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I've just purchased my first SSD drive (a 32GB MLC from Imation) without doing enough research ahead of time in the spirit of giving the new technology a shot and getting myself up to speed by empirical research rather than reading countless reviews and I'm now at a crossroads.

I've built a new server to test the new drive and at first I wanted to test it with Windows Server 2003 R2 x86 but after I loaded the OS on it and it had problems loading the drivers of the motherboard I went to the internet and did more research and the more I read the more I got confused.

Finally I decided to try out Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 since it supposedly has certain support for SSD drives inherent in the NT 6.1 core. Indeed I've had much better luck with the new OS and got all the drivers installed but now I still have some questions:

  • Should I set the drive to: IDE Emulation or AHCI in the BIOS?
  • Should I make any other changes in the BIOS (I've read on the internet that Write Through should be changed to Write Back)
  • Should I make any other adjustments in Windows (i.e. Tweaks such as disabling prefetching or disabling the Last Accessed Timestamp on the filesystem) and if so, is there a good/reliable online resource with instructions?

I'm so tired of reading through countless online posts which spend 80% of coverage on the history of SSDs and benchmarks and explanations of how SSDs work. I got that, now I'd like to know if there's anything I should actually do to make sure Windows Server 2008 R2 makes good use of the SSD.

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3 Answers 3

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SSD's mostly come as SATA devices right now, so as far as the operating system is concerned, they are a 'normal' harddisk drive. Your initial problems with Win2003 where not related to the SSD, but probably the configuration / motherboard / SATA drivers for Windows.

Regarding IDE mode or ACHI: AFAIK it makes no difference for the SSD; I'm not 120% sure that the TRIM command works with all modes and OS combinations, that's the only potential caveat that I see. ACHI is newer, more capable and generally better than IDE, so for a modern OS (Vista / Win2008+) it would be my default choice.

Regarding tweaks: With Windows 7 / 2008 R2, there is nothing you strictly need to do. These OS's automatically change configuration to avoid continuous background writes to the SSD (to reduce drive wear) and disable Prefetch (as it's not so useful with super-fast SSDs). With older OS'es (up to and including Win Vista / 2008) you should do the same things as the MSDN blogpost mentions.

now I'd like to know if there's anything I should actually do to make sure Windows Server 2008 R2 makes good use of the SSD.

As per above, no there is not. As the OS sees the world the SSD is a plain old SATA harddisk, just one that is a lot faster. Win 2008 R2 already comes with the needed optimizations for SSD's, mostly to reduce background writes and hence improve drive longevity.

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I don't know that exact drive, but all the 2.5" SSD's I've used just worked like a regular SATA drive.

AHCI is basically a one-armed RAID. It enables the things usually only associated to RAID on a single drive. One of the big ones is command-queuing (with SATAII-compatible drives) so it's worth it if it's available.

If you pick AHCI you have to give Windows a driver (just like you would if it was a RAID). It'll be supplied by your motherboard manufacturer. I wouldn't touch any advanced HDD settings in the BIOS -- at least not until I had a specific reason to do so.

Also if your motherboard also offers RAID, you may want consider settings it to that, and use the RAID driver (even with only one drive). The AHCI driver is usually a variation of the RAID driver and performs the same functions; the advantage is if you want to establish a RAID set later, you can do it without reinstalling Windows (to get the other driver in).

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Use an OS that supports TRIM (Win7 or 2008+)

What is the point of using an SSD whose performance degrades over time? You need to ensure that the disk and it's firmware support TRIM (popular: Indilinx). Then, the OS has to support it or the cells will get written to and then drive write performance will taper off very quickly.

Verify the TRIM yourself

If like me you don't understand this TRIMming thing completely but you really need to know if you have 'done the right thing' with your purchase, then benchmark yourself!
I use a popular benchmarking tool called CrystalDiskMark which other youtube folks have proven is good for measuring relative SSD performance.
All i did was run a series of these benchmark tests over the days after i installed Win7 to see how the performance changed. The essential test is to see if degraded performance from written cells is restored after file system deletes in Win7 - the idea here is that Windows needs to pass the TRIM commands to the SSD firmware so that it knows to clean out the unused cells (mark them as empty). This simplified explanation might seem like it won't be the crux that affects all your read/write performance issues - but it is.

By the way, the above is from experience. I have been using a 64gb SSD from Runcore and benchmarking using the method above. A lot of initial frustration was caused by trying to get the TRIM working with XP and Vista. But now i know it simply does not work. I can't speak for 2k8 server coz i haven't used it, but i understand it's built on the same file system changes as Win7 - but like i said, prove it to yourself.

In summary, i get fantastic performance in Win7 on my Dell XPS M1330. Using the 64g SSD and my 4gb ram upgrade i get blinding boot speeds (30-45 seconds from cold boot to desktop zero CPU) and fantastic use of heavy applications (like Adobe CS4 apps and MS Visual Studio 2008). I don't think I'll be able to go back now. Anything slower than this will just drive me mad waiting for it.

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