HD Overdrive: Corsair's Accelerator SSD Cache

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There are two types of fine print to discuss here. The first relates to license restrictions on the software, the second is the limitations on hardware.

License Restrictions:
There are some restrictions to the Dataplex software that are currently only listed OCZ's website -- Corsair hasn't added them. It states:
Disclaimer: Your Dataplex licensing key is only valid on one machine. Dataplex uses various components to identify a PC (memory, OS, CPU Id, BIOS, Ethernet card); if two or more components change, it is considered a different machine. If you wish to change only one component, Dataplex will automatically revalidate the license as long as there is an internet connection when the PC is rebooted. You must uninstall Dataplex to release the license prior to changing two or more components in your system. Licenses cannot be released after the system is no longer valid.
The reason we're quoting an OCZ disclaimer in a Corsair review is that, according to Nvelo, the same restrictions apply to Corsair customers. What this means is that if you change out too many components, your system may want to revalidate the driver. The  method of re-validation isn't clear -- presumably it means re-entering the same key code and having an active Internet connection.

Combined with the double-entry software code, this tips over the edge from annoying DRM to bad business decision. Nvelo's Dataplex software is legitimately great; it's the reason we now have a new use for SSDs that gives customers access to many of their benefits without the downsides or headaches. What the company is doing, however, isn't security—it's security theater.


Looks an awful lot like this

The term, coined by Bruce Schneier, describes security countermeasures designed to make people feel secure without doing anything to improve security. You've mandated the use of a product activation code -- normally a mechanism used to secure software -- and applied it to hardware. There are two massive flaws in this. First, it confuses the heck out of your customers, who are unused to having to provide a serial number in order to use hardware they've legally purchased. Forcing users to enter it twice is pointless--if I've got a code, I've got a code. Double-checking the same validation approach doesn't actually add security. Second, there's literally no logical reason to attach an activation code to a software product that needs hardware to function.



Without an appropriate SSD, your software is useless. The driver files Corsair provides already check to ensure a Corsair Accelerator SSD is installed. Since the Accelerator Series is reasonably priced compared to other 60GB SSDs, and given that few people have piles of old SSDs around that they aren't using, the group of users who might pirate and benefit from your software is extremely low.

Hardware Restrictions:
  • The target drive must be the primary boot drive. Only that drive can be cached.
  • Only MBR (Master Boot Record) partitions are supported. GPT partitions are not supported.
  • Due to the above, the Dataplex software can only be installed on a 2TB or smaller HDD.
  • The Windows system partition (the 100MB partition Vista and Windows 7 carve out at installation time) must be on the same HDD as the C:\Windows folder.
  • Multiple OS's are not supported.
  • Only one cache drive per system.
  • The cache drives cannot be RAIDed. A RAID array of mechanical HDDs can be interfaced with a Corsair Accelerator drive.
  • 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.
Almost all of these criteria are corner cases. The one point that isn't a corner case, and that Nvelo unfortunately has no intention of addressing, is the users' total lack of control over what the drive caches and how data is evicted from the disk. Since the company's current drive information utility is lacking (to put it kindly), we asked whether updates to the drive status software or any degree of configurable control is in the works. According to Nvelo's David Lin:
It [the Dataplex software] is a Windows block-level filter driver, inserted as a lower filter to the driver stack for accelerated volumes. Dataplex also operates at the file system level to provide file awareness to further optimize system cache performance.  The software is fully transparent to existing software layers.  As it takes a sophisticated adaptive cache approach and learns over time what data is “hot”, the majority of the users will not need any specific SW controls.
After using the drive for a week, I agree with Lin that the overwhelming majority of users will never need to touch a button or twist a dial to ensure high performance from the cache drive. That doesn't mean some users wouldn't benefit from having a greater degree of flexibility. It's also unclear what happens with regard to Windows 8; Microsoft's new file system eschews the "Different drives = Different drive letters" approach in favor of presenting storage as a single pool.


The difference between Nvelo's cache software and other hybrid solutions

For those concerned about how the drive holds up under heavy load, let me say this. Up until now, my Steam installs resided on a separate hard drive. The restrictions on the Nvelo software forced me to migrate that data -- and since my Steam directory is huge and my primary HDD was nearly full, that process required the deletion and relocation of ~600GB of data.

