Fusion IO solid state drive has a whole lot to give -

Getting the fastest out of each system we review is at the front of our mind. In each review I’ve written for TechEye I have demonstrated CPU and GPU constant leaps in performance. In the hard drive world, these leaps forward have come in many different varieties – whether spindle-based or SSD, and drives like OCZ's PCI Express Z drive, or the Seagate Hybrid. 

The uptake of specialist solid state storage has been phenomenal and like all high-end peripherals, end users are constantly looking to enhance their systems to be more robust and; within mission critical systems absolutely robust. With the marketplace embracing this technology, there is now a growing trend by many end users to use the kind of drives made by Fusion.

A typical SSD consists of a collection of NAND flash chips combined with a controller and SATA interface. The lack of moving parts has meant that typical access times are a fraction of those obtained from traditional spindle-based hard drives. However, SSDs are still limited to SATA's bandwidth of 300MB/s, and dependent on the drive controller built in to the motherboard.

Enter today's exceptional piece of equipment from the specialist SSD manufacturers Fusion-io. Instead of taking the traditional SATA route, Fusion-io have developed an SSD that uses a PCI Express connector as their interface - allowing them to be their own controller and plug into the heart of the system.

To give you an idea of the kinds of numbers we're talking about, below are our ever faithful synthetic tests demonstrating potential read/write figures, input/output operations per second (IOPs) and bandwidth.

ioDrive Duo Capacity

320GB

640GB

1.28TB

NAND Type

SLC (Single Level Cell)

MLC (Multi Level Cell)

MLC (Multi Level Cell)

Read Bandwidth (64kB)

1.5 GB/s

1.0 GB/s

1.1 GB/s

Write Bandwidth (64kB)

1.5 GB/s

1.5 GB/s

1.5 GB/s

Read IOPS (512 Byte)

261,000

196,000

185,000

Write IOPS (512 Byte)

262,000

285,000

278,000

Mixed IOPS (75/25 r/w)

238,000

138,000

150,000

Read Latency (512 Byte)

26 µs

29 µs

30 µs

Write Latency (512 Byte)

2 µs

2 µs

2 µs

Bus Interface

PCI-Express x4/x8 or PCI Express 2.0 x4

PCI-Express x4/x8 or PCI Express 2.0 x4

PCI-Express x4/x8 or PCI Express 2.0 x4

Operating Systems

64-Bit Microsoft Server 2003/2008, 64-Bit Microsoft Windows XP/Vista/Win7, RHEL 4/5, SLES 10/11, OEL v4/v5,

System Set-Up and Software Used

As this article is aimed at the professional looking for the most secure stable working platform we used our mainstay workstation. This has been seen on numerous recent outings supported by Intel's new Westmere Xeon CPU, Supermicro's X8DAi mainboard supported with Crucial's memory. This is a typical workstation that can be found in most high-end studios and enthusiast workstation dens. This mission critical workstation platform has plenty of scope for upgrading.

Component

Test  System

Mainboard

Supermicro X8DAi Rev 2

CPU

2 X 3.33GHz Intel® Xeon® X5680 Nehalem EP®, 12MB Shared Cache, 6.4GB/s QPI

HSF Coolers

2 X Noctua NH-U9DX 1366

Memory

12 X 2GB Crucial DDR3 (24GB Total) 1333MHz
Unbuffered ECC DIMMS  Memory Modules

Hard Drive

256GB Crucial C300 RealSSD

 

640GB Fusion-io Duo Drive

PCI Ex Video Card

NVIDIA® Quadro® 6000


Benchmarks and Software Used 64-bit Mode

Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
ATTO Benchmark
Everest Ultimate Ver 5 with latest build
HD Tune Pro Ver 4.50
Sisoftware Sandra 2010 with latest build
CrystalMark Disk Benchmark with latest build
PCMark 2005 with latest patches
PCMark Vantage with latest patches
SPECviewperf® 11.0 64-bit.   Tests ran at 1920 X 1080 Resolution

Each set of tests has been applied on the clean system hard drives shown above to ensure that no residue drivers were left installed with all updates/patches applied.   A test/render has been completed many times over different periods of the system uptime. Whilst maintaining the fair play rules of SPEC®  HyperThreading and Turbo Boost have been enabled, with the memory being left in its default status of Auto. Tests have been conducted in accordance with the resolutions  detailed above @ 59Hz in 32 bit colour. Results that have been shown within this article are from the application/benchmark's first run in accordance with the SPECviewperf fair play rules. Not an average of 3 runs, as some seem prudent to think that this is correct.

