OCZ Synapse Cache 64 GB SSD Review

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If you do not own a Z68 platform motherboard, but the idea of hard drive caching pique your interest; don’t run out and buy a new Z68 motherboard quite yet! With the release of the Synapse Cache SSDs by OCZ, you can bring SSD caching to just about any modern system. OCZ has made available both a 64 GB and 128 GB version. Today, we will be reviewing the 64 GB version.

The main advantage of using a small capacity SSD to cache a standard platter type hard drive is pretty obvious; it allows for utilizing the large storage capacity of traditional hard drives in combination with an inexpensive SSD to increase hard drive performance dramatically. Even though the price of SSDs have fallen a little recently, large capacity SSD’s are still priced well beyond most people’s budget. Even today, a good 240 GB SSD will probably run you in the mid to upper $300 range; and let’s face it, in today’s world 240 GB really isn’t that much storage!

The OCZ Synapse Cache line of SSDs hopes to fill a gap created by the need for large storage capacities and accelerated performance within a reasonable budget. So, just how much of a performance gain can one expect from this drive? I’ll try to answer that question through a series of benchmarks; and explain the accompanying DataPlex software that ties it all together.

Packaging

The OCZ Synapse Cache SSD comes packaged in a thin blue and black themed box. Inside, you will find the SSD nestled in a stiff foam bedding with a 3.5 to 2.5 inch adapter plate sitting on top. Also included are mounting screws, a warranty/users guide pamphlet, and a “My SSD Is Faster Than Your HDD” sticker.

Retail Box

Foam Bedding

SSD Nestled in Foam

Literature and sticker

3.5 to 2.5 Inch Adapter

Drive in Anit-Static Bag and Mounting Screws

Drive Front

Drive Front

Drive Rear

Features and Specifications

Features

  • Delivers up to 80,000 IOPS
  • Bandwidth up to 550 MB/s
  • SSD Cache capacity up to 32 GB
  • Manages and accelerates full HDD capacity
  • Maximizes performance with SATA 6 GB/s interface
  • Unleashes the full potential of today’s leading platforms
  • TRIM support
  • Easy-to-deploy 2.5 solution for multiple drive bays
  • Integrated Dataplex™ Caching Software
    1. Intelligently manages HDD and SSD Simultaneously
    2. “Hot” data managed on Synapse SSD for highest performance, access, and bandwidth
    3. “Cold” data routed to HDD for highest capacity usage
    4. No data migration or OS installation required

Specifications

 

Physical
Cache Capacities (IDEMA) 64GB (128GB Version, 32GB (64GB Version)
NAND Components 2Xnm Multi-Level Cell (MLC)
Interface SATA III / 6Gbps Backwards compatible w/SATA II / 3Gbps
Form Factor 2.5 Inch
NAND Controller SandForce® 2281
Dimensions (LxWxH) 98×69.9×9.1 mm
Weight 79g
Reliability/Protection/Security
MTBF 2 million hours
ECC Recovery Up to 55 bits correctable per 512-byte sector (BCH)
*varries depending on exact configuration
Data Encryption 128-bit and 256-bit AES-compliant
Product Health Monitoring SMART Support
Environmental
Power Consumption idle: 1.5W Active: 2.7W
Operating Temperature 0°C ~ 70°C
Ambient Temperature 0°C ~ 55°C
Storage Temperature -45°C ~ 85°C
Shock Resistance 1500G
Certifications RoHS, CE, FCC
Compatibility
Serial ATA (SATA) Compliant w/SATA International Organization: Rev. 3.0
compliant w/ATA/ATAPI-8 NCQ
Operating System Windows 7 32-bit and 64-bit
Power Requirements Standard SATA Power Connector
System Integration Bundled with 3.5 inch desktop adapter bracket
Additional Features
Performance Optimization TRIM (requires OS support), Drivers
Software Dataplex™ Caching Software
Service and Support 3-Year warranty, Toll-Free Tech Support, Forum Support

System Requirements

 

Item Requirement
Operating System One of the following:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Windows 7 Home Premium X64
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • Windows 7 Professional X64
  • Windows 7 Ultimate
  • Windows 7 Ultimate X64
  • Windows 7 Ultimate w/BitLocker
  • Windows 7 Ultimate w/BitLocker X64
Memory Maintain at least the minimum system memory required by
the operating system
Storage 1 (or more) SATA based Hard Disk Drives
and
1 (or more) SATA based or mSATA based Solid State Drives
Storage Controllers One of the following:

  • Microsoft AHCI Controller
  • Intel RAID Controllers
  • Intel AHCI Controller
  • AMD AHCI Controller
  • Legacy IDE Controller

The first thing you may notice from the information provided above is that the drive only supports Windows 7. There is no windows XP support and no word as of yet on the upcoming Windows 8 release. While the SSD itself will install and be recognized on non-supported operating systems, the DataPlex software that makes it all work will not.

