Around Computex we started hearing about SandForce SF-1500 controllers being paired with SAS interfaces. At first we didn't think these products would live to see the light of day since the SATA versions were already very fast. Well, we were wrong and the first SandForce SF-1500 SAS drive is on my desk right now in engineering sample form.
SMART Modular announced their XceedIOPS with a couple of configurations some time ago, but with a drive on my desk it is clear that this product will come to market. For the most part the XceedIOPS will be an OEM part sold to major server manufacturers, so don't start digging through Newegg thinking they will list anytime soon. SMART Modular caters to the highest levels of the server market and doesn't produce a retail line of products.
SMART Modular is offering two versions of the drive; one capable of 26K IOPS and another capable of up to 30K IOPS. The model we are looking at today is the SG9XCA2200GE10, the 26K IOPS unit. Our engineering sample has a capacity of 200GB. Let's take a look at the full specification sheet.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
SMART Modular is a little vague with their specification sheet. The XceedIOPS is a 2.5" form factor drive with a rated sequential read speed of 250MB/s and a write speed of 230MB/s. This is quite a bit lower than the 285 / 275MB/s desktop units that we are used to seeing on the desktop side of things, but just as the name implies, the XceedIOPS is built for high IOPS performance with sequential speed being secondary. This is exactly the same thing we see with all enterprise drives.
When it comes to pricing and availability, I'm not even going to try to speculate. As we all are aware, enterprise products are premium and are priced accordingly. They are also produced in far fewer numbers than their desktop counterpart.
The point of this article today is really to see what these new SandForce SAS drives have to offer and get a good idea of their performance.
The SMART Modular XceedIOPS SAS SSD
Our engineering sample arrived in a brown box with an antistatic bag. The drive itself is labeled as an engineering sample, but as you can see here the case design and label is ready for the big time.
Even though one side looks ready to go, on the back we see that engineering samples were still being produced as of Sept. 21st, 2010. This was just a couple weeks before the drive arrived at our office.
On the side we found the standard 2.5" form factor mounting locations.
SAS drives use a slightly different data and power connector that provides 6Gbps to and from the drive.
When OCZ Technology sent us their SF-1500 controlled drive last January it included a single super capacitor and we see the same here with the SMART Modular XceedIOPS. Also on this side of the drive is an Emulex bridge chip.
On this side we see the SandForce SF-1500 controller and another super capacitor. At this time I'm not sure if the reason for two capacitors is due to the drive being 200GB, or if SMART will do this for all of their XceedIOPS drives.
Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
We would like to thank the following companies for supplying and supporting us with our test system hardware and equipment: AVADirect, GIGABYTE, Cooler Master, LSI and Noctua.
You can read more about TweakTown's Storage Product Testing Workstation and the procedures followed to test products in this article.
Testing SAS drives is a little tricky since other hardware has to be used in conjunction with the test product. This additional layer tosses our apples to apples testing methodology out the window.
We tested the SMART Modular XceedIOPS two ways today. The first was with our standard system configuration with the LSI 9260-8i, an industry leading SAS 6Gbps controller. The second method of testing was on an ASUS P6T7 WS Supercomputer that has an onboard SAS controller. The ASUS setup doesn't use cache, so we can use it to test the drive a little cleaner.
ATTO Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
ATTO is used by many disk manufacturers to determine the read and write speeds that will be presented to customers.
As you can see, there is quite a bit of difference between these two results.
Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro
HD Tune Pro
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.00
Developer Homepage: http://www.efdsoftware.com
Product Homepage: http://www.hdtune.com
HD Tune is a Hard Disk utility which has the following functions:
Benchmark: measures the performance
Info: shows detailed information
Health: checks the health status by using SMART
Error Scan: scans the surface for errors
HD Tune Pro gives us accurate read, write and access time results and for the last couple of years has been gaining popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must have application for storage device testing.
On both the ASUS SAS and LSI 9260-8i the SMART Modular is quite a bit slower than the consumer Vertex 2 drives in sequential reading across the drive.
The write speeds are a little slower than the read speeds with both system configurations, but it is important to remember that the XceedIOPS is built for high IO transactions and not for sequential reading and writing.
Benchmarks - Everest Random Access Time
Everest Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 4.60
Developer Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Product Homepage: http://www.lavalys.com
Everest Ultimate and Corporate Edition offer several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system or network. The Random Access test is one of very few if not only that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds as oppose to tens of milliseconds.
Drives with only one or two tests displayed in write the write test mean that they have failed the test and their Maximum and possibly their Average Scores were very high after the cached fills. This usually happens only with controllers manufactured by JMicron.
SAS drives always take a small hit on their access times since more electronics are in the data path. Here we see that even though there is extra overhead, the XceedIOPS scores very well.
The same holds true for the write access times. Here we see that the access time is very low, but not as low as the SATA SandForce drives.
