Friday, 7 May 2010

Windows 7 System Restore And Your SSD - IMPORTANT READING

I have been involved in the consumer solid state drive industry since the first release in 2007 and was one of the first to publish a SSD Review which can be found with many other early articles at the bottom of this page.  At one point in the passed few years, it became common knowledge in the industry that solid state drives would suffer performance degradation with age.  I found this very unusual because, for the most part, I had not experienced this with any of my drives and believe me, they have all been around the block a few times in the past few years.  I have tested with drives from Sandisk, Samsung, Memoright, Mtron, Intel and OWC and have utilized both slc and mlc SSDs.


In an effort to find out why my drives were running so well, I examined what I was doing different than the average consumer and, more specifically, how my system setup could contribute to this.  Three things stood out.  I have been running 64 Bit on my system since before it was even believed to be viable.  Would you believe I had a small part in the push for Dell to introduce it to the market and also, people used to laugh and think I was ridiculous to believe it would ever make it?  The other two variables were that I don't run a Pagefile and haven't run System Restore since my first SSD in 2007.  Simply, I believe Pagefile was created for systems that didn't have adequate RAM and we have allowed it to become a crutch now that RAM is affordable.  I also I found it much easier to simply backup regularly than allow System Restore to do its magic.  In considering all points, I was a bit confused except one thing stuck with me.  System Restore grows as it backs up your system and changes your storage characteristics as it continually establishes new restore points.  This seemed like a common sense approach to think it might be related to System Restore.


I have been watching SSDs for some time and observed that non-TRIM SSDs such as the Intel X25-m G1 were particularly prone to this phenomenon of degradation which continued to be present through the introduction of the Intel G2 with TRIM.  I purchased and installed a Intel X25-m G2 160Gb SSD.  In the process, I elected to leave System Restore on because, well, I was about to rip apart the OS in order to see how it ran best with a SSD and would want to be jumping back and forth.  I am also a performance nut and rely heavily on Crystal Disk Mark as it provides one with both large sequential as well as 4kb random performance evaluations for your SSD.  Two weeks after playing around with my system, I observed a large drop in the performance of my SSD.  I wish I had kept the original result so I could post it here but no fear, I will have a test for you to try later on. Here is what Crystal Disk Mark looks like.


Let’s just get the article going by stating that this drive is a rocket of a SSD and if you want the best in performance right out of the gate, you have it here.  We were so accustomed to the huge success of the Intel drives in overall performance that we had to give the Intel a few runs just to see if we could get it anywhere near this monster.  For Mac owners considering an upgrade, this is definitely the way to go as it is geared specifically for the Mac with its new GC abilities but wait, it also has TRIM for those PC users wanting the best.


The OWC Mercury Extreme Pro RE SSD is a May 2010 release available exclusively from Other World Computing and is identifiable by the letters ‘RE’ for 'Raid-Ready Enhanced' in the name. For those looking to trade performance for value and extra storage, the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro is also available.  The RE SSD stands out with its 5 year warranty and industry leading  28% over provisioning.  Over provisioning is used to fine tune the Garbage Collection (GC) abilities of the drive for Mac systems and maintain peak performance throughout the life of the drive.

Controller:                          SandForce SF1200 Series Processor with 28% Over Provisioning
Bandwidth:                         Sustained Sequential Read: up to 285MB/s
                                             Sustained Sequential Write: up to 275MB/s
Read/Write Latency          Less than 0.1ms
Reliability:                          10,000,000 Mean Time To Failure (7x Better Than Competitors)
 Interface:                           SATA 1.5 Gb/s and 3.0 Gb/s
TRIM Support:                   Advanced TRIM Support in Windows 7
Operating Temp:              0ºC to +70ºC
Power Consumption:     Active: 550mW (.5W)Typical  Idle (DIPM): 50mW (.05W) Typical
Protection:                        ECC Recovery: Up to 24 bytes correctable per 512-byte secto
                                            Unrecoverable Read Errors: Less than 1 sector per 1017 bits read
Security:                            Chip Based Data Encryption: 128-bit AES-compliant
Form Factor:                     2.5" Industry Standard Hard Drive
 Weight/Dimensions:      80 grams +/- 2 grams - 100.12mm x 70.06mm x 9.45mm
Warranty:                          5 Year OWC Warranty
Made in the USA:            Made in the U.S. from imported parts


Our test system is an Acer Timeline 1810T-6188 11.6" Laptop with an Intel SU9400 processor, 4Gb RAM, 4500HD graphics, and Windows 7 Ultimate 64 Bit for the OS.  It is in AHCI mode with the Intel(R) ICH9M-E/M SATA AHCI Controller displayed in Device Manager and Intels newest RST 9.6 software onboard.  The system has a Dell 22" external monitor and an Aluratek HD Docking Hub is used along with Acronis True Image in order to clone the SSDs for testing purposes.  The comparison drive is an Intel X25-m SSD.  Of benefit, this ultra-portable does an excellent job of demonstrating what little heat is produced by the SSDs resulting in less fan usage and increased battery life.

