Tag Archive for 'SSD'

Steam & Your Small SSD

I just finished “upgrading” my main PC for the first time in almost two years, and this is the first mainboard and CPU upgrade in nearly four.  For those of you reading familiar with my PC upgrade habits you know that is like having and Ice Age occur, having the glaciers come and retreat and the Earth turning green again between upgrades.  In truth, this is fairly minor upgrade in that I bought nothing new, save a $30 case in order to pull it off.

Well, in truth I did buy a shiny, new 180GB Intel Solid State Drive.  Yes, it is Sandforce based, which I vowed never to buy… but it is also Intel, which I always promise to buy but then shrink back from the cost… *shrug*  I had completely grown out of the 40GB Gen2 Intel SSD however, and so this purchase was completely spousal approved.  I am typing from the very machine which I put together, fancy water cooling kit and all.  It’s a little louder than I would prefer, but the big upgrade comes a year from now and I’ll save the money and trouble until that time…

ANYWAY – the main event.  I put Steam and all of my Steam games on a Western Digital Black 640GB 7200 RPM drive.  It is plenty speedy for the load times for games, but Steam annoyingly always took a while to launch and the UI was painfully laggy compared to the apps installed onto the SSD boot drive.  A bigger SSD makes this all better, right?  Well, at any given time I have over 200GB of Steam games installed, not too mention the ~30GB of Blizzard games sitting on the hard drive.  There wasn’t room in the budget for a 512GB or 600GB SSD (I paid $130 for 180GB, a 512 is at least $350 if not $4-500), especially given the minimal increase games gain by being installed to an SSD.

Simple solution, right?  Install Steam to the SSD, install the games to the spinning cheap drive, call it a day!

If only it were that easy!  Steam installs all of the games you manage through it in the same directory that you install the Steam application into.  Remember, I have only a 180GB drive and 200+GB of games installed.

Enter “symbolic links” and easy apps like http://www.traynier.com/software/steammover/ that allow you to move installed games to a secondary drive by using a clever trick of NTFS.   This means you can have your cake and eat it too – a minority of your games are on the SSD, along with the core Steam files, meaning the best possible performance while the games you aren’t actively playing or are too big are more economically stored on spinning disk.  I started using this tool, which meant I copied my downloaded games from the steamapps/common directory from my old Steam install (the same secondary disk was in my old system, carried it over to the new system) over to the SSD, then the handy tool moved the data back to the secondary directory on the spinning drive.

This took a while, even at ~100+MB a second.  Plus, writing data to an SSD wears it out, so it should be minimized if possible.  I got to Rage, the newest game from Id that is ~21GB on disk and decided there had to be a better way.

I found a great work around.  Now, I create the same directory in the SSD steamapps/common directory and copy the .exe and other miscellaneous top level files from the spinning drive, which is about 30-50MB depending on the game, which takes less than a second.  Next, I use the tool to “move” the game from the SSD to the secondary drive.  Finally, I cut the massive files out of the original steamapps/common/game directory and paste them into the new directory on the same drive and partition.  Since this is a simple modification of the file system tree and no data gets moved, it is essentially instantaneous.

Win for me!  Hopefully a win for you!

Note – the Valve games put their darn big files right in the root of the steamapps directory, so this relocation trick doesn’t even work on them.  If you are planning on playing TF:2, L4D, CS:S, etc you are going to need a decent amount of room on the SSD to pull this off.  I wouldn’t do it with less than an 80GB SSD.

–Nat

(also, not shut out in July! :) )

SSD State of the Union

Anand from Anandtech.com tweeted this – Pick a drive from Intel, Crucial or Samsung and avoid nearly everything else. I would personally add Kingston to the list to buy.

Firstly, I think the 64GB drive size has been really popular as it is the first tier you can get that really gives you a reasonable amount of space to work with. Basically, those vendors fall out like this (the first three are notable because they largely use controllers they engineer themselves or source from those making Enterprise drives):

Intel: Reliability is tops, performance and features are second, and they want fat margins (admittedly) and so they make you pay more per GB.

Crucial: Performance and features are of equal importance as reliability, pricing is fairly to very competitive. They want into the market.

Samsung: Reliability is tops, performance and features are second, and they really do most of their sales to OEMs like Apple so their NewEgg type pricing isn’t too competitive outside of their 64GB drives.

Kingston: Price is tops, followed by reliability, followed by performance. They are maybe 50% (or less) as fast as others on random IO writes (not a large part of normal workloads…) but they are reliable and the pricing cannot be beat if you can deal with large rebates.

 

For example, my SSD usage has looked like this: I have a 40GB Intel SSD in my main PC for my C: drive. I bought it on a great sale for ~$70 when the only other real options were Intel 80GB for ~$200 and the OCZ crap using Indilix and the freshly minted Sandforce controllers that are seemingly notorious for having issues and constant beta fixes rolling out. I had to move things like my page file and Windows 7 User Profile folders to a secondary drive. That said, despite the paltry write speed it is incredibly responsive and holds my 7 install plus all my productivity apps like Office with ~30%+ free space. I would be really comfortable on a 64GB drive.

