In Gentoo on Android, it is often preferable to install into SD card to prevent internal flash from wearing out, which is non-exchangeable. In addition, quite a lot of embedded systems, for example Raspberry Pi, use SD card as the default root filesystem.
Flash based storage (which SD card belongs to) is fundamentally different from magnetic-rotational counterparts (such as a hard disk), partitioning them under-optimized can result in severe I/O overhead which drains system performance and user experience.
Several studies and review articles are devoted on this topic, including Optimizing Linux with cheap flash drives, Solid-state revolution: in-depth on how SSDs really work and The SSD Anthology: Understanding SSDs and New Drives from OCZ. These provide the foundations to the strategies in this article.
Find out basic parameters
There are some intrinsic parameters associated with each SD card, which determines the optimized units to do I/O operation. They are different kinds of access units, such as pages, erase blocks, allocation groups. A survey of such parameters from different SD card available in the market can be found in the Linaro wiki.
If your card is not listed, or you want to figure the parameters out by yourself, it is always possible to test and observe to time response of different access patterns by the flashbench tool. By following the README in the git repo, essentially you get a test result like this:
flashbench -a <device>
align 8589934592 pre 1.42ms on 2.46ms post 1.02ms diff 1.24ms align 4294967296 pre 1.34ms on 2.38ms post 1.06ms diff 1.19ms align 2147483648 pre 1.52ms on 2.5ms post 1.17ms diff 1.16ms align 1073741824 pre 1.27ms on 2.04ms post 1.09ms diff 868µs align 536870912 pre 1.35ms on 2.18ms post 1.16ms diff 931µs align 268435456 pre 1.43ms on 2.31ms post 1.15ms diff 1.03ms align 134217728 pre 1.51ms on 2.48ms post 1.2ms diff 1.13ms align 67108864 pre 1.5ms on 2.47ms post 1.2ms diff 1.12ms align 33554432 pre 1.51ms on 2.45ms post 1.15ms diff 1.12ms align 16777216 pre 1.51ms on 2.43ms post 1.2ms diff 1.07ms align 8388608 pre 1.54ms on 2.46ms post 1.19ms diff 1.09ms align 4194304 pre 1.55ms on 2.45ms post 1.2ms diff 1.07ms align 2097152 pre 1.71ms on 2.26ms post 1.18ms diff 813µs align 1048576 pre 1.71ms on 2.29ms post 1.19ms diff 835µs align 524288 pre 1.71ms on 2.29ms post 1.17ms diff 848µs align 262144 pre 1.69ms on 2.25ms post 1.19ms diff 813µs align 131072 pre 1.69ms on 2.29ms post 1.2ms diff 850µs align 65536 pre 1.71ms on 2.29ms post 1.19ms diff 841µs align 32768 pre 1.71ms on 2.27ms post 1.18ms diff 822µs align 16384 pre 1.7ms on 2.29ms post 1.17ms diff 852µs align 8192 pre 1.81ms on 1.8ms post 1.24ms diff 277µs align 4096 pre 1.86ms on 1.85ms post 1.25ms diff 301µs align 2048 pre 1.9ms on 1.91ms post 1.92ms diff 2.18µs
That is a class 10 32GB micro SD card by PQI tested by the author. Attention should be paid on the large jumps in the last column. In the example, from 1G to 2G (allocation group), 2M to 4M (erase block), 8k to 16k (multi-plane access), 2k to 4k (page). Despite of being only a reasonable guess not perfectly reliable, it do give us a guideline in tuning the filesystem parameter which result in performance boost in I/O.
Make sure the partition is aligned to and allocated by erase blocks (in the above example 4M). At the time of writing, fdisk is the only tool known to support fine tuning of the alignment. (Neither sfdisk nor parted supports this.)
As this is not intended to be yet another tutorial on fdisk, you are referred to the repartition section of the article Optimizing fs on sd-card for Linux/Fedora on Dreamplug.
There are candidates for the filesystem. The survey is not yet completed and the recommendation is by no means final. You are always encouraged to extend this study with more insights and tests.
Solution 1: Vendor default FAT
Most of the case an SD card is optimized to video streaming, in which large files are read/written continuously. Preformatted FAT partition is optimized for this purpose.
In order to support POSIX features required by Gentoo on FAT, posixovl can be used. However, the test by the author indicates this solution is suboptimal. A reasonable guess is that, FAT does not perform well with lots of small files, and the overhead of fuse by posixovl degrades performance notably on embedded systems where CPU power are bottlenecks. At the time of writing there is no such kind of overlay filesystem in kernel space yet.
Solution 2: Tuned ext4
This is the recommend solution. RAID feature of ext4 is exploited to match the I/O pattern of the SD card. As this tuning shares the same rationale with SSD.
The recommend recipe is,
filesystem block = page stride = multi-plane access / page stripe-width = erase block / page
In the case above,
filesystem block = 4k stride = 4 stripe-width = 1024
Mount the tuned ext4 with noatime option.
At the time of writing, there are some inconsistency and confusion in the community for which parameter to choose and which definition to use, reflected partially by a survey of Magic soup: ext4 with SSD, stripes and strides. You are always encouraged to test out by yourself to find out the best parameters instead of following guides blindly.
Solution 3: Squashfs
Squashfs has been the best candidate filesystem for LiveCD/LiveUSB. However the Linux kernel of Android usually lacks squashfs and aufs. squashfuse or unionfs-fuse suffers from one of the same issue as posixovl, namely the impact of fuse overhead on embedded systems.
The recommendation of ext4 results from the following test. Its environment is Motorola Droid Razr XT910 with PQI class 10 32GB micro SD card, running Gentoo RAP. Squashfs mounted by squashfuse, overlayed with unionfs-fuse.
In the following table, block size is that of squashfs, comp is the compression algorithm of squashfs, overlay fs is the RW layer of unionfs-fuse on top of RO layer of the squashfs, host fs is the filesystem holding the squashfs image, emerge –help and lddtree `which mount.posixovl` are two commands used for benchmarking.
The filesystems used are, ext3 from internal flash of the XT910, ext4 aligned and tuned ext4, fat32 vendor preformatted fat32, fat32 reformatted and tuned fat32.
|block size(k)||comp||overlay fs||host fs||emerge –help (s)||lddtree `which mount.posixovl` (s)|