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Corsair 30GB Accelerator: Cuts Price, Not Performance
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Date: Jul 05, 2012
Section:Storage
Author: Joel Hruska
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Introduction
When we reviewed Corsair's 60GB Cache Accelerator back in May, we were impressed by the drive's ability to boost the speed of an HDD-based PC without the need for a fresh OS installation. Today, we'll be evaluating the performance of Corsair's 30GB Cache Accelerator. At $54.99 ($44.99 w/ rebate from NewEgg), it's considerably cheaper than the $84 ($74 w/rebate) price tag on the 60GB flavor -- but is 30GB enough to deliver the same performance boost?


Looks a little familiar
Let's find out.

Cache Course
For those of you who didn't read the original review, we'll quickly recap where things stand. Corsair has partnered with the software developer Nvelo to deliver an SSD product that monitors the data that's accessed most often in a system and mirrors said data to the SSD for faster load times. The software package itself is known as Dataplex, and it's very good at what it does. In the six weeks since we published our first review, I've continued using a Cache Accelerator in my own system with no problems or deleterious effects.


Nvelo's Dataplex solution

Nvelo's Dataplex caches both reads and writes, a feature that sets it apart from Seagate's Momentus XT series. Those drives integrate a read-only flash memory buffer into the drive itself; Dataplex requires a separate disk. We tested the 30GB drive using the same 1.1.3.3 drivers that we used in May. Only one cache drive can be installed per system, only the contents of the OS drive are cached, and you can't RAID cache drives together, though a cache drive can be used to accelerate a RAID array. For more information on the software's technical limitations, we recommend you check our previous article.

As before, our testbed consists of a Core i7-920 on a Gigabyte X58A-UD3R motherboard with 16GB of RAM and a GTX 480 installed. The system drive is a Samsung HD103SI, a 5400 RPM, 1TB HDD with 32MB of cache onboard. Driver updates are downloaded through Corsair's website.
 
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Boot & Application Load Times
Boot time is an easy place for an SSD to improve a system's responsiveness. We've subdivided boot time into two categories. The first -- boot-to-login -- is the amount of time it takes for the Windows Logon screen to display after the POST beep. The second, boot-to-desktop, is measured from POST beep to lag-free desktop and includes the boot-to-login measurement. There's a certain degree of subjectiveness to the latter, but not enough to impact the end result.



Boot times are an easy place for SSDs to show their moxie. The 30GB drive is ~10% slower than its 60GB counterpart. That makes it 'just' 3.08x as fast as the HD103SI alone rather than the 60GB's 3.36x advantage.

Application Load Times:
Next up is a straight performance comparison between various applications and games. Performance was measured with both the hard drive alone and again with the Accelerator drive installed. One of the potential downsides of an SSD cache drive is that data can be evicted, leaving you dependent on just the hard drive again if you run a program you haven't used in awhile.

This is easier with a 30GB drive than with a 60GB, but it's difficult to measure the difference without an objective metric. In both cases, moving tons of data around the drive can artificially cause cache evictions, but we never had a problem when performing real-world tasks.



Again, we see the 30GB drive trailing the 60GB in a few tests, but never by more than a couple of seconds. Performance is still substantially improved over the HDD alone. Nvelo's Dataplex software is pretty darn good at keeping your most heavily-accessed files on the SSD.
 
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PCMark 7 Performance
PCMark 7
PCMark 7 is the next stop on our trip. We ran the application's storage benchmark, which gives an overall figure, but also broke down some of the specific results in order to examine where the benefits are (or aren't).




In this case, we've got comparative numbers for an OCZ Vertex 3 256GB running the same workload. Again, the 30GB and 60GB drives are neck and neck, with the 60GB eking out a small advantage. The Vertex remains the fastest solution, as we'd expect.

Here's the results broken down by workload.



Individual test results show considerably more variation than the monolithic Storage test. The gap between the two drives is ~19% in the Launching Applications and Import Photos suites, but nonexistent in Video Editing, Adding Music, and Windows Defender subtests. Both Cache Accelerators remain considerably faster than the stand-alone HDD. The OCZ Vertex 3 takes top honors, but is substantially more expensive than either of the two cache drives.
 
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Conclusion

Performance Summary: Corsair's 30GB Cache Accelerator delivers almost all of the 60GB SSD's performance, but at a significantly lower price. In uncertain economic times, it's easier to justify a $55 dollar expense than an $85 upgrade, especially when a 3D movie for a family of 4 will set you back almost as much  -- and that's just for the tickets. The 30GB Cache Accelerator is a great option for upgrading an older system, especially if you're trying to breathe new life into it for a year or two while saving up for something else. Even 4-5 year-old hardware can benefit enormously from an SSD, and Dataplex's software gives even the performance of a 5400 RPM HDD a huge kick in the rear.


Corsair 30GB Accelerator SSD

When we reviewed the 60GB version, some of you wrote in with concerns about reliability or other technical limitations on the product. Thus far, our experience continues to be excellent; Corsair provides a standard three-year warranty on all Cache Accelerators and the Nvelo software is quite good at what it does.

If you think you might upgrade to a higher-capacity SSD at some point and would like to repurpose the Cache Accelerator as a stand-alone drive, we'd go for the 60GB version. 60GB isn't much storage space, but it's enough for an OS, small collection of games, some multimedia content, or a suite of business apps. The 30GB is technically big enough for a system, but a fully patched and updated version of Windows 7 weighs in at some 16GB. That leaves virtually no room for anything else, especially since SSD performance tends to drop dramatically as the drive approaches full.

Depending on your needs, either SSD can be a good option. The performance increase is absolutely worth the cost.


  • Brings HDD performance up to nearly SSD levels for just $55. 
  • Priced competitively.
  • Widely compatible.
  • Fire-and-forget configuration makes setup simple
  • Designed to boost performance without risking data integrity
  • Still some activation / registration hoops to jump through. 
  • Technical limitations limit deployment in certain cases.
  • 30GB option harder to re-purpose.


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