 

 

File Transfer Test

We always use this type of test to assess any form of new storage, whether spindle or SSD and today is no different. Taking an array of common files constructed from Word, Excel, Access, an Outlook PST file, Photoshop, Max, Maya the list is endless. However it's what can be found on any common workstation today. Using the Fusion-io drive as the source to back-up these files we find the following results:

Process

Time to Complete

Drive C - 1.12GB file (containing 2137 Files and 279 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

3 Seconds

Drive C - 2.25GB file (containing 4274 Files and 559 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

6.2 Seconds

Drive C - 3.38GB file (containing 6411 Files and 839 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

7.35 Seconds

Drive C - 4.5GB file (containing 8548 Files and 1119 folders) to Fusion-io Duo Drive (Drive E)

10 Seconds

Drive C Windows 7 Backup (67.5GB ISO Image) to Fusion-io Duo (Drive E)

1 Minute
and
23 Seconds

Fusion-io Duo (Drive E) extraction of a compressed 1.45GB WinRAR 3DS Max file containing 6 Files and 2 folders to Drive C

21 Seconds

Our final process of the file copy test was to see just how long a backed up file on the Fusion-io drive would take to copy within itself. In this instance we took a complete section of files, applications and programmes (2315 files within 272 folders) weighing in at 4.88GB on the drive. Copying this package within the drive took a mere 12 seconds to complete. Never have we witnessed anything so fast. To check the data was correct we took the same file and placed it onto one of the fastest 256GB MLC SSD's on the market and it took 21 seconds to complete the same copy within test.

Conclusions

In our opinion these drives from Fusion-io and their successors are the future within the Workstation place and in mission critical applications and final render outputs. Initial outlays might be perceived as being costly but the return of investment will be phenomenal. Take one standard movie of approximately 100 minutes - converting it from 2D to a 3D output only takes a mere three hours. Using disks in a raid array could take up to 12 - 14 hours to complete.

Fusion-io from its foundation four years ago has gone from strength to strength and almost all the first tier companies as well as the second tiers have embraced and adopted the technology. Downtime to disk failure, disk fragmentation and free space problems are now a thing of the past.

The adoption path tests we have shown on how fast the drive can be are just the tip of the iceberg, but they also show without unequivocal doubt their reliability and stability while under load. Leaving the system undertaking a heavy read/writing session for a 36 hour period we saw the following performance sequential statistics before and after from CrystalMark

There’s no performance drop at all. Normally in most cases a drop would be seen from even the most advanced of SSDs. The drive itself functions much better the more memory you place into the system, the better the performance across the whole I/O. One benchmark that showed this clearly was SPECviewperf 11 and the viewsets of Lightwave, Maya and Solidworks that use the whole system I/O. Within these three viewsets we see increases in scores not normally obtained from spindle disks or SSDs.

We’ve never seen better benchmarks for a drive from PCMark 2005 and PCMark. For the old guard, an overall HD score of 71083 from the PCMark 2005 took us by surprise. On several reruns the result remained the same. With the newer PCMark Vantage, the HD test really took us by surprise with a tremendous overall HD score of 58416.

Gaming studios would be wise to look carefully at these results. The usage of this important piece of kit can and will be used in many important phases of production. Remember this is a PCI Express X4/X8 card that can be readily switched quickly between systems.

Some analysts will be sceptical at the cost, however for the speed you do get bang for your buck. For those after a workstation packing high speed productivity, reliability and stability, look no further. The negative Nellies will be sitting back aghast.

We stipulated that this is without a doubt the future of drives to come which got us thinking. Could this drive be embedded onto a mainboard directly to cut down on future hardware installs, or have an upgrade slot for adding in more modules to increase the drives capabilities? There will need to be cost cuts. Time will tell, though it could be a viable probability.

Ultimately, the clever boffins at Fusion-io have taken us aback at their product's complete adaptability. This drive and the others from within the range can be found all over the shop supporting tons of operating systems and huge SQL databases as well as film and art studios. The kit can and will increase productivity output - quadrupled in some cases as in this one recent case study. The beneficial list is endless and this is one piece of equipment that has to be seen to be believed for anyone thinking of outlaying on a huge 15K array.

Final thoughts: if you fear a dropped drive or raid controller going down in your raid arrays - think Fusion-io. If you fear severe disk fragmentation downtime - think Fusion-io.

We're just wondering, what could possibly be next for the Fusion-io?