Articles: Storage

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The positive effect of a fast disk subsystem is absolutely obvious if we measure the speed of loading applications and data from files. This is quite clear without any additional tests if you just take a look at synthetic benchmarks’ results. Therefore in this review we won’t do such primitive measurements. Instead, we will focus on investigating the effect of a fast disk subsystem on general computer performance.

That said, we are still going to start out with a standard test of measuring the boot-up time of Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64. The diagram below shows the time it takes from pressing the Power button until the computer begins to react to user’s actions.

The difference between the slowest HDD and the SSD amounts to 30% whereas the amount of system memory doesn’t affect the OS boot-up time much.

It is also clear that the choice of a disk storage device can affect the performance of a task in which data is taken from the disk subsystem rather than from system memory. Archiving is a good example of this kind of task. As we know, the speed of data archiving in WinRAR depends on the speed of CPU and memory. But it turns out that the disk subsystem is an important factor as well.

Interestingly, we can observe an effect from the larger amount of system memory here. It shows up when the disk subsystem is not sufficiently fast. So, it looks like adding more gigabytes of memory to improve your disk subsystem performance only makes sense when you’ve got rather a slow HDD.

Encoding audio files into the MP3 format is similar to data archiving but many encoding tools can run in one or two execution threads only. In this case, even a very slow HDD is enough to deliver data at a required rate. But for our test we took the dBpoweramp converter which can effectively use all of CPU cores it can find, encoding multiple files in parallel: one file on one CPU core. The speed of the disk subsystem becomes quite important then.

Multithreaded writing of data is not a strong point of the WD Caviar Green and it fails in this test. The WD VelociRaptor and the Intel SSD are much faster but differ by 15% between each other. The larger amount of system memory has a positive effect in this test but we can’t say that 8 gigabytes of RAM can make a worthy alternative to a fast disk.

Now we’ve got another popular task that involves processing of data stored on the disk. It is video encoding. We took the x.264-based HandBrake tool to encode a 1080p MPEG-2 video clip into H.264 format.

Well, we can’t see any improvements from the faster disks or larger memory amount here. The Core i7-870 processor proves to be not fast enough to encode video files at the same rate as they are being read even from the slowest disk.

We have the same picture not only at ordinary transcoding but also when applying video effects, for example in Adobe After Effects.

For the disk subsystem to affect the speed of HD video processing CPUs will have to become faster.

Editing images in Adobe Photoshop is quite a different story. Of course, ordinary images from digital cameras are well below 4 gigabytes but Photoshop keeps track of user actions and may require more memory for that. Even at the default settings (20 recent states are recorded) this image-processing application begins to access the hard disk actively and its speed becomes dependent on the disk subsystem performance.

As we can see, the speed of our test scenario (it is an improved Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that includes the processing of four 10-megapixel images captured with a digital camera) depends heavily on the disk. The difference between the WD Caviar Green and the Intel X25-M G2 is twofold! However, you can achieve even better results by increasing your memory amount. The numbers indicate that 8 gigabytes of RAM help do without disk caching, producing a fantastic performance boost.

Well, talking about image processing at large, we must admit that Photoshop is not a typical application. Its memory appetite is quite a peculiar trait. When we take another program, for example when we process a batch of similar images in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, the influence of system memory is very low.

The choice of a disk storage device can only improve the resulting performance by 10% at best.

We are also interested in checking out our disks and memory in modern 3D visualization suites. We took Autodesk Maya as it has a SPEC benchmark operating with rather complex models.

Well, Maya seems to be perfectly satisfied with 4 gigabytes of system memory and does not depend on the speed of the disk subsystem.

The next test is about compiling large software projects.

There are but negligible performance benefits from the faster disk or larger amount of system memory even though the computer was rattling with the HDD’s heads quite actively during this task.

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