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  • Performance - SSD and Arma 2

    I recently picked up an SSD (solid state drive) specifically for gaming performance and I want to share what I've seen so far. For those who aren't familiar, SSD is a hard drive with no moving parts, akin to a giant flash drive. The price has dropped very rapidly, and I finally stopped waitin' and started participatin'.

    If my southern slang instantly convinced you then a) you're too easily convinced and b) you should read the note at the bottom of this post "ABOUT SSDs." Not all SSDs are equal, and the older models should be avoided. Make sure you buy the right one.


    SUMMARY: What I have determined through my trials is that the most overlooked part of the performance bottleneck are the huge texture files that Arma2 needs to look beautiful are too big to churn through even the most defragged traditional hard drive. It has improved my Arma 2 playing experience tremendously, as well as increased the overall performance of my computer more than any single hardware upgrade that I can recall. Read on if you want to read my qualifiers.

    First, you won't see an increase in FPS. That's your video card. SSDs cannot improve the video processing power on your machine. An SSD will make something equally important happen: it will stop LIMITING your video card due to disk bottlenecks.

    Take a look at the first test from ArmaIIMark benchmark using a traditional hard drive with moving parts (this short scene shows two vehicles, UAZs, driving along a waterline with some buildings, and the viewpoint is a fixed panning angle). This is the disk activity from the beginning of that scene to the end. It is taken using Performance Monitor from Windows 7:



    ...notice the Response Time in the red circle while the disk is repeatedly hit to load necessary objects. 13ms is a long time relative to a video game! As I watched this scene, I've always cringed at the "hiccups" and wished I could make them go away. They are the same hiccups I see when I walk through a complex scene in-game, such as a dense city or forest. It kills the immersion and makes the game seem like a slideshow, even if only for a few moments while the textures are cached into memory.

    Now here's the same disk activity record from the same scene in ArmaIIMark with the same machine using an SSD:



    The Response Times of "zero" are actually quite typical, because read times on an SSD are often only measurable in MICROseconds, not milliseconds. Insanely fast. Visually, the hiccups are gone. The whole scene is smooth. The two vehicles drive from left to right, with the panning camera angle following, without a hitch.

    The great part? I can double the fillrate to 200% and it's the exact same smooth execution. And fillrate is where the money is at. Believe me, nothing looks hotter than 200% fillrate... I'll take 200% at "Normal" settings any day of the week. If you have a strong video card, a decent CPU, and an SSD, you will be able to do it. It's juicy.

    ArmAIIMark scores overall will show a decent improvement (I noted a 20% increase) but that really won't reflect how much improvement you will see with your eyes because, as I said before, an SSD really won't increase your FPS but it WILL prevent your disk from limiting that expensive high-end video card you probably have in your chassis.

    The most direct way I can describe my experience is driving through Elektroz with the fillrate at 200% on a motorcycle and turning my head in all directions (with TrackIR... cha-ching!) with absolutely zero stutter. This was NOT possible until I spent the money on SSD.

    ADDITIONAL PERFORMANCE NOTES:

    OS XP vs. Vista/7: Windows XP is always faster (I have dramatic speed increase with XP over Vista or Win7). Windows 7 is slightly faster than Vista, but I only used it in the above screenshots to record performance benchmarks for disk reads, and I always play Arma2 in XP. To quote a Tom's Hardware benchmarking article:

    "No new Windows release has been able to offer more application performance than its predecessor."

    ...so in other words, we've been getting bloatware since DOS was renamed Windows. Don't get me wrong, I think we all need the extra features (even if they're intentionally crippled for most buyers *cough* true-multi-user-OS *cough*) but the truth is the added bells and whistles make it run slower. DirectX10 really wasn't a big step forward, and many game makers didn't want to leave XP users out for such limited gain, so for gamers: I see no reason to delete the XP partition. Arma 2 clearly runs better (confirmed through personal tests and many other posts to support that statement). WARNING: If you already have a Vista-only machine and you want to install XP, be prepared to re-insert that Vista disc and do a "repair." Installing the older XP will mess up your Master Boot Record, and you will have to follow a tutorial to make Vista reverse compatible with XP. Just consider the "repair" to restore Vista and the twenty minutes reading a tutorial to make XP work as part of the FUN (sarcasm). This isn't a problem if you install Vista on a machine that already has XP, only if you install XP on a machine that only has Vista. Windows doesn't like to go backwards. More help here:

    http://support.microsoft.com/kb/919529 (or you can Google it further and find some more user-friendly tutorials, MS doesn't make the easiest tutorials to read...)

