Week in Tech: SSD Update – It’s All About (NV)Me!

Turns out Samsung's 840 Evo is a bit borked...

One word. NVMe. Take it from me, you want some of it. So, you’d better start to get your head around it. Luckily, it’s all you need to know about solid-state drives or SSDs over the next year or so. Well, that and whether your motherboard can support NVMe. Oh, and the difference between M.2, SFF-8639 and SATA Express. I know. This whole SSD thing is a nightmare to keep up with right now. But let me simply say this: some early solid-state drives with that NVMe stuff I just mentioned have appeared in recent months, and these things absolutely fly.

Time, then, for an SSD update and for me to make something intelligible out of the technosoup that is emerging SSD tech. Also, can there really be any of you left without an SSD of some kind? If so, shout out below and let’s see if we can all encourage the laggards to finally make the leap. SSDs are cheaper than ever (an eminently viable 100GB-120GB drive can be had for as little as about £50 / $70, possibly even less with some deft shopping), and I can promise that you will not be disappointed.

Quick note to start with – if you just want to be told what SSD to buy, do not pass go, do not collect a boxed copy of Windows ME, just go straight to the TL;DR bit at the bottom. Everyone else, get comfy.

Right, then, solid-state drives. What a ‘mare. They’re impossible to benchmark properly. Every time you think you’ve got your head around them, the technology changes or some new metric of performance tears up everything you thought you knew. As for how long they actually last before going titsup.com, don’t ask me. And yet. And yet. SSDs are bloody brilliant at making your PC feel fast.

The thing about SSDs is that they’re different. Different from the likes of processors or graphics cards, I mean. Chuck the latter two through a benchmark over and over and you’ll usually get the same result.

There are exceptions. Thermal throttling (too much heat, in other words) can cause clockspeeds to be capped and performance to be reduced as temperatures build, just as a for instance. And you can have problems with the thermal paste, pads and dust. But broadly, CPUs and graphics chips themselves don’t really degrade over time. Not so for SSDs.

Intel’s NVMe’ed, pure-PCI Express P3700 – is this what SSDs are going to look like?

It’s pretty easy to know which CPUs and graphics cards are faster, too. Fire up your favourite game, measure the frame rate. Things can get a bit more nuanced when it comes to various image quality settings and things like minimum frame rates versus averages, AMD Mantle versus Nvidia GameWorks, whatever. But, again, it’s generally not too hard to fathom how much cop a video card is. Not so for SSDs.

If the early days of SSDs were a stuttering mess, even now drives from big brands can throw up problems. Even the mighty Samsung colossus, which bestrides the SSD landscape like a very large bestriding thing, recently released a firmware update to resolve performance degradation over time with its 840 Evo drive.

That’s a drive I have myself suggested as a great all rounder and value proposition. Shocking. However, that SSDs are still completely worth it despite the Rumsfeldian flaws (the known unknowns of performance degradation are joined by unknown unknowns that, well, we don’t know about until they emerge) tells you a lot about just how big an impact they can make on your PC.

That includes gaming. OK, a lot of games load up a level and don’t require much mass storage access until the next. But getting in and out of your favourite games will be so much speedier. I don’t know about you, but I get properly agitated waiting for games to load. Must be the attention deficit.

Whatever, frame rates will settle down much quicker after a level load, too, and for those games that load data on the fly, an SSD will help smooth things out very nicely. If that’s the sales pitch, what’s the big news with SSDs right now? It’s that NVMe thing and the related emergence of super-fast PCI Express-based drives. We’ve been talking about them for some time. But we still haven’t quite got there.

It’s all very confusing and a bit frustrating. For starters, what used to be just good old SATA is being replaced by a rats’ nest of new standards. There’s SATA Express which vaguely fuses PCI Express with the old SATA interface. M.2 is a new interface that does away with the physical aspects of SATA but not immediately its signalling properties.

There are pure PCI Express storage cards, too, that plug into slots much like a graphics or sound card. And don’t forget SFF-8639 which is a cross between SATA Express and SAS, is intended for enterprise systems but looks so good I want it in my PC. Confused? I bloody well am.

Until NVMe drives for punters appear, you can do a lot worse than a cheap Crucial drive

So far SATA Express has conspicuously failed to catch on – I’ve seen motherboards with SATA Express ports, but not a single compatible drive – so I’m rapidly approaching the conclusion that it could well be a stillborn interface. Phew, one less interface to worry about.

