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Mac Dude

The SSD Journey - optimal configuration and use

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I've been following SSD development over the last little while, and when it came to rebuilding a PC at home, I decided prices had dropped enough for me to use an SSD as the OS drive. It was only then that I started to uncover the lack of information, and the viral aspect of all misinformation around the topic of how to install and configure your SSD. So, I wanted to create a thread where we could deposit all the facts we uncover on the care and feeding of your SSD.

 

To start with, this thread WILL contain information that is factually incorrect. What I'm hoping to do is eliminate that 'information' and eventually combine what we know to be true. So, please post your pearls of wisdom here so that others don't get confused by the crap on SSDs that is everywhere out there...

 

PLEASE LET US KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW SO WE CAN HELP EVERYONE GET THE MOST OUT OF THEIR SSD!

 

 

________________________________________________________________________________

 

SSD Introduction

I know of no better threads covering the technology, advantages and pitfalls of SSDs than the ones below. These should be your first port of call.

 

AnandTech SSD Anthology

AnandTech : Understanding and choosing the best SSD

 

 

Connecting your SSD

I almost didn't include this, but since I almost made this mistake myself, I thought I'd better add this step :) When connecting your SSD to one of the SATA mobo connectors, stop and have a look at your mobo architecture. For example, my mobo (Gigabyte GA-P55-UD4P) has 8 SATA connectors - 6 via a Gigabye controller on the PCI Express Bus, and 2 via the P55 Platform Controller Hub(PCH). The question is, why would I plug my kick arse SSD into a SATA port on the PCI Express bus along with my network traffic and any PCI cards when I can plug it directly into the PCH? Well, I wouldn't. Understand your mobo architecture before you start plugging things in...

 

 

BIOS Settings - IDE or AHCI?

You tell me :) I've seen a number of posts, treads, blogs, etc, all over the intraweb saying that the SATA port you connect your SSD to MUST be configured for AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) to get the most out of your SSD. AHCI enables advanced SATA features like Native command queuing and hot swap. The forums for my brand of SSD (OCZ) show results from various folks indicating that your mileage may vary.

 

I did a really basic test myself using IO Meter with the following results :

 

Test Response Time Average

Posted Image

 

Test Response Time Maximum

Posted Image

 

Test Response Time (Read/Write)

Posted Image

 

These tests are NOT exhaustive, I ran all of them twice to get these results. The bottom line seems to be that it makes no real difference - currently. I think drivers might make a difference over time as they are perfected. Before I move on I will add one footnote! OCZ provide a "Garbage Collection" utility to stop the drive slowing down over time (If you have read the AnandTech links I provided in the Intro, you will understand why over time SSDs can slow down substantially). This utility ran in about 30 seconds when I had the drive configured as Native IDE. The utility ran in about 8 hours when the drive was configured as AHCI.

 

Just sayin...

 

 

Partitioning and disk alignment

One aspect of disk drives that I've only recently become aware of is disk alignment and partitioning (thanks Leo!). The bottom line is that versions of Windows prior to Vista will create a misaligned first partition on a disk by default.

 

From a Microsoft document on the topic (Disk Partition Alignment Best Practices for SQL Server): Disk array hardware reports 63 reserved (hidden) sectors, and Windows obediently implements this information, reserving these sectors at the beginning of the first partition of a disk. The master boot record (MBR) resides within these hidden sectors. The compliance by Windows with 63 hidden sectors reported by disk hardware results in misalignment with stripe units, disk controllers, and cache segment lines. In all versions of Windows earlier than and including Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, these reserved sectors do not coincide with fundamental physical boundaries. The result is that single clusters of user data are written across multiple stripe units of the RAID. Every nth operation is affected (n depends on file allocation unit (cluster) size and stripe unit size). Fundamental physical boundaries in disk controllers and other hardware are also violated.

Across a striped array, a single I/O coming into the array controller turns into multiple I/Os if the request crosses one or more stripe unit boundaries. The cumulative effect can contribute to substantial performance degradation.

