Exclusive Look at Fusion-io ioDrive - PCIe Solid State

The muzzle is now off and Chris can show us the ultimate in server storage.
Published Tue, Dec 9 2008 11:00 PM CST   |   Updated Tue, Apr 7 2020 12:27 PM CDT
Rating: 94%Manufacturer: Fusion-io


Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
IntroductionCall it what you want; a unicorn, purple elephant or any number of cliches. This industry is full of them; the promise of photo realistic gaming, systems that boot in seconds and products like what we are talking about today, card based solid-state storage. All of these features are on the five year plan; in five years we will see how close we are to achieving them, all but one. Fusion-io calls their card based solid-state storage technology ioMemory. It is a catchy name that goes along with the products name, ioDrive. The ioDrive uses NAND flash memory, just like the solid-state drives we have been reviewing for the last year. The difference is that everything we have looked at so far connects to a SATA port and the ioDrive rides the fast lane, 10GB/s to be exact from a 4-lane PCIe slot. If you think it sounds fast, just hang tight, there is a lot to cover before we get to the benchmarks. Normally products like the Fusion-io ioDrive are not reviewed on general purpose computing review sites like TweakTown. In 2009 we will start to cover more products in the enterprise market and run them in parallel with our usual content. Behind the scenes the US office has been covering enterprise storage products for many years, but most of this testing has been for private reports and for our own twisted amusement. DVNation, the webs leading Solid-State Storage e-tailer and one of TweakTown's suppliers offered me the opportunity to test the ioDrive under NDA. The whole thing started out like an unsolicited offer of contraband at a Grateful Dead show, "Fusion-io ioDrive, follow me." It is difficult to turn down such bliss; my only reply was "dose me please."It wasn't until after testing that the review portion of the evaluation materialized. As stated previously, high-end server products generally do not make it to review sites and any product testing is performed by private laboratories. In this market even product pricing is kept close to the cuff. Sometimes even distributers are asked to refer inquiring minds to official company sales staff. Fusion-io and DVNation have really gone out on a limb to allow us an exclusive first look at their ioDrive. For that we are thankful, but as always, we only report our findings; the good, bad and ugly.

Specifications, Availability and Pricing

Specifications, Availability and PricingLet's go ahead and knock a few limitations out before we get started with the specifications. The first thing is that the ioDrive is designed for server workloads where high IO's are required. Database and web servers are about as general as it gets, but any application where very fast read and write operations are required will see a significant speed increase. Don't get me wrong, everything on the ioDrive will load faster, with near nonexistent latency, but the card is designed and optimized for server applications. However, there is nothing keeping you from loading up a friendly game of Crysis and watching your load screen pass by like a fresh Ferrari in the hands of a new owner on an open desert highway in Nevada. At this time you can't boot to the ioDrive, but the feature is in development and showing promise in the labs. A version of the drive is also in development that is meant for general purpose computing, for those who can afford it. I won't speculate when we will see such a drive or at what cost, but I am sure DVNation will be one of the first places to carry the product and we will no doubt be one of the first to take a look. At this time the ioDrive is a 64-bit operating system-only product. I personally don't see this as a limitation and welcome the fact that a product is designed from the ground up to operate in a 64-bit environment as opposed to migrating from 32-bit to 64-bit. There are several 64-bit operating systems; these range from Linux to a half dozen or so from Microsoft. We have already moved our disk drive and enterprise product test bench over to Vista 64-bit, so the ioDrive was a true plug and play solution.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
Fusion-io makes three variants of the ioDrive with the main difference being capacity. Today we will be looking at the smallest version, the 80GB model. There are a few other small differences between the three cards. The 160GB model has a claimed write speed increase of 50 MB/s, bringing the total write speed to 600 MB/s. The 320GB model uses MLC memory, this brings its write speed down to 500 MB/s, but the read speed remains the same across all three products at 700 MB/s. For now we will focus on the 80GB model that was tested in house. For more information on the other products, please take a look at Fusion-io's official product page here. The ioDrive uses 4-PCIe lanes with a physical 4-lane connector. The drive can plug into four, eight and 16 lane PCIe slots, but only four lanes will be used. One feature that I found intriguing was the brief mention of RAID capability. There are several motherboards, especially in the server and workstation market with up to six PCIe 16x slots. Before you start dreaming of a five drive RAID 5 array, there is one more thing that should be discussed. The official MSRP for the 80GB ioDrive is 2995.00 and this goes all the way up to 14,400 US Dollars for the 320GB model. We were told that purchasing in volume will decrease the cost of ownership.