Of the rest, M.2 looks like the most likely candidate for widespread adoption. Both compatible motherboards and drives are already on the market. M.2 calls for tiny little cards that are physically similar to the mSATA SSDs commonly seen in laptop PCs. We’re talking mini PCBs with exposed chips available in multiple lengths and capacities.

Intel’s latest 9 Series motherboard chipsets (so Z97, H97 and the rest) support M.2, though that doesn’t guarantee a given 9 Series motherboard will have an M.2 slot. The problem is that all the M.2 drives I’ve had my hands on so far have not delivered on the second part of the next-gen SSD revolution. At last, we come to NVMe.

So far, early M.2 drives have used the old AHCI storage control protocol. Think of it as the control language for hard rives. And AHCI was designed for just that – hard drives, not solid state drives. NVMe or Non-Volatile Memory Express (now you wish you hadn’t asked, right?) is a new protocol designed specifically for SSDs.

We’ve touched on this before and discussed how NVMe promises to slash latencies but really the technicalities aren’t important. What’s important is that the limits of SATA haven’t just been about raw bandwidth. The AHCI protocol has been holding things back, too.

That remains largely true right now. As far as I know, the very first NVMe-capable SSD was Intel’s SSD DC P3700, a pure PCI Express plug-in card for servers. The smallest variant starts at 400GB and it’s priced at about $3 per GB, so it’s not exactly an option for most gamers.

If you want a taste of what these new NVMe PCI Express-based drives can do, get a load of these numbers offered by a new Samsung drive (it’s a SFF-8639 aimed at enterprise customers, not punters and gamers, sorry). The XS1715 in 1.6TB trim will do 3GB/s reads and 1.4GB/s writes. Nice. SATA drives typically top out at about 550MB/s each way.

But the most eye-popping number is the 750,000 read IOPS (the write IOPS aren’t quite as impressive). Samsung’s top SATA drive for the likes of you and we tops out at 100,000 IOPS. The random access performance of the XS1715 must be smoking.

As I’ve also mentioned before, SSD controller chips with NVMe support have been announced, but actual consumer drives are nowhere to be seen, as far as I know.

And still we wait for mainstream SSDs with NVMe-capable controller chips…

Put that altogether and what we have is a post that might as well have said, “still waiting for SSDs to get faster, nothing to see here, move along.” But seriously, at least now you know what’s coming (NVMe) and what you’ll likely need to get hold of it (an Intel 9 Series motherboard and an M.2 drive).

Until that happens, watch this space and my advice hasn’t changed. Buy a cheap and cheerful Crucial M500 to tide you over.

TL;DR:
– Something called NVMe is coming and it’s going to make SSDs stupid fast
– It’s not quite here yet
– You’ll need an Intel 9 Series motherboard, too
– So for now, buy something cheap but effective (I’m sticking with my Crucial M500 advice) that works with your existing motherboard if you don’t already have an SSD

70 Comments

  1. Sp4rkR4t says:

    What a wonderful way to say KEEP WAITING!

    • X_kot says:

      That’s my takeaway, too. I have a high-rpm HDD and a 1-TB external drive for storage and backups, which works well. I get why people buy SSDs, but my OS isn’t so sluggish that it pains me to do stuff. For me, I probably won’t buy in until solid state technology develops to such a point that it replaces HDDs entirely in home PC use.

      That said, I’ve been intrigued by products touted as “hybrid” drives. Are they a needless half-step or a compelling alternative?

      • tehfish says:

        Regarding the hybrid drives. i brought one of the first gen ones for my laptop years ago.

        It was okay, but the noise and heat it gave off was a little too much for me. Ending up putting it in my mum’s laptop.

        She said it helped a little, but wasn’t hugely different… Until 6months later when the drive got bad sectors and then died suddenly. Whilst said drive was being sent off for replacement, i put the old drive back in her laptop and restored the disk image backup… Ye gods the parental whining about how ‘horribly slow’ the laptop was was a sight to behold :)

        It’s the lack of latency, especially immediately after a fresh boot, that makes the difference on a SSD or SSHD. Once you get used to it you won’t ever want to go back to a PC with a HDD only.

      • Heavens says:

        Pretty much the same here although I don’t have high-rpm hdds.
        Honestly the only game right now that bothers me with it’s loading times is an extremely modded Skyrim but I can live with that.

        Guess I’ve adapted to the waiting game and do other things while it loads up.

        Also given the size of my often used tools and games I’d have to buy something bigger than 128GB which are still relatively “pricey” compared to “small” ones.