The next item of note is the available caching size being half of the advertised storage capacity. This is because OCZ implemented 50% NAND flash overprovisioning to accommodate performance and software features. Looking at the OCZ Synapse FAQ’s, it is explained as follows:

The 50% NAND overprovisioning used on all Synapse models (translating into 32GB and 64GB cache capacities, depending on model purchased) is maintained as a performance feature to increase the lifespan of the drive, and accommodate the writing of “hot” user data. Since the Synapse acts as a cache for file/program copies vs. typical data storage, the “free” capacity will be sufficient to deliver the full benefits of Synapse for any personal usage pattern.

One other item that you may have missed is the SandForce 2281 controller used in the Synapse cache drive. This is the same controller used in many of today’s higher-end SSDs that are intended to be used as the main system drive. This should bode well for the performance level of the Synapse.

Installation & DataPlex Software

The physical installation of the Synapse Cache SSD is no different than installing any other SSD on the market – pop it in a drive bay and hook power and data cables to it – Done! It should be noted that it is recommended to install the Synapse to the same SATA controller that your system HDD is attached to. If your system hard drive is attached to an Intel controller and you install the Synapse to an alternate controller, such as JMicron or Marvell; it should still work but there is no need for the increased latency this will cause.

After the Synapse is installed, a quick trip to Disk Management in Control Panel to initialize and quick format the drive is all that’s needed to prepare the drive for the DataPlex software installation. A copy of the DataPlex software must be downloaded from OCZ’s website; the software is not included in the retail package. Additionally, you will need the license key found on either the back of the Synapse SSD or on the users manual/warranty pamphlet included in the box. Once the software is downloaded, the installation is rather painless and takes only a minute or two. Once the DataPlex software is installed, you will see an entry in your start menu where you can test if it is properly enabled.

Start Menu Entry

Start Menu Entry

DataPlex Test

DataPlex Test

If you happened to take a peek in “My Computer” after initializing and formatting the Synapse, you noticed the entry for it. Once the DataPlex software is installed, the Synapse is hidden from Windows by design; so don’t freak out when it disappears!

It is very important to understand that the DataPlex software can only be used on one system at a time and is tied directly to a system based on the hardware configuration. If you make more than two significant hardware changes to your system, the software will cease to work. The good news is that as long as you uninstall the software before moving the Synapse to a different computer or upgrading an existing system, you will have no problems downloading and installing a new copy of DataPlex. Uninstalling the software releases the license and makes it available for use again. In all cases, make sure the system has a working internet connection; this will ensure that the software can be properly released during the uninstall process. If you fail to follow this protocol, you will need to call OCZ’s tech support and have them release the license for you.

For those of you who wish to see the entire DataPlex installation in a video, OCZ has provided a nice tutorial for your viewing pleasure!

Testing and Benchmarks

Comparing the Synapse Cache SSD to other SSDs intended for use as the main system drive will not be the focus here. The Synapse is intended to be used as a caching drive paired with a traditional platter type HDD. However, for a quick comparison we will use a OCZ Vertex 2 SSD as a reference point for the raw performance level of the Synapse. The rest of the testing will concentrate on the stand alone platter type hard drive and using it in conjunction with the Synapse. This should give everyone a good idea of the performance gains that can be expected if you are looking to breathe some life in to your existing mechanical HDD.

Test System

  • EVGA X79 FTW
  • 16 GB G.Skill RipjawsZ F3-14900CL9Q-16GBZL
  • Intel i7-3930K
  • 2X EVGA GTX 560Ti Classified Ultra 448 Core (SLI)
  • Corsair HX850 W Modular Professional PSU
  • Testing HDD’s – Western Digital Black 1Tb SATA 6G – OCZ Synapse Cache SSD – OCZ Vertex 2 SATA 3G SSD

When testing the Synapse in combination with the WD Black HDD, the tests were run three times in order to give the Synapse the ability to do its caching of the program. All other drives were tested normally.

Boot Timer

The first thing we wanted to find out is how much of a decrease in the system boot time we would see. The Boot Timer utility measures the time between the moment the system BIOS hands over the boot process to Windows and reaching the desktop.

Boot Timer Results

Boot Timer Results

It only took the Synapse two reboots to get the results shown above. We went ahead and rebooted the system a few more times, but the results above are pretty much where the Synapse settled in as far as boot time goes. Pretty nice performance increase here!

PC Mark Vantage HDD Suite

Next up is the PC Mark Vantage HDD Suite test. I tested the WD Black as a stand alone drive and then again using the Synapse in combination with it. With the Synapse installed, I ran the benchmark three times; which allowed the Synapse to fully cache the benchmark.

PC Mark Vantage HDD Suite Results

PC Mark Vantage HDD Suite Results

As you can see by the above, the more you use your common applications; the better the performance gets.

CrystalDiskMark

I decided to run the random data tests only for the CrystalDiskMark bench because it is the hardest of all the three tests CDM offers. From here on out, the Vertex 2 comparison we promised earlier will be included in the testing.