The Packaging

The Packaging
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
Enterprise products are not known for fancy packaging, but I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that Fusion-io did not follow the typical brown box solution that is common for these types of products.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
Package contents and system requirements are listed on the side of the package. This must have been an early package because Windows is not listed.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
Inside the box the card is wrapped in an antistatic bag with two pieces of pink foam above and below the card.

The Fusion-io ioDrive 80GB

The Fusion-io ioDrive 80GB
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
The ioDrive is made in two halves, the first with the PCIe data connection and power circuitry. The second part holds the memory modules and controller chip that is passively cooled.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
There is not much going on along the back of the card other than a lot of NAND memory.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
The back side of the card is fairly straight forward as well. The LEDs show the status of the drive.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
Our sample used Samsung memory that was double stacked. As you saw in the previous images, there are quite a few memory chips onboard.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
If you look closely you can see that for every visible memory module there is another under it.

Test System Setup

Test System Processors: AMD Opteron 2356 (2.3GHz Quad-Core) x2Motherboard: Tyan S2915-E (Supplied by Tyan)Memory: Kingston KVR667D2S4P5/2G x4 (Supplied by Kingston)Graphics Card: XFX 8800 GTX (Supplied by XFX USA)Enclosure: Lian Li V2000Cooling: Noctua NH-U12DO (Supplied by Noctua)SATA Controller: Areca ARC-1231ML (Supplied by Areca)SAS Controller: Areca ARC-1680i (Supplied by Areca)Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate X64The fastest SSD I reviewed to date is the Intel X25-M so it will be used to compare against the io-Drive. The fastest traditional, platter based drive available on the market is the Seagate 15K.6 (review coming shortly). The Intel X25-M is currently available for around 600 Dollars. At the time of testing I only had one available, so running RAID was not an option. For the platter side I have eight Seagate 15K.6 drives that have been ran through various RAID configurations. Each 15K.6 drive sells for around 800 USD and the Areca controller adds another 1000 USD, so the total cost of the 8 drive array is in the neighborhood of 7400. The Fusion-io ioDrive as tested today is 2995 USD.There is still the issue of capacity. The Intel and Fusion-io are both 80GB, but the Seagate array with 8 450GB drives is quite a bit larger. It might be a little hard to swallow, but in the server world it is not uncommon to find large arrays with only a few gigabytes of data on the platters. This is especially true when it comes to database servers where the data is kept on the fastest part of the drive to keep I/O high.It should also be mentioned that this test was performed several months ago and at the time the drivers were in beta form. A newer set was later submitted to Microsoft for WHQL Certification.

Benchmarks - HD Tune Pro

HD Tune ProVersion and / or Patch Used: 3.00Developer Homepage: Homepage:>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 - Temperature display 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.
Read Tests
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
When it comes to pure read speed, the Seagate drives are able to outpace the ioDrive. If you think back to the Crucial SLC SSD review from two months ago, HD Tune isn't a very good judge of character when it comes to server loads. Write Tests
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
The Write test shows that all of the products lose a bit of performance when compared to the Read test speeds.

Benchmarks - Everest Random Access Time

Everest Random Access TimeVersion and / or Patch Used: 4.60Developer Homepage: Homepage: >
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. Read Tests
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
Solid State Drives obliterate platter based drives when it comes to access times and the Intel X25-M is very fast. The Fusion-io ioDrive is quite a bit quicker, though. Here we see that the ioDrive is actually three times faster than the Intel SSD. Write Tests
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
The Areca controller gives the Seagate 15K.6 drives a little bit better performance than is actually possible. Many of the requests are being answered by the controller's cache and not from the drives directly. Even with the extra help, the ioDrive still outperforms the Seagate drives and the Intel X25-M. Let's see how all of these synthetic benchmarks relate to real world applications.

Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage Hard Disk Tests

PCMark Vantage - Hard Disk TestsVersion and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.comProduct Homepage: 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. These tests are based on real world applications that many of us use daily.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
HDD1 - Windows DefenderHDD2 - GamingHDD3 - Windows Photo GalleryHDD4 - Vista StartupHDD5 - Windows Movie MakerHDD6 - Windows Media CenterHDD7 - Windows Media PlayerHDD8 - Application LoadingI love breaking world records and that is exactly what I was able to do with the PCmark Vantage HD Test. The total score was 80,997, a new world record! - The next best score on the ORB is a mere 57,118 with an unknown RAID array running on an Areca controller. The ioDrive clearly outperforms the fastest RAID arrays available on the market, at least in the enthusiast market that tests with PCMark Vantage, so millions of users. Granted, many of the tests performed in PCMark Vantage will never be run on the server ioDrive, but the follow up drive built for the consumer market will. Let's now have a look at the server workloads.

