HD Overdrive: Corsair's Accelerator SSD Cache

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Solid State Drives are a fabulous way to boost a system's performance, but for all their strong points, they aren't an easy upgrade for a lot of people. Performance can vary significantly between manufacturers, only the most expensive drives can replace the need for an HDD in an enthusiast / data-heavy system, and reinstalling a full suite of software from scratch is a major headache.

Corsair's Accelerator Series family of SSDs is designed to reduce the barriers to the SSD option by offering a solution that's accessible without the need to wipe your existing HDD or create a storage plan that ensures you make the best possible use of a small SSD, while leaving the bulk of your data on a rotating platter. With a cache accelerator, you can theoretically enjoy the best of both worlds. This is made possible thanks to specialized caching algorithms developed by Nvelo. Their software, dubbed Dataplex, monitors the data a user accesses on the HDD and caches commonly used bits of data to boost performance.

Corsair claims that "Using an Accelerator Series solid-state cache drive can boost your system's read and write performance up to 5x compared to using a hard drive alone. Just add the cache drive to your system, download and install the intelligent caching software, and start enjoying faster boot times and quicker file access." We'll investigate how well such claims hold up in the real world.


Installation and Registration
Corsair ships the drive with a 2.5" to 3.5" bay adapter and some mounting screws, but you can't just drop the new drive in your system and call it quits. First, you have to turn the drive over and write down the 28 character alphanumeric code. There's no prominent sticker that points this out, and while it is mentioned in the installation guide, we'd wager a fair number of enthusiasts don't bother to consult such literature when installing something as simple as an SSD. It doesn't help that the code is on the bottom of the disk and looks, at first glance, like a serial number.



Corsair's booklet instructs you to write the code inside the manual. Said manual is printed on glossy paper, which makes writing with pencil an exercise in futility; most ink will simply smear. We recommend writing the code on actual paper and think Corsair should've included a peel-off sticker.

Windows detects the SSD as a standard 60GB drive. At this point, you visit Corsair's website and download the software package. The key code has to be entered at two separate points -- once at Corsair's website, and once during the driver installation process. After that, the system reboots and the drive vanishes. It's even invisible to the Device Manager and the storage management utility inside Windows' Administrative Tools. There's a small, DOS-based status utility embedded in the Dataplex folder inside the Start Menu for checking drive status, however.



That's it. There are no user-configurable settings of any kind and currently no drive health monitoring utility.
 

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So they make restrictions to benefit them but in return we get a very limited cache system? D: ... lol. Should just get an SSD :D.

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Not a limited cache system by any means. Joel was just pointing out some of the annoyances. The easy of use and not having to manage mutiple volumes manually make this an excellent upgrade for anyone looking to boost the performance of a system that's currently equipped with only hard drive.

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Inspector,

I absolutely disagree. Nvelo made some decisions I disagree with, and there are some limitations to the product. That doesn't change the fact that this is an excellent, excellent way to bridge the gap between HDD and SSD performance without going through the hassle of reinstalling your operating system.

As someone who has avoided an SSD upgrade precisely because of the time it would take to get everything installed and tuned again, I'm very pleased with the Accelerator Series. This isn't just a product a reviewed, it's a product I dropped into my own workflow and daily usage pattern. It's a very good upgrade.

Also? If you decide you want "just an SSD," you've already got one. You can uninstall the Nvelo software and install WIndows 7 on it just like you would any other SSD.

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Relatively simple to setup and good increases on speed. Pretty good for a quick, no hassle upgrade which is what they were aiming for.

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I think that on page 4, the last benchmark graph has the 1TB HDD and the OCZ Vertex switched around. It says Lower is betetr and then the OCZ Vertex has the largest times, when that should be the HDD.

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Good catch. It's fixed now.

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Nice review Joel. The ease of upgrading to a caching drive is amazing and I could see their point of having a keycode to download the software. But it should be just that enter a code to download the software and not have the draconian DRM that they have put in place.

50% boost average is impressive for a $90 investment.

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Omega,

The way they've structured the software validation scheme is annoying and, I think, ultimately ineffective. But the strongest incentive I can give is to say that while I don't like the hoop, it's worth jumping through. And the software is worth protecting, which is ironically why I invested a substantial amount of time talking about it.

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"Once installed, the Dataplex software must be uninstalled properly before the drive is removed from the system. Failure to follow this procedure can result in a loss of data. An HDD synchronized with an Accelerator cache drive may not boot properly if the cache drive is suddenly removed."

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What happens if the Cache SSD fails? Do you lose your DATA?


Also: How does this compare with Intel's SSD Caching solution?

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Realneil,

I explored this extensively in the Data Reliability section. Please review that and let me know if you have further questions.

I'll have to review to answer your second question.

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