Datasaurus

About your Dell XPS 9000

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Hello good people of Storage Review.

I am SO glad that you guys have been using the Dell Studio XPS 9000 as your test bench for some time because that is exactly what I have! And this really gives me a feeling of relief and security as to how successful I will be at using my first SSD.

I say this because over the course of my research these last months, I started to get bummed out at the possibility that my Dell, which so many people like to say is horrible junk, might have trouble running a stable SSD reliably without problems. There are so many threads on Crucial and OCZ (and probably elsewhere) of people having serious problems, so I'm just baffled at what to do.

But, if you guys actually use the Dell XPS 9000 consistently as your test bed, I'm taking that as some of the most reassuring news I've read anywhere. So, I was hoping that you gentlemen might share a bit of detail about your particular configuration, such as what version of the BIOS are you using, and have you made any tweaks or customization, or is the system basically the same as when Dell ships it out.

Most importantly, have you had ANY weird issues or anomalies when using the various SSDs you've tested in the Dell XPS 9000. Can I basically get an SSD, install Windows 7 on it, and live happily ever after without a care in the world and no horrible multi-hour visits to "PC Hell"?

Lastly, about the LSI MegaRAID SATA/SAS 9260-8i. Is getting that to work fairly straight forward? Any major hurdles to overcome? Booting off of anything other than a SATA HDD would be new territory for me, and i would think getting a run-of-the-mill Dell to boot in such a nontraditional way might make it freak out. But I'm getting way ahead of myself. That LSI card is big bucks for me, but is something I might consider down the road if some of you guys gave me your blessing and told me I might be able to handle it ok.

Please excuse me for making my very first post here so long winded and so full of requests. I have been visiting your site for months, so it's been building up in side me!

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Not a problem with the long post!

I don't think we have a picture of the XPS 9000 in its current form, but it looks nothing like the original. After months of connecting RAID arrays, numerous drives, etc we had to dump the "guts" in a new case. Now with that said all of our tweaks are with the physical environment around the motherboard, nothing modified that would change how it works with devices. We have a spliced in setup to monitor power off the SATA-bus, and are no longer using any of the builtin card readers and stuff.

In terms of stress testing the rig, it has been on 24/7 and used to benchmark every SSD/HDD under the sun for more than a year now. There have been absolutely NO stability problems what-so-ever with any product. You will see speed limitations say by plugging a SATA III 6.0Gbps device into the Intel ICH10R SATA II ports, but that just means it would be running at 3.0Gbps instead of 6.0Gbps.

There are some quirks with constantly shifting drives around, like having to go into the BIOS to make sure the correct boot drive is always set, but for a normal user that wouldn't be a problem. RAID cards for boot drives should work great (appear in the BIOS) although we haven't tested that yet. All of our tests are through slave setups, so while I am 99% sure it would work, there is that 1% chance the system could light on fire for all I know ;)

I will double check on the BIOS version, but I want to say its either stock from Feb/Mar 2010, or updated once in the summer.

Now I know Dell has reused some system names in the past. Could you confirm your system configuration to see if its the same platform that we use?

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TSullivan,

Thank you for the incredibly fast reply! This is very helpful to me and i very much appreciate it. A question or two about something you said:

"...RAID cards for boot drives should work great (appear in the BIOS) although we haven't tested that yet. All of our tests are through slave setups..."

First, what are slave setups? Secondly, I thought for sure you had used a RAID card with the Dell XPS 9000. From your Intel 510 and OCZ Vertex 3 reviews:

"....we tested the Intel SSD 510 through our Dell XPS 9000 with its ICH10R SATA 3.0Gbps chipset and our SATA 6.0Gbps LSI 9260-8i RAID card..."

"....we used our Dell XPS 9000 with its Intel ICH10R chipset for compatibility SATA 3Gbps tests and a LSI MegaRAID 9260-8i SATA 6Gbps card for native speed tests..."

Does this mean you use the LSI card with another system?

Here is my system configuration (perhaps more info than necessary):

Operating System: Windows 7 Ultimate (x64)

System Model: DELL Inc. Studio XPS 435T/9000

CPU: Intel Core i7 960

Motherboard: DELL Inc. 0X501H A02

Mainboard Version: A02

System Chipset: Intel X58 (Tylersburg 36S) + ICH10R

QPI width link: 20 lanes (16 data lanes, 4 CRC lanes)

DRAM bus width: 192 bits

RAID support: RAID 0 (striping) RAID 1 (mirroring)

BIOS chip: (NVRAM) 16 MB

BIOS: A14 (10/26/2009)

BIOS Manufacturer: American Megatrends

PCI Express x1: Three

PCI Express x8: One

PCI Express x16: One

Drives: Internally accessible three 3.5‑inch drive bays for SATA hard drives

Memory: Connectors six internally‑accessible DDR3 DIMM sockets

Video: Discrete PCI Express x16 card

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Slave drive means the drive we are testing is not the one the system is booted from. Think of it like our D: drive. Our main test rig as a pretty static installation, where we add devices to the system to test. For the reviews that we use RAID cards with, the RAID card is inserted, we plug the drive being tested into it, and then boot the system as normal with the boot drive still attached to the Dell motherboard.

