As we’ve already mentioned, the Z68 Express is basically a fusion of the P67 and H67 Express chipsets. The Z68 Express takes the best features of both and marries them into a single product. CPU, GPU, and memory overclocking are all supported, as are all of Intel’s visual technologies like QuickSync, Intel HD 2000/3000 series graphics, and InTru 3D, etc. But a new feature is also making its debut, dubbed Smart Response Technology.
Intel Smart Response Technology is a cache mechanism of sorts that uses a solid state drive to enhance overall system performance. The SSD can be paired to any standard hard drive, regardless of the capacity, and the SSD is used as a high-speed repository of the most commonly used data blocks (not necessarily complete files). The Z68 Express’ drive controller monitors usage patterns on the hard drive and copies the most frequently accessed bits of data from the drive to the SSD.
Like other SSD / HD hybrid storage technologies, the data on the hard drives has to be accessed multiple times before it is copied to the solid state storage volume. So, the contents of the SSD will dynamically and constantly change over time, based on usage. The most commonly accessed data on the platters gets copied to the much higher performing SSD, which results in a performance boost when that data needs to be fetched.
Knowing how Smart Response technology works, reveals one of the drawbacks of a hybrid setup such as this one—the SSD will offer little or no performance benefit to infrequently accessed or new data. So, with large file copies, application installations, and the like, a system with Smart Response enabled may perform much like it had only a standard HD.
Intel SSD 311 Series 20GB SLC-based Drive
To coincide with the launch of Smart Response Technology, Intel is also at the ready with a brand new SSD designed to exploit the feature. The SSD 311 series drive pictured here is a 20GB model that features 34nm SLC NAND flash. It will be available in 2.5" and mSATA versions for about $99 and is outfitted with an Intel storage controller. Smart Response Technology is designed to work with SSD volumes between 18GB and 64GB in capacity, which makes the 311 SSD a perfect candidate for Smart Response.
Although we use the SSD 311 series drive in a number of tests a little later in this article, we thought a couple of standalone benchmarks posted here would help paint a better picture of what this drive is all about. The tests show the drive offering write speeds slightly better then the X25-M G2 and reads that are a shade behind the G2.
Configuring an SSD for use in a Smart Response setup couldn't be any easier, provided the OS and storage controller were configured properly beforehand. The storage controller must be configured for RAID mode, with the proper Intel RST drivers installed (version 10.5 or later). Provided everything is installed properly, simply plug in the SSD, boot into Windows, and open the Intel RST GUI. Then click on the Accelerate menu option, enable acceleration, and select your desired mode--Enhanced or Maximized. There are two selectable modes: Enhanced, which is write-thru cache, and Maximized, which is write-back cache. Write-back cache provides the highest overall performance and system power savings. Write-thru caching reflects any writes to the hard drive and cache simultaneously, so write performance will be limited by the hard drive. If the entire capacity of the SSD is used, the system will appear to have only a single drive installed, with a single drive letter. However, if say half of the capacity of a larger SSD is used, the remaining portion can be configured as a standard partition.