The Reg Verdict
As soon as any of the cache methods are used, the system boots up much more quickly than the standard mechanical drive alone, though that’s no great surprise. The fact it’s a 30-second improvement is very impressive.
Boot time in seconds (s)
Shorter bars are better
Out of the two Cache SSDs I tested, Crucial’s Adrenaline comes out on top. The drive is based on the company’s m4 SSD, which uses the Marvell 88SS9174-BLD2 6Gb/s Sata controller chip. This gives the Crucial product a distinct advantage over Corsair’s Accelerator drive, which is based on a 3Gb/s Sata LSI SandForce SF-2181 controller. The Marvell chip also gives the Adrenaline the edge over the SanDisk Extreme SSD, which has another LSI SandForce controller, this time using the more advanced SF-2281.
The difference between the two modes offered by Intel's Smart Response Technology is clearly show in CrystalDiskMark testing. Both modes show comparable read speeds - as they do in the various PCMark 07 tests, shown above. But it's a different story with disk writes. The Maximum mode delivers write speeds way in excess of Enhanced mode, which is held back by the need to write data to the hard drive simultaneously, though the quid pro quo is a more flexible set-up.
CrystalDiskMark results in megabytes per second (MB/s)
Longer bars are better
There are two sets of figures for the Corsair and SanDisk drives as they use a SandForce controller which hates incompressible data and likes compressible 1s and 0s.
So is SSD caching a viable option? If you’re on a very limited budget or you just want to kick start your existing desktop system without the hassle of re-installing the OS or messing about with the Bios, then using a cache drive is undoubtedly the best way to go to get an instant performance boost without spending too much money or putting you to too much effort.
However, if you are building a system from scratch then the 120/128GB SSD for the OS and applications, and a separate high-capacity HDD for data makes more sense. This can still be a less expensive approach than a single, high-capacity SSD. If you’re using a motherboard with a compatibly Intel chipset, SRT likewise is a good, easy option that’s slightly slower than rival caches in some applications, slightly faster in others.
Crucial's m4 mSata solid-state drive
A 64GB mSata SSD such as Crucial’s m4 will set you back a little more than £55, a tenner less than the 50GB Adrenaline cache drive, which is only warranted to work with Windows 7. Or rather the Dataplex software needed to make the the cache drives operate will only run under Windows 7. “If you wish to install Dataplex (in Windows 7 compatibility mode) on Windows 8, you do so at your own risk,” warns Nvelo. It is working on a Windows 8 version, but is giving no hints as to when it might be released.
While you might think that SSD caching has had its day due to the relative cheapness of medium capacity drives, SSD drive manufacturers still think the concept has legs. In late 2012, for instance, Samsung acquired Nvelo. It clearly thinks there's mileage in caching, and when this approach so clearly brings the benefits of SSD speed and the capacity advantage of HDD technology, Samsung is almost certainly right. ®
Not a single mention of Linux anywhere
Sad to see that Linux isn't mentioned (or indeed benchmarked) here, even if it's just to suggest what the equivalent of Intel's SRT is for Linux. If you're building a new machine, I'd expect it to have SATA 3 because SATA 3 SSD prices are continuing to fall.
The only sensible combo, IMHO, is a Sata 3 SSD with 500MB+/sec read/write and a fast multi-terabyte HDD (I use Seagate 3TB's myself at 225Mbytes/sec read). Throw in a fast multi-core CPU and you're not far off 10 seconds boot time, meaning that multi-boot isn't tiresome any more.
Missing - hybrid drive?
I'd really have liked to see that review also compare a hybrid drive such as Seagate Momentus. Yes, it's a slow sleepy 2.5 inch laptop drive, but how much difference does that built-in flash cache make? And being out past the drive end of the SATA connector, it'll work with Linux or anything else you care to boot.
With Linux it is trivially easy to put the operating system and your own small / heavily accessed files onto a small SSD. One can configure a completely useful Linux system in 30Gb (about 15Gb of system files, 15Gb /home). Unfortunately 30Gb SSDs are slower than 256Gb ones, but they share the same near-zero seek time. Again it would be nice to see that benchmarked.
Enquiring minds would like to know...
Why is it that in all SSD-related discussions, PCI-E based versions are never mentioned.
From what I could see (and have been using) PCI-E based SSD's tend to have the best performance compared to SATA III (6 Gbps) and due to the slot, they can accommodate sizeable capacities without any space limitations.
And yet, reading the reg you'd think they don't yet exist.
(It's not for lack of demo units, is it?)
Re: No need for any cache - just go pure SSD
"And a 512GB SSD would be enough for what exactly ?
Booting the OS maybe and just that.
Nowadays a PC can't have less than 2TB."
The VAST majority of users don't need anything approaching 2TB - My Gaming machine for example has a 250Gig Samsumg 830, running Win7Pro, Libre Office, a few other apps, Steam and about a Dozen Games installed, and there's room to spare.
Granted I'm not storing Gigs and gigs of Videos, and if I want to install a new game I need to install another, but where's the problem with that?
The overwhelming majority of users run Windows with some antivirus, Office apps and everything else they do is through their browser - that would all fit in a 64Gig drive without any issues at all.
And your comment about building 12TB of storage using SSDs only is argumentative and distinctly trollish. This article is about devices which are aimed at home/laptop use - no-one is suggesting using hybrid / cache drives for enterprise storage where 19" racks of dozens of disks are the norm.
Go and crawl back under your bridge.
Make your Own
As far as the Fusion Drive is concerned. All the tools for rolling your own are built into the file systems in Lion and Mountain Lion. I built one for my Mac Pro ( which is only SATA 2 ) with a 256GB SSD and a 2TB WD Black. Very nice increase in performance and drops you straight into login after about 10-15 secs.