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Will installing a PCIe SATA III card improve SSD performance?

dg27

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Dec 19, 2008
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Hoping to settle a question that came up on another forum.

I have a Dell Studio XPS 9100. The basic specs appear below.

I am a user of Pro Tools 11.3, a professional-level DAW.

Another Pro Tools user suggested that I should install a PCIe SATA III 6.0 GB card and connect my boot drive to that, to improve performance over the motherboard's SATA II.

Some of what I have read about this indicates that the performance improvement will be minimal at best and that speeds and performance could actually drop.

  • True or false?

I read this, from a StarTech technical support person:

Generally speaking, PCIe based controllers will always be a little slower as there is quite a bit more overhead required to run them and the data is passing through a different BUS. Also other devices like ‎PMVideo cards and sound cards and other controllers can slow down the PCIe Bus 6Gbps is a theoretical max. In reality the speed is quite a bit lower.

Again, true or false?

Thanks for any input anyone can provide.

*****

Operating System
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit SP1
CPU
Intel Core i7 960 @ 3.20GHz

RAM
24.0GB Triple-Channel DDR3 @ 666MHz (9-9-9-24)
Motherboard
Dell Inc. 05DN3X (CPU 1)
Graphics
2047MB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 (EVGA)

Samsung SSD 840 PRO Series
Used Transfer Mode SATA II 3.0Gb/s
Interface SATA
Capacity 476 GB
 

WhoBeDaPlaya

Diamond Member
Sep 15, 2000
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jwtioh.bluesonic.net
True.

Most 3rd party SATA III controllers are crap and you would actually get better performance from the onboard Intel SATA II,
unless you spent a bunch of $$$ for a higher-end SATA III controller.
 
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XavierMace

Diamond Member
Apr 20, 2013
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Going from an onboard SATAII port to a cheap PCIe SATAIII card, I'd say you'd improve your max sustained throughput a bit, but you're likely going to be adding some latency.
 
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dg27

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Dec 19, 2008
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Thanks to all for the responses. I've been using Pro Tools for a few years now and for a year on my current setup. Getting a "$25-30" controller (like a StarTech) was suggested as a way of vastly improving performance when using Pro Tools (actually I never have any issues). I doubted this and said so and what blasted for spreading "total garbage."
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
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Actually, I'm now visiting these implications. In another thread, I explained how I've chosen to put an NVMe M.2 in a PCI-E card and x4 slot. The x4 slot means I lose two of six onboard SATA connections, while using the M.2 in the motherboard M.2 port robs me of a different pair of onboard SATA connections.

So when I purchased my NVMe PCI-E card, I picked up a $20-to-$30 SATA controller that works in an x1 slot. I'm not going to worry so much if the drives connected to it take a small hit. Chances are, anything I connect to that x1 controller will be ancillary to performance and only for extra capacity.
 

VirtualLarry

Lifer
Aug 25, 2001
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Yeah, I worked on an Intel G41 board, with ICH7 I think it was, with Intel SATAII ports on it. I put in an SSD, and a PCI-E x1 SATA6G ASMedia dual-port SATA controller, and I think that some of my CDM scores actually went down slightly on the controller card. Or maybe the benchmark didn't go down, but web browsing felt... a little more laggy. Hard to put a finger to it.
 

dg27

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My understanding is that in my case, with a board that has SATA II, using a SATA III PCI-E card will still be affected by the limitations of the motherboard. I actually have one of these cards in this system already, which I got to connect desktop drives that are in external cases, so I could use SATA instead of USB. In that use, the card is helpful. The card has internal and external SATA III ports (you can use a maximum of two). But I really have my doubts as to whether moving my boot drive to it will help at all. That's why I never bothered. Pro Tools is a huge resource-intensive program, but even on my machine I really don;t have any issues.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
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I'm still rocking some Z68 boards. With that generation, you got only two Intel SATA-III ports, leaving four SATA-II's and two more SATA-III's for the Marvell controller. This latter onboard controller was never cited for stellar performance, and I've chosen to leave it Disabled in BIOS.

With HDD spinners, it doesn't matter much whether they're connected to an SATA-III or SATA-II port, but with an SSD -- it matters much. I'll have to see what it gives me for an SATA SSD connected to a PCI-E SATA-III controller.
 
Feb 25, 2011
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Pro Tools is a huge resource-intensive program...
Not really. Unless you're using the video editor, or applying every realtime filter you can lay your hands on.

Hardware that can deal with multiple HD video streams (so, almost anything you can buy at Best Buy) doesn't even break a sweat handling audio. Even a LOT of audio. SSDs help a lot because their latency is effectively zero compared to old-style HDDs, so if you're still using spinning rust, a dedicated HDD for audio is still not a bad idea, but new tech makes it a nonissue.

Most of the "premium" hardware recommendations - particularly things like the "Xeon" requirement for Pro Tools HD* - are inflated to sell you gear** and convince you that this is Serious Business.

*Or, holly ballsacks - dedicated GPUs?!?
**It's not all bad - I mean, if you're going to be using a workstation 8 hours a day, you might as well get a GOOD one, and not some $300 piece of trash laptop. Even if it could do the job, it's not going to have a nice keyboard, or as nice a monitor, or... well, you know.
 