    OS 32bit vs. 64bit: I've tested on both and haven't seen much difference. Something to note here: if you have a monster video card with lots of vRAM, that will reduce the amount of available memory in a 32bit environment, because 32bit OS cannot address more than 4GB of RAM. For instance, someone with two 1GB monster video cards tied together (with SLI or Crossfire) has just used up 2GB of the available memory. And remember, Vista alone can use up to 1GB just for the random OS processes... which means a 32bit system would leave only 1GB for any games (4 - 2 -1 = 1 remaining). 64bit systems don't have this 4GB limitation, however, although they are slightly slowed by a process called "thunking" (to convert a 32bit app, such as Arma2, to work on the 64bit OS). The end result: you lose maybe 3-5% of CPU speed but gain memory. Is it worth it? Who knows. Probably not for most people. Anyway, memory is rarely an issue: BIS claims that Arma2 will automatically use a max of 2GB of memory, but in reality it almost never does (usually 800MB or so).

    ABOUT VIDEO SETTINGS: You probably all know that Video Memory setting in Arma2 should be set to "Default" for newer video cards, right? More than 512MB should use "Default" so Arma2 can detect your vRAM automatically. The "Very High" is actually an evil trick and will limit the vRAM usage to below the real potential.

    ABOUT SSDs: Not all SSDs are created equal. A particular weakness with SSD is writing small chunks of data, which actually requires more time than a traditional hard drive. Newer drives have overcome that issue with a caching mechanism that prevents a small data write from becoming a bottleneck which can make a HUGE difference on your throughput. Read about SSDs before you buy. Also, yes SSDs will eventually wear out, but the articles I have read suggest that you can expect your SSD to last for 7-10 years, which I can live with. Prices for SSD are all over the map. From $120 to over $1,000. I spent $300 (after mail-in rebate) on a OCZ Vertex 120GB with 64MB cache. I found several benchmarking articles that convinced me it was a good choice, and I'm satisfied. Less expensive drives are probably older models sitting on the shelf that were manufactured before the caching was perfected. I would avoid those like the plague, since you are buying hardware that has already been deprecated for significant write caching flaws (cache can build up and cause a delay of up to 1000ms, or one FULL second, of disk writing while the drive "catches up"). The super expensive drives on the other end of the spectrum are usually the super-reliable memory cells (where each cell can be written up to 1,000,000 times or more before failure, rather than 10,000 times like a consumer drive such as the one I purchased). In that case, I'll leave that choice up to you. Just remember, as memory cells fail on your drive, it won't crash like a traditional hard drive. The cell will be marked as unusable and the drive will continue operation. For me, as a consumer who doesn't want to spend $1,000 on an SSD, that's fine. For a corporation that is buying hardware for a high-end rack mounted server, maybe it's an issue. Your choice, but if you ask me, that's a hell of alot of money for a few additional years of drive lifetime. I'll probably replace this piece of hardware before that ever pays off anyway!

    Short answer: you can rock an SSD for $300. Google it up and shop smart.

    ABOUT MY RIG:
    SSD - OCZ Vertex 120GB with 64MB cache
    CPU - Quad Core Q6600 (yes, I've played with overclocking, but usually leave it at 2.4GHz)
    Video - two 8800GTX in SLI (hey, I picked up an extra for $65 on eBay, beat that!)
    RAM - 4GB RAM
    OS - WinXP (for Arma2)
    Attached Files
    Last edited by 1longtime; 09-30-2009, 06:17 PM.

  • #2
    Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

    I have suspected for a long time that the hard drive bottlenecks were really limiting Arma 2 performance. The textures are huge, coupled with the way they are rendered and the massive amount of textures that need to be put out.

    Also, I can completely attest to upping the fillrate. I'm running at 150% fillrate and it makes everything look a lot better. I found that post processing also makes things look a lot better, even though it also gives more motion blur.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

      I have a 65GB ssd on which i have my operating system and Arma2 , everything else goes on my 350GB sata HDD. I still have 18 GB left on the ssd. It definately makes a big difference on this game.

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      • #4
        Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

        this is very interesting, i never really thought we'd see SSDs improve gameplay much other than load times. Although they are still a bit rich for my blood at the moment.


        In a world of Herp, one man dares to Derp.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

          Just a note, I have linked to this post from the BIS forum with a similar topic:

          http://forums.bistudio.com/showthread.php?p=1451808

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          • #6
            Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

            I have an Apex 2nd gen SSD and I can confirm that everything posted above is correct.

            Also, you can enable drive compression for "free" i.e no performance penalty.