On Kristin’s PC I wanted her to not have to monkey with moving things around and folder redirection and so bought here a 96GB Kingston 100V+ drive.  The plus indicates slightly better performance than the vanilla 100V line and the size should allow her to use the drive exclusively with a secondary 7200RPM drive for things like Steam, Guild Wars and Starcraft 2 and pagefile.  This drive came in at $95 after a whopper of a $50 mail in rebate which came very quickly.

My Dad’s PC has an awesome storage subsystem with a Sata 3 (the latest and greatest SATA standard) 64 GB Crucial M4 as a cache drive with a 1TB Western Digital Sata 3 Black Drive.  The SSD cost about $115 and has been on brief sales in the ~$90 range.  The great thing about this approach is that my Dad can deal with a simple and spacious 1TB C: drive while enjoying the speed of a SSD 90% of the time.  For those that follow storage performance on a larger scale, 64GB of fast SSD for a terabyte of SATA is a nice spot to be, the vast majority of the time what you want will be cached.  The trade of is that 10% of the time (which is an edcuated guess) you are going all the way to the SATA to get what you want, so the first time you access a file and maybe sometime later you will have the performance of the slower spinning disk versus what you’ve come to expect of your SSD.

I’ve used SSD drives from Kingston and ADATA in other builds with good results – I think we are nearing the time when any ~$500+ build is going to include an SSD versus a pricey processor as having nice system drive does so much for general usage of the PC versus new CPU for anyone that already has a dual core or better.

–Nat

SSD – Locked, Loaded and Stupid Fast

I bought an Intel branded Solid State Disk (SSD) last fall when the hard drive in my server died and the blog lost nearly a months worth of entries. SSDs are much more reliable in the fact that they are not mechanical; instead they are like a big thumb drive but much faster and built with more expensive (reliable) components.

Luckily, I was able to recover the entirety of the blog off of the fallen Raptor hard drive that it had lived on before.  I got the server up and running with just one hard drive – and then I got lazy.  Finally, after talking about some future spending plans it came about that there was going to be something like a voluntary spending freeze on my main PC (hello 1080p projector!) and I determined that the best way to use the SSD that I already had in the basement was the boot drive for my main rig.

It is only the boot drive because it is only 40GB and even less actually usable.  Back in the day I tried to live on a 36GB raptor and found it impossible.  The difference now is that I am shoving everything except the operating system and applications like Chrome and Office off onto the larger, normal hard drive that I have had in the PC for some time.  No games on the SSD either, given that many games are approaching 10GB+ each installed these days.

Now my PC boots up crazy fast and applications launch almost instantaneously.  Even after installing 7 and Office along with a few other apps there is still over 20GB (50%) left available on the drive.  Before optimization, that was more like 13GB.  Important optimizations:

  • Move your page file.  The “System Managed” page file is usually the same as your installed ram.  In my case this was 4GB – over 10% of my drive set aside for some worst case scenario!
  • Change your system restore percentage.  By default its 3%, minimum is 1%.  This is your safety net for things like Windows Updates gone bad, so you should leave it on but keep it to a minimum.
  • Drag and drop space hogs out of your user “library.”  This is folders like “My Videos”, “My Downloads”, etc.  You can just grab them and “move them” in windows explorer to a different hard drive.  Windows 7 takes care of moving the contents – but you won’t see anything different in your library as it also takes care of doing some nifty redirection.  It looks the same to you, but now those folders are taking up cheap space on your secondary hard drive.

At this point I am more impressed with my hard drive upgrade than my video card upgrade which was substantially more costly.  It feels like I got a whole new PC!  Review sites have been saying it for some time now, but having done it myself now I am really a believer.

– Nat

Ubuntu 10.04 SSD Tweaks

Reduce “swappiness” to 0

This prevents the swap file from being used unless it is actually needed, preventing unnecessary write cycles on the drive.

Code:
vm.swappiness=0

Edit /etc/sysctl.conf by using your favorite editor :
$sudo gedit /etc/sysctl.conf

If the line doesn’t exist, you will need to create it.

After reboot vm.swappiness is 0

Enable TRIM (if applicable)

Uninstall proprietary (ie, video card) drivers first. The 10.6 cats included didn’t like the newer kernel and it really garbled up the video driver install process.

Update to a newer kernel. 2.6.33+

Edit your /etc/fstab file so your SSD line looks like this:

UUID=of your SSD here / ext4 noatime,discard,errors=remount-ro 0 1

After reboot TRIM should function.

Links I found useful:

http://ubuntuforums.org/showpost.php…1&postcount=43 (swapiness syntax)
http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?p=9740235 (fstab discussion)
https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RadeonHD (link to Kernel versions and an explanation of how to update)

http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2069761 (incredibly informative forum posting about SSD drives in general)

Enjoy!

–Nat