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SSD Caching with DataPlex Software: On the Road to Dominance of Solid State Drives – Part 1
Review by Doug Horton. There are several means of increasing the speed with which computers read and write files. In the simplest case, hard drives have generally included small memory caches, evolving from about 8 MB a few years ago to 64 MB on newer hard drives. Some hard drives incorporate faster rotation speed. Presently, there is increasing use of SSDs for operating systems, applications, and data storage, and until SSDs take over all storage tasks, there are several means of using SSDs to cache large hard drives.
From Webster’s online dictionary: “CACHE – a computer memory with very short access time used for storage of frequently or recently used instructions or data —called also cache memory.”
In this article we test three caching Solid State Drive (SSD) products, which merge an existing hard drive on which the Windows operating system and/or other programs are installed, with a small, fast SSD, by means of software that also manages the caching function. Testing includes sample SSDs from Corsair, Crucial, and OCZ, all of which use brand-related versions of Dataplex software from NVELO to facilitate and manage the caching process.
Corsair Accelerator Caching SSD
The Corsair Accelerator product is offered in three sizes of SATA II SSDs: 30, 45, and 60 GB. The Corsair 60 GB product, which was tested for this review, has 55.9 GB available for caching, which is close to 1000 times greater than the 64 MB furnished on newer hard drives.
Corsair’s Accelerator 60 GB caching SSD
The Accelerator packaging is quite compact, and as with competitors’ models, it’s furnished with a 2.5” to 3.5” adapter bracket. The package includes compact instructions in multiple languages, though I was disappointed to note that the Dataplex key code is located on one side of the SSD, in very small type, and the instructions suggest you write it down. That advice should be followed, because if you mount the SSD to the bracket, the key code will be hidden because the screw holes are only on one side of the SSD.
Crucial Adrenaline Caching SSD
The Adrenaline caching SSD product is produced for the Crucial brand of SSD manufacturer Micron. This product is offered in a nominal size of 50 GB, with a SATA III interface. It’s provided in a two part package with the SSD and Dataplex key in large print on a separate card in one box, and in the second box, a 2.5” to 3.5” adapter bracket, screws for the bracket, and a SATA cable.
The Crucial Adrenaline kit includes SSD, Dataplex key on card,
Crucial suggests that you: “Upgrade your Windows® 7-based PC with Crucial Adrenaline to start up twice as fast and boost data access speeds by up to 8 times.” Using a stopwatch and PCMark Vantage, we’ll see what results we obtain with a recently constructed test system.
OCZ Synapse Caching SSD
The OCZ Synapse SSD series includes both 64 GB and 128 GB SATA III models. According to OCZ, the Synapse SSDs are optimized for caching applications, to provide users with SSD-level performance across the entire capacity of the Dataplex-linked hard disk drive (HDD). It’s interesting that only about half of each Synapse SSD is available for caching, as indicated in this statement from OCZ: “In the case of the Synapse SSD, 50% NAND flash “over-provisioning” is used to accommodate performance and software features.”
OCZ Synapse 2.5” SATA III caching SSD
Caching SSD Installation with Dataplex Software
Because the three reviewed products all use Dataplex software, the installation procedures are the same for each. Following instructions in the product packages, go to the manufacturer’s websites to find additional instructions, if provided, and then register the software with the key numbers provided with the respective SSD. Then, initiate downloading the latest version of Dataplex software in a Zip file that is customized for each manufacturer and its product(s).
Unzip the Dataplex software into a convenient folder, and then find the Install.exe file in that folder. Right-click the Install.exe file and click Run as Administrator. After introductory and EULA agreement screens, you’ll see a screen on which to enter your key.
Dataplex installation user interface 1
That will be followed by a screen with list boxes that display the choices of target and caching drive. The Cache Drive list box shows the SSD memory available for caching, which in this case is 59.6 GB, though the nominal capacity of the Crucial Adrenaline SSD used in this example is 50 GB.
Dataplex installation user interface 2
After pressing Next, Dataplex software will be installed, the SSD will be merged with the HDD, and the next screen will provide a Finish button to press. After rebooting, the caching drive will begin to accumulate cached files.