The main reason for this is drives will perform differently when tested "untouched". If we were to install the operating system on the drive we were testing and benchmark it under those conditions, the results would be lower, and it would put more influence of our system itself into the test, than just limiting it to testing the drive alone.

And looks like you have the same setup we are running, only difference being processor and BIOS version. We have the Core i7-920 and BIOS A16.

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TSullivan,

So, when you said all your tests are through a slave setup, does that not only includes RAID cards, but also just regular single SATA II drives as well? And none of your tests are done by installing Windows 7 and using it as a boot drive? If that is the case, then there goes my warm and fuzzy feelings I had about how an SSD would perform in my particular system as a boot drive :(

Have you installed Windows onto an SSD for the Dell XPS 9000 ever? What is the primary boot drive you have been using and are using now?

In reading your reviews and discovering what you've been using as your test bench, I thought I struck gold in terms of finding the best possible evidence that my PC would be rock solid stable and compatible with a variety of SSDs, since what could be better than having practically the EXACT same PC that the professional's at StorageReview.com use as their test bench to guarantee my hassle free success with a SSD boot drive! Alas, if you have not used any SSDs as the boot drive, then my confidence is now kaput!

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Well for starters, what problems are you worried about or are you seeing? If problems were bad enough to crop up on one side of the equation, we would have stumbled into something running drives as slaves on this platform for more than a year. The drives see the same TRIM interactions, and lag would be found in higher seek times in our tests. So far the only drive to ever cause a problem under our long term testing is the C300 with some odd stuttering effects, which is known for that model and happens on many systems (I first experienced it on our review model inside my notebook).

Right now the boot drive is a 1TB Caviar Black. We stuck with a HDD since that is what our system had from the start and we didn't want to change system components and possibly impact benchmark scores. It originally had a 640GB Samsung model from Dell, but it developed bad sectors and we were able to clone the drive over. We have played around with a few SSDs as boot drives, but we never stuck with it because it would in our opinion change the system too drastically from its "stock" form when we started testing on it.

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Well for starters, what problems are you worried about or are you seeing? If problems were bad enough to crop up on one side of the equation, we would have stumbled into something running drives as slaves on this platform for more than a year. The drives see the same TRIM interactions, and lag would be found in higher seek times in our tests.

I don't have an SSD yet. The problems I'm worried about are basically show stoppers: BSOD, data loss, not being able to install Windows without strange errors, and stuff like that. I would think that having an SSD as a secondary or slave drive would be less prone to problems if for no other reason than because it isn't the primary drive with the OS on it.

So far the only drive to ever cause a problem under our long term testing is the C300 with some odd stuttering effects, which is known for that model and happens on many systems (I first experienced it on our review model inside my notebook).

That is disturbing about the C300. In all the reviews I've read lately, I somehow missed this issue until I read about it on another thread here at SR. A C300 SSD was top on my list of choices, but not now I guess.

Right now the boot drive is a 1TB Caviar Black. We stuck with a HDD since that is what our system had from the start and we didn't want to change system components and possibly impact benchmark scores. It originally had a 640GB Samsung model from Dell, but it developed bad sectors and we were able to clone the drive over. We have played around with a few SSDs as boot drives, but we never stuck with it because it would in our opinion change the system too drastically from its "stock" form when we started testing on it.

TSullivan, mainly all I want to know is, during those times when you "played around with a few SSDs as boot drives", did you have any problems or issues getting them up and running? Was it simply a matter of plugging the drive in, installing Windows, and bingo, everything just works? And now even more specifically, do you recall ever using a Sandforce SSD as the boot drive, and if so was it smooth sailing?

BTW, I appreciate your time. I think I'm almost out of questions :D

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So far everything has been great. Depending on your timeframe on when you want to get an SSD, we are transitioning over to two new test rigs (custom rigs) which will leave the old Dell open for other projects. I can make it my first order of business to slap in an SSD and see how it goes over the next few weeks.