        But since I gotta rebuild my rig next year I guess I’ll pick one up.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      In my opinion waiting IS recommended, yes, but mostly for existing SSD customers that are waiting for the extra edge.

      Those who still don’t have any of that, however, could really seriously consider the option of getting one today. That’s how good having one is.

      • iniudan says:

        Yup, and if you don’t want to invest in large capacity SSD, you can simply get a SSD around 64GB and use it as a cache drive for your primary HDD.

  2. tehfish says:

    I think it’s also worth pointing out that even a cheapo/crap SSD is worth every single penny if you’re running with a HDD-only currently.

    A generic 60-128GB SSD to put windows on will make your PC fly.
    Just keep the old HDD connected as well to store the bulk of your other data on :)

    • BTAxis says:

      I’m always somewhat puzzled when people say things like this, because this hasn’t been my experience at all. I installed Windows on an SSD not too long ago, and aside from a modest reduction in boot time, the SSD hasn’t made much of a difference in terms of speed.

      I will say though that I don’t miss the constant HDD noise whenever Windows is doing scheduled stuff.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        Well, what about the rest of the PC though? SSDs are more noticeable if stuff like the CPU has some serious horsepower.

        Really, boot times are not the only thing, snappyness is incredibly improved regardless of whichever program or any other thing you open.

        I reached the point that if something that shouldn’t require much loading opens in more than 20ms i start to think my PC has something wrong, that’s how much this stuff can spoil you.

      • Caiman says:

        I recently installed an SSD in my laptop. It went from 49 seconds boot (from Windows logo first appearing, to desktop appearing) with its old hard drive, to 9 second boot. Admittedly the latter is a new install of Windows, but even when the laptop was new it took well over half a minute to boot up. My desktop also has an SSD, two years and counting now, and its boot up time is consistently around 6 seconds. No HDD has ever been a) that fast and b) that consistent over time. Also, when the desktop appears I can launch programs immediately, I don’t have to wait for the HDD to grind away for another half a minute or so before it becomes “available” (my laptop used to have to sit for a couple of minutes loading crap before I could realistically use it). If you’re not noticing a difference, I’d be looking for other factors responsible.

      • Wormoxide says:

        I have the same situation with my main PC. I am not at all convinced the SSDs was worth the loss of storage space. Albeit, I rarely do a cold boot with an urgent need to access the OS. Once booted the improvement in application performance is negligible when you factor in the cost.

      • mike2R says:

        You really should be noticing an improvement in data access speed with an SSD. One thing to check is what speed the SATA bus is running at. Unfortunately I don’t know how to check this in Windows (on a Mac, go to System Profiler and check the Negotiated Link Speed for the drive). If you’ve either got a very old/cheap motherboard or have something weird going on, it might be running at SATA 150 speeds, which will top out at a little under 150MB/s transfer rate, which is in the same ballpark as you’ll get from a 3.5in hard drive.

        A properly functioning SSD running under SATA 600 or even SATA 300 is going to be several times quicker than a hard drive, and you really should notice the benefit when doing anything that involves the drive – just loading up a game or application.

      • Premium User Badge

        Serrit says:

        Yeah I was impressed by boot speeds and general “snappiness” of applications when I got an SSD. I never really noticed it that much for games though (only tried with a couple though – Guild Wars 2 and The Old Republic – so I guessed file system access wasn’t bottlenecking load times much for them on my machine).

        Since having problems with my SSD this year though (have had to do 5 OS reinstalls during the course of it, which has been annoying) I’ve gone back to an HDD. While I initially lamented the “slowness”, I’ve gotten used to it again now and haven’t really been that bothered about re-acquiring an SSD just to have off a few seconds here and there.

    • malkav11 says:

      See, my thing is, I can’t afford a drive connector just for Windows. I’ve already got 2+ TB drives in every available slot and I still need more room. (Not to mention the habit many programs have of storing things on the C: drive without asking.) Now that 500 GB SSDs are becoming semiaffordable I might break down and do it, but even that’s such a sharp downgrade in terms of storage space that it’s painful.

      Mostly, what makes me want one is the ridiculous load times in games like Dragon Age Inquisition and Shogun II: Total War.

      • Premium User Badge

        Schmouddle says:

        The solution is called NTFS junctions.
        I am running 120Gb SSD as C: and 2T SATA 3 as D:
        Files which need to be stored and are not accesed frequently are just junctioned from C: to D:

        So I got a fast boot and fast loading times of apps I am using most, and the rest of data (movies, music, pics, videos etc) sit happily on “storage” drive.

