Say hello to TR’s new storage test rigs

For years, we’ve been testing storage performance on a pair of P67 motherboards equipped with Sandy Bridge processors. The machines have served us well, but we’re in the process of phasing them out in favor of all-new hardware and updated tests. This is the beautiful beast that’s been running benchmarks in the lab all week:

It’s not alone, either. We have two identical test systems based on the same hardware. At one point last weekend, both machines were running alongside the old ones in a four-way testing frenzy.

Storage is handled by the motherboard, so that’s probably the best place to start. Put your hands together for Asus’ Z97-PRO, which is a slightly more upscale version of my favorite Haswell board, the Z97-A.

In addition to sporting loads of 6Gbps SATA ports, Intel’s Z97 chipset has native support for M.2 and SATA Express devices. The Z97-PRO takes full advantage of those capabilities, and its M.2 implementation works with both SATA- and PCIe-based mini SSDs.

Although the M.2 slot is limited to dual PCIe Gen2 lanes, we’ve added a pair of four-lane adapter cards to handle faster SSDs. These cards also come from Asus, and they support Gen3 speeds when plugged into the appropriate PCI Express slot. The motherboard certainly has plenty of those to spare.

As far as I can tell, the adapter cards aren’t sold separately. The Z97-PRO is available at Newegg for $189.99, though.

The next ingredient is the CPU, which provides both processing and graphics for our test rigs. Intel hooked us up with a couple of Core i5-4690K processors from the Devil’s Canyon family. Asking price: $234.99.

These quad-core chips scale up to 3.9GHz with Turbo and even higher if you’re willing to overclock. We’ve disabled dynamic clock scaling to ensure more repeatable results, so we’re actually holding the chips back a little.

On the GPU front, the processor’s integrated HD Graphics 4600 runs the games for our load-time tests without issue. The stock cooler is perfectly adequate for our purposes, too. Most of our storage tests barely load up the CPU, and the motherboard’s excellent fan speed control keeps noise levels in check.

Some of our updated benchmarks use a RAM disk as a high-speed source and destination drive, making memory particularly important for the new machines. Check out the funky XPG V3 modules Adata sent us:

The XPG DIMMs come with swappable mohawks that add a measure of color customization. The tinted inserts are easy to install, and it’s a shame there aren’t more colors. Red and gold are the only options for these particular modules.

We need a reasonably large RAM disk for our tests, so each system is loaded with dual 8GB DIMMs. The memory is rated for 10-11-11-30 timings at 2133 MT/s and 1.65V. We’ve scaled back the clock speed, tightened the timings, and lowered the voltage a smidgen. If you want matching modules of your own, Amazon has ’em for $145.99.

Most of our storage benchmarks run on drives configured as secondary storage. We still need system drives for each rig, and Corsair obliged with a couple of Force Series LS units.

These drives pair Phison’s eight-channel PS3108-S8 controller with Toshiba’s 19-nm MLC NAND. Each one has 240GB of capacity and a $128.99 street price.

The Force Series LS isn’t the fastest SSD around, especially compared to Corsair’s Neutron Series XT, which is based on newer Phison silicon. But it’s fast enough for our purposes—and a big upgrade from the mechanical drives attached to our old systems.

I haven’t taken a separate shot of the Corsair AX650 PSUs destined to power our new rigs, in part because we’re borrowing those from the existing machines. Our old AX650s are still going strong after several years of service, so there’s no need to replace them. While testing winds down on the old systems, the new ones are being powered by the beefier AX850 units behind our motherboard test rigs.

We’ll have more details to share about our next-gen storage testing soon. Stay tuned.

Comments closed
    • Cannonaire
    • 5 years ago

    [quote<]We've disabled dynamic clock scaling to ensure more repeatable results, so we're actually holding the chips back a little.[/quote<] By this, do you mean you disabled the automatic overclocking on the motherboard, disabled the scaling from turbo, or just locked the frequency altogether by disabling power scaling?

    • DarkUltra
    • 5 years ago

    Do the PCI Express adapter cards slow down post/boot time?

    • Bensam123
    • 5 years ago

    I don’t think anything really beats the bling the DDR3 modules I happened to pickup that have underglow and LEDs on top of them that pulsate with memory access. I still find them rather impressive. Random newegg discount and rebate made them the cheapest deal.

