Hardware Used for the Job
So, in this technology demonstration style article, we need to select the fastest hardware for the job. What's the job exactly? Creating an ultra extreme storage solution, that will knock your socks off!
We hit up the folks over at Kingston Technology for some SSDs - the fastest they sell are the SSDNow E Series SSD (SNE125-S2) drives. They get the 'E' in the model since these drivers are actually relabeled Intel X25-E drives. Kingston sent across four 64GB drives for us to put to the test and see just exactly what type of performance we could get out of them. In many benchmarks, time and time again these drives prove to be the quickest or close to the quickest on the market in the standard 2.5-inch size SATA format.
The difference between the X25-E (Extreme or Enterprise) and the cheaper X25-M (Mainstream) is that the 'E' model uses the fastest available SLC flash memory and the 'M' model uses cheaper and slower MLC flash memory. As we've seen in our SSD reviews by Chris lately, MLC flash memory is rapidly improving and even coming close to the more expensive SLC flash memory in read speed testing in the best implementations that we've seen so far. It is on the write speeds side, however, that the X25-M or other MLC-based SSDs see a slowdown in performance compared to the X25-E that we are using today.
Hence, an alternative to the ultra expensive X25-E SSD drives are the X25-M SSDs and Kingston sell them as the SSDNow M Series.
Each drive comes in a standard brown box.
Inside there is not a lot to get excited about - just a quick start guide and padding.
As for the cost of the SSDs, one Kingston 64GB SSDNow E Series SSD drive will cost you around $800 USD at Newegg. Combine the cost and four of them will set you back $3200 USD.
What is a little more exciting is the RAID controller we used for the job. Since we are using high performance SSD drives, we cannot just use the standard onboard Southbridge on desktop motherboards to control the SSDs. They are just not good enough and will not show the full potential of the drives, especially when put in RAID 0. The Southbridge's used on many desktop motherboards are good quality, don't get me wrong, (and they'll power a standard HDD or two just fine) but they just are not up to the task of powering this setup here today.
Lucky for us and what was amazing timing, the folks over at Areca Technology, a Taiwan based company of premium high-end RAID storage controllers, asked us if we would like to test out its very latest controller card. They sent us their ARC-1680-I controller which uses the new and fast Intel IOP348 1200MHz processor. This controller will be perfect for the job since it has enough power 'under the hood' to power the four X25-E SSDs to their full potential.
As for the cost of the Areca ARC-1680-I controller, it is actually cheaper than we expected. Since this particular model supports only eight drives (included are two SFF-8087 SAS connectors, which support four drives per cable) the cost is lower than many other high-end controllers and cheaper than the Areca ARC-1231ML RAID controller that we used in the previous RAID Performance with four Patriot Warp 2 SSDs article we published earlier this year. Newegg is asking around $670 USD for one of these controllers.
Combine the total cost of the hardware used for the job, and you are looking at around $3870 USD. And yes, we know it's not cheap and hardly practical for end-users, but the idea here today is to show you what current and readily available technology can do at the ultra high-end of the consumer spectrum.