Intel SSDs having endurance difficulties?

By Justin Mann on February 20, 2009, 12:07 PM
Update: Intel has refuted the findings of PCPer, claiming that the SSD slowdown findings are inaccurate. Intel's assertion is that the tests don't simulate real-world scenarios, and are artificially making the problem bigger than it seems. Whether or not that is true, at the moment is left up to the user.

SSD manufacturers have been touting the benefits the new drive technology offers for quite some time. Faster access times, less power consumption, and no noise at all are some of the reasons why SSDs promise to be the superior successor to the mechanical hard disk. Though the technology definitely has teething issues and still suffers from serious capacity and price gaps, for the most part each new iteration of SSDs demonstrates a pattern of benefits. One such benefit often mentioned is the reliability factor, with a non-moving solid-state chunk of storage considered to be more reliable in the long term than spinning disks. however, is that really the case?

One recent study done with Intel SSDs is showing some strong evidence that some of their SSDs, the X25-M in particular, might have a serious issue with endurance. It appears that after the drives have been subjected to a few months of operation, their performance begins to suffer significantly. It was found that after spending a significant amount of time in a production environment, the drive begins to get heavily fragmented, due in part to the drive's own self-protection mechanism, wear leveling. The end result was a drive that could perform at only a fraction of its original glory, being reduced to speeds vastly lower than even mechanical desktop hard drives.

Unfortunately due to the nature of the problem, standard defragmentation utilities have little effect – the drive itself is simply hindered by large amounts of small files being written to it constantly. This fragmentation is above a filesystem level – and therefore out of the hands of users, for the most part. In fact, it is being advised that using any defragmentation utilitiy on The X25-M will only compound to problem as wear-leveling kicks in. The end result is that once a drive starts to see a performance dip, the only solution is to completely wipe the drive and start over. Intel's solution wasn't a very transparent one, and the company did confirm that in the future they'll have a software mechanism capable of dealing with this “sub-block” level fragmentation.

The bottom line the reviewers found was that this is primarily a hardware concern, one that Intel is at least aware of and is hopefully going to address in the future. In the meantime, if you're an SSD owner, keep an eye out for these performance losses.




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