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.
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.
Features and Specifications
- 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
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Certifications||RoHS, CE, FCC|
|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|
|Performance Optimization||TRIM (requires OS support), Drivers|
|Software||Dataplex™ Caching Software|
|Service and Support||3-Year warranty, Toll-Free Tech Support, Forum Support|
|Operating System||One of the following:|
|Memory||Maintain at least the minimum system memory required by|
the operating system
|Storage||1 (or more) SATA based Hard Disk Drives|
1 (or more) SATA based or mSATA based Solid State Drives
|Storage Controllers||One of the following:|
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
As you can see by the above, the more you use your common applications; the better the performance gets.
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.
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.
Next, I used AS SSD to measure the read and write speeds and obtain the accompanying total score for each.
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.
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.
We’ll wrap up our testing with IOMeter’s transfer speed and IOPS testing. Below are the transfer speeds graphs.
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.
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.