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            • #7
              Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

              Is the improvement similar from a 10Krpm drive? I some how ended up with higher end HDD but i am not sure how much difference that makes (i do notice that i am usually among the first to get to game after a map change)

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              • #8
                Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                Originally posted by Akaz View Post
                Is the improvement similar from a 10Krpm drive? I some how ended up with higher end HDD but i am not sure how much difference that makes (i do notice that i am usually among the first to get to game after a map change)
                I can't speak from experience, since I jumped from a 7,200 RPM drive straight to an SSD (so it was like night and day for me).

                I can tell you the numbers though, since I already looked up a Velociraptor 10,000 RPM drive as a comparison for latency and compared it with the drive I purchased (an OCZ):

                Velociraptor average latency: 5.5 milliseconds
                OCZ Vertex average latency: < 0.1 milliseconds


                Pretty remarkable.

                I'm still kinda "high" from my purchase and how generally effective I feel it has been in improving my machine for Arma gaming specifically and general use as well. Best money I've spent in a while, so I'm sort of an evangelist now. Your mileage may vary, but I'm seriously thinking about disconnecting my drive tonight and sleeping with it.

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                • #9
                  Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                  Does anyone know if I can install my Steam version of ArmA2 to a different drive (potential SSD), but still keep all other Steam games on my current C: drive?

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                    Unfortunately, no, I don't think that's possible. I wish it was, because on my old computer C: was mostly occupied by Steam and its filesystem.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                      Out of curiosity, which SSDs do you guys own?

                      TGU Instructor TG Pathfinder

                      Former TGU Dean Former ARMA Admin Former Irregulars Officer

                      "Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment." - Dag Hammarskjold

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                        Originally posted by Makarov View Post
                        Does anyone know if I can install my Steam version of ArmA2 to a different drive (potential SSD), but still keep all other Steam games on my current C: drive?
                        Not by conventional methods but it CAN BE DONE. You have to do a SYMLINK. If you are familiar with UNIX then you will recognize this word. If not, don't worry, it isn't hard. Here's a link:

                        http://forums.bistudio.com/showthread.php?p=1431426

                        So you can move Arma to your SSD and leave a symlink in your traditional HDD that points to the Arma folder's new location. When you start Arma2, it should be running off the SSD drive. NOTE: I haven't personally tried this, but the logic is sound.

                        Originally posted by LowSpeedHighDrag View Post
                        Out of curiosity, which SSDs do you guys own?
                        My drive is OCZ Vertex 120GB with 64MB cache. I bought it at a local computer megastore for $320 + tax (after $40 mail in rebate). As I mentioned in the original post, be sure you shop for a drive with a write cache.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                          Thanks for the info! Heck, it may be easier just to buy a DVD copy of it. I don't mind supporting Bohemia with extra purchases.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                            I would recommend following two articles to anyone interested in reading up SSD related stuff prior to investing:

                            Since i am a new member on the forums i am not allowed to post links:

                            Google:
                            Anandtech The SSD Anthology
                            Anandtech The SSD Relapse

                            Also to answer my own question:
                            Why You Absolutely Need an SSD
                            Compared to mechanical hard drives, SSDs continue to be a disruptive technology. These days it’s difficult to convince folks to spend more money, but I can’t stress the difference in user experience between a mechanical HDD and a good SSD. In every major article I’ve written about SSDs I’ve provided at least one benchmark that sums up exactly why you’d want an SSD over even a RAID array of HDDs. Today’s article is no different.

                            The Fresh Test, as I like to call it, involves booting up your PC and timing how long it takes to run a handful of applications. I always mix up the applications and this time I’m actually going with a lighter lineup: World of Warcraft, Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Firefox 3.5.1.

                            Other than those three applications, the system was a clean install - I didn’t even have any anti-virus running. This is easily the best case scenario for a hard drive and on the world’s fastest desktop hard drive, a Western Digital VelociRaptor, the whole process took 31 seconds.

                            And on Intel’s X25-M SSD? Just 6.6 seconds.

                            A difference of 24 seconds hardly seems like much, until you actually think about it in terms of PC response time. We expect our computers to react immediately to input; even waiting 6.6 seconds is an eternity. Waiting 31 seconds is agony in the PC world. Worst of all? This is on a Core i7 system. To have the world’s fastest CPU and to have to wait half a minute for a couple of apps to launch is just wrong.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Performance - SSD and Arma 2

                              The software that came with mine made transfer from my old HDD to the SSD a breeze, maybe 10 minutes then I reformated my old hdd for storage and programs I use less often. There really is no need to get a big SSD if you use it for just your OS and a couple of your favorite games, everything else on the old hdd.

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