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For the best performance on a digital audio workstation (DAW), I had formerly understood that separate drives for the OS, virtual memory (swap) file, and project media files (audio, video, sample content, images, etc.) would offer improved performance over using just one drive, all other things being equal. This also has the benefit of allowing you to reformat and install a new OS without worrying about your project data.

If I were to now build or upgrade a system to use only SSD drives, does this type of separate drives performance optimization still apply? If not or it is negligible, are there any particular scenarios that still benefit, such as video rendering to a separate drive from the source content?

Note that I am not concerned with discussions on backups to HDDs or drive reliability, as my systems are backed up nightly.

UPDATE

I am assuming a decent amount of RAM (16GB: maxed on a Z77 board in this particular case), though I don't believe this means you should actually turn the swap file off.

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3 Answers 3

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I had formerly understood that separate drives for the OS, virtual memory (swap) file, and project media files (audio, video, sample content, images, etc.) would offer improved performance over using just one drive, all other things being equal.

Using separate drives would still give you a performance increase with an SSD, but it's highly unlikely to be necessary for performance reasons.

A top rated, recent-gen SSD (Vertex 4, Samsung 840Pro, Intel 520, etc) will give you upwards of 200MB/sec write performance on random data and upwards of 300MB/sec performance on sequential writes. http://www.anandtech.com/show/6328/samsung-ssd-840-pro-256gb-review/2

Even uncompressed 24bit/96khz audio takes "only" 576KB/sec so even if you're reading/writing multiple streams of uncompressed 24/96 it really shouldn't be an issue. http://www.audiomountain.com/tech/audio-file-size.html

Possibly of interest: while they're not talking about DAWs specifically, Microsoft notes that Windows 7 (and above, presumably) work very well with SSD-hosted swap files. http://blogs.msdn.com/b/e7/archive/2009/05/05/support-and-q-a-for-solid-state-drives-and.aspx

About the only way it should be an issue is if you're low on RAM and you're paging memory in and out of the swap file like crazy - but even then, you're probably alright.

Best wishes!

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Good info, thank you. I should've mentioned to assume a decent amount of RAM (16gb, maxed on a Z77 board in this case). –  Tim Lehner Mar 8 '13 at 19:57
    
That's an excellent move. With 16GB RAM, that swap file will hardly see any use at all. You tend to get weird application crashes if you disable the swap file entirely (even with 16GB of RAM) as occasionally an app will request a large contiguous region of memory. I don't have direct DAW software experience but I imagine some of them might encounter that issue if the swap file is disabled. I believe you're right to leave it enabled. –  John Booty Mar 8 '13 at 21:11

SSD drives are much faster then regular drives (in the order of 5 times). With a high price tag per gig and a "sweet spot" of about 250 gigs at the moment. It would seem awfully wasteful to get extra drives, particularly with 1 for swap, when you can just load up with memory and not need it !!

The big advantage of using multiple "spinning" disks is that you can get better seek times, particularly when reading a large file and needing to swap/page/access memory. This is not really a concern for SSD, as it does not need to worry about repositioning the head, so its not nearly as important.

If you are buying multiple disks - and ignoring Backup concerns as per your post, it might make sense to put swap and OS on one disk and data on another, but I would still be heavily inclined to configure them in a RAID0 or JBOD for maximum performance for $ as it will make very little difference in performance, if any.

(That said, If I were to ignore data security/backup on SSD I would not sleep at night, as when SSD's fail, they usually fail catastrophically and often with no warning, unlike most hard drive failures).

FWIW I've just bought some disks for a friend to put together a moderate/low end video Editing system, and we went for 1 SSD, and a large spinning disk.

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I would put swap onto a separate drive away from valuable data stored on the SSD, as write degradation will be much more aggressive when a drive is used as swap. However, having sufficient RAM can almost do away with the need for swap entirely if performance is too important to keep swap on a mechanical HDD. –  washbow Mar 8 '13 at 19:33
    
@washbow according to John's link to MSDN: "Should the pagefile be placed on SSDs? Yes. Most pagefile operations are small random reads or larger sequential writes, both of which are types of operations that SSDs handle well." –  Tim Lehner Mar 8 '13 at 19:45
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I have a feeling that the "keep your swap file off of SSDs" thing is a myth that will stick around for quite a few years. :) –  John Booty Mar 8 '13 at 21:05
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If I had multiple drives, I'd probably put the swap file on a non-SSD, but I wouldn't get multiple drives just for that purposes. If you'll pardon the purely anecdotal observation, I've been running SSD laptops since 2008 and have never experienced any issues with the swap file being on the SSDs. –  John Booty Mar 8 '13 at 21:07
    
If you expect the swap file to get any real use you would be mad to put it on SSD - Its a MAJOR source of slowdown on a system. There is no point in having a fast system with SSD if its bottlenecked with swap on a slow disk. The SSD's write cycles will outlast the system in this application. –  davidgo Mar 9 '13 at 1:25

You can try to estimate your further ssd life with this online tool measure ssd life. You can check the writes in your system (under real usage) with ProcessMonitor or SsdReady tool itself. If this tool will show you acceptable time, use your sdd and forget about any optimizations ;)

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