Software utilized for the review included Crystal Disk Mark, HDTune Pro, ATTO Benchmark, Boot Timer, Win7 WEI along with FutureMark PCMark Vantage. Both SSDs are tested within the same system and both installations are exact copies of one another.  All tests are conducted in Windows 7 safe mode, wherever possible, as this gives the truest result for evaluation purposes; the sole exception being PCMark Vantage which would not function in safe mode.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Windows 7 SSD Performance Optimization Guide

The Win7 SSD Performance Optimization Guide is a great contribution by Marshall Dean AKA Spartacus of ExtremeOverclocking.Com.  With its illustrations and easy to follow advice, it is the premier publication found anywhere on optimization of the solid state drive.

It is an important guide which will teach the reader ways to avoid pitfalls which will severely degrade the ssd, tricks that will return some of that valuable ssd storage property as well as methods to ensure your ssd is in top shape and tuned as best as it can be.  There will  be 'Webmaster Notes' included with some of the suggestions which serve to explain the importance of the particular suggestion.

READER ALERT!!!  There is no need to Optimize Win7 or your SSD whatsoever for it to function correctly.  The reader retains sole responsibility in their following of this thread and the Site and its authors shall not deemed liable for any damage that may occur to the readers computer or its hardware in following the thread.

Graphics in this guide have been reduced to assist the reader and simply clicking on each will enlarge them to their original size for better viewing.

1.  Install Chipset Drivers

Ensure your Chipset drivers are up to date by checking with your system or motherboard manufacturers website and seeking the support and drivers page.  This will allow for the efficient managing of data transmission through the SATA bridge and newer drivers may also be released to solve problems discovered with the system after its release.  If it asks for a restart please do so.

WEBMASTER NOTE:  TRIM is a very important part of ssd maintenance and allows for background wiping of previous deletions to retain ssd performance.   There is an AHCI driver which is a standard part of Win7 and Intel has finally released a new driver here which is also TRIM compliant.  Testing has shown that there are no performance improvements whatsoever between the MS or Intel drivers on a normal system, however, testing has shown that the new Intel driver provides performance improvements to RAID.  There are numerous documented tests that show that the new drivers perform 'wiping', similar to TRIM' almost immediately after a deletion is made on a RAID drive, thus restoring performance.  Again, unless you are using a RAID system, there is no proven benefit to installing the Intel Storage drivers whatsoever and no need to do so.

2.  Disable System Restore

WEBMASTER NOTE:  This is the most important piece of information in this Guide.  Recent testing has discovered that System Restore allocates restore points within the SSD that do not work well with the SSD or TRIM.  Typically, System Restore will degrade ssd performance significantly within a few weeks and makes it very difficult for TRIM to function.  Disabling System Restore is not only recommended throughout the web, but also, Intel has lately also included this advise with respect to its ssds.  Disabling System Restore will also return to you a fair amount of ssd storage space.

Right click on My Computer and select Properties.
Select System Protection.
Select Configure.
Select Turn Off System Restore.

3.  Disable Drive Indexing

WEBMASTER NOTE:  The purpose of drive indexing on a hard drive was to allow quicker access to a file.  As access times on a ssd are almost instantaneous (.1ms), there is a common belief that indexing does nothing more than increase the total number of writes to the ssd which results in a lesser life cycle.  Having stated this, there is no confirmed performance increase by disabling indexing and the chances of wearing out ones ssd is somewhere in the area of impossible to one in a million.

Go into My Computer, right click your SSD and select Properties (usually C: if the OS is installed on it). Un-check the box marked Allow files to have contents indexed in addition to file properties.  If it asks for administrative permissions allow it to do so.

A popup will appear stating an error applying attributes has occured, this is normal, select ignore all and it will continue.  This process will take about 2 minutes.

4.  Disable Disk Defragment Schedule

WEBMASTER NOTE:  Windows 7 should, by default, disable Windows Defrag automatically but this does not always occur for some reason.  Disk Defragmentation is not required in a ssd as the mechanics are completely different. There are no moving parts so file fragmentation doesn't occur as frequently as it does with a hard drive which fragments files as they are retrieved and stored on the disk while it spins at very high speeds.  Leaving Windows 7 with an enabled defragmentation schedule will drastically increase your ssd total writes and decrease its lifespan.

After finishing indexing, in the same properties of the SSD, select the Tools tab.  Select the box Defragment Now.
Select the box Defragment Schedule.  Un-check the Run on a Schedule Box.

5.  Turn Off Windows Write-Cache Buffer Flushing

WEBMASTER NOTE:   Turning Off Write-Cache Buffer Flushing may increase or decrease the performance of your drive and it is suggested that you perform benchmark tests with it checked and unchecked.  It is reported to improve performance on OCZ drives, however, decreases the performance of Intel drives.

Right Click My Computer and select Properties.
Select Device Manager.
Select Disk Drives.
Right click the SSD and select Properties.
Under the Performance tab check the box Turn off Windows write-cache buffer flushing on this device.