Saturday, 20 February 2010

Off Topic: OWC Mercury Extreme Enterprise Class SSD

Other World Computing (OWC) is selling a new SSD hard drive that includes the new SandForce SF-1500 processor (see this review for more information on the SandForce chipset).

OWC Mercury Extreme Enterprise Class SSD

Its feature list are quite impressive, including:

  • Over 250 MB/s read and write performance (on a Mac Pro).
  • Sizes from 50GB to 200GB (from 229$ to 779$)
  • 10 million hours Mean Time Before Failure (compared to 1.2 million for the Intel X25-M)
  • 5 years guarantee
  • Advanced Wear Level Management, so that the performance won't degrade over time even without using the TRIM feature (critical for Mac OS X users, since Apple is yet to support it in its operating system).
I was waiting for quite some time for a SSD upgrade, and OWC convinced me this was the one, and that this SSD was mature enough for professional, intensive, and carefree use.

I bought some memory and laptop hardware from OWC before, and I was impressed with their customer support, so I didn't mind trying a new product from them.

For the following benchmarks, I tried the 200 GB SSD model both as an the main internal hard drive of a MacBook Pro, and as an external hard drive attached to the MacBook Pro through an eSATA ExpressCard/34 card (from SonnetTech).
Apple MacBook Pro Unibody late 2008
2.8 Ghz Core 2 Duo, 6GB RAM

The hard drive enclosure I used for the external tests was the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro mini (those guys really need to find shorter product names), a quad interface product, connected to the MacBook Pro through eSATA.

For reference, I included the internal factory Seagate Momentus 7200 320GB rpm benchmark, and an external 4 drive RAID storage system by LaCie (setup as RAID 5 - not the fastest possible) connected through the eSATA ExpressCard as well.

For reference, most of the tests were done with Xbench, and the throughput ones with AJA System Tests.

Here we see the OWC Enterprise SSD really shine with over 250 MB/s reads and over 210 MB/s writes.

As we can see in the test results, the OWC Enterprise SSD is more than twice as fast as the previous Seagate Momentus drive on raw throughput, but an order of magnitude faster when random access comes into play.

For random 4k reads, the OWC Enterprise SSD is about 30 times faster! And for random 4k writes, up to 100 times faster. Those are performance characteristics that really make a difference in overall system performance with a workload that is disk I/O dependent.

Regarding the eSATA RAID 5 system, it's throughput is overall good, but its random access performance is even worse than the internal Seagate drive (4 times worse in random writes). A RAID 0, though, would yield better random access at the price is reliability.

We can see from the test results than the external enclosure for the OWC Enterprise SSD in eSATA suffers in performance compared to the internal SATA bus, but remains a top performer, especially in random access, and overall faster in each category than the Seagate drive.

The only test that wasn't conclusive is the sequential 4k read - which yielded the same results with XBench no matter which drive was used, so it seems that there's some bottleneck so that it is not I/O bound.

In conclusion:

The new OWC Mercury Extreme Enterprise Class SSD is a major upgrade for any MacBook Pro owner, one that improves disk performance all across the board.

After using that drive, one feels immediately the system performance boost, whether it is in booting, launching applications, or doing disk intensive tasks. Launching a vmware Windows XP virtual machine, for example, is a snap.

With the very solid feature set of the drive, its reliability over time, its performance, and the reputation of OWC in the Mac community, I strongly encourage this product.

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