        The price of decent Intel 120Gb SATA3 SSD capable of 500/500 is around 65€…well peanuts even for us, post-comm easteners.

        • MacTheGeek says:

          SteamMover is an excellent utility for automating the file transfer and NTFS junction creation for games in your Steam library.

          I keep Civ V and (whatever game I’m playing right now) on my SSD, and the rest are stored on my 2TB mechanical drive. Steam never needs to be updated; the NTFS junctions link a file’s actual location with the location Steam thinks it’s in.

        • malkav11 says:

          No, that’s not a solution to my problem. My problem is that there are a maximum number of hard drives that I can fit in my computer and successfully connect to both the motherboard and CPU, and at the moment this is further limited by stupid SATA connector placement on the motherboard that means I can only position things in a couple of ways and still have the cables configured in a way that doesn’t cause data access problems. Right now those drives are 2 TB, 2 TB, and 4 TB. If I install an SSD, then I have a 2 TB drive, a 4 TB drive, and between 64 and 500 GB, resulting in a loss of over a terabyte of extant storage capacity, and as many as 3.5 TB of possible storage capacity (although I won’t be able to use a 4 TB drive as a system drive until I get a new motherboard). But even if I manage to expand the number of viable drives, I’m still functionally sacrificing potential storage for speed for a relatively small number of applications. (All three drives have less than 100 GB free, so this is not a practical sacrifice for me.)

      • FierstArter says:

        Just to throw in my 2 cents. I’ve been running a 64gb SSD for just over a year now and I’ve never really had to worry about space all to much. While there are some things that MUST go on the C:\ drive a bulk of everything can be pushed to any drive you please.

        I’ll admit that once in a blue moon I’ll have to clear out my documents and downloads folder but that can be fixed just by changing where items go when you save them.

        Plus, you can get 120gb ssd for something like 40-60 bucks during this season. The speed on boot-up alone is worth it for me.

  3. rexx.sabotage says:

    don’t go to titsup.com expecting to find amusing anecdotes and images of catastrophically failed hardware.

    don’t be me, learn from my mistakes!

    • Premium User Badge

      Schmouddle says:

      Well, at least there was a bit of amusement o be found…

  4. tristan371 says:

    Pfft, away with your fancy black magic powered storage devices. My 2 gb flashdrive with windows xp installed on it works just fine.

  5. darkhog says:

    Also, can you say Limited Writes in each of SSD’s cell? My 4 years old 1TB drive doesn’t have that and never seen any bad sectors as of yet (each month I do full HDD scan using bootable Linux – chkdsk may be fast, but isn’t thorough enough for me). Once SSD “cell” is written to too many times, it’s gone and drive size is permanently smaller by space that cell handled. Get many of such cells and your drive is useless. Much faster than any decent HDD.

    As for speed/noise… Performance of my computer in games that I play is good enough and modern HDDs are so silent that this little noise isn’t noticeable. Heck, my GPU is noiser than my HDD.

    • jrodman says:

      The cell problem is largely handled by wear leveling. The write-cycle lifetime varies, some drives have pretty high counts that probably won’t be encountered for any plausible workload for a desktop, while others have notably lower counts.

      Most SSD failures are still coming from defects, not write-count exhaustion.

    • Freaky says:

      Yes, with “too many times” being at the very least the high hundreds, if not many thousands of cycles, and buffered by a hefty chunk of spare space (which you can extend by leaving some of the drive free) – SSD’s don’t shrink in any practical fashion as they wear out, they just (very slowly) increment their reallocated sector counts.

      Practically the only times I hear about SSDs dying from wearout are in endurance experiments, like this well known one, where a pile of 256GB drives get flogged up to and past a petabyte with impressive results from even the crappier models. I don’t really see reason for concern from a user getting by on a single 1TB platter :P

      • jrodman says:

        More tens of thousands vs hundreds of thousands. You can make them with millions but it costs more and no one who understands the issue really cares.

        • frenchy2k1 says:

          Current TLC cells (the cheaper ones) are rated between a few hundreds write (used in flash cards) to a thousand. MLC flash, as used by most of the industry in SSD are usually rated at ~3k to 5k writes currently. The coming 3D cells are rated above 10k writes as they are manufactures with larger cells.

          As the controller will use wear leveling (that means try to write on all the cells the same number of times), that gives an endurance of about 3000x the drive capacity (for a 5k write cycle cells and 1.5x amplification).
          On a 120GB SSD, that leads to ~350TB or 1TB/day for a year.

