High End Storage Comparison: Quad-Velociraptors versus Dual-SSDs

Subject: Storage
Manufacturer: Western Digital

The best of both worlds

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.

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. 


One big question is price: 600GB Velociraptors sell for $279 a
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

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

Western Digital SiliconEdge RAID-0

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. 

Western Digital SiliconEdge RAID-0

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. 

Western Digital Velociraptor RAID-5

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. 

Western Digital Velociraptor RAID-5

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. 

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:

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