VIDEO – Hands-on with the Fusion-io SSD, 13 World of Warcraft windows in 36 seconds

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VIDEO – Hands-on with the Fusion-io SSD, 13 World of Warcraft windows in 36 seconds

Los Angeles (CA) – We finally got some hands on time with the Fusion-io
solid state drive and it definitely doesn’t disappoint.  This PCI
Express card contains 160 gigabytes and up of insanely fast flash
memory and will turn your computer into a monstrous photo and video
editing beast.  But beyond work, this card will do wonders for World of
Warcraft multi-boxers as we were able to load up thirteen instances of
WoW in just 36 seconds.  Talk about controlling a small army from a
single computer and flash card.

SLIDESHOW: Fusion-io at E for AllWe’ve covered Fusion-io extensively in the past.  Last month, company reps showed us their new io-SAN card which combines a RAID controller with a flash drive and today Fusion-io announced its ioextreme card for gamers.  This card will have 80 GB of flash memory and will be priced at under $1000 dollars.But that’s all in the past, today we’re here at the E for All expo in the Los Angeles Convention Center.  Fusion-io finally has a beta 64-bit Windows driver and promises a 32-bit version for the ioextreme card.  For the first test, we were shown Photoshop CS3 loading a huge 750 megabyte file from a traditional hard drive.  Company reps explained that the file was for a 50-foot banner and that it’s not uncommon for print shops and ad agencies to work with such large files.  “It sucks, you just have to sit here and wait,” they said and wait we did.  After 3 minutes and 30 seconds of disk churning, the file popped up into the Photoshop window.

The rep then copied the file to the Fusion-io drive.  He also moved both the Photoshop and Windows swap files from the hard drive to the SSD.  To make sure there wasn’t any funny business, the machine was rebooted to flush out any latent memory in system cache.  This time the file took 28 seconds to load, a full seven-fold improvement from before.  With this drive, you could conceivably open, edit and save this document in the same time that it takes to for a hard drive-equipped computer to just open the file.

We were also shown another demo of four big screen television sets that were streaming eight season’s worth of Stargate at the same time – that’s 256 DVD-quality video streams at once.  The files all resided on a Fusion-io card and we were told that the card wasn’t the limiting factor.  All the streams were displayed with VLC inside of Linux X-Windows.  “X can’t handle it and some windows keep crashing,” we were told.

So Photoshop and videos are all well and good, but E for All is a gaming convention and people want to see games.  So why not max out the computer and load dozens of World of Warcraft screens at once?  Interestingly enough, they hadn’t done this before and this would be an interesting “trial by fire”.

Fortunately, we brought along our Western Digital Passport USB hard drive with our World of Warcraft folder.  The great thing about WoW is that you can just copy the folder to another computer and it’s ready to play – no messing around with weird registry settings are going through a lengthy install process.  It took approximately 6 minutes to copy the 8.5 GB folder from the portable drive to the Fusion-io SSD.

The desktop computer was powered by a 2.5 GHz quad-core AMD Phenom, 4 GB of RAM and an Nvidia 8800 series graphics card.  After the folder copy, we doubled-clicked on WoW and it took two to three seconds to open.  Impressive, but opening just one window of WoW is just so boring.

Ever since the glorious days of text-based MUDs and Everquest, extreme gamers have been multi-boxing, that is playing multiple characters at the same time.  Usually this takes multiple machines and several hard drives, but could a solid state drive change all that?  You bet.

To prevent any file locking problems, we made four more copies (total of five) of the World of Warcraft folder on the Fusion-io card.  Since this was an SSD, the rep said, “screw it” and ran all four copies at once.  That’s approximately 34 GB of copying from a single source folder back onto the same drive – and it all finished in less than two minutes.

Since I multi-box five characters at once on my Skulltrail system, I was now placed in the driver seat to finish the set up.  I downloaded a $20 program called Keyclone that would broadcast keystrokes to all the WoW windows.  I also installed the Maximizer add-on which eliminates all the window borders from each WoW screen.  After a few minutes, I clicked connect on Keyclone and logged into all five of my characters at once.  It took less than 10 seconds to load all the windows and just a few more seconds to log in.  Things could have gone a bit faster, but we were severely limited by the broadband wireless connection being pumped through a USB dongle.  Don’t laugh, we’re told that the Los Angeles Convention Center wanted to charge $1500 for a wired Ethernet connection.

A quick peek at the task manager showed that the desktop wasn’t maxed out on memory or processing power (was hovering at around 15% with 5 WoW windows open).  So, we did the unthinkable and configured Keyclone to open up 13 windows at once.  Furthermore, we didn’t bother making 13 WoW folders and pointed those extra instances back to the five original WoW folders we copied a few minutes earlier.  Essentially, all of our WoW folders were being simultaneously accessed by two or three instances.

Ah the moment of truth, I fire up Keyclone, click connect and stare in awe as each WoW screen pops up.  After 36 seconds, all 13 are up and I log into five of them.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough accounts to actually log into every window, but we might actually solve that problem later by calling up attendees to log into their accounts.

While we were definitely maxing out the poor broadband wireless connection, I think the desktop hardware itself can handle several more WoW instances.  With 13 windows open, the processor was pegged at 40 to 45 percent and the memory had begun swapping to the Fusion drive.  But in this case, swapping isn’t that bad because it’s going to flash memory instead of god awful slow hard drives.

In my brief time working with the drive and seeing it in action, I can honestly say that the drivers seem quite stable and the speed is phenomenal.  In fact, computers should behave this way natively – no disk churning, no thumb twiddling, things should just freakin load quickly.  While the price may be high for the average consumer, I can see how professionals like video editors and photographers would snap these drives up.  For these folks time is money and when most real world tasks are done five to seven times faster, that’s a lot of time … and a bucketful of money.

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