I ran these operations concurrently, including simultaneous copies from C:\ to G:\ and vice versa. At one point, I had 10 file copies going in both directions with a movie playing off E:\. The copies completed flawlessly. The performance boost of having the SSD installed was reserved to files being copied from C:\ (which makes sense), and it eventually vanished as I tasked the mechanicals with more work than they could physically sustain at high speeds.

After all of this, I did have to reboot my system and relaunch a few programs before they sped up again, but the difference was minor.
 

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Comments

Comments
inspector 2 years ago

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.

marco c 2 years ago

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.

Joel H 2 years ago

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.

LBowen 2 years ago

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

JvanHummel 2 years ago

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.

marco c 2 years ago

Good catch. It's fixed now.

Omegadraco 2 years ago

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.

Joel H 2 years ago

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.

realneil 2 years ago

"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."

___________________________

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


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

Joel H 2 years ago

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.

Alessandro71 2 years ago

this is interesting for a low-tech audience.

a more tech-savvy user may find limiting that this solution does not allow dual-boot and it's tied to windows.

anyway it's not necessary to reinstall windows to upgrade from HD to SSD:

you can use Parted Magic to migrate your old HD (with multiOS support) as explained here:

http://pleasedonttouchthescreen.blogspot.it/2012/05/replacing-mechanical-hd-with-ssd.html

Joel H 2 years ago

I'm extremely tech-savvy. Being tied to Windows (the only OS capable of addressing my various usage needs) is not limiting.

Yes, there are ways to migrate an OS from one HDD to another. You've missed the larger point. I have a 1TB HDD with ~700GB of it in use. If I move to an SSD, I have to do an awful lot of program uninstallation in order to cut the total program size down to something that would fit on the new drive. I definitely would have to uninstall and reinstall quite a few programs in order to move them to a different disk That's just another headache.

The central problem here is that "Reinstalling the OS" is actually the easiest part of migrating an installation. Even Windows updates, which can take longer than the actual OS installation, are a pretty simple task these days. Getting everything *else* put together is the headache.

karanm 2 years ago

I dont like the fact that i cant change more than one of my systems components without having the software think its in a different system. Granted that not many people change their ethernet card nowadays, it just seems wrong to include this kind of protection on a PC.

Joel H 2 years ago

Karanm, 

 

I've swapped out the video card in this system multiple times since I put the Cache Drive in. That's the only component I've changed, but it hasn't batted an eye at any point.

karanm 2 years ago

"Dataplex uses various components to identify a PC (memory, OS, CPU Id, BIOS, Ethernet card); if two or more components change, it is considered a different machine."

Video Cards isn't mentioned in the list so maybe that's why you had no problems Joel and that is a good thing because video cards are changed in gaming rigs quite often. CPU's are also upgraded often and along with a CPU upgrade most people might do a ram upgrade as well. That is when I suspect the problem will start, changing the CPU and RAM might cause the drive to believe its in a new system (I'm just getting this from your article, just adding more ram as most people do might not cause a problem). There are so many options for caching at this point that making a drive with over the edge security features seems to me like shooting yourself in the foot. However if this drive is faster that Intel's caching solution then it might have a market.

geff169 2 years ago

bought one.got sata3 drive and board.amd.will it work.im not shore

paulrus 2 years ago

I realize this is an older article, but just a heads-up for anyone moving to Windows 8. I have a cache drive that uses Dataplex. Currently support for Windows 8 is shaky at best. Meaning, I've had to totally reinstall my OS 3 times so far due to crashes that corrupted the permissions of my registry (making my system unable to install or uninstall any software).

These drives are great when they work, but be prepared to have to start over entirely if there's a problem.

rhflyer 2 years ago

After running well for several weeks with the 60GB Accelerator, I loaded the latest version of DataPlex v1.2.0.4 . It ran initially then there was a dirty shutdown (no obvious reason) . Unable to boot after hours of trying various recovery methods. Luckily I had an external drive with WD Smartware. That wasn't as eloquent a back up option as I thought but it did save all my records. To get going loaded Windows 7 on the 60GB Accelerator and put in a new HHD to recover the Smartware data. Note: Windows won't accept the product code from the old configuration. Running a 30 day trial now while I migrate to a new machine. The vulnerability of this happening makes this cashing method too risky.

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