Over the last couple of years, we've tested a lot of PCIe RAID SSD products. Like All-in-One CPU liquid cooling systems, these All-in-One RAID SSDs consist of multiple components that have been pieced together to provide a simple solution to what may normally be a complex configuration.
There can be a number of issues with products like these, and most are avoidable. Ever since Fusion-io released the ioDrive, every company wanted a PCIe based SSD; even if it meant cutting corners to get there. Fusion-io and other owners of true PCIe SSDs, built native PCIe to flash controllers, but such an undertaking is expensive; to the tune of $100 million or more per one report. That number is just for a simple 8-channel SATA III to flash controller, and not a full on PCIe to flash controller that can have many more channels, so manufacturing costs skyrocket.
The other problem revolving around AIO RAID products is much simpler: marketing. Since power users and gamers make up a large portion of those who purchase first to market products, many new products are steered in those directions. When it comes to storage products, gamers aren't much different than typical Facebook surfing soccer moms, aside from the need for large storage capacity, and typical SATA III SSD performance. Games are just not optimized to take advantage of exotic SSD performance that transcends SATA III levels.
The good news is that the TRIM issue was resolved with Windows 8, and Server 2012, as long as the PCIe RAID controller API supports SCSI Unmap. This allows the AIO SSDs to keep performance higher than what we associate with enterprise steady states.
So far, we've talked about who would not benefit from SSD RAID products like the Comay BladeDrive G24, but not who would benefit. The group with the largest impact is the prosumer market. Audio, video, and large resolution picture professionals can see very large performance increases from the BladeDrive G24. Then there are corner case uses, like keeping read intensive database, or other heavy I/O workstation or entry-level server activity.
Specifications, Pricing and Availability
Comay released two versions of the BladeDrive G24, and they differ by the capacity size. The smaller version uses 256GB of flash, and the larger model that we're looking at today has 512GB of flash. The Toshiba 19nm TSOP flash is fed by four LSI SF-2281 controllers. The controllers lead back to a unique RAID controller that we know very little about, other than it's made by Comay, and has a part number of SBC208. The interface to the host system is PCIe 2.0 8x lanes, much faster than any of the consumer focused All-in-One SSD RAID products that operate with just two PCIe lanes.
The BladeDrive has a number of advanced features, but leading the charge is SCSI Unmap, which is a TRIM command for the SSDs in RAID, first introduced on Windows 8 and Server 2012. A number of LSI features are present as well, such as RAISE, and AES-128 Bit encryption DURA Write, the data encryption scheme that reduces the number of data writes to the flash.
The part we all care about is performance, and that's where the extra PCI Express lanes come into play. Comay claims sequential read and write performance of up to 2GB/s. That's enterprise level performance, and exactly what we want to see on products like this. Another massive measurement comes from the random IOPS performance of up to 275,000 IOPS!
Another massive number takes on a different tone, and that is the price. The MSRP for the 240GB model is $496, and the 480GB model we're looking at today has an MSRP of $830. The numbers may look high, but let's put them into perspective with other products on the market.
The accessory package consists of a full and half height bracket, a quality control card, and a thumb drive with the drivers. Comay includes SSD Toolbox software that allows you to quickly secure erase the drive. The warranty terms are three years.
Packaging and Accessories
I couldn't even imagine how cool the BladeDrive would be if it shipped with a cover as shown on the package artwork. Since we have the very first BladeDrive G24, the possibility is still open for a shield add-on. For the most part, a shield would only be cosmetic, other than offering a small reduction of EMI.
The back of the package shows the product features.
With the outside sleeve removed, we get our first look at the inner box. Comay went all out on the retail packaging with this release.
The inner packaging is perfect, with the card held securely in the middle of dense foam.
Here we see the package with the drive, the full height bracket, and the flash drive that holds the Comay RAID driver.
Comay BladeDrive G24 480GB
The card is comprised of two cards. The main card plugs into your motherboards PCIe slot, and has the Comay RAID controller, and half of the controllers and flash. The daughterboard holds the other half of the flash, and two controllers.
To spread heat around, Comay put the flash and controllers on opposite sides, and faced them to the outside.
