• SSD Caching with DataPlex Software: On the Road to Dominance of Solid State Drives – Part 1


    Gaiiden

    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.

     

    T_SSD-ACC-60GB.jpg

    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.

     

    T_CrucialSSDKit.jpg

    The Crucial Adrenaline kit includes SSD, Dataplex key on card,
    mounting bracket, and SATA cable.

     

    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.”

     

    T_Synapse.jpg

    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.

     

    T_DP-Install-1.jpg

    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.

     

    T_DP-Install-2.jpg

    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.

     

    T_DP-Install-3.jpg

    Dataplex installation user interface 3

     

    Test Platform

     

    Here is the computer hardware test platform that was used for trying out the caching SSDs for this article:

    • Lian Li PITSTOP DIY test bench – in place of enclosed case
    • Intel DX79SI Extreme motherboard, with SATA III connectors
    • Intel i7-3820 socket LGA2011 processor, overclocked from 3.6 to 4.0 GHz
    • Intel Thermal Solution (liquid cooler) model RTS2011LC
    • Corsair Vengeance 2 x 4 GB 1600 DDR3 memory
    • EVGA GTX 560 graphics card
    • Hitachi 1.5 TB SATA III hard drive

    Test Results

     

    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:

    • Windows boot time, from pressing computer On button, until main desktop screen appeared
    • Time to load the FSXMark07 test flight, from clicking a taskbar shortcut to the FSMark07 flight file, until the cockpit and scenery appeared on the monitor.
    • FSX framerate performance, as measured with the FSXMark07 procedure and FRAPS for counting framerates, as described in readme file for FSXMark07.zip, available from the AVSIM Online file library
    • PCMark Vantage: Gaming Test
    • PCMark Vantage: HDD Test Suite

    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.

     

    Corsair

     

    Caching Performance Measure*

    Without

    SSD

    Run 1

    Run 2

    Run 3

    1. Windows boot time, seconds

    51

    50

    39

    42

    1. Time to start FSXMark07 flight, sec.

    58

    62

    24

    19

    1. FSXMark07 Performance, FPS

    50

    49

    50

    51

    1. PC Mark Vantage Gaming Test

    9452

    13200

    18301

    17539

    1. PC Mark Vantage HDD Test Suite

    5140

    8563

    24865

    25286

    *Best times in blue

     

    Crucial

     

    Caching Performance Measure*

    Without

    SSD

    Run 1

    Run 2

    Run 3

    1. Windows boot time, seconds

    63

    60

    44

    43

    1. Time to start FSXMark07 flight, sec.

    58

    73

    24

    21

    1. FSXMark07 Performance, FPS

    50

    50

    51

    51

    1. PC Mark Vantage Gaming Test

    9769

    13809

    20625

    20450

    1. PC Mark Vantage HDD Test Suite

    5113

    7570

    31547

    32437

    *Best times in blue

     

    OCZ

     

    Caching Performance Measure

    Without

    SSD

    Run 1

    Run 2

    Run 3

    1. Windows boot time, seconds

    74

    58

    31

    28

    1. Time to start FSXMark07 flight, sec.

    59

    55

    19

    18

    1. FSXMark07 Performance, FPS

    46

    47

    47

    46

    1. PC Mark Vantage Gaming Test

    11941

    15901

    21384

    21011

    1. PC Mark Vantage HDD Test Suite

    4947

    8738

    27191

    26633

    *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.

     

    Availability

     

    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:

    • Any Intel and AMD platform
    • No Chipset limitations
    • All SATA modes: IDE, AHCI, RAID
    • Existing drivers: MS AHCI, Intel SRT, and AMD
    • SATA2, SATA3, mSATA, or PCIe Interface
    • SLC or MLC SSDs
    • No SSD capacity limitations
    • Write-Back and Write-Around cache policies
    • Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) tested

    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 1.3.0.0 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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