CDM Random Read

CDM Random Read

CDM Random Write

CDM Random Write

As expected, the Vertex 2 leads the pack in the read tests, except for the 4K results. The Synapse and the Synapse+WD Black scored very well indeed with little difference between the two. The write tests showed a similar pattern with the Synapse and Synapse+WD Black almost mirroring each other. The 4K and 4K QD32 tests are where the money’s at in these tests; and the performance increase over the stand alone WD Black is substantial, to say the least.

AS SSD

Next, I used AS SSD to measure the read and write speeds and obtain the accompanying total score for each.

AS SSD Read Test

AS SSD Read Test

AS SSD Write Test

AS SSD Write Test

AS SSD Access Time Test

AS SSD Access Time Test

AS SSD Total Score Results

AS SSD Total Score Results

Again, the combination of the WD Black with the Synapse almost mirrored the performance of the Synapse as a stand alone drive across all tests. The one exception to this was the access time; there was very little improvement between the WD Black as a single drive or coupled with the Synapse Cache.

ATTO Disk Benchmark

Next on the list of benchmarks is the ATTO Disk Benchmark. ATTO tests read and write speeds across a variety of sizes ranging from 1K to 8 Mb. The graph below shows the smallest and largest size with a few hand selected sizes in the middle.

ATTO Read Test

ATTO Read Test

ATTO Write Test

ATTO Write Test

As with the previous testing, the Synapse+WD Black combination ran at virtually the same speeds; but both out performed the Vertex 2 as the test size increased. This held true for both the read and write testing, and is probably due to the fact the Synapse’s SF2281 controller is a much newer design than the aging SF1200 controller found on the Vertex 2.

IOMeter 2008

We’ll wrap up our testing with IOMeter’s transfer speed and IOPS testing. Below are the transfer speeds graphs.

IOMeter 4KB Transfer Speed

IOMeter 4KB Transfer Speed

IOMeter 2MB Transfer Speed

IOMeter 2MB Transfer Speed

You need look no further than the difference between the stand alone WD Black results and the WD Black+Synapse results to see what the Synapse Cache SSD and the accompanying DataPlex software can accomplish.

Next is a look at the IOPS graphs.

IOMeter 4K IOPS Test

IOMeter 4K IOPS Test

IOMeter 2MB IOPS Test

IOMeter 2MB IOPS Test

Once again the Synapse proves its worth according to the IOPS testing. The WD Black+Synapse 2 MB write score actually beat out the Vertex 2 and was right on the Vertex 2’s heels on the 2 MB read test.

Once all the testing was completed, we found ourselves asking “what happens when the 32 GB allotted for caching is full?”. The simple answer is that older or less used information is dropped in favor of more recently used applications. This is where a potential buyer must determine if the 64GB or 128GB version of the Synapse meets their particular usage needs. For the casual or work environment, the 64GB version is more than ample. If however, you are a serious gamer or an entertainment enthusiast, the 128GB version may be more appropriate.

Referring to the OCZ FAQ once again, they explain it like this:

50% NAND overprovisioning ensures that the Synapse SSD will never be completely filled. Using the intelligent caching software, the Synapse SSD is self-maintaining and initiates a background cleaning process to remove infrequently used or older data from its cache.

Final Thoughts & Conclusion

With the mail in rebates OCZ is offering on the Synapse Cache SSDs, the 64 GB version can be had for under $90.00. The larger 128 GB version also has a rebate available; making the final price under $140.00. For that price and the performance increase the Synapse provides, I’d say it’s well worth it.

Often times when purchasing an upgrade, disappointment quickly settles in when you find that the new product fails to deliver a noticeable increase in speed or performance. If you are currently using a stand alone platter type HDD as your main system drive, you will definitely see a performance increase almost immediately when coupled with the Synapse Cache SSD.

As far as stability goes, I rode this SSD pretty hard over the last few days. It never once stalled, froze, hiccuped , or even gave a hint of instability. A testament to both the SSD itself and the DataPlex software that accompanies it.

– Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)

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Discussion
  1. When the Data is cached does the hard drive still spin when accessing the data? This could be very useful for HTPC applications if the HDD can remain silent when accessing movies that are cached on the SSD.
    @sharpsuxx - You would have to play the movie in it's entirety a few times in order for it to completely cache, but I'm not sure that makes the best use of the drive. Movie files are pretty large and using it to cache movies would probably fill it up pretty quickly, at which point it will remove the oldest entries to make room for the next thing you do.
    @ Codeman05 - Thanks for the kind words sir!
    I don't like the idea of being dependant on third party software licenses that need to be maintained. Someday there will be no one to call to unlock the license.
    WarDad
    I don't like the idea of being dependant on third party software licenses that need to be maintained. Someday there will be no one to call to unlock the license.

    Unless you have Z68/Z77 board with Intel Smart Response Technology, then software is the only way to go about it for now. So, getting one of those boards is the only solution.
    That's exactly right Matt, there is no other option. IIRC the caching drive that Corsair has brought to market also uses the DataPlex software, which by the way was developed by a company called NVELO.
    I probably should have put that information in the review......LOL