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 SSD and the DAW, or how the Mayans view it...

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T O P I C    R E V I E W
Jim Sturm Posted - 02/19/2012 : 09:38:13 AM
Since I actually have two whole days in a row off, I thought I'd take the time to deliver on a promise in a previous post to throw down some tips/observations on using SSDs in the DAW. This stuff applies in general, but here, we're interested in the machines we use in music production.

First of all come the disclaimers. Your opinions and experience may vary from mine. Great! Throw in! That's why this is called a forum. We'll all learn, one way or another.

Second, these ramblings aren't for the person that has a $300 rig and an extra $35 bucks to spare in the hopes of eliminating all his hardware problems. This is for the serious user who is looking for a way to soup up disk performance. I'm a pretty firm believer in the 'If it ain't broke - don't fix it' school of thought.

That last statement brings me to another point. You may not even want to consider this topic if you're using a modern system. If you have plenty of processing power, memory and properly configured drives, you'll still see performance improvements, but you may never actually need them! These tips really only apply to a modern system with onboard SATA drive controllers. Sure, you CAN stick a card on the backplane, but you're going to face the bus bandwidth limitations. That's a related, but different topic I won't go into right now.

Ok. Getting on with this.

One thing to note is my philosopy on audio files and projects. I have NEVER used a huge audio (capture) drive. I am NEVER working on more than a few projects at any given time and I don't think I've ever had more than a few Gb of ACTIVE data in process during any given period. Sure, I've got multi-Tb of projects, files and data. It's all safely archived (external drives, DVDs, CDs, or in my case, all of the above plus RAID5 NAS,) and I can load any of it up in a matter of seconds, if not minutes (thank you very much, Cakewalk, for per-project folders.) That being said, I can't think of anyone that really needs a huge capture drive.

That being said, the concept of implementing the SSD becones much more affordable. I get emails all the time for GOOD 8Gb SSDs in the $75 range. One of those, all by itself, will make an improvement in disk throughput and performance. I took it one step further. A pair of those devices, configured as a stripe (RAID0) give 16 Gb of storage and will provide nearly double the drive speed (please don't argue that statement - I know reads, writes, yada, yada, won't provide exactly double - but it can be nearly that.) That's what I did. Bought a pair and an adapter to mount said pair in a 3-1/2" bay. Ran each one off it's own SATA port and configured it as a stripe in Windoze.

When I run big all-audio projects, and I'm talking 30-40 tracks of wav data, all I ever see out of the disk usage meter is an occasional blip. I don't think I've ever noted anything above maybe 15%

Ok, you say. That's a no brainer, But what if I did decide to do it (not because I need to , but because I'm a tweaker and just can't resist.) What should I get? SLC or MLC? What about durability. What about the fact that they slow down over time. What if the Mayans were right and it all becomes moot before Christmas?

Well, here are my thoughts on that.

SLC/MLC. I still think SLC will possibly be a more durable drive in the long term, but we ARE talking statistics here. Limited life/limited writes - writes, mind you - reading the drive doesn't affect the life or the performance. If you actually run the numbers on either technology, you're talking YEARS of continuous usage. Is that really a problem? You can research the info and decide for yourself, arguing the numbers. You paid, maybe $150 (or less) for something that lasted many years. If it does actually fail, you'll probably replace it with something twice as fast for half the cost. Besides, remember what the Mayans said...

But what about my data? If the SSD fails what will I do? Well, that has nothing to do with a SSD. Same thing is true about a conventional rotating media device. You DO back up your projects, right? You don't? It just takes too long? Well, backing up a few gig (that's all that's on the SSD, remember?) only takes a couple minutes. You need to develop THAT habit right now, even if you're recording to cassette tape!

Ok, but there is that slow down issue. Due to the way SSDs work, the more you write to them, the slower they get over time. It's somewhat akin to fragmentation, but defragging a SSD doesn't work. So what about that? My answer to that lies in the beauty of that small SSD that gets backed up on a regular basis. Make sure that the projects are backed up and then do a full (not quick) FORMAT of the capture drive! After that's done, load whatever projects you need to work on from your archive. Just takes a few minutes and not only resolves the speed problem, it forces one to stay on top of the housekeeping. Depending on how much you use your DAW, you might do this one a year, or never. Watch the disk performance and if it becomes an issue - do your housekeeping.

I love mine. They are totally silent. They are blinding fast. I've been running them for well over a year and have seen ZERO performance degradation.

