The Big SSD Research Post

Intel730Series

Introduction

This article was written at the end of 2014. Most of the content will remain relevant in the future but there may be aspects which become outdated as hardware and usage practices evolve.

I have purchased an Intel 730 Series 480GB SSD with the intention of using it in my Fedora desktop machine. There are many articles online that discus how to configure an SSD, what to put on it, which partition structure to use, which mount options etc. I wanted to set the drive up to get the best out of it and my system as a whole. What follows are the results of my research and the decisions I have made based upon it. The writing style is based on my own note taking and primarily for my own reference. It is my hope that it posting it here that it may be of use to others.

What do I put on my SSD?

There are many posts/articles online asking this question and the answers to them vary. What became apparent immediately was the age of some of the discussions. Information from 3-4 years ago based the decisions on drive size (32-128GB).

An SSD with a limited amount of capacity is often set-up along side a traditional HDD.

A typical partition layout for a smaller SSD & HDD:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
SSD:
    /boot
    /
HDD:
    swap
    /var
    /tmp
    /home
    /data

/boot & / are the main operating system and program partitions/directory structure. SSD's are sometimes referred to as 'boot drives' as by having the OS and applications on it would allow the system to boot and respond faster.

Swap wouldn't be placed on the SSD as if you were frequently using the swap space you would be putting additional wear onto the SSD.

/var contains log files from the syslog daemon. Frequently wrting small amounts of log data increases SSD wear. /tmp in much the same way has small temporary data that increases wear. /home is occasionaly placed on the SSD depending on the space required by the user. The HDD would be used for music, photos, large files and other user generated data.

SSD's have been increasing in size over time and the space limitation isn't such an important factor. What does remain in the considerations of the amount of data being written to an SSD.
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SSD Research

I had a spot of luck this week when I purchased an early Black Friday deal on Thursday evening. I wasn't intending to buy anything but I knew when the deals were starting and decided to have a look. I am currently awaiting delivery of an Intel 730 Series 480GB SSD. I had seen this earlier in the year (around March) and it looked a nice drive but too expensive. A 50% price reduction can change my mind.

SSD's are fragile little things, they only have a limited number of write cycles and need to be looked after. I am planning on using the drive in my main Fedora Linux desktop (which is good as this particular drive runs too hot for a laptop). I decided to research the usage of SSD's as I want it to be reliable and I want to get the most out of it in terms of performance. What I hadn't factored in was the amount of decisions that can be made.

Log files are small amounts of data that are frequently written to HDD/SSD. On my re-purposed chromebook I have disabled most of the logging as it isn't a critical system for me. I want logs for my desktop, so as I plan on having both an SSD and a HDD in the same system I can move the logs to the HDD. This was something I was expecting and reading up on. It was then I uncovered some notes about Firefox cache. Firefox (and other browsers) cache small files to disk in much the same fashion as log files. This opened up a whole new branch of ideas. Do I put the cache in RAM and lose in on reboots? Do I sync the RAM to disc with a script? Do I move the entire browser profile to RAM and sync that? Where is the cache in the first place? It appears that you can just as easily move that cache to a HDD as to RAM and it really depends on where your user profile is in the first place.

As I sit here writing this I probably know more about SSD's than I ever wanted to know. What I am finding is that I still need to know more. Some choices I have partially made, others not. I have a little more time until the drive arrives to make my mind up. I think I might wait until after Fedora 21 is released and do a clean install. Until then, more research.

Experiences with Windows 7 & SSD

This week I took delivery of a 40GB Solid State Drive (SSD) an a copy of Windows 7 Professional to give a boost to my quad core box. Windows XP has had a good run and it is getting to the point where an OS upgrade is needed to get the best out of the underlying hardware. The system has 8GB RAM but the 32bit nature of XP meant that only 4GB of memory could be addressed. In addition Windows 7 supports newer versions of DirectX. There are games on the horizon which I plan on getting which will require a newer graphics card which will use the newer DirectX. So that is the reason for the upgrade, now onto the installation itself.

I had the option to upgrade my XP install but since it has been in use for a few years now it had alot of rubbish on it. So I opted for a completely clean install.
The SSD was installed and set to AHCI in the bios. Putting the installation DVD in the drive on boot and the process begins.

This was the first Windows installation I've done which has gone from start to finish without the need for any extra driver discs needing to be loaded. I was presented with a desktop at the correct resolution with all connected monitors detected and all the hardware aside from the sound card detected and setup. Well done Microsoft, its about time.

Thats the good bit, now for the bad. The formatted capacity of the SSD was around 37.5GB so I expected plenty of room for the OS and programs; I was wrong. I discovered that i had around 9GB of free space, this was a shock. A complete Linux installation with lots of software can fit into 10GB easily. So the task of discovering where all the space had gone began. The first big chunk of space was taken up by the pagefile. Due to the pagefile seeming to be slightly bigger than the amount of RAM there was 8GB of space. Moving the pagefile to a partiton on another drive solved this issue. Disabling the hibernation feature also saved another 6GB or so. I ended up with about 24GB of free space on the drive. A big chunk of the used space is taken up by the Winsxs folder, the purpose of which I have yet to fully determine for its 6.5GB size. This greedy nature of Windows is something that Microsoft should address, just because hard drives are bigger these days doesn't mean Windows should use it.

So now I have some space back on my SSD it is time to move on the the next lot of problems. I use the Synergy software to share my keyboard and mouse between machines. This has served me well for years and I had very few problems with it until Windows 7 is involved. As soon as the UAC dialog box pops up on screen I can't click on it as the mouse is frozen out. Luckily I have a hardware KVM switch but this isn't the convenient option and there is some lag in the switchover. Turning off UAC has solved most of the keyboard and mouse share issues at the moment and everything is usable. There are still things to get used to but it could be worse.

Worse then happened, BSOD (Blue Screen of Death). Not once but twice, data being lost in the process. The fault after some searching appears to be the SSD firmware. The Corsair F40 drive decides on occasion to give up being a drive and turns into a lifeless box. Soft rebooting the system the bios had trouble detecing the drive again. Only a hard power reset would allow the drive to boot again. After the second failure I lost all faith in the current SSD technology and moved Win7 back to a spinning drive. Since then all has been stable on the Windows side, just a bit slower on bootup.

So to sum up, Windows 7 is ok but could be alot better and SSD drives are going to be avoided by me in the near future until the technology becomes more reliable.