 

One aspect that is not clear to me is, does this apply to a single drive? The article, and most others I've read on the topic, are talking about raid arrays, not single drives. Any light on this would help.

 

What about my new SSD? My recommendation is as follows :

 

Windows Vista or Later - Windows Vista and Windows 7 correctly align partitions. However, the method used to partition your SSD (or any hard drive) in the factory is unknown. So, when you go to use your new drive, delete the existing partition and create a new partition.

Windows XP - Windows XP does not correctly align partitions. To create a correctly aligned partition in Windows XP, you will need to have the SSD connected to a system where you can bring up an XP command prompt, then :

 

- once the cmd window is open type diskpart

 

- list disk

 

- select disk X with X being the number given for your ssd

 

- clean

 

this destroys all partition/volume data on the disk.

 

- create partition primary align 64

 

- active

 

- exit

 

What benefit will you gain from correctly aligning a single SSD? I have no idea. The way I look at it is that if I can spend a minute preping a drive before I install the OS that may improve performance, I'll do it.

 

 

Drivers

Nothing much to say here apart from - use the latest. Download the latest drivers from your mobo manufacturer's site and keep them up to date.

 

Windows configuration

Now that you have a system running with your SSD, hopefully as your OS drive, you will have questions. What do I do with the swapfile? Do I need to defrag? What other windows settings should I check?

 

Let me start with Windows 7. Windows 7 *should* recognise your SSD as an SSD, not a regular run of the mill hard drive. When it does, it will do the following :

 

* disable disk defragmentation

* disable Superfetch & ReadyBoost

 

SSDs do not benefit from the above technologies, and in some cases (defrag for example), all they do is reduce the longevity of the device. An indepth discussion on Windows 7 & SSDs can be found here.

 

To check if Window 7 has recognised your SSD as an SSD, check to see if it scheduled defrag on the drive. Go into the Start Menu and run defrag.exe. Click on "Configure Schedule", then "Select Disks". If your SSD is not listed as a drive for a scheduled defrag, then Windows 7 has correctly recognised your SSD and all is good. If not, deselect your SSD. You can manually disable Superfetch by manually disabling the Superfetch service. I have read various arguments on the need to do this if Windows 7 doesn't recognise your SSD as an SSD, but my recommndation is to leave it alone on all versions of Windows until more solid evidence surfaces.

 

For Windows Vista and XP, disable any scheduled defragmentation.

 

This leads us to the common tweaks for all versions of Windows.

 

Page/Swap file : Leave it on the SSD - Most pagefile operations are small random reads or larger sequential writes, both of which are types of operations that SSDs handle well(from here)

Indexing : Disable it on the SSD.

 

write caching - Enable or disable?

Don't know. Again, I've found a lot of "stuff", but nothing I bet my house on...

 

 

Laptops

Now we are really getting into the unknown. *Some* folks have reported really poor performance on their SSDs when used in a laptop. It appears, that the power management may be having an impact, and when Windows was set to "High Performance" the SSD performed as expected. There are all sorts of theories on this, but I have no experience and cannot find anything definitive.

Edited by Mac Dude

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lol. Yes, maxxie, with is dual SSD knowledge, has provided some of the info above. I just figured nobody would see it here in Optical & Storage :P

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Just a question. I have the X58 platform, so things might differ, but I found that performance was better with my HDD when connected to the Gigabyte controller + AHCI rather than the Intel controller + AHCI. Have you tried both to compare?

 

This is what I found:

 

- Turning on an external HDD which is connected to the Intel controller caused the PC to freeze and stutter due to dodgy jmicron drivers.

- Boot-time was extended considerably whilst waiting for the Intel controller to initialise during POST.

 

On the other hand, the Gigabyte controller is snappy and has no issues with external drives.