    • Srsly_Bro
    • 5 years ago

    Hi, Storage test rig. Want to come to my place later?

    • torquer
    • 5 years ago

    Its so suspicious that you’d choose to test STORAGE with only INTEL chips. More evidence that TR is nothing but a bunch of shills for Intel and Ngreedia. WHY DO YOU HATE AMD?!?!1111111 Don’t you know AMD invented joy??

    </sarcasm>

      • MadManOriginal
      • 5 years ago

      The post would have been better without the sarcasm tag.

        • Klimax
        • 5 years ago

        But then too many people would miss it…

          • aspect
          • 5 years ago

          The 1111111111’s were pretty obvious.

            • PsychicMuffin
            • 5 years ago

            You overestimate the deduction power of biased fans

    • Tumbleweed
    • 5 years ago

    Too bad those PCIe->M.2 adapter cards aren’t sold separately; I’d be all over one of those if priced well. I won’t be building out a new system for a while. *sigh*

      • willmore
      • 5 years ago

      Keep checking your normal parts vendors like Newegg, I’m sure something like them will show up pretty quickly. There’s not much to them and simple adapters like these are probably going to sell reasonably well.

        • Tumbleweed
        • 5 years ago

        I’m wanting more info, though, like does the adapter need to support NVMe, etc, or just the drive? Does the adapter need to support bootability, or just the mobo & drive?, etc. I’ll have to wait for much better availability/pricing on PCIe 3.o x4 M.2 drives first, anyway, so it’ll likely be another quarter or so before this tech becomes mainstream even for enthusiasts. I’m definitely looking forward to the days of having my boot drive be capable of ~3GB/s reads, though.

          • willmore
          • 5 years ago

          The adapters are pretty passive, they won’t add or remove bootability, NVMe, etc. It’s just a card with some wires and a little simple circuitry.

    • Neutronbeam
    • 5 years ago

    So red and gold RAM modules–basically the Iron Man configuration?

      • derFunkenstein
      • 5 years ago

      It’d be super cool if the black heat spreader was red and the mohawks were gold.*

      *not really

    • frumper15
    • 5 years ago

    Geoff – does the -Pro differ from the -A in it’s ability to use both PCIe and SATA based drives in the M.2 slot? From your -A review: “The Z97-A’s M.2 slot is limited to PCIe drives; it won’t work with SATA-based M.2 SSDs”

    I have the Z97-A and a SATA based M.2 SSD (MyDigitalSSD 128GB Super Boot Eco Drive) leftover from a failed laptop upgrade I’m using occasionally in an external USB3 enclosure. I’ve never actually popped the drive into the board, I think, because I had read the -A was only compatible with PCIe based drives.

    Did ASUS differentiate between the -A and -PRO by compatibility with SATA based M.2 drives or what? That would seem to be a strange feature to add/remove from a board, but I suppose stranger things have happened.

    • ronch
    • 5 years ago

    “Hello.”

    • not@home
    • 5 years ago

    I understand the need for you to upgrade your storage test rigs due to new tech, but the old storage test rigs were much faster than anything I have. It hurts. My E8400 system from 2008 is really getting long in the tooth. If I only had the $ for a new PC. I would also be a subscriber too.

    • trieste1s
    • 5 years ago

    Maybe to maintain consistent CPU frequency, you can use Throttlestop to lock at Turbo and then disable C1E, EIST and PROCHOT (if you’re absolutely sure of your cooling).

    • Wirko
    • 5 years ago

    The mohawks appear to be symmetrical. Why didn’t the same guy design the USB A connector?

    • Ochadd
    • 5 years ago

    SSD update coming any time soon? My favorite long term test.

    • anotherengineer
    • 5 years ago

    hello new storage test rigs

    edit – just doing as I’m told……………..

    • chuckula
    • 5 years ago

    Ooh it’s like a mini system guide!

      • Jason181
      • 5 years ago

      I totally disagree with their choice of case though.

        • Cannonaire
        • 5 years ago

        But look at that lovely wiring job they did in spite of the awful case!

    • Milo Burke
    • 5 years ago

    Geoff, you forgot to mention in the article how awesome I am.

      • Dissonance
      • 5 years ago

      Fixed. Thanks.

        • bean7
        • 5 years ago

        Which paragraph was fixed? I couldn’t find it.

          • Pwnstar
          • 5 years ago

          He’s joking.

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