SSDs, are they worth it, yet?

loocas | miscellaneous | Sunday, October 31st, 2010

RevoDrive 50GB

Hard Drives seem to be the last bottle neck in our workstations or even in the render farms and servers. The memory modules, the graphics cards, the CPUs, pretty much every part of our PC has gone up by multipliers of tens or even hundreds from the past, say, ten years. However, HDDs, on the other hand, still use the same technology from the early sixties! Sure, they’ve gone faster, larger and much, much cheaper. But really, for a high-end or, nowdays even, mid-end VFX and animation work, standard HDDs aren’t fast enough.

So I took the plunge and bought my first SSD. Not just any SSD, but a PCIe RevoDrive SSD, which is supposed to be even faster than regular SATA connected SSDs we might be getting used to nowdays. The theoretical read and write operations per second are breath taking, however, what is the reality of such a drive in a general day-to-day usage on a higher-end PC workstation for VFX artists?

I didn’t bother to do any synthetic testing as there are tons of such tests on the internet. I rather concentrated on a general usage, such as working with large 3ds Max files with a lot of external reference files (incl. XRefs, Point Caches, Textures etc…), reviewing OpenEXR or DPX sequences, generally working with such a drive.

RevoDrive 50GB

I’ve only had the SSD for about a week in my workstation, so, my experience is still pretty limited, however, even the first day I’ve been able to notice some differences.

Now, I knew, when I was ordering the SSD, I’d mainly see the difference in reviewing the shots in DPX or OpenEXR files, I didn’t hope for any render time improvements or magical viewport performance. And my expectations were true.

Subjectively, working on a project (a TV commercial), both in 3ds Max and in Nuke, felt a bit faster and snappier. Especially in Nuke, I have to point out, as the comps are mainly bottlenecked by the HDD IO throughput, not much by the CPU or RAM. But even in Max, scrubbing though the timeline with characters with Point Caches on (again, heavily dependant on the HDD throughput) etc… So, yes, it was noticeable, but the biggest difference was the sequence review and quite frankly, if that’d be the only improvement I’d see, I’d still go for an SSD.

So, here are a few numbers. Please, bear in mind these test were done very “non-scientifically” as I only hit a web based stop watch button and timed the event I executed, such as generating a viewport preview in 3ds Max, rendering a still frame, reading a sequence of images etc… I wasn’t able to benchmark a Nuke composite as I didn’t have access to Nuke at that time and I didn’t have any larger project on the SSD ready to be tested. However, I did copy one shot incl. all the references to the SSD and benchmarked it against a regular Western Digital 7200rpm 200GB HDD:

  • WD HDD: Rendering a single frame of animation in 3ds Max: 3m:55s
  • RevoDriver SSD: Rendering a single frame of animation in 3ds Max: 3m:50s
  • WD HDD: Generating a viewport preview in 3ds Max: 1m:17s
  • RevoDrive SSD: Generating a viewport preview in 3ds Max: 1m:13s
  • WD HDD: Loading up 165 frames of animation in OpenEXR format (100% real-time would take 6.6s): 37s
  • RevoDrive SSD: Loading up 165 frames of animation in OpenEXR format (100% real-time would take 6.6s): 8s
  • WD HDD: Loading up 165 frames of animation in DPX format (100% real-time would take 6.6s): 12s
  • RevoDrive SSD: Loading up 165 frames of animation in OpenEXR format (100% real-time would take 6.6s): 6.6s (real-time!)

RevoDrive 50GB

Basically, as you can see, this particular SSD made the most impact on reviewing image sequences, particularly DPX files in 1280x720px were being read real-time without any chuccle. Other than that, generally, your workflow will be a little faster as you’ll be able to widen the last bottle neck in your workstation, which is a regular HDD.

Here are my thoughts on this particular model, RevoDrive SSD 50GB from OCZ:

Pros:

  • Very fast
  • 100% quiet
  • Power efficient
  • Fits in a spare PCIe slot (if you have one, that is)

Cons:

  • Rather expensive
  • No TRIM support
  • Very low capacity

So, what’s my personal opinion about SSDs? And about this particular model? Quite simply put, I need the speed. I need to review shots fast, especially when the client is sitting next to me (I know I should probably invest in a dedicated machine with FrameCycler DDS and a ton of SSDs, but I can’t justify the cost just yet). So, I’ll definitely go for SSDs in my next workstation upgrade (which is coming next week, hopefully).

And what about the RevoDrive? Well, at first I was considering buying this one for testing purposes (it’s the slowest and smallest SSD for PCIe slots on the market) and going for a 512GB Z-Drive R2 M84, however, the cost is still so high and the cons (especially the lack of TRIM support) I changed my mind and bought a pair of 256GB Crucial C300 6gbps, regular SATA III, drives and a 6gbps controller (my next workstation’s MB doesn’t have one built in) and I still saved more than 50% of the M84’s price! Though the speeds won’t be as high, but I still don’t believe I’d see a difference, even in the sequence viewing, considering I only use FrameCycler Pro (which doesn’t have the direct from disk reading features). Also, the fact I’ll use a dedicated SATA III controller, I will be able to very easily upgrade the work drive capacity or RAID configuration, depending on my future needs, which is a huge plus!

In the end, are SSDs the future? Definitely yes! Do you need them right now? Well, this really depends on your needs and usage. I for one do need faster HDDs on my work drives, but I couldn’t care less about a second shorter load up time of a game or even a bit faster Windows boot. Though I’ll use the 50GB RevoDrive as my system drive. So, it’s entirely up to you whether you can justify the higher cost or not.

4 Comments »

  1. These revodrives are particulary usefull for large data read/write, like compositing. Having one with Toxik2011 just for cache disk, it just fly ! Toxik has the most advanced caching system and these raid0 ssd turn it into realtime comp app ! Just amazing.

    Comment by compidon — March 13, 2011 @ 15:15

  2. Yeah, the RevoDrives are extremely fast!

    I might re-do my HDD setup in my workstation next time I’m reinstalling my system here. I’ll use the RevoDrive 50GB for a scratch disk and temp files and a regular SSD for the OS. The 50GB drive is not enought for Windows 7 and the ton of software I use all the time. I always fight with megabytes to spare here and there on the RevoDrive. But it’s an amazing piece of hardware!

    Comment by loocas — March 13, 2011 @ 16:44

  3. In order to do more scientific benchmarking in MAX open up your listener & editor. In the editor put:

    format “\n%\n” timestamp()
    render
    format “\n%\n” timestamp()

    The difference between the 2 outputs in the listener should be in mili’s if I recall correctly.

    Comment by Senor Freebie — March 1, 2012 @ 08:26

  4. I know, but I was rather more interested in subjective findings, than timing the previews exactly. Because, let’s face it, 5ms speedup makes absolutely no difference to the end user. :)

    Comment by loocas — March 3, 2012 @ 23:09

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