          I think most people won’t ever come close in 10 years (~100GB/day or 10% of their current drive. Every. Single. Day.)

          • Sakkura says:

            The TLC in the Samsung 840 Evo is officially rated for 1000 P/E cycles, but realistically it can handle 3000, which is the standard for MLC anyway.

  6. Dizrupt says:

    Meanwhile I’ll sit here on my 2TB/s r/w PCi-e SSD solution.

  7. LionsPhil says:

    There’s bugger-all point getting an SSD until I have a motherboard which can actually do AHCI. There’s bugger-all point upgrading that (and everything which goes with it) until games actually struggle. And, as always, the word is “don’t buy anything now, it’s about to become obsolete”.

    All glory to the consoles for putting the brakes on the upgrade treadmill! Rejoice! We are free!

    • Premium User Badge

      RaveTurned says:

      This is pretty much where I am too. I’ve been planning to get an SSD in my next upgrade, and I was assuming the arrival of the next-gen consoles would see games really start to struggle on my ageing rig. Despite still having a GeForce from the time when they were measured in thousands, it’s still hanging in there so far.

      Of course it probably helps that I tend towards slow-paced strategy games and whatever titles have been out long enough to be discounted. I suspect that upgrade isn’t all that far away.

    • Razumen says:

      I love my SSDs, they decrease load time by a significant amount, and although an SSD might not actually give you more frame per second in a game, the simple fact that is reduces the amount of time you wait in games to actually PLAY has made it worth it even if only for that.

      • Tssha says:

        When you’re playing a game like Planetside 2, where you might have to respawn across the continent en masse in order to resecure a base on another front, those extra seconds you save on loading times can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

        Or sometimes you show up in time to lose the base, and cap the point before you lose it to the enemy who has spawns in base. Either way, PS2 definitely benefits from short loading times, especially before they fixed the “load every time you spawn” bug, which, although only mildly annoying (such loads were short, even without SSD), was still a good one to fix.

    • frenchy2k1 says:

      Most MotherBoards from the last 10 years support AHCI on SATA.
      NVMe is mostly a driver problem (it’s software), as now the transport layer is PCIe.
      If you have a computer more recent than 5~7 years, it probably supports PCIe already.

      You may not be able to easily boot from such a drive (meaning you may need another drive to tell your hardware were to boot), but it will work as storage.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Nope. Stupidly, the chipset supports it, but the BIOS does not, and they never released an updated one which did.

        The annoying thing is that “they” are not some fly-by-night cheapo brand, but sodding Asus, who normally have a pretty solid rep.

  8. mont3core says:

    I am still without an SSD, but I have helped a couple friends install them in their builds. They all seem to be very pleased and excited with the results, but I find them quite middling. The tech seems to be in very comfortable growth phase, lots of people buying drives and lots of research and design happening at the same time. I think in February I may see what is available in my quest to make the Witcher 3 scream on a new pc.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      That’s clever, i expect that game to rely heavily on streaming on the fly.

    • DodgyG33za says:

      Blimey. I had to check the dates on this post to confirm that it wasn’t from the archives, given the comments. Both my current and previous laptops have SSDs, and my gaming rig has 2x500gb of them. My missus refused to use her brand spanking new asus laptop until I put an SSD in it, preferring her 3 year old entry level dell simply because it had an SSD.

      Forget the new tech, the Samsung 830 and 840 range are so much better than HDD that it is a no brainer, especially if you keep the existing HDD around for the extra storage (the ASUS laptops were chosen because they had a spare drive bay, as well as display port).

  9. fish99 says:

    They’re definitely a lot more effective connected to a 6GB/sec SATA if your board supports them. I’ve got 5 in my desktop PC, 2 connected via 6GB/sec and you can feel those ones just fly compared to the others. My laptops both have SSDs and the mobos are old core2 tech so they only reach about half of their potential, but still every loading time is more than halved and the general feel is much more snappy versus a spinner.

    My desktop, with those 5 SSDs full of games will do a full virus scan in about 5-10 minutes, compared to about 30-45 minutes when I had 4 SSDs and one spinner.

    The 256GB MX100s are very good value, usually available for £75 or so.

  10. Siimon says:

    MX100 or 840EVO are the way to go and can be had for ~$100 for 250GB.

  11. Belsameth says:

    I have one and I’m wholy unimpressed. Sure, they help with faster boot and (sometimes) faster load times but overall I think they’re mostly hype and not worth the cost/headache.

