (which wasn't always true.)

I chose "PCIe SSDs" in the title - because they're very popular with our readers - but my warning applies to all flash SSDs, with any interface and in any form factor.

If I selected 3 competing models of PCIe flash SSDs I could design 3 comparative benchmarks in which each product ranked at the top, bottom or middle of the 3 different top 3 lists.

I won't go into the details - because this is a short article. But in outline the tests would exploit or stress differences in RAM cache architecture, write attenuation algorithms, and scalability characteristics.

These scalability issues are:- how consistently each product performs with respect to how many other SSDs are operating at the same time in the same host, the exact choice of the host (processer architecture, clock speed, motherboard design, installed RAM, OS and apps workload) and the in-use capacity profile of the SSD during the test.

As I said in the first of my 11 SSD predictions for 2011 - "SSD marketers will move away from quoting discredited technical benchmarks like IOPS and closer towards promising actual Nx speedups for specific popular applications."

Sure you have to ask yourself - is this SSD good enough for my application? (It doesn't need to be better.)

It's just as important to ask yourself - is this a vendor I feel comfortable buying from? Do they really want to sell to customers like me?

That depends on how many similar SSDs you plan to buy, over what length of time, your technical resources, support issues etc. And how well you fit their ideal customer profile. A mismatch could lead to a strained relationship - and after a few years - divorce.

related articles

In addition to the popular articles described in the right hand column, these articles below also include useful sanity checks related to performance.
  • SSD education - just about every difficult topic in the SSD market revolves back around to the the level of SSD education. Being versed in the dark arts of SSD technology and architecture is the customer's surest defense against being taken for a ride by vendors (who all too often don't know as much they should themselves.)
  • the SSD Heresies - is a collection of articles which will open your eyes to the many genuinely held differences of opinion within the SSD market itself about the best way to design SSDs and the best places to put them. After you realize that the heresies exist it should make you feel better than you're not going nuts trying to renconcile different facts which appear to contradict each other.
  • Tuning SANs with SSDs - although this is a new topic to many people today - this article was published nearly 10 years ago.
  • what's unique about FIO's ioDrives? - Which of these options do you prefer? - Speeding up the storage? - or - Speeding up the app? Find out why the raw numbers - without the narrative - fail to tell the full story.
  • RAM Cache Ratios in flash SSDs - you won't be able to understand why an SSD which stars in some tests is more like a dog in others. There's a simple reason.
  • RAM SSDs versus Flash SSDs - which is Best? - far from being terminated by flash - some RAM SSD vendors are now selling more RAM based storage systems than ever. In some cases RAM SSDs cost less to own and run due to high floor level entry capacities in flash and the expensive overheads incurred by making flash storage behave like RAM storage. (And the high attrition rate of endurance.)
  • understanding flash SSD performance characteristics and limitations - a toolkit - If you spend a lot of your time analyzing the performance characteristics and limitations of flash SSDs - this article will help you to easily predict the characteristics of any new SSDs you encounter - by leveraging the knowledge you already have and by re-interpreting all SSDs within a simple framework built around a handful of design-related concepts.
ssd specs article Can You Trust Flash SSD Specs & Benchmarks?
Sadly no! - Many published benchmarks for flash SSD are about as reliable as bank valuations of Collateralized Loan Obligations (just before the onset of the Credit Crunch).
There are many intrinsic technical reasons why you can't believe most published benchmarks for flash SSDs (whether done by magazines or vendors) and why even the tests you carefully do yourself don't give reliable results which correlate with how the SSD will perform in real-life applications.

We warned you of it this problem here on - and now other publications and vendors are starting to take it seriously too. the article

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Optimizing PCIe SSD performance
Optimizing PCIe SSD performance is the title of an article which was co-written by Larry Chisvin, VP strategic initiatives, PLX, and Shawn Kung, director of product marketing at Marvell and which was published in EE Times in August 2012.

But it goes much further than that title suggests.

It also discusses scalability and configuration options which enable PCIe based SSDs to provide benefits far beyond simply speeding up legacy storage interfaces.
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For users - picking an SSD benchmark is like picking the next card in a poker game - where you didn't get to see the pack opened - or the cards shuffled.
Most SSD chip companies don't have good enough apps models against which to test their design assumptions.

And most SSD systems companies aren't technically nimble enough to experiment with enough new radical SSD architectures in timescales which are short enough to overlap new chip business generations.

That's why users in the market have been playing unwitting part in Darwinian what-if experiments in SSD architecture.

I believe there's no single SSD controller architecture which will suit all markets. And I'm not alone in that view. Many SSD thought leaders don't agree on a single unified vision for the future of solid state storage.
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The more you study the characteristics of different SSDs - the quicker and more easily you will start to anticipate useful behavioral characteristics of any new SSD - and assimilate new SSDs in your plans.

And you'll start to recognize symptoms of "missing technical information" too.

These are things which it's important for you to know - but which don't appear in the initial info you see about the new SSD.

In some cases you can get this missing info by asking the vendor. In other cases -when they don't understand your questions - or aren't willing to co-operate without an NDA - you may still be able to infer or deduce the missing data aspects from other things you already know.
understanding flash SSD performance characteristics and limitations - a toolkit
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