So far nothing has caused any problems for concern with the SSD's working as a boot drive. That said, the C300 didn't show problems until TRIM activity started (very unique case, no other SSDs we have used have that problem).

What is your budget? Any idea of what capacity drive you are looking for?

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TSullivan,

Man, if you "slapped in" an SSD into Ye Olde Dell (my 'new' Dell) for a few weeks for my sake, I would be in your debt, and you would be awesome! If you could put a Vertex 2 (or any Sandforce drive) that would be great, since the C300 is no longer an option and the Intel X25-M is just, well, old, and not the screaming beast that the Sandforce is.

I have patience and time, so my time-frame for buying an SSD is whenever I feel confident I it will be bug and catastrophe free. Capacity must be at least 120GB, and my budget is about $250. If I have to wait five more months for firmwares to be updated on previous generation SSDs, or to give the new next gen SSDs time to see how they do in the real world, then so be it. I'd rather wait and have a stable PC later than have an unstable PC sooner.

One thing that has been on my mind is the firmware updating process for the OCZ SSDs. I've looked through some of their threads, and from what I can tell, the only way to update the firmware is to put SATA mode in to IDE temporarily, apply the update, then change back to AHCI, if I understand correctly. Well, our Dell does not have IDE mode - only RAID and AHCI, so that's just one more example of what's been holding me off on buying. There's just SOMETHING about every drive out there that gives me pause - the age and comparatively slow Intel X25-M, the flaky stuttery C300, and the OCZ sandforce with the hard to update firmware.

Maybe I'm doing WAY too much over-thinking. If I am, feel free to tell me so =p

Take care.

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With the OCZ SSDs I want to say you are actually required to keep the drive in AHCI mode (will need to look more into that) for the firmware flash to take place. Now with that said it requires the drive to be in slave mode (can't be the boot drive) during the process.

You are talking to the nutter of all over-thinkers. 4 years going and I am still trying to figure out what will be my next laptop. Either reliability problems, terrible options, too expensive.... list goes on all day.

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With the OCZ SSDs I want to say you are actually required to keep the drive in AHCI mode (will need to look more into that) for the firmware flash to take place. Now with that said it requires the drive to be in slave mode (can't be the boot drive) during the process.

You are talking to the nutter of all over-thinkers. 4 years going and I am still trying to figure out what will be my next laptop. Either reliability problems, terrible options, too expensive.... list goes on all day.

LOL Good to know I'm in good company when it comes to over analyzing.

About the OCZ firmware update process, maybe I was looking at on old thread from the Vertex 1 or maybe just misinterpreting something. I've scanned through a lot of threads in the past week. Sometimes, the more I read, the less I know it seems.

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I do know those old Vertexes required special compatibility modes, pins jumpered... lots of hoops to go through. New ones are pretty easy these days.

I just looked up that jumper business. Yuck...

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Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Ok thanks. Have you gotten around to putting in a SSD in the Dell yet? And when you said that, you did mean that you would be using it as the primary boot drive, correct?

I'm sure this personal favor is a low priority for you, so I hope I'm not bugging you. But I will be keeping my eyes peeling on this thread about any and all thoughts and comments you make.

Take care

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Had a setback on switching to the newer test rigs, so the older system has been staying in regular duty. I hope to be able to switch the Dell to an SSD maybe in a week or so.

In other news the only thing making this system a Dell XPS is the motherboard right now. The PSU got tossed today after it starting causing too many problems. Odd reboots, no "float" power capabilities... just very, very low quality.

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Had a setback on switching to the newer test rigs, so the older system has been staying in regular duty. I hope to be able to switch the Dell to an SSD maybe in a week or so.

In other news the only thing making this system a Dell XPS is the motherboard right now. The PSU got tossed today after it starting causing too many problems. Odd reboots, no "float" power capabilities... just very, very low quality.

Thank you Kevin, I appreciate you guys sharing your findings. I'm sorry to hear about the PSU problems you are having, for as TSullivan knows, your old XPS 9000 is my NEW XPS 9000, so I hope that mine can hang in there for at least a few years. I therefore have great interest in observing what you guys do and don't do with your XPS 9000. What PSU are you now using for it?

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We had this laying around

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139008&cm_re=corsair_400w-_-17-139-008-_-Product

About 3x the connectors, finally adds standard molex plugs, and doesnt randomly go out on the fritz.

Good power supplies don't have to set you back a chunk of change. I want to say that model was 15 bucks after rebate. Just wait for a good deal and stick with a quality brand (Corsair, Seasonic, etc etc)

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We had this laying around

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16817139008&cm_re=corsair_400w-_-17-139-008-_-Product

About 3x the connectors, finally adds standard molex plugs, and doesnt randomly go out on the fritz.