    • falconne says:

      I can’t understand what people with spinning HDDs who feel the performance improvement isn’t that significant are doing with their computers. Moving up to SSDs for me was like moving from Dial Up to Fiber… and that’s even with me obsessively optimizing my HDD performance back in the day.

      I could understand it if they’ve not used a decent machine with a good SSD for a long time, because it’s not like putting an SSD in makes everything go 10x faster. An HDD user would get used to those intermittent 50-100ms delays the HDD causes 10,000 times a day on their work PC without even realising it. An SSD reduces that delay to (let’s say) 5ms. It’s not that noticeable after 10 minutes of fiddling, but once you have used it for a few days you adjust to that level of responsiveness, at which point going back to an HDD feels like going back to a computer from 12 years ago.

      • DrollRemark says:

        There was a brief period in my new build PC (only about a month ago), before I got the TB HDD and all my data copied over, when I only had a 256MB Crucial SSD, Windows 10, and Steam, and my god it was glorious. I can’t even begin to explain how silky smooth it all was. With the fastboot mobo stuff enabled it went from on to in Windows within matter of seconds. Like, 5 seconds max (Win 10 definitely helped here, I have 8.1 on now, and whilst still quick, it’s not as quick).

        Really, it was my work MacBook that opened my eyes to the power of SSDs. The thing just takes whatever I throw at it without making a single noise.

    • xrror says:

      This is the part where you tell us what your computer is, and which SSD you bought because if you don’t, your opinion is void =)

    • Asurmen says:

      Costs are easily affordable and what headaches?

    • Booker says:

      Same here. People who are talking about how fast SSDs are, probably had super-old HDDs. On a Windows OS with lots of RAM most of the stuff is always cached in RAM anyways and you can’t really notice being on a SSD. It’s more of a feeling, like people claiming they can always hear if an MP3 is not 320 bitrate.

      • jrodman says:

        Indeed, it depends upon the workload.

        Ram-caching is faster than SSD access by quite a bit, but if you have tasks that involve accessing cold data, or tasks where the working set is larger than ram, then it makes a HUGE difference.

        For example, i wrote a relatively unoptimized mail filter program that looks at every single email in my main inbox, and filters the ones that are under a few hours old. I have around 10,000 mails in my main inbox at any given time, so that’s 10k stats(). This worked OK even on a spinning disk, so I didn’t bother to improve it further. However, when I replaced the laptop with an SSD based one, the filter activity went from around 30 seconds to around 0.5 seconds.

    • BlueTemplar says:

      You REALLY get a performance improvement when you go from a 5400rpm drive (so common in laptops) to a SSD. I really don’t get why laptops are still sold that way. Probably because people wouldn’t buy a computer with ~5 times less storage space (while read/write speeds aren’t numerically advertised), even though they’re unlikely to really need all this space.

  12. geldonyetich says:

    For years, I’ve been wanting to buy a PCI device with the operating system installed on it, because it just makes good sense, like the OS ROMS of yore. It’s not that PCIe SSDs are particularly new, but they’ve always had sky-high costs. If that can get reduced appropriately, and Windows can be trained to boot off of a PCIe slot (maybe it already can?) then I’ll get my wish at last.

    After that, how about some hardware accelerated OS cards? In other words, like a common Apple, have the Windows architecture utilize specialized sub-processors to perform various OS-related sub-processes so that the CPU can be saved for your applications.

    Honestly, I’m kinda surprised Microsoft isn’t turning those out. I know they don’t make hardware, but imagine how much harder Windows would be to pirate if it was distributed as hardware?

    • LionsPhil says:

      After that, how about some hardware accelerated OS cards? In other words, like a common Apple, have the Windows architecture utilize specialized sub-processors to perform various OS-related sub-processes so that the CPU can be saved for your applications.

      I think the easiest way to torpedo the notion that OS X works this way is to point out that Hackentoshes exist.

      Very, very early Classic MacOS was partially in ROM, but even that had moved into loaded (patchable, upgradable) software by the end of its run.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        Ah, software on ROM harkens back to my early experiences of computing. Games on cartridges on the VIC20, hardware dongle for an audio editor on the ST… Software on the BBC Micro that came on nothing more than an IC that you plugged into a slot…

  13. melnificent says:

    I’d been running a surface pro and laptop side by side, and despite the weaker spec of the pro the SSD made it start and run quicker and smoother. So I’ve finally upgraded my laptop to a Samsung EVO and it’s like having a whole new machine

  14. Chaz says:

    My main worry with SSD’s is still about the reliability. I think by the time I get around to building a new machine in a year or two, then I’ll probably go for an SSD setup. Right now, although the prices are coming down, you still don’t get a good comparable bang per buck than you do with a HDD. You still get many more Gb’s per pound with a HDD. The hardware is just not mature enough and settled yet, as the above article proves.