There are a lot more details I could go into and argue, but I don't think any of it is really pertinent. I think the basics here are enough to get started on. Other tips, suggestions and experience are welcome.

As for me. I don't plan to spend any more of my precious free time at the keyboard! see ya!


9   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
garrigus Posted - 02/28/2012 : 09:52:14 AM
Yep, very busy... I know the feeling.

Jim Sturm Posted - 02/27/2012 : 6:32:34 PM
Nothing like a speedy response to a direct quetion. Nothing at all like one...

Yes there is still some noise, but very little. When I built this system, I tried to hit the best of all worlds. I wasn't really ready to go liquid cooled though, so I stuck with fans.

I went with a fanless graphics card. I have a virtually silent Antec HCP 1200 PSU and a pair of Noctua NH-U9DX 1366 coolers - one on each cpu, running at their lowest speed.

If I put a SPL at the noisiest spot I can detect outside the case, without touching, I get a reading of about 32-37 dBA. Pretty quiet. I can't really hear it at all at the console or recording areas.

So the direct answer is no, I didn't reduce the number of fans, but I didn't have that many to begin with. No case fans at all.

As for heat reduction, I'd say it was minimal, if there was any change at all. I was running a WD black drive and it got pretty warm. The SSDs can get warm, too though, so I can't say that there was much of a net change one way or the other.

Both case and CPU temps are staying about where they always were. Since they do vary, with load and ambient, it's tough to say. I never truly benchmarked it.

Sorry it took so long to get back. I really am busy these days. Either that, or I'm getting awfully slow. Maybe both! I still check in every day. Good habits are hard to break, too!


garrigus Posted - 02/20/2012 : 11:18:36 AM
Yeah, silent is definitely nice.

Although, you still have the computer fans making some noise, right?

Jim, were you able to reduce the number of fans in the PC case after installing the SSDs?

otto Posted - 02/19/2012 : 3:43:16 PM
My NI Komplete 8 Upgrade came with a SSD - can't recall the size. These drives are the next quantum leap improvement in computers for us computer music fans. I have a multi-track with just a 20 gig drive in it - and another newer one that had a 40 gig drive. That 40 gig seemed huge for a hardware 24 track recorder. 60 gig - plenty of room for audio.
Jim Sturm Posted - 02/19/2012 : 1:17:59 PM
Originally posted by garrigus

...The only instance I can see where some users might need a larger capacity is if they do very long, multitrack, live audio recordings or if they work with video. One more would be if they want to use the SSD as a drive for streaming sample libraries. ...

Good point, but bear in mind that even a 16 Gb drive would give over 16 hours of 48/24 stereo. That's a lot of data! Even those users could apply the same idea to larger drives. I saw some 60Gb Corsairs in your ads for $90!

Yeah, the same thing is true for the sample drive - speed through RAID0 and probably indefinite life (relatively speaking.) Being a striped volume, though, it would be a good idea to back it up periodically and such a volume would be quite a bit larger and more expensive. Still, a good and practical idea for those that need it. There would probably never be a need to optimize the drive since the only time it's written is when the sample is installed.

While drives have become a lot quieter, you can't beat SILENT for a DAW.

otto Posted - 02/19/2012 : 12:18:19 PM
Two stocks to watch - FIO as a pure-play in SSD's - and EMC - which just came out with a FIO-competing product.
garrigus Posted - 02/19/2012 : 12:10:58 PM
Originally posted by otto

Only 1 billion years Scott - then it poops out. Damned unreliable drive!!!

Hmmm... well, that's not too bad, as long as it doesn't cost me too much. I'll just have to replace it a billion years from now.

otto Posted - 02/19/2012 : 12:01:17 PM
Only 1 billion years Scott - then it poops out. Damned unreliable drive!!!
garrigus Posted - 02/19/2012 : 10:21:10 AM
Hey Jim,

Thanks very much for taking the time to type up this topic! Lot's of good info in here.

I honestly never thought about reducing the cost by pairing some lower cost drives together. That's an excellent idea.

The only instance I can see where some users might need a larger capacity is if they do very long, multitrack, live audio recordings or if they work with video. One more would be if they want to use the SSD as a drive for streaming sample libraries.

Since you mentioned that SSDs don't degrade from reads (only writes), this would seem to make them ideal for streaming samples. You only have to load up the drive once and then all your access to it from then on would be reading. I wonder if in that situation the drive would last forever?


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