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Technology Focus: Fusion IO Solid State Flash Memory

Thursday, May 20th, 2010 | Posted by Leonard Teo | 18 comments

How does adding 80GB of “RAM” to your workstation today sound? Not too far fetched…

When we discuss computer graphics hardware, we tend to first talk about video cards, CPU’s and how much processing we can do to get images drawn as quickly as possible on screen. We tend to forget one crucial component of the puzzle, which is memory throughput, and how data is transferred within a computer system.

If you’ve ever had to work with massive amounts of data, for example, multi-layered HD footage for compositing or point-cached files, you begin to really hit performance bottlenecks in terms of data bandwidth. Your multi-core CPU might be running just fine but it’s the speed of the data going in and out which is holding everything up.

That’s where Fusion IO comes in. Fusion IO is a relatively new company specializing in solid state storage technology. In a nutshell, if you put in the workstation-level ioXtreme card into your workstation’s PCI-E slot, you immediately get 80GB of non-volatile flash storage that runs at an average bandwidth of 520MB/S (700MB/s read, 280MB/s write). It’s not just the size of the pipe that counts either as one has to consider latency. The L1-L3 cache on your CPU has a typical latency in the nanoseconds. RAM is faster, but typical harddisks and SSD’s are in the range of milliseconds, while a card like ioXtreme runs only slightly slower than RAM, which makes it perfect when you need immediate memory to read and write from.

So, at the entry level, it’s akin to sticking 80GB of RAM into your computer, but it acts like a hard disk (data is non-volatile, that is, it stays there even if you turn off your machine). If you’re a compositor, just set up the ioXtreme card as a scratch disk and you’re flying (so to speak).

Performance is also scalable with multiple cards. For example, an ioXtreme Pro (which enables scaling) combined with an ioXtreme will increase total read performance to 1.4GB/s. Three cards increase that to a mind-boggling 2.1GB/s read.

We think this is pretty kick ass technology. Definitely, if you’re doing data intensive type of work, this is something you’ll want to consider.

The 80GB ioXtreme card is available through Amazon.com for $895.

Also, check out Hot Hardware’s impressive 13-page write up on the product.

Related Links
Fusion IO
ioXtreme on Amazon
Hot Hardware’s write-up

Comments

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  • Tom

    Does that video have audio?

    Also, do existing applications understand how to make use of that hardware correctly?

  • stereo55

    Rig (posted pics) and new storage are both sweeeeet stuff . Thx for the info and pics . ;o)

  • Juan Valdez

    this is pretty sweet. can’t wait till they work on my power mac,

  • http://www.cgchannel.com LeonardAdmin

    @Tom. The video has audio. Also, the ioXtreme card appears as a standard HDD on your computer, so you just need to set your application’s scratch disk to it. If you can get audio working, you’ll be able to see Vincent running Toxik off the card.

  • http://www.ir-ltd.net Lee

    Ace video and the tech looks fantastic. Does this have any benefits for say 3DSMax users? ZBrush users or Photoshop users?

    Or even just to use as a main drive to boot your OS from?

  • Leonard Teo

    I would think that as long as you need data in/out really fast, it would be good irrespective of whether you use max/zbrush and photoshop. I have heard that Photoshop does have a performance improvement on very very large files — again, set the scratch disk to it.

    Right now, I don’t think it can be used as a main boot drive, but I think they are working on getting companies to enable that — it requires the Bios to be able to boot from a PCI-E device such as this. Vincent (if you’re reading this) please correct me if I’m wrong. That doesn’t prevent you from installing the actual applications that you are running on the ioXtreme drive though. So you can run Maya/Max/PS, etc right off the solid state memory.

    L.

  • http://www.ir-ltd.net Lee

    Either way it still looks like superb technology, thanks for the extra information Leonard :) I’m sold!

  • http://www.techwatch.co.uk/ Techwatch

    Looks like a very helpful piece of hardware for all kinds of uses

  • Vortex

    Looks awesome. Anyone know what kind of portable case that is, i’d love to have one of those.

  • http://www.fusion-io.com Vincent Brisebois

    Leonard is correct, they aren’t bootable at this time but I use a 64GB SSD as a boot disk for the OS but install all my applications on the raided ioXtremes. I can launch the entire Adobe Creative Master Suite in under 20 seconds… As for 3D applications, as Leo said the product accelerates read and write which really isn’t a big issue for 3D. Where it will help is when you load and save files or when you use Level Of Detail or plugins to load on demand (load an entire game level or CAD file and have it load the region around your camera as you move through it). It also makes a difference with point cache files, like particle systems, once you cache a mesh you are basically streaming it form the hard drive. Also with 3dsmax 2011 you get Autodesk Composite so you can playback everything you rendered in real-time (you also get Composite with Maya 2010 and 2011). Zbrush and Mudbox benefit greatly with the undo, a lot of heavy zbrush artists use SSD drives so that they can brush, undo, brush, undo… the undo kills you in those apps when you don’t have a fast disk. For Photoshop it’s like having an extra 160GB of ram, when you run out of ram it swaps to the scratch disk so we have seen huge speed increase on large files so anyone doing matte paintings or posters for print benefit from the performance (again this is only if you fill your RAM and need more space). What’s interesting that I didn’t mention in the video is that I only have 6 GB of ram on that system and I do stereoscopic 2K compositing with it, because the two ioXtremes give me an extra 160GB of space that my app uses like RAM.

  • Steve

    Would this make ZBrush work better?

  • Frank

    Coming from a studio owner, I think it’s still a little too costly. If you want to go raid you will have to spend $2400.
    ioextreme pro $1500
    ioextreme $900

    I can create a nice 5 drive SATA raid (with a larger capacity) for half that amount. Granted it may not be as fast, but your still working against average studio budgets that have to make a compromise.

    Hopefully in the future the price will go down.

    Frank

  • CGerard

    I was checking out the prices on Amazon and it turns out you can get both ioxtremes for $2000.

  • musta

    It’s too early to adopt an SSD, let alone an SSD based solution like Fusion IO.
    There’s no TRIM support for these things yet, so serious performance degradation over time is inevitable.

    I’ll wait till the dust settles before buying into any SSD/SSD based solution.

    BTW, how many GB of RAM did the test platform on that video have?

  • SSD

    This is MLC not SLC. No BOOT, No TRIM, No SLC, No way!

  • http://www.fusion-io.com Vincent Brisebois

    Actually the Fusion-io cards do support TRIM and not only in Windows 7, all OS’s because Fusion-io wrote their own driver. Also Fusion-io cards are already running massive online stores and the social networking sites you use every day. Over a regular raid you benefit from low latency (50 microseconds rather than a few milliseconds you get even with SSD). This low latency turns the cards into a sort of extended ram for applications that disk cache like compositing, editing applications and photoshop. It really shouldn’t be seen as storage, it’s a new tier of memory that sits between your hard drive and you RAM that allows you to massively accelerate applications that cache to disk. Also Fusion-io has both SLC and MLC solutions, the SLC solutions are more expensive but do provide more performance and longevity.

  • http://www.ir-ltd.net Lee

    Thanks for the extra information Leonard and Vincent Brisebois, really helpful. When I can, I will have to invest in one of these! especaily for PS and ZB.

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