    • Asurmen says:

      Changing interface specs has nothing to do with maturity or bang for buck.

    • Chorltonwheelie says:

      I’ve been through three.
      Two Vertex and one Crucial.
      If I hadn’t religiously backed up to an external HDD and the Cloud I’d be in tears.
      They are not there yet despite what the happy clappers say.

  15. GomezTheChimp says:

    Will we even need physical drives in ten to fifteen years time?

    • DodgyG33za says:

      As opposed to cloud storage? Well I guess that depends on how comfortable you are with strangers looking after your data. I will always prefer to have my own drives.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Mungrul says:

    I’m still very wary of using SSDs for system drives after having had one die on me. I’ve also seen a colleague’s one die in exactly the same way.
    These days, I store my games on an SSD while my system and documents sit on a traditional HDD. I figure that installing and running games off of one keeps reads and writes significantly lower than running the OS off of one. Sure, it’s painful going back to relatively slow boot times after getting used to SSD speeds, but I’m happier with the reliability of a spinning disk.

    • Baboonanza says:

      I wouldn’t call an HDD reliable by any stretch. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter whay stortage technology you keep your files on, if you don’t have a backup you are taking a gamble.

      • Premium User Badge

        Mungrul says:

        I work with SANs, so I’m well aware of the reliability issues with HDDs; I just find SSDs less reliable, with significantly shorter lifespans.

  17. Baboonanza says:

    Would you actually notice the difference in normal consumer usage between an AHCI and NVMe drive? SSDs seem like they are already so fast that the bottlenecks in starting Windows and applications/games are already in other areas (drivers, data processng).

  18. Premium User Badge

    Wisq says:

    Aw hell. I’ve been out of PCI slots for a long time — the huge SLIed video cards already take up the bulk of the space, my Creative ZxR soundcard is sandwiched inbetween them (doing no good for anyone heat-wise, I’m sure), and the only available slot would need to be very short (in either or both dimensions) if it’s not going to cut off cooling for one of the two video cards.

    By contrast, I have SATA ports available out the wazoo, even if I’m running 3x SSDs in RAID0 (because why not).

    Ah well; maybe this will mark a push towards more PCI slots on motherboards. I think my case could accomodate at least two more.

  19. Solar says:

    Used an SATA 2 120GB SSD OCZ vertex 2 for 4 years on a win 7 install and 1TB Segate HDD for routine non-critical programs (selective game install on SDD) on a Core 2 Duo 3Ghz rig (ASUS PN5-D mobo) with GeForce 460 and 4GB ram.

    General use PC for gaming and weekend work. Was instantly amazed by the performance increase, load times for anything and delayed me updating my CPU/Mobo. It has run most of my gaming (Crysis and Dishonored limits of graphical challenge) at close to maximum. Limits of processor and graphics card were present but of little concern. There as been a noticeable degradation in speed that has taken 3-4 years be apparent, windows loads in 20seconds up from 12 and chrome pauses for 1second before opening! Shocking.

    It is important to note two failures both related to the hardware issues related to early SSD adoption.

    At 2 years the HDD failed due to corrupted partitions (SMART monitoring off to preserve SSD life and was a bad bad idea). With OS on SDD however it was possible to get an image copy of the HDD to recover data, transfer to an equivalent drive. Smart monitoring back on, new HDD fine.

    At 3 years SSD catastrophic fail. Unable to boot, ‘invalid systems disk’. Managed to run boot disk analysis software, error checks off the chart, key values pre-fail and two areas noted as “—“, the error numbers were recorder as 000x10x00 (suspect too high to record). Managed to safe much of SSD data using USB bridge Did secure erase (complete format) and re installed OS.

    Since then have had a good further year of life waiting for SSD to fail again. 2 weeks ago graphics card failed, Thought it was SSD, re installed OS, discovered after that temp control of GPU all to pot despite manual ram up of max GPU fan speed.

    This has been a bumpy ride in places and not for everyone. I suspect anyone who builds their own rigs will be able to manage the hitches. The downtime above roughly equated to 1 week (problem solving and parts orders) in the HDD fail, then 2 weeks (including parts order) for SSD fail. This to me is not bad.