Benchmarks - Crystal Disk Mark
Version and / or Patch Used: 3.0 Technical Preview
Developer Homepage: http://crystalmark.info
Product Homepage: http://crystalmark.info/software/CrystalDiskMark/index-e.html
Download here: http://crystaldew.info/category/software/crystaldiskmark
CrystalDiskMark is a disk benchmark software.
* Sequential reads/writes
* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
* Text copy
* Change dialog design
* internationalization (i18n)
Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 is not available to the public yet, but the Technical Preview does allow us to test 4K performance at queue depths of 4 and 32 in addition to 1. The current release Crystal Disk Mark only shows us QD 1.
In CDM we look at the 4K and 4K at queue depth. With the LSI 9260-8i the NCQ tests show very high scores; nearly 280MB/s. Some of this is due to the controller's cache. The ASUS configuration without cache was quite a bit slower.
The write tests show near equal performance for both configurations. Once again, though, we are looking at sequential transactions.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests
PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/benchmarks/pcmark-vantage/
Buy It Here
PCMark Vantage is the first objective hardware performance benchmark for PCs running 32 and 64 bit versions of Microsoft Windows Vista. PCMark Vantage is perfectly suited for benchmarking any type of Microsoft Windows Vista PC from multimedia home entertainment systems and laptops to dedicated workstations and high-end gaming rigs. Regardless of whether the benchmarker is an artist or an IT Professional, PCMark Vantage shows the user where their system soars or falls flat, and how to get the most performance possible out of their hardware. PCMark Vantage is easy enough for even the most casual enthusiast to use yet supports in-depth, professional industry grade testing.
FutureMark has developed a good set of hard disk tests for their PCMark Vantage Suite. Windows users can count on Vantage to show them how a drive will perform in normal day to day usage scenarios. For most users these are the tests that matter since many of the old hat ways to measure performance have become ineffective to measure true Windows performance.
HDD1 - Windows Defender
HDD2 - Gaming
HDD3 - Windows Photo Gallery
HDD4 - Vista Startup
HDD5 - Windows Movie Maker
HDD6 - Windows Media Center
HDD7 - Windows Media Player
HDD8 - Application Loading
On occasion we see SAS drives performing well in the Windows tests, but it's usually because the drive is so much faster than SATA drives at the time. When that happens the SAS drives just muscle their way through the tests, but for the most part the advent of solid state drives has ended this practice.
Benchmarks - AS SSD
AS SSD Benchmark
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.2.3577.40358
Developer Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Product Homepage: Alex Intelligent Software
Download here: http://www.alex-is.de/PHP/fusion/downloads.php?cat_id=4&download_id=9
AS determines the performance of Solid State Drives (SSD). The tool contains four synthetic as well as three practice tests. The synthetic tests are to determine the sequential and random read and write performance of the SSD. These tests are carried out without the use of the operating system caches.
In all synthetic tests the test file size is 1GB. AS can also determine the access time of the SSD, the access of which the drive is determined to read through the entire capacity of the SSD (Full Stroke). The write access test is only to be met with a 1 GB big test file. At the end of the tests three values for the read and write as well as the overall performance will be issued. In addition to the calculated values which are shown in MB/s, they are also represented in IO per seconds (IOPS).
Note: AS SSD is a great benchmark for many tests, but since Crystal Disk Mark covers a broader range of 4K tests and HD Tune Pro covering sequential speeds, we will only use the Copy Benchmark from AS SSD.
- Copy Benchmark
The copy tests are also mainly sequential, but from time to time you need to move large amounts of data and when doing so you will get around 70MB/s.
Benchmarks - Passmark
Passmark Advanced Multi-User Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 6.1
Developer Homepage: http://www.passmark.com
Test Homepage: http://www.passmark.com
Many users complain that I/O Meter is too complicated of a benchmark to replicate results so my quest to find an alternative was started. Passmark has added several multi-user tests that measure a hard drives ability to operate in a multi-user environment.
The tests use different settings to mimic basic multi-user operations as they would play out on your server. Variances is read / write percentage as well as random / sequential reads are common in certain applications, Web Servers read nearly 100% of the time while Database Servers write a small amount of data.
The Workstation test is the only single user environment and will be similar to how you use your system at home.
In the server tests we get our first taste of the IOPS power of the XceedIOPS. With the LSI 9260-8i we see that the file server test was higher than anything we had ever tested. The result was a near 100MB/s lead over the desktop SF-1200 drives.
We've been very intrigued by the idea of a SandForce SF-1500 enterprise class drive attached to a SAS controller for several months now. At Computex we were actually in a room setup for engineers and manufacturer representatives when we really shouldn't have been.
After being discovered, we promised not to take our finding public as long as we could hang around a little and check everything out. The SMART Modular XceedIOPS is very similar to what we observed in that room. XceedIOPS is obviously more refined, but the principles are the same; take an already fast SF-1500 and bridge it to SAS.
The SMART Modular XceedIOPS will be available to OEMs and manufacturers of servers in the coming weeks. SMART Modular is the first company we've seen to actually have this type of product at this stage. Other companies have advertised future availability, but SMART has actually made it happen.
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