Benchmarks - Passmark

Passmark Advanced Multi-User TestsVersion and / or Patch Used: 6.1Developer Homepage: Homepage: >
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 in 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.
Fusion-io ioDrive SSD on Card Ultimate Server Storage
Of all the tests performed, this is the only set that matters to those looking for this type of product. It is really pretty amazing to think that an operation could load eight 15,000 RPM drives so much that they are only able to move 10 MB/s. There is one test that gives the Seagate drives hope of challenging the ioDrive, but running RAID 0 with eight drives is unrealistic for mission critical tasks. Once removed from fantasy land, the Fusion-io ioDrive looks even better. The ioDrive performed three times faster than the Seagate drives in RAID 5 and six times faster than RAID 6. In the Workstation, File and Web Sever tests the margin grows considerably. The Web and File Server test results are amazing.

Final Thoughts

Final ThoughtsThere are a few things that we have not covered which should be addressed. The first is power consumption. Testing power consumption has never been high on my list of tests for consumer products, but now that TweakTown is moving into high performance computing products, I will need to add this test since in the data center power is just as important as performance. Many are now monitoring and charging an extra fee for additional power consumption over a set limit. Even without hard numbers, a single Fusion-io ioDrive is clearly going to draw less power than an Areca SAS RAID Controller and eight 15K.6, 15,000 RPM drives. When the first press releases started coming out from Fusion-io, their big tag line was "The power of 1000 hard drives in the palm of your hand." I think 1000 may have been a bit of a stretch, even close to two years ago when the first release went out. Still, when it comes to the competition it may as well be 1000, because the important part of that is the size. When it comes to servers, size matters; 1.75 inches at a time. 1.75 inches is how tall a single Rack Unit (U) server is. I have seen 1U servers capable of holding four full size hard drives, but to hold eight you need to flip the drives around on end. In most cases, to fit eight drives you will need a 4U server. If a company rents rack space in a data center then going from 1U to 4U is a big deal since you are renting space by the unit. Moving down to the other end of the spectrum, you can easily fit two ioDrives in a single 1U enclosure. Once you calculate the low power consumption with the small size, it is easy to see how advanced the Fusion-io really is. Even if the ioDrive performed at the same level as the traditional platter drives, it would still be a remarkable product. The thing is that the ioDrive does not perform at the same level of the fastest platter drives; it outperforms them by a very large margin. When it comes to actual server load performance the benchmark numbers are crystal clear. The ioDrive is the fastest drive we have tested, faster than the best solid state SATA II drive and faster than the best enterprise 15,000 RPM drive in an 8 drive RAID configuration. There are still a few items that may worry admins. The first is that the overall technology is very new and in the enterprise world tried and true is the norm. This will undoubtedly hold a few prospective buyers back in the short term. Over time the technology and Fusion-io will be able to claim design wins and the market will warm up to the ioDrive. Price verses performance is a no brainer at this point. DVNation now stocks the 80GB ioDrive that we looked at today for 2995.00 USD with discounts on volume sales. For the same amount you may be able to purchase a nice SAS RAID controller and three fast enterprise class drives, but since eight drives are no match for the ioDrive, imagine what a comparison of a three drive array would look like. Since there are no moving parts or "sweet spots" like with the platter drives, you get a full 80GB of high speed capacity with the Fusion-io ioDrive. The Areca controller we use for testing SAS drives does a good job of leveling the sweet spot off, but a good enough job is far from the best in this case. If you need more space than 80GB, Fusion-io has a 160 and 320 drive available now and a massive 640 also on the way.
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Chris Ramseyer started his career as a LAN Party organizer in Midwest USA. After working with several computer companies he was asked to join the team at The Adrenaline Vault by fellow Midwest LAN Party legend Sean Aikins. After a series of shake ups at AVault, Chris eventually took over as Editor-in-Chief before leaving to start Real World Entertainment. Look for Chris to bring his unique methods of testing Hard Disk Drives, Solid State Drives as well as RAID controller and NAS boxes to TweakTown as he looks to provide an accurate test bed to make your purchasing decisions easier.

We openly invite the companies who provide us with review samples / who are mentioned or discussed to express their opinion. If any company representative wishes to respond, we will publish the response here. Please contact us if you wish to respond.

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