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dg27

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Dec 19, 2008
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Thanks for clarifying; I'm basing this mostly only what I have been told. Right now I run PT 11.3 (not HD and no video). I do typically have a lot of tracks (a recent project had 25) and I do use a fair number of plugins. The only time I notice any issues is if, for example, I'm working on something and Acronis kicks in for an OS backup--PT can get sluggish at that point. The easy fix for that was to change the schedule for Acronis so it doesn't run when I'm working.

I'm still not sure whether I should bother moving my boot SSD from the motherboard's SATA II to one of the internal SATA III ports on the card that is already installed ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00952N2DQ/ref=od_aui_detailpages00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 ). As of now I have all my programs and no data on my Samsung 840 Pro and my PT project files are on a dedicated internal HDD (WD CB).
 
Feb 25, 2011
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Thanks for clarifying; I'm basing this mostly only what I have been told. Right now I run PT 11.3 (not HD and no video). I do typically have a lot of tracks (a recent project had 25) and I do use a fair number of plugins. The only time I notice any issues is if, for example, I'm working on something and Acronis kicks in for an OS backup--PT can get sluggish at that point. The easy fix for that was to change the schedule for Acronis so it doesn't run when I'm working.

I'm still not sure whether I should bother moving my boot SSD from the motherboard's SATA II to one of the internal SATA III ports on the card that is already installed ( https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00952N2DQ/ref=od_aui_detailpages00?ie=UTF8&psc=1 ). As of now I have all my programs and no data on my Samsung 840 Pro and my PT project files are on a dedicated internal HDD (WD CB).
If your PT projects aren't even on the SSD, then there's even less point to moving your SSD over. The HDD will bottleneck you before SATA2 will. The Pro Tools application (which presumably does live on the SSD) is mostly loaded into RAM anyway. Except your samples/loops libraries... which... do you have those stored on the SSD or the HDD?

I'd be more interested in migrating to an SSD for your PT projects. The difference between SATA3 an SATA2 is mostly in terms of maximum sequential bandwidth - if you watch Resource Monitor while you're working, you can see how much sequential read/write you're actually using. Probably way less than the ~275MB/sec that SATA2 limits you to. (Your HDD probably can't even push half that.)

Moving to SATA3 won't make your HDD faster. But moving to an SSD will lower the access latency of the disk significantly (a couple orders of magnitude) which means if there's ever a pause while PT is trying to load tracks from disk, an SSD makes that basically go away, regardless of whether it's connected to an SATA2 or SATA3 slot.
 

dg27

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Dec 19, 2008
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Thanks for all the details, Dave.

If your PT projects aren't even on the SSD, then there's even less point to moving your SSD over. The HDD will bottleneck you before SATA2 will.
Great to know--thanks.

The Pro Tools application (which presumably does live on the SSD) is mostly loaded into RAM anyway.
When I maxed out my RAM last year to 24 GB I saw a huge jump in performance.

Except your samples/loops libraries... which... do you have those stored on the SSD or the HDD?
Program and samples/loops libraries are on the SSD.

Project files (.ptx etc) are on the HDD.

I'd be more interested in migrating to an SSD for your PT projects.
I assume you mean a second SSD, right? That is doable since my entire PT projects folder is under 50 GB. Would be it OK to have that SSD in an external case? I'm out of internal bays...or does it have to be internal?

Moving to SATA3 won't make your HDD faster. But moving to an SSD will lower the access latency of the disk significantly (a couple orders of magnitude) which means if there's ever a pause while PT is trying to load tracks from disk, an SSD makes that basically go away, regardless of whether it's connected to an SATA2 or SATA3 slot.
OK--this makes sense. Sometimes when I change select a track and select the plugin for EZDrummer there is a lag of a few seconds while it loads. I think what you're saying is that stuff like this would go away.
 
Feb 25, 2011
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I assume you mean a second SSD, right? That is doable since my entire PT projects folder is under 50 GB.
Not necessarily a second one. If your existing SSD is big enough, you could get away with using the one. Most people still parrot the old advice about having a dedicated audio drive, and I do get that - it's the sort of conservative mindset you want when you're not a "computer enthusiast" but instead rely on reliable computers to make a living.

But SSDs were such a game changer, I don't think it's really necessary anymore.

But if you can afford to replace your HDD with an SSD, then do it. :)

Would be it OK to have that SSD in an external case? I'm out of internal bays...or does it have to be internal?
Nnnnn......aaaahhhh....

Internal. But if you're stuck with that few drive bays, maybe don't worry about it.
 

dg27

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I'm guilty of following the dedicated drive theory, which is considered a must on the certain music software forums. I'm not wild about having any data on my boot drive. SSDs are cheap enough that I could actually get a Samsung EVO like this
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00TGIW1XG/ref=s9_simh_gw_g147_i1_r?ie=UTF8&fpl=fresh&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=&pf_rd_r=DRKAP8HZDTFEZNJTX225&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=a6aaf593-1ba4-4f4e-bdcc-0febe090b8ed&pf_rd_i=desktop
which I could install internally.