There are thirty-two NAND flash packages in total, and four SATA III flash controllers.
With the heat sink removed, we see the mysterious Comay SBC208 RAID controller. We never found a way to get into the controller to change the stripe size, or see any advanced settings.
The controllers are LSI SandForce SF-2281 VB2; the new lower power controllers.
The flash is Toshiba 19nm dies at 64GB size, and 16K page sizes.
Status LEDs show power, and data activity.
Benchmarks - Test System Setup and ATTO Baseline Performance
Desktop Test System
You might have noticed our new 4th generation Intel platform used in the last couple reviews.
ATTO Baseline Performance
Version and / or Patch Used: 2.34
ATTO is a timeless benchmark used to provide manufactures with data for market storage products.
We're looking at ATTO two different ways today, at QD4 and QD10. In order to get the most out of your BladeDrive G24, you will need to multitask, as we see here with the higher QD. The BladeDrive peaks at roughly 2GB/s read and write with both queue depth settings.
Benchmarks - Sequential Performance
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. For the last couple of years, it has gained popularity amongst reviewers. It is now considered a must-have application for storage device testing.
We've talked about high queue depths and prosumer focus, but when reading sequential data at QD1 like most of us do, the Comay BladeDrive G24 480GB is a beast compared to 2.5" SATA drives. On the chart, we also have ASUS' RAIDR 240GB, another PCIe AIO SSD.
Again, we see the BladeDrive dominating the chart, but the average QD1 sequential write performance isn't that much higher than some of the other drives on the chart.
HD Tach - Sequential Write Performance after Random Writes
After a reasonable amount of random writes, we run HD Tach at 128KB to see the sequential performance after a light random load. The BladeDrive does very well here; higher than many of the top SSDs we've ever tested.
Benchmarks - AIDA64 Random Access Time
AIDA64 Random Access Time
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.60
Developer Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
Product Homepage: http://www.aida64.com
AIDA64 offers several different benchmarks for testing and optimizing your system, or network. The Random Access test is one of very few (if not the only), that will measure hard drives random access times in hundredths of milliseconds, as opposed to tens of milliseconds.
Drives with only one or two tests displayed in the write test mean that they have failed the test, and their Maximum, and possibly their Average Scores, were very high after the cache fills. This usually only happens with controllers manufactured by Jmicron.
Both the read and write latency of the G24 are very close to what we normally see on single SF-2281 controlled drives. On the write latency side, the drive actually manages to score lower latency than the OCZ Vertex 3.20, a single 2.5" SSD with the same controller used by the G24. This goes to show that the Comay RAID controller does a really nice job of directing I/O, without adding any significant latency to the data.
Benchmarks - Anvil Storage Utilities
Anvil Storage Utilities
Version and / or Patch Used: RC6
So what is Anvil Storage Utilities? First of all, it's a storage benchmark for SSDs and HDDs where you can check and monitor your performance. The Standard Storage Benchmark performs a series of tests, you can run a full test, or just the read or the write test, or you can run a single test (i.e. 4K DQ16).
Anvil Storage Utilities is not officially available yet, but we've been playing with the beta for several months now. The author, Anvil, has been steadily updating the software on several international forums, and is adding new features every couple of months.
The software is used several different ways, and to show different aspects for each drive. We've chosen to use this software to show the performance of a drive with two different data sets. The first is with compressible data, and the second data set is incompressible data. Several users have requested this data in our SSD reviews.
0-Fill Compressible Data
The SF-2281 architecture used means incompressible data transfers slower than compressible data.
Read IOPS through Queue Depth Scale
Earlier in the review, we stated that the BladeDrive might not be the best option for some gamers, and this is why. The low queue depth performance is a little lower than Samsung's 840 EVO, and very close to some of the other offerings on the market. It's a lot of money to spend if you don't have the means to use it, and by that I mean the software that can really scale or a set of tasks that can ramp up the queue depth. In our chart we stopped at QD32, but in our QD64 test, the BladeDrive scored nearly 200K IOPS.