Dataplex installation user interface 3
Here is the computer hardware test platform that was used for trying out the caching SSDs for this article:
The three caching SSDs were tested separately for five test runs each, using the simple FSXMark07 benchmarking procedure, which was highlighted in my previous article on AVSIM Online. Additional tests were also conducted, and the complete list of tests for each SSD follows:
Test results for caching with Corsair, Crucial, and OCZ products are shown below. Data in Bold Blue type indicate the best performance for each test of each product.
*Best times in blue
*Best times in blue
*Best times in blue
Caching Performance Summary
There are measurable improvements in Windows 7 Home Premium booting time, though the change is not very much because part of the booting time is the fixed time of the Power-On Self Test (POST), which is unaffected by caching. For FSX, there was a 37-41 second reduction in startup time to load the FSXMark07 test flight, though as expected, there was no increase in FSX framerate performance.
The lack of improvement in FSX framerate performance is explained by the fact that FSX is well known to be “CPU-bound” by the large number of ongoing calculations the processor must make during flight, and caching can only improve file reading and writing. On the other hand, with fewer processing tasks, such as in the PC Mark Vantage benchmarking tests for Gaming and HDD (hard disk drive) test suites, there is a significant improvement from file caching.
It is surprising to see that for one of the sample SSDs, results after run three are slightly less than for run two. I did not do enough tests to fully explain this, though it may be related simply to statistical variance.
At time of writing, some of the products reviewed above seemed to have limited availability. This may be due to continual decreasing prices of larger capacity SSD’s that might be used as primary drives, in place of hard drives. With an SSD as the primary hard drive, higher read and write speeds are built into the SSD, so supplemental caching is unnecessary. However, according to a representative of one of the companies providing samples for this review, their caching SSD was simply a standard SSD with caching software.
NVELO Dataplex Software
Here are more details about Dataplex caching software for readers interested in the technical aspects of the combined hardware/software solution described in this article. The Dataplex software is from NVELO, and according to their descriptions, there are two Dataplex options for use in client computing:
“For professional video and graphics production, software development, CAD/CAM, and gaming, Dataplex utilizes a “Write-Back” caching policy to deliver maximum performance and endurance for heavy end-user workloads. In this mode, both system Reads and Writes are cached, and the ideal MLC or SLC-based cache SSD would typically be in the range of 32GB to 128GB depending upon use.
“For notebooks and tablet computing, Dataplex uses a “Write-Around” caching policy, which caches system Reads, and can utilize MLC-based SSDs with as little as 16GB capacity for cost reduction, while still delivering 4-5x performance over HDD’s, and maintaining multi-year endurance requirements.”
In terms of compatibility, NVELO indicates that Dataplex caching software supports:
In earlier versions, Dataplex would only cache the boot drive. With later versions, Dataplex adds support for caching a secondary target drive instead of the boot drive. There are caching SSD products from at least two other SSD suppliers that also use Dataplex software to enable hard drive caching, including EDGE and Mushkin. Details can be found on NVELO’s home page.
There’s one other important concern to discuss. During my testing of SSD caching with Dataplex software, I experienced two “blue screen of death” (BSOD) crashes of Windows 7 Home Premium. On startup from such interruptions, the Dataplex software is designed to intercept the computer re-start, offer choices on how to recover, and manage the recovery. I did not have good luck with this process when using an earlier version of Dataplex, and in one case, I had to recover the hard drive from a backup drive, using my Norton Ghost backup.
Dataplex version 126.96.36.199 was current at time of writing. Here are the release notes, with descriptions of incremental revisions. In December 2012, NVELO was acquired, becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
Subsequent to the testing above, I’ve tried out Intel’s Smart Resource Technology (SRT) as a method of SSD caching of hard drives. The SRT feature is native to many newer motherboards, such as with Z77, Q77, H77, Z87, Q87, and H87 chipsets. After experiencing BSOD or other Windows crashes on a few occasions after enabling SRT caching, the SRT feature intercepted Windows restarts and managed orderly recoveries from the crashes. There’ll be more on SRT caching in a subsequent article.
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