Good power supplies don't have to set you back a chunk of change. I want to say that model was 15 bucks after rebate. Just wait for a good deal and stick with a quality brand (Corsair, Seasonic, etc etc)

In my brief research about replacement PSU's that I might want or need in the near future, I seem to recall that the stock Dell PSU had odd dimensions and nonstandard placement of the screw holes that attach it to the case, thereby making installation an aftermarket PSU troublesome. I know it wouldn't be an issue for you since you aren't using the original case.

Oh well. I've learned my lesson. C'est la vie. It's time for me to grow up and be a man. The next PC I have I will build. But this time, I just didn't feel confident enough, and, I got it from Dell's outlet, with a coupon, and saved a whole lot of money, and so far, it has served me well.

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The XPS 9000 is now out of the testing game, and sporting a fresh SSD right now. Oddly enough the drivers between this system and my old Intel LGA775 ASUS board from 4-5 years ago were similar enough that I popped the SSD from that into the Dell and it worked without reinstalling Win 7!. So its now pulling duty as my home system and getting used daily. Old boot drive was the 256 WDC SiliconEdge Blue which I cloned over to a 120GB OCZ Vertex 2. I am even playing around with TrueCrypt full-disk encryption.

So far everything is going smoothly. Any tests you had in mind to stress the SSD, or were you just interested in hiccups along the way?

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The XPS 9000 is now out of the testing game, and sporting a fresh SSD right now. Oddly enough the drivers between this system and my old Intel LGA775 ASUS board from 4-5 years ago were similar enough that I popped the SSD from that into the Dell and it worked without reinstalling Win 7!. So its now pulling duty as my home system and getting used daily. Old boot drive was the 256 WDC SiliconEdge Blue which I cloned over to a 120GB OCZ Vertex 2. I am even playing around with TrueCrypt full-disk encryption.

So far everything is going smoothly. Any tests you had in mind to stress the SSD, or were you just interested in hiccups along the way?

TSullivan, now we're talking! Thanks for doing this! If any specific test come to mind, I'll let you know, but mainly I just wanted to see if you had any hiccups or any other weird anomalies.

Actually, in the process you described of cloning the 256GB non-Sandforce SSD, after having been in the ASUS board, onto a smaller 120GB Vertex 2, and using full-disk encryption, you have already completed a series of tests that I find very interesting and valuable.

I'm curious to know what you used to shrink the 256GB to fit on the 120GB because I thought shrinking a boot partition is no simple task. The only app that I'm aware of that might do that is one of Acronis's products, am I right?

I am also very interested in seeing what effect TrueCrypt's full disk encryption has on the Vertex 2's performance and stability.

Every week, I change my mind on what SSD I will buy. Recently, I pretty much decided to abandon the Sandforce route, especially previous generation Vertex 2, because of the 34nm vs 25nm controversy, and other various reliability concerns, like the "time warp" data loss glitch (or whatever it's been nicknamed in the OCZ forums), BSOD, etc. So, I decided to go with Intel's 320 because of the no muss, no fuss installation and Toolbox utility that supposedly does all the optimization and tweaks for me. Then, I'll lean towards the Vertex 2's because of the very tempting sales I see more frequently.

TSullivan, thanks again. I look forward to seeing how your setup works with daily use over the course of a few weeks and if you have any problems.

Take care.

Edited by Datasaurus

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Well I ended up ditching the full-disk encryption from slowdowns. Without a hardware encryption chip on the computer, speeds were dropped across the board.

With TrueCrypt AES

post-70131-0-24947800-1304564659_thumb.p

Without

post-70131-0-51177900-1304564658_thumb.p

On your question about the cloning, I used Acronis 2011. The previous 256GB drive was not fully utilized, so the software automatically resized the main partition to fit on the smaller drive.

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Well I ended up ditching the full-disk encryption from slowdowns. Without a hardware encryption chip on the computer, speeds were dropped across the board.

On your question about the cloning, I used Acronis 2011. The previous 256GB drive was not fully utilized, so the software automatically resized the main partition to fit on the smaller drive.

Interesting. Too bad the full-disk encryption slowed it down as much as it did. I thought the SF-1200 controllers supported encryption, albeit only involving using ATA password, or something to that effect (I don't fully understand the whole concept).

I know the Intel 320 uses encryption by default, so does that mean it would work well with TrueCrypt, or would the benefit only be seen in using Intel's implementation of encryption via a BIOS password? (not sure if I am wording my question right)

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