Scaling Write IOPS through Queue Scale
Looking at the write IOPS, we see the BladeDrive staying more competitive with the other low queue depth performers, and it still does amazing at high queue depths. The chart stops at QD32, but at QD64 we achieved just over 250K IOPS.
Benchmarks - CrystalDiskMark
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 that allows us to benchmark 4K, and 4K queue depths with accuracy.
* Sequential reads/writes
* Random 4KB/512KB reads/writes
* Text copy
* Change dialog design
* internationalization (i18n)
Note: Crystal Disk Mark 3.0 Technical Preview was used for these tests since it offers the ability to measure native command queuing at 4, and 32.
Looking at the MB/s rating at 4K read, the BladeDrive looks a lot better. Very few drives manage to get to into the 40 MB/s, but the BladeDrive gets very close. The sequential performance nearly broke our chart it was so high.
BladeDrive doesn't win every 4K write test, but it does well enough to be competitive. The sequential write performance is also very high even in this test with incompressible data.
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/products/pcmarkvantage
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.
General computing is the one downside of BladeDrive. Later in this review we'll show similar tests, but measured in time. The time tests show a closer picture to the reality of performance in daily use applications.
Benchmarks - PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
PCMark Vantage - Drives with Data Testing
For a complete breakdown on the Drives with Data Testing please read this article. You will be able to perform this test at home with the files provided in the article - full instructions are included.
- Brief Methodology
SSDs perform differently when used for a period of time, and when data is already present on the drive. The purpose of the Drives with Data testing is to show how a drive performs in these 'dirty' states. SSDs also need time to recover, either with TRIM, or onboard garbage collection methods.
Drives with Data Testing - 25%, 50%, 75% Full States and Dirty / Empty Test
Files needed for 60 (64GB), 120 (128GB), 240 (256GB)
60GB Fill - 15GB, 30GB, 45GB
120GB Fill - 30GB, 60GB, 90GB
240GB Fill - 60GB, 120GB, 160GB
Empty but Dirty - a test run just after the fill tests, and shows if a drive needs time to recover, or if performance is instantly restored.
Even though Vantage isn't the best test to show BladeDrive's performance, our fill tests show the drive doesn't lose a lot of performance when populated with data.
Benchmarks - PCMark 8 Hard Disk Tests
Version and / or Patch Used: 1.0.0
Developer Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com
Product Homepage: http://www.futuremark.com/products/pcmark8
Note: PCMark 8 Storage benchmark is ideal for testing the performance of SSDs, HDDs, and hybrid drives. PCMark 8 Storage highlights real-world performance differences between storage devices by using traces recorded from Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and a selection of popular games
Here we see daily use applications tested by time. Again, the BladeDrive stays competitive, but doesn't crush these tests. The drive is made to just get through these types of duties, but to really perform on the fringes where regular SSDs fall off.
PCMark 8 Storage Bandwidth
PCMark 8 also shows the average speed of all the tests performed. The BladeDrive is in the mix, but again, it's built to do so much more than just general computing tasks.
Of all of the All-in-One RAID solutions I've tested to date, the Comay BladeDrive G24 is the best I've seen. Most of the others launched either before Windows 8, so they didn't support SCSI Unmap, or the products had issues with SCSI Unmap, even though support was claimed. On a drive that isn't writing database information all day, and is used as a regular computer or workstation, TRIM is essential to keep the performance high. Not only does the BladeDrive support TRIM commands on the specs sheet, but it also actually works.
When it comes to performance, the BladeDrive is amazing. This is as close to enterprise levels of performance as you can get for less than a grand. The hard part is coming up with ways to use all of the performance, because like enterprise products, the BladeDrive needs a lot of multitasking to be effective.
That's really where the rub is though. BladeDrive is like a sports car that you need a place to drive. You can drive it to the gas station for coffee in the morning, but that's not what it's built for. If you need the performance, it has more than enough to offer.
I think anyone shopping for a high performance SSD in this price range will already have the applications in place, and know they need the performance. If this review was a few weeks out, we'd have some professional applications ready to publish with BladeDrive. When we are ready to publish the new test results, we'll be sure to include the BladeDrive in the charts.
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