 

Again, I'm using a HDD and the x58 platform, so there's a good chance our experiences will vary. Would be interesting to know though. :)

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I haven't tried that Cyber. While boot time might be longer, the question in my mind is what other traffic is there on the PCI Express bus at the same time? During boot there would be bugger all. However, during normal use, you have lan, PCI cards, etc. I'd say your problem is driver/device related. I hardly sounds normal.

 

Anyway, I haven't tried my SSD on the gigabyte controller.

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I just had a look at the block diagram for my motherboard. The Intel SATA ports connect directly to the southbridge, whilst the Gigabyte SATA ports connect to the Gigabyte controller, which communicates with the southbridge via PCI-e. However, It does this through the PCI-e x1 bus, rather than the x4/x8/x16 buses which connect via the northbridge. I'm not sure about others, but I don't use the x1 bus for anything. The PCI bus (non-express) is separate, which makes sense, since it runs at a different clock speed. From what I can see, the Ethernet ports also transmit via the x1 bus, but I doubt that uses much of the bandwidth (depending on what you do).

 

So, from what I can see, the main difference is that the Gigabyte SATA ports have to pass through an extra step (the Gigabyte controller), via the PCI-e 1x bus (which should have sufficient bandwidth). After doing some research, the 1x bus has a bandwidth of 500MB/s.

 

So if you have a RAID setup, then Gigabyte probably isn't the best way to go. For a single drive, it should be just as good as the Intel alternative. If it makes boot time faster, and the drivers work, I'm happy.

 

Would be interesting to see some tests.

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yep, for a single drive with no other traffic, it should be just as fast. Gets back to the comment I made at the end of the "Connecting your SSD" section - "Understand your mobo architecture before you start plugging things in...".

 

I reckon there are many cases where people treat all ports as equal. In your situation though, it would have me wondering what was wrong to cause the poor performance. Something has to be wrong one would reckon...

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I'm using a OCZ Vertex 120GB SSD for my OS (Win 7 x64)

 

I thought I'd run my own test and the results speak for themselves.

 

JMicron

Posted Image

 

ICH10R

Posted Image

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lol, I can't even get WEI to complete on my system :) However, what you've posted seems pretty normal.

 

Were you running as IDE or AHCI in the bios, and what drivers?

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lol, I can't even get WEI to complete on my system :)

That doesn't sound too good! :P

 

:) Maxxie & I have the same problem. It appears quite common in fact and is SSD related, and it causes no performance problems.

Edited by Mac Dude

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Awesome thread. I've been looking for good SSD info. I'm going to be doing a system upgrade when Windows 7 goes retail in a couple weeks.

 

Does the SSD's need a special hard drive controller or anything? Or do they basically just slot in like a standard HDD?

 

I was looking on a shop site and it was bundling some of the Intel SSDs with some kind of a controler, but there was no real mention of wtf the controller was.

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Glad you found it useful, that's the general idea :) You don't need a special controller, just make sure you have the latest driver for your mobo and install it as a part of the OS install. For the rest, follow the instructions above :)

 

Oh, and you'll need a 'holder' to hold the disk in place - it's a lot smaller than a regular drive...

Edited by Mac Dude

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Thanks LP.

 

Spending a bit more time in the tech areas of late reminded me of why I started here in the first place - trying to separate the technological wheat from the chaff.

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Thanks LP.

 

Spending a bit more time in the tech areas of late reminded me of why I started here in the first place - trying to separate the technological wheat from the chaff.

 

 

I suppose a welcome back is due!

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I shall watch this thread.

 

I'm tossing up the idea of using an SSD for my OS drive in my new PC. Decision time next paycheck..

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I shall watch this thread.

 

I'm tossing up the idea of using an SSD for my OS drive in my new PC. Decision time next paycheck..

A note of caution - prepare to become addicted. No matter what we throw at the new rig, it's quick, and smooth.

 

 

I try to ignore you though!

You need to try harder!

 

*sigh* - still no sticky for optical & storage...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

;P

Edited by Mac Dude

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