Does that seem like a good idea?
 

dg27

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I'm limited on internal bays and SATA slots, but I could conceivably reconfigure to open up an internal SATA slot. Or I could go with an M.2, but have no experience with those.

A 500 GB SSD would give me enough space to move my most frequently accessed work-related documents as well and have plenty of space for my Pro Tools project folder.

Does he mean bays or SATA slots?
SSDs are perfectly happy being stuffed in odd places. As long as the SATA + power cables are attached securely, you're good, no need to get all fancy with a bay ;)
I think what you mean is that I could use an internal SATA slot, but jury-rig it inside the case (I've seen SSDs velcroed in place).
 
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Feb 25, 2011
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Yes, that's what he means. Ssds are very forgiving.

I'm guilty of following the dedicated drive theory, which is considered a must on the certain music software forums. I'm not wild about having any data on my boot drive. SSDs are cheap enough that I could actually get a Samsung EVO like this
https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00TGIW1XG/ref=s9_simh_gw_g147_i1_r?ie=UTF8&fpl=fresh&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_s=&pf_rd_r=DRKAP8HZDTFEZNJTX225&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=a6aaf593-1ba4-4f4e-bdcc-0febe090b8ed&pf_rd_i=desktop
which I could install internally.

Does that seem like a good idea?
Honestly? Yes. I hesitate only because we went from talking about a $30 SATA card to talking about a $150 SSD, so... $$$. :D
 

dg27

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Dec 19, 2008
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Yes, that's what he means. Ssds are very forgiving.


Honestly? Yes. I hesitate only because we went from talking about a $30 SATA card to talking about a $150 SSD, so... $$$. :D
Actually I already have the $30 card installed, but right now I have two external data drives connected to it. I could move one of those to USB 3 and open up an internal SATA slot or go with an M.2.

I had no idea that having the project files on an SSD would make any difference whatsoever. I thought that since they were on a separate internal data HDD I was golden. :oops:
 
Feb 25, 2011
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Actually I already have the $30 card installed, but right now I have two external data drives connected to it. I could move one of those to USB 3 and open up an internal SATA slot or go with an M.2.

I had no idea that having the project files on an SSD would make any difference whatsoever. I thought that since they were on a separate internal data HDD I was golden. :oops:
I would generally think you're okay.

But if there's ANY potential for faster storage to make your Pro Tools experience better, that's it.
 
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BonzaiDuck

Lifer
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I picked up one of these 4-port Marvell/SYBA controllers and just finished installing it:

SYBA PEX40108 4-port SATA

Ordinarily I don't like extra clutter, or I'd rather have it outside the case than inside the case. Installing my 960 EVO on a PCIE adapter took my x4 slot, and you either lose two motherboard SATA ports with M.2 motherboard slot, or you lose two SATA ports to get PCI-E x4 speed on the 3rd "x16" slot. I have hot-swap bays, and eSATA ports.

A 2.5" spinner confirms that the controller is working fine, and some folks believe you can get 500 MB/s from drives connected to it. But since it was intended for hot-swap backup drives and external backup drives, doesn't really matter. I'm actually glad I have something to put in another x1 slot.
 

PingSpike

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Feb 25, 2004
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Yeah, I worked on an Intel G41 board, with ICH7 I think it was, with Intel SATAII ports on it. I put in an SSD, and a PCI-E x1 SATA6G ASMedia dual-port SATA controller, and I think that some of my CDM scores actually went down slightly on the controller card. Or maybe the benchmark didn't go down, but web browsing felt... a little more laggy. Hard to put a finger to it.
Does that chipset even support PCI-e 2.0? Even PCI-e 2.0 1x slots shave off a bit of the max performance of SATA-III, 1x 1.0 slots would have less than half the bandwidth making it inferior to the onboard SATA-II ports.
 

BonzaiDuck

Lifer
Jun 30, 2004
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Does that chipset even support PCI-e 2.0? Even PCI-e 2.0 1x slots shave off a bit of the max performance of SATA-III, 1x 1.0 slots would have less than half the bandwidth making it inferior to the onboard SATA-II ports.
Of course, when you consider buying a PCI-E controller, the first thought is "hardware controller" with break-out cable, capable of RAID5. And you could spend $300+. You will most likely have a card that requires 8 PCIE lanes, so on many motheboards below top-tier, you basically have one slot available for that and it would then force your graphics card to perform at x8.

I found a SuperMicro card with a Marvell chipset -- PCI_E x8, with 8 SATA ports. It has basic RAID capability (0, 1, 10), "Hyper-Duo" etc. Will configure with the Windows Native MSAHCI driver, but with its own driver it will still be available in AHCI mode. I think it was less than $90 or thereabouts.

Unless you're using some old hardware for something like a server (as do I), you'd really want the PCI_E ports to be version 3.0. Otherwise, the PCIE version, the number of lanes for this or that slot and the PCIE limitations of the chosen processor and motherboard should be consulted or reviewed before you run out and buy hardware, hoping to solve a storage problem.
 

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