    With the last fail it is definitely time to move to an entirely new rig. I’m uncertain if the recent GPU fail is related to the PSU instability (known to occur after 4+yrs depending on use) or mobo issues or just a poor GPU (Palit sonic platinum – fans known to fail and only one fan). The mobo, processor and PSU have been with me for 8 years or more (replacement following an amusing and devastating PSU explosion after a power surge) So the delightful Frankenstein is set to retire. I’ve had terrible dust issue with the Gigabite case too (no filters, budget but functional). That said my current SDD will become my game file SSD with the a new SSD for the OS, I’ll also transfer my 2 year old HDD, so some of the mongrel will live on!

    If you read the above shaking your head then SSDs were not for you then, but technology is much better for SSDs now (I got a generation 2 four years ago, which are likely to fail on average after 3 years). Unfortunately it is going to take a further further few years of amateur rig building to give you any feedback on the my new rig design (incidentally using an Samsung 240GB 840 evo). One of the joys of PCs for me is being able to do this and I appreciate articles like this the forecast ahead. Ironically after reading the comments it seemed right to share what has happened to me in the past.

  20. Subject 706 says:

    Recently upgraded my computer to a Z97 motherboard amongst other things, and installed an m.2 ssd as the boot drive. Since I like to keep my computer as small as possible, m.2 was a good choice, since it takes up less space (literally just lies on the motherboard) and reduces the amount of cables in the chassis.

    And it is snappy too!

  21. frenchy2k1 says:

    I think Jeremy is actually making things more complicated than they are.

    We are transitioning from SATA (serial ATA) to PCIe as a transport layer for storage.
    To enjoy all the capabilities of that new transport, a new protocol has been designed (NVMe, that replaces AHCI which itself replaced IDE).

    Now, there is a form factor and connector “war” going on, as PCIe can be carried by 3 competing plugs:
    – pure PCIe cards, like the intel P3700 pictured here: already used in datacenter and largest possible bandwidth (drives already exists with 8 lanes Gen3)
    – M.2: form factor designed for portable devices (laptop and tablets). Already used currently. Can carry up to 4 lanes of PCIe gen3 and also have backward compatibility with SATA. Can be found on some mother boards.
    – SATAe: same pins as M.2, can carry 4 lanes of PCIe gen3 and SATA signals. Ports exist on Motherboards, but no drive.

    From my opinion, SATAe was doomed from the start:
    – Slower than pure PCIe cards (more narrow bus). No larger.
    – reserved to desktop (declining market) or server (which is already served by a better product)
    – late to market (still in comity while the other 2 were implemented)

    So, all those drives are the same really and once a form factor starts coming, the others should follow. Enterprise has been leading the charge followed by portable.

  22. Scandalon says:

    SSDs are new and therefore Dangerous and Wrong.

    Actually, the real danger is that once you get used to it, going back to spinning rust is impossible, like going from decent broadband to dial-up.

  23. BlueTemplar says:

    I wonder why there’s no discussion about merging the “hard drive” “dead” memory and “RAM” “live” memory. Isn’t the speed gap becoming pretty small?
    Not to mention that “Solid State Drive / Hard Disk drive” and “Random Access Memory” terms don’t mean much anymore, as it has been a while that “non-hard”, physically “floppy” disks (in paper/cardboard envelopes) aren’t used, SSD’s don’t have “disks” that need to be “driven”, and if I’m not mistaken, data is written on SSD’s in a “random access” fashion.

  24. ix says:

    A hybrid drive is a good in between if you want a larger drive with some more storage space (I use an online backup service for the inevitable titsup.com). Combining it with a smaller SSD boot drive now and quite happy with it.

  25. Continuity says:

    Whilst I do hear the siren call of SSD speed my gaming needs are simply too great, literally, I have a 2tb raid 1 array which is nearly full of just steam games, I dread to think what that would cost me in SSD, and did I mention its nearly full and I need to increase my storage not decrease?
    Until I can buy ridiculous amounts of storage without mortgaging my kidneys I think I’ll stick to HDD.

  26. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    I semi-regret getting an SSD, and it’s semi-all your fault, Jeremy!
    The speed upgrade is marginal over the baller HDD I had, and it doesn’t make up for the PAINFUL space downgrade.
    The complete silence of the SSD helps sweeten the pill of course. Otherwise it’d just be an outright terrible purchase.