The best of both worlds

When comparing the world of SSDs to spindle-based storage it is easy to just dismiss the SSDs due to price and capacity or to dismiss standard drives based on performance. What if you are looking for a really high end solution for something like…a video editing machine? Do arrays of either technology make a difference worth noting? Stop in to see our quick experimenting.
Here in the PC Perspective labs we don’t just test hardware because we love it, we test it sometimes because we have to.  Case in point: our video editing machine was in desperate need of an upgrade from a set of 300GB Velociraptors as storage because our workflow consisting of 1080p HD footage was starting to pull it down.  Other than a memory upgrade to 16GB worth of Corsair DDR2-800 FB-DIMM I also knew that our storage system could use a boost. 

I was thus put in the same debate that is often the source of our podcast emails – do I choose a standard storage configuration or make the jump to solid state drives?  To be fair, our storage system is centered on a relatively high-end RAID card from Areca, the ARC-1230 that might be hard to find today.  It runs much faster and has a lot more options than integrated RAID controllers and includes 12 SATA ports which is helpful for testing various RAID configurations as it turns out.

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It’s like a poor man’s external storage creation

After buying a set of hardware to be tested, this is the behemoth we were left with.  Our video editing system consists of a pair of Core 2 Quad processors and a Skulltrail system, soon-to-be 16GB of memory and an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 card.  The current storage system includes a set of three 300GB Velociraptor drives in a RAID-5 array and a pair of 1TB hard drives in RAID-0 for additional storage.  The “new” options are in the external container outside the case – you probably shouldn’t try it this way at home, kids 

We have a set of four 600GB Velociraptors running in another RAID-5 array for a total storage of 1.8TB to represent our best case spindle-based solution and in front of them we have a pair of 256GB Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue SSDs in a RAID-0 array for the flash-based alternative.  My goal was to see which of these two new arrays would be the best fit for our video rendering and editing configuration. 

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to each that we know of already.  First, the Velociraptors have the edge in terms of capacity as the four 600GB drives in a RAID-5 array result in a 1.8TB partition compared to only a 512GB total partition for the RAID-0 SSDs.  We can likely also assume that the SSDs will remain faster in the world of random access times as that is the dominant area where standard hard drives cannot compete. 

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One big question is price: 600GB Velociraptors sell for $279 a piece or $1116 for the set of four.  Each drive has a $0.46/GB cost to it but our array has a cost of $0.62/GB because of the lost capacity with a RAID-5 configuration.  Each 256GB Western Digital SSD will run you about $699 or $2.73/GB and because the RAID-0 array doesn’t lose any capacity the resulting configuration remains the same price per GB but has a total cost of $1398. 

This gives the gross cost of the Velociraptors a $282 edge in out-of-pocket money; not a whole lot considering the total cost and the fact that we are using a ~$500 RAID card.  In terms of cost per GB though the Velociraptors have the huge advantage, winning out by more than a factor of 4x.  But, what if 512GB of primary storage is enough for you?  Getting 2TB hard drives for under $150 is easy to do now for mass storage so the SSD option with the SiliconEdge drives remains viable.

Let’s take a quick look at some performance results from these configurations and see what they tell us.

Again, here is the testing configuration:
  • 2 x Intel Core 2 QX9775 processors
  • Intel Skulltrail motherboard
  • 8GB of DDR2-800 FB-DIMM
  • NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800
  • Areca ARC-1230 RAID controller
  • Windows 7 x64
  • 4 x 600GB Western Digital Velociraptors in RAID-5
  • 2 x 512GB Western Digital SiliconEdge Blue SSDs in RAID-0

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Western Digital SiliconEdge RAID-0 Array

First we will look at the results from the pair of SSDs; the HDTach results above show an average read speed of 337 MB/s and an average write speed of 243 MB/s.  The burst speed was 462 MB/s with a random access time listed at 0.2 ms. 

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Western Digital SiliconEdge RAID-0 Array

The ATTO results here actually show a better write speed than HDTach did above maxing out at 357 MB/s or so while the reads topped at 389 MB/s. 

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Western Digital Velociraptor RAID-5 Array

For the standard hard drives in the RAID-5 array we saw average read speeds hover around 305 MB/s and write speeds at 206 MB/s.  The burst rate remained stable at 459 MB/s but the random access time was sitting just about 7.1 ms. 

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Western Digital Velociraptor RAID-5 Array

The ATTO results for this array were a bit better as well as the reads came in as fast as 382 MB/s while the writes were going as fast as 300 MB/s. 

As it turns out, both configurations performed very well under these criteria and there is little doubt that the Areca 1230 card is responsible for some of that leveling between the SSDs and traditional hard drives.  The raw performance edge still obviously goes to the pair of SiliconEdge SSDs though I was impressed at how close the Velociraptors were able to get.  Obviously if you are worried about capacity and price more than the top speed result here, I think the Western Digital Velociraptors are easily the best pick. 

However, for our specific application use, it turns out the lower access times the SSDs provide outweigh the benefits of the capacity boost.  Our primary use case is with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 and editing raw HD footage out of the Canon 7D camera that can drop in at over 20 GB of video per project.  While both of our test configurations seemed to handle the importing and exporting process on about the same level, when it comes to “scrubbing” along the time line of files while searching for specific locations in a 4GB file, reading the data at 0.2 ms as opposed to 7.1 ms is noticeable.  Rather than reading those large files all at once (where both configurations would be on par with each other) we were asking the system to very quickly jump in and out of specific locations in those files, something the SSDs have the advantage in. 

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I have to say that I was impressed with BOTH of our storage options as we tested them and it is tough to give up 1.3TB of storage in order to get slightly faster scrubbing in a specific application; and it even comes at a higher cost!  But, with the ability to get a pair of 2TB hard drives at under $300 today for mass storage needs it seemed like the best fit for us.  For many high end users though, the quad-Velociraptors will offer the appealing combination of speed and capacity that is impossible to resist, and we can’t blame you one bit.

If you want more information on both of the